In Feature Articles, Table Saw Safety

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The Carlos Osorio vs. One World Technologies Inc. et. al. lawsuit centers on whether the table saw being used when Osorio’s accident occurred was defective. Osorio’s team claims the Ryobi BTS 15 was defective because there was no independent riving knife, no “user-friendly” guarding system and  the saw did not incorporate SawStop technology or a similar technology that detects contact between a person and the spinning blade of a table saw, according to court records. The latter was the focus of the proceedings.

As you might expect, there are differing opinions about the flesh-detecting technology. When was the technology available and when was ready to use? Let’s take a look at the timeline.

Dr. Stephen Gass invented SawStop in 1999. By mid-2000, Gass had built a refined prototype. In October of that year, Gass met with representatives from One World Technologies. According to the documents, One World contemplated SawStop technology for its larger contractor saw, but never considered the technology for the lighter, inexpensive benchtop saws that constitute the majority of One World’s business.

SawStop technology, according to One World, was not mechanically or economically feasible as presented in late 2000/early 2001. And systems of this design could not be installed on small saws without re-engineering those saws, thus raising the prices, according to court documents. (Benchtop saws are direct-drive saws and the technology that SawStop uses on its saws requires a way for the blade, once stopped, to quickly fall into the cabinet and away from the operator.

Court records indicate that in January 2002, One World executed a licensing agreement that Gass did not countersign. Negotiations ended. But according to Osorio’s attorney, Gass proposed a few minor revisions to that agreement and One World failed to respond, then inexplicably cut off negotiations. Later discovery revealed that One World did stop discussions with Gass because it intended to enter into a “joint venture” with other major table saw manufacturers to develop an alternative technology , each of which had stopped discussions with Gass.

As for that joint venture, court records report that there is a joint venture (set up in 2003) in existence today. It is known as the PTI (Power Tool Institute) Blade Contact Joint Venture. According to court documents, there has been a prototype developed by the PTI Blade Contact Joint Venture that was provided by the Joint Venture’s third-party vendors.

In late 2002, Gass and partners decided to make their own saws. Ryobi began production of the BTS 15 in 2003 and manufactured the BTS 15 that Osorio used in October 2004. In late 2004, SawStop LLC, the company that Gass and his partners started, released its first full production run of the Industrial Cabinet Saws with a $4,000 sales price, according to court records. (Osorio’s attorneys place the release of the production run at mid-2004, just before the subject table saw was manufactured.)

What might be the effect on table saws? On May 8, 2007, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission held an open meeting concerning table saws. In attendance were table saw manufacturer representatives, members of the Power Tool Institute as well as others. During the meeting, it was established that 700,000 to 800,000 table saws are sold each year. Of that number, 89 percent are lower-cost saws, or saws selling at $150 or less. In that case around 625,000 small table saws are sold each year.

That’s a huge number of saws, and a market ripe for flesh-detecting technology. But here we are, 10 years after Gass turned out his breakthrough, and no company, not even SawStop, LLC, has entered the benchtop area of the market.

If flesh-detecting technology, as we know it today, were adopted industry wide, benchtop saws would likely disappear altogether.

– Glen D. Huey

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Showing 20 comments
  • Patrick Roth

    No one seems to have mentioned this (and correct me if I am wrong), but in order for a product to actually be defective, doesn’t said product need to include the features that are being claimed as "defective" to begin with?

    For example; Say someone buys a cheap car (bare-bones; no options offered or included- not even a radio, or a power outlet for accessories) They then need to take it on a long road trip. During the course of the trip, they get hopelessly lost and end up 3000 miles away from their intended destination, and are left dangling on the edge of a rocky cliff somewhere, about to fall over the edge. Do they then have the right to sue the manufacturer because the GPS navigation system failed/was defective, or wasn’t installed? NO!!!

    Ways to solve the aforementioned car problem:
    1. Spend the extra money and buy a car with an installed GPS.
    2. Don’t expect the car to do something it isn’t capable of, or designed to. (ie. applying the brakes for you so you don’t drive over a cliff)
    3. Guard rails, road signs, and traffic laws are there for a reason. If you don’t know, use, or follow them, there’s no one to blame but yourself.

  • Paul Fallert

    If the benchtop table saw disappears from the market I doubt that few if any American manufacturing jobs will disappear. None of these saws are made by Americans. They are made in China.

    I now use a straight-edge / shoe-guided power saw with a dust collector. [No, not a green Fe$-$tool). Eureka! The board lies flat on the bench and you glide the saw over the board at your own pace. You can stop/start the saw without kickback. Total control. Just one person. No helpers required and you can work right at the jobsite without making a dust mess. No dust mask required.

    Fingers or hands never get near the spinning blade, warped boards don’t get jammed and you can cut extremely narrow slices and/or easily make angled cuts. You can even edge-straighten boards that don’t have a straight edge without using a jointer.

    And it’s light weight and easy to carry to the job site or hide in a crowded shop. Eureka!

  • Jim S

    "However, the actual inventor seems to want his money first (and a lot of it), before he lets his devise start saving fingers. He himself stated early on that the prototypes where put together from electronics purchased at Radio Shack. "

    That’s capitalism. In the real world, people take risks for the possibility of rewards. The alternative is to live without innovative technology, or perhaps government should fund all research and development.

    Using off-the-shelf electronics for a prototype is just a smart move on the inventor’s part.

    "As I understand, the SawStop table saws are assembled in China, like most other tools. I can go to china and find a saw manufacturer that will build a line of saws and add a sticker with my personal logo on the side and I can start selling it in this country as my own just as soon as it gets UL listed."

    Is a Grizzly saw not a Grizzly because it is made in China (or Taiwan as the case may be)? Is a Jet not a Jet? Designing the saw, developing a set of specifications so that it is built correctly, and working with manufacturers are all keys to a quality product. That doesn’t all happen by chance.

    "Making it mandatory, and penalizing manufacturers for not shoving it into every saw on the market is ridiculous, however."

    We are nowhere near that point. We don’t know if it will happen. Why get upset about it at this time?

  • raney

    Cisco – The inventor spent a couple of years trying to get the technology into current manufacturer’s saws, but they all either flat out refused or gave him the runaround while they tried to set up their own alternatives. Having gained exactly zero ground, he got some partners and made his own saw. If he hadn’t, the device would still be a prototype in someone’s garage…

    As for ‘greed’, should his work and ingenuity be free? Or do we want to reward such things when people devise them? Whether you feel the need for such a device or not, it is certainly worth making available to the public AS AN OPTION. Making it mandatory, and penalizing manufacturers for not shoving it into every saw on the market is ridiculous, however.

  • cisco

    I think the invention of the sawstop is a good idea, however, the implementation of the device is a different story. Greed is up front and foremost, safety takes a backseat here.

    had I invented this devise, inspired by a personal injury, my main objective would be to get this devise installed on as many saws as possible, to help protect others from experiencing the same mishap I did. I know the money will start coming in later, and I will be happy twofold.

    However, the actual inventor seems to want his money first (and a lot of it), before he lets his devise start saving fingers. He himself stated early on that the prototypes where put together from electronics purchased at Radio Shack.

    I have seen a demonstration where the inventor activates the devise by using his own finger, the injury was nothing more than the nick on the hot dogs. As I understand, the SawStop table saws are assembled in China, like most other tools. I can go to china and find a saw manufacturer that will build a line of saws and add a sticker with my personal logo on the side and I can start selling it in this country as my own just as soon as it gets UL listed

  • steve h

    "i want to see the guy who makes the sawstop machine stick his finger into that spinning blade. maybe then i will believe that it will work.

    jay angel"

    He did just that…

    I like the Sawstop technology and would like to see the other manufacturers release their own, competition drives down prices.

    However, the verdict to this lawsuit was unfounded. Osario made the errors in judgement. Osario did not take all safety precautions suggested. Osario used a tool that operated exactly as described, therefore was not defective. Osario is at fault. Osario got rich.

    Something does not compute here.

  • jay angel

    this sawstop BS will be the end of most if not all table saws and soon it will migrate to most other pieces of woodworking equipment.
    i use a table saw to rip green wood, almost every day. how would that work with a sawstop? not at all i would imagine, all i would have would be a production delay of a couple of weeks while i waited for a new one to arrive.
    they are useless pieces of krap made to protect people who are not willing to observe basic safety when their fingers are near a spinning blade.
    i want to see the guy who makes the sawstop machine stick his finger into that spinning blade. maybe then i will believe that it will work.

  • Jason Miler

    Utterly ridiculous. That’s like saying the truck I bought should have had 4 wheel anti-lock disc brakes, a roll cage, front, back, side, top and bottom airbags, and a 5 point harness. No, if I wanted that, I should have bought that. The house I bought should have a roof that senses me falling off, deploying air mattresses from the foundation, too. Okay, maybe that doesn’t exist, but not everyone is sold on the SawStop either. The ting will apparently mistake a hotdog for ME! What else might make the thing practically self destruct? Don’t get me wrong, its a fascinating idea, its cool. But I don’t feel the need. Anyway, this is just what need, the government dictating what tool we use. Sadly, you can also see it coming.

  • Shannon Brown

    This is why such lawsuits p*ss me off so much; because of frivalous lawsuits like his, conservatives can use this in their effort of to curtail truly just lawsuits.

    And as far as health care is concerned, I supported the public option.

  • Noel

    It’s okay. Osorio and his attorney merely need to approach there elected Federal democrat and tell them the USA NEEDS to make a law that a US citizen HAS to purchase a specific table saw approved by the feds, or get fined.

    Hey, it worked with health insurance – it’s worth a shot!


  • lawrence i

    At $200 plus for the safety mechanism, and a price point of $150 for a table saw – who will ever attempt to put this safety mechanism in a bench top. If sawstop has not moved forward with this improvement to bench top saws, why is it expected that anybody else should.

    I vote that we start using the lawyers for testing safety devices before common sense and due diligence vanish for ever.

  • Bill C

    I agree our saw makers have not done due diligence in making them safer but this lawsuit is just plain frivolous; like putting a hot cup of coffee between your legs and then suing for the burns you received when you spilled it. How soon will we have some fool injure him/herself on the radial arm saw (one of the most dangerous saws in my opinion), the chop saw, the router, etc. People need to take responsibility for their actions for a change. Maybe Big Brother needs to require you take a safety class before you are allowed to purchase a tool that could injure you!

  • mitchell M

    to add to my comment above- you can liken the blade drop feature to what happens when you stick your toes in the spokes of the front wheel on your bike. you don’t exactly just stop right there, do you?

  • mitchell M

    Hey, Steve- thanks for pointing that out. I’ve been telling people for years that the ‘blade drop’ feature has nothing to do with safety (how dangerous is it once it stops spinning anyway?) and has EVERYTHING to do with dissipating that huge rotational energy. without it, you’d have bent and sheared shafts, destroyed bearings, etc.

  • Jim S.

    No one needs to worry about these saws going away anytime soon. There’s currently no federal rule requiring blade-stopping technology for any saw. Given the glacial pace of government rulemaking, and the fact that they usually allow years to phase the rule in, it will be years before saws must have the technology. (Honestly, we don’t know if a rule is even in the works).

    Despite lawsuits, the market is so lucrative that saw makers will still sell saws without the technology. The reaction to the court case among woodworkers indicates that many (most?) saw buyers don’t currently place much value in the technology (at least not at the current price). Some seem to totally despise the idea.

    However, as I’ve suggested several times in previous posts, I hope this makes the manufacturers wake up. Technologies almost always get cheaper and better once they’re produced in large numbers.

    What’s interesting to me is that if One World ever had good intentions of producing saws with the technology, they really backed the wrong horse. SawStop was invented in 1999 and mature enough to license in 2002. Then three guys who had never manufactured anything before were able to design and build a high-end cabinet saw in two years. (A saw that could compete with Powermatic and Delta’s Unisaw for quality).

    So the big guys decided to band together to build a competing technology in 2002. It’s now 2010, and the product is nowhere in sight. What’s wrong with this picture? At the rate they’re moving, I don’t think SawStop has much to worry about.

  • Jeremy Pringle

    Guns dont kill people… people kill people.

    In no way shape or fourm was the table saw at fault. If there was a sure fire way to hurt yourself on a table saw.. this guy had every angle covered. Now hes living the American dream: Move to America, hurt himself being dumb, sued someone, and now hes living large.

    So when all the manufactures stop making bench table saws, someone will cut their hand off with a band saw… then there will be no more bench band saws… then what?

    So what effect is this going to have on the American economy? How many people will lose their jobs making that product? Retailers? Consumers? One rock tossed in the water makes many ripples.

    Even people in these posts recently are showing their ignorance. One fool hurts himself, and now people are steering away from table saw usage. Give your head a shake and answer my question: How is the table saw more dangerous than a band saw? If your not careful… your going to lose digits. The end result is the same. Take the blinders off and stop convinicing yourself that one tool is safer than another. If your not careful, your going to get hurt, its that simple.

  • Chris C

    I had mentioned on one of the other blogs on this topic that the
    X factor reason manufacturers maybe hadn’t come to a licensing
    agreement was… they were developing their own flesh detection
    technology. Hey, it turns out I was actually right for once!

    It isn’t surprising. Like I said in that post, nobody producing
    thousands of saws in another country wants to be bound by
    a license/invention owned by one guy(or three as it happens). It’s
    too risky.

    But if you build your own, or better yet work in a group towards an
    open standard, you avoid that risk. that appears to be what is

    One question: If and when the PTI produces such technology, what
    will happen to SawStop?


  • Bruce Jackson

    I’ll be laying laminate flooring in the next month or so. Osorio’s poor choice of tools settles it for me. I’ll be using a band saw, a chop saw, and a jig saw for my job. I might even send my wife on a trip out of the house for a week or more so I’m not in any hurry to get the job done.

  • Dave

    So at what point will we have to go to a certification class and buy a license to own a table saw?

  • Steve

    "…the technology that SawStop uses on its saws requires a way for the blade, once stopped, to quickly fall into the cabinet and away from the operator."

    This is an oft-repeated, but somewhat misleading, statement. People tend to think that having the blade drop through the table is a safety measure, but in reality, it’s part of the mechanism that allows the blade to be stopped so quickly. The fact that the blade also moves out of the way is an added bonus, but it isn’t the primary rationale.

    A spinning saw blade has a moderate mass and a high angular velocity, giving it lots of angular momentum. As you’ll remember from physics class, momentum is conserved. So the only way to stop the blade is to transfer all of that angular momentum to something else. In the case of the SawStop, that something else is the carriage assembly. The carriage assembly has far more mass than the blade, so it doesn’t have to move nearly as quickly in order to have the same angular momentum as the blade. (Strictly speaking, the quantities of concern are the respective rotational moments of inertia, but that’s getting a bit beyond elementary physics.)

    Watch the SawStop video, and notice that as the blade is stopping, the carriage assembly begins to _rotate_ down below the table, rotating in the same direction as the blade. What you’re seeing is a portion of the angular momentum being transferred from the blade to the carriage. That’s the reason for the blade dropping below the table.

    The remainder of the blade’s angular momentum is converted into heat and other forms of mechanical energy from the crushing of the brake block, etc. Eventually, the carriage’s angular momentum is also converted into heat, transferred to movement of the entire saw body, a tiny blip in the rotational velocity of the earth, etc.

    Which brings us to another fundamental limitation of the applicability of the SawStop technology to small, lightweight saws: Eventually, all of the blade’s energy and momentum get transferred to the body of the saw itself, and a small saw would probably lurch unacceptably during an "incident."

    But that doesn’t mean that it’s impossible to incorporate a different kind of blade-stopping technology in a small saw: For example, the blade’s momentum could be transferred to a small flywheel inside the saw body, where it would spin harmlessly.


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