In Shop Blog, Table Saw Safety

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Over the past few weeks, the debate over proposed Consumer Product Safety Commission regulations for table saw safety has been in the news. Curiously, the reason for it being in the news wasn’t any new development; CPSC has been holding meetings with representatives from both SawStop and from the Power Tool Institute, but these meetings are part of the long, drawn out process of deciding whether or not safety mandates should be established. The debate has been in the news because it was in the news. National Public Radio covered the news on its Morning Edition program and soon other woodworking magazines and blogs were picking up the story. We chose not to cover the story at that time because there really wasn’t anything to report. No one from CPSC issued a press release, no new meetings were scheduled, and no action was taken.

The NPR story was mostly quotes from Sally Greenberg of the National Consumers League. It isn’t clear why the NCL chose to get involved in this issue, but it is clear that they are acting as an advocate for SawStop and Stephen Gass, the inventor and owner of the company. This is a complex issue, and it stirs up emotions on many levels. It clearly deserves a closer look at the details of what is going on and what is at stake, as well as a more reasoned debate. It is hard to find any good guys on either side of this story; on a small scale it represents nearly every facet of what is wrong with the way our system of corporate behavior, manipulation of the legal system and government regulation operates, as well as the way these issues are covered in the media, and the ways we as consumers react.

We’ve published more about this issue than anyone else, and we’ve tried to move past the emotional appeals and political rhetoric. We’ve looked at the statistics and arguments and tried to make sense of them, and we will continue to do so. Late last week, we received information from the Power Tool Institute, a coalition of machinery manufacturers who are against any new regulations. PTI makes the case that recently adopted UL standards have made table saws safer with minimal impact to the market place, and that anyone who wants buy a saw equipped with “flesh detecting technology” is free to do so. In the coming week, we’ll have the document we received from PTI available online.  We will also have a series of blog posts that summarize this issue. We will take a look at both sides, the good and bad points from each side, and we’ll review the history of technical developments, the debate surrounding them and how this will affect the market.

When this story makes the national media, such as USA Today or NPR’s Morning Edition it’s usually cast as a story of David (Gass and SawStop) vs. Goliath (the major machinery manufacturers). But there are two sides to David and two sides to Goliath. David the woodworker came up with a great idea, but David the patent attorney has so complicated things by filing for, and being granted numerous patents that if they were enforced would grant him a monopoly if regulations are imposed. The law enabling CPSC to impose regulations however specifically prevents them from writing rules that would favor one enterprise that way, and the petition for the commission to write regulations comes from the inventor who would benefit. There are also two sides to Goliath. The manufacturers followed existing safety regulations, and have developed and applied for a patent on an alternative technology. They also were essentially the authors of the existing regulations and hid behind them for years until they were backed into a corner and developed more sensible guard systems in 2007.

So stay tuned, sign up for the RSS feed and leave your comments. You’ll be seeing more in depth reports an all these aspects of this issue in the days and weeks ahead. I’ll be looking at how this issue has evolved, where we are today and what will likely happen in the future. When there is real news on this issue, you’ll find it here.

–Robert W. Lang


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Showing 6 comments
  • waterr

    If it works like EPA regulations that I deal with in my day job, they put out a proposal and solicit comments for a set period of time (probably 30 days). So when (IF) CPSC issues proposed regulations you can comment and let them know how you feel about it. Substantive comments generally work better than vague statements of liking or disliking the proposal. Specific reasons like the cost of the products, the impossibility of manufacturing certain size products with the safety equipment they’re looking for, etc. probably tend to work better than specific suggestions about where they can stick the proposal.

  • Ian N

    I’m from the other side of the Pacific, where a different safety mind set applies.

    As I understand it, Osirio was using the table saw to scribe a board to fit a wall. Surely the appropriate tool to do this is a small (say 8″) band saw? With a chop saw used to cut boards to length.

    If the event that led to Osirio’s injuries had occured here, the first recourse would have been against the employer for supplying the wrong tool (table saw rather than small band saw), or for modifying the table saw (i.e. removing the blade guard and rip fence). The issue of whether the table saw should have had “flesh sensing technology” would then not be relevant as flesh sensing or not, the table saw is the wrong tool for the job.


  • dreamcatcher

    The problem with gaining national media attention is that doing so spurs politicians and know-nothing-safety-advocates on board wanting to save the american people from harming themselves. Next thing you know table saws are as ‘dangerous’ as guns and should probably just be altogether banned; “Even one table saw injury per year is too many!”

    It’s only a matter of time until someone reports of the risks that table saws without flesh detection pose to children. Not the children!

    Well, they can only have my table saw if they can pull it out of my dusty, chapped hands!!!


  • DonP

    This is not a SawStop specifically observation.

    I am pleased to see PW continue to provide information on this matter. A fact based conversation is needed.
    I do believe that a third player should be added to the list of culprits. Us!
    Why do we as woodworkers continue to purchase lesser products when clearly better alterative are available. At the same time funding a amazing renaissance of high quality hand tools.

    Thanks again

  • Mitch Wilson

    Yeah, the NPR report was rather dismaying. As you pointed out, it had absolutely nothing new to say. It also implied that all you had to do was add a (cheap) doohickey to your table saw and we would all be safe and secure. I’ve been an NPR listener and supporter since the mid-70s, but I have been concerned that the quality of at least some of their reporting has become sloppy and superficial. Especially their consumer oriented stories. Fortunately, we have you and other interested publications to keep us duly informed. Thanks much.


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