Over the holidays, I saw the same question asked on both an American and British woodworking forum. The poster had received a new table saw for Christmas, had no experience and wanted to learn how to use the saw safely. One of the responses on the British forum was this:
Whilst the risk of kickback is real, good sense and technique, as with any tool, is the key to safe usage. Just don’t read any American magazines or books on how to use them.
While it’s easy to poke fun at the British for their quaint use of our language, their fondness for strange-flavored potato chips and their inability to make a car that doesn’t leak oil, it’s hard to argue with their approach to table saw safety. The picture at right is one of the least expensive “Saw Benches” (table saw to us) available at Axminster Tools. Take a look at the fence and guard and you will see some significant differences.
Unlike Americans, where we generally remove the guard the first time it gets in the way (and rarely put it back), the British tend to leave their guards in place, and find other ways to do things – making grooves in particular – rather than work with an exposed blade. One of the reasons for this is that their guard systems are well-designed and useful. There aren’t any anti-kickback pawls to get in the way, there is a simple attachment of the guard to the riving knife and the guard includes dust extraction.
The other feature that is noticeably different is the fence. This style of fence was once available on this side of the Atlantic from Delta, but it never really caught on. The biggest difference is that the fence is adjustable from front to back, with the normal position for ripping seen at left. The far end of the fence is set so that it doesn’t go beyond the gullet of the saw teeth. That effectively prevents kickback – the work can’t be trapped between the fence and the back of the blade. The fence extrusion is used in a low position when working with thin stock to allow room for the operator to better control the push stick. The fence can also be pulled back behind the blade and used as a stop when crosscutting.
The British Health and Safety Executive has some interesting publications regarding the safe use of table saws and other woodworking equipment. Here is a link to WIS-16 a pamphlet titled “Circular Saw Benches-Safe Working Practices.” It’s short and to the point, easy to understand and it gives reasons behind the rules as well as safe methods to use a table saw. It was easy to find in an Internet search, so I decided to compare it with what OSHA, the American equivalent to the HSE, has available. Not so easy to find, and clearly not as useful. It basically lists some equipment but makes no mention of specific tasks that might be more dangerous than others, or how to assess and avoid risks. Here is a link to the OSHA “eTool Table Saw” page.
Sometimes the British get things right.
All the things the Brits don’t think you should read are compiled in our digital publication The Essential Guide to Table Saws. Learn how to set up and use your table saw safely and efficiently.