In Shop Blog, Techniques

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There are a couple of techniques I use to sort out thorny and complicated issues; follow the money and check the math. I also try to remember that my little corner of the world is just that, it isn’t necessarily a reflection of the world at large. Like most serious woodworkers I don’t want to see any one get hurt, and at the same time I don’t want my personal choices limited by someone else, so I’m concerned about the petition before the Consumer Product Safety Commission to mandate “flesh detection technology” on new table saws.

The general public is being presented with this issue as one of dangerous machinery, numerous injuries and an affordable easily adoptable solution. Yes, there are a lot of accidents every year to users of table saws, and these accidents can have a devastating effect and cost us all money. But is the proposed solution really about improved safety for everyone? If you dig below the surface there is a lot more to this issue, and a lot of things we assume to be true because of our particular point of view turn out to be just the opposite.

Last Friday, we received a letter and a four page statement from the Power Tool Institute, an industry group representing several major machinery manufacturers. At the end of this post, you will find a link to a copy of this document in PDF format. Rather than pull out bits and pieces, we encourage you to read everything that PTI has to say, follow the money and check the math. Until now, PTI has been relatively quiet on this issue. As a group, they have a lot at stake, and no matter which side of the debate you’re on, there is some surprising and interesting information in their statement. This and following posts will look at different aspects of this information and we can try to sort this out together. Please leave a comment or send me an e-mail if you’d like to weigh in.

We like to think that we, and our readers represent the woodworking community as a whole. The last time we checked, most of our readers owned what we consider to be serious table saws; about 60% own contractor type saws, about 30% own cabinet saws and less than 10% own benchtop or portable saws. In the real world, it’s just the opposite. Yearly cabinet saw sales number in the thousands, contractor saw sales in the tens of thousands, and benchtop saws in the hundreds of thousands. Benchtop saws are where the money is in the table saw business, and this segment of the market could well disappear if CPSC steps in.

So if most of the saws in use are the value-engineered benchtop saws it makes sense that they account for most of the injuries. That was my assumption; I tend to agree with those that think these low-end saws are inherently dangerous. But most of the reported injuries happen on contractor and cabinet saws. As a group, we need to take responsibility for our own safety, and stop putting our hands into the path of our table saw blades. The cheap saws on the market aren’t ruining things for those of us who are more serious about the hobby and better equipped. The numbers suggest it to be the other way around.

The question of the day is this. Is it possible to equip benchtop saws with a SawStop-like device for anywhere near the $100 price we hear quoted so often? There is a lot of energy involved in stopping a table saw blade, and the saw itself must be able to absorb that. I doubt that a typical benchtop saw, as configured today would survive. It would be like setting off an automobile air-bag in a toy car, there wouldn’t be much left.

I was at the AWFS fair when the first SawStop prototype was unveiled. At the time, the cost was estimated to be $100 more than the typical cabinet saw. When production models first appeared, the difference in price was much higher, and today the SawStop industrial cabinet saw costs about $1000 more than a comparably equipped Powermatic 2000 table saw. Price a SawStop contractor’s saw against a similarly equipped Jet contractor’s saw, and the difference in price is about $800 with the SawStop costing about twice as much as the Jet. As the debate over regulation continues, this $100 cost per saw figure is still being used.

That figure makes it sound sensible to require a brake on every saw. I’d like to see a prototype of a small saw at somewhere near that price, but I think I’d stand as far away as I could for the hot dog test of such a saw. If CPSC requires brakes on all table saws, and a brake-equipped benchtop saw is possible to engineer, the cost will likely be around $1000. Will casual users of tables saws decide to spend five times more for an entry level saw, or will they start bolting circular saws upside down to any handy surface with a cobbled together fence? Which of those scenarios would be safer?

Heartless as it may seem, adoption of government regulations comes down to a cost/benefit analysis. In a comment on an earlier post a reader pointed out that recent media coverage of this issue makes it sound quick and easy; slap a $100 gizmo on every saw and no one will ever get hurt again. Let’s take a realistic look at the numbers, and ask the media and CPSC to do the same.

–Robert W. Lang

Click the link below to download the statement from the Power Tool Institute

PTI Statement



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Showing 29 comments
  • rsz01

    Why don’t they put a breathalyzer on every car? Wouldn’t it stop all the deaths and harm from drunk drivers? Why not simply make cigarettes illegal and eliminate all the death and expense of lung cancer and emphysema? Obviously there are more things involved here than common sense.

  • Gerald Wayne Wheeler

    Mr. Lang, your statement — “As a group, we need to take responsibility for our own safety, and stop [intentionally] putting our hands into the path of our table saw blades” – tends to hang in my craw. Try selling that statement to an accident victim (such as an employee) that had no Kamikaze intentions or an employeer. In my 40+ years in woodworking, it mattered not that I was/am pro (safety) active, workers still got hurt and no one ever deliberately put their hand in a powered saw blade, their accidents were just that — unforeseen accidents. I know firsthand that there is now proven technology that can and does greatly diminish table saw accidents as our Shop Foreman experienced one and has shared his experience having articles written by national magazines about his then unique table saw (non-injury) ‘accident’. Though He didn’t intentionally put his hand in the path of the blade, but thanks to the affordable proven safety technology that’s on the market today and in our table saws, – his hand was completely spared (regardless whether or not he intentionally put his hands into the path of the table saw blade)! I sleep much better at nights knowing our (hand operated) table saws are now safer. Gerald Wayne Wheeler; Founder, Cabinet Door Shop; Hot Springs, Arkansas.

  • mkroemer

    Here we go again…our government trying to protect us from ourselves!

  • LouisianaJoe

    When I see predatory legal action such as this, I get angry. One company is trying to make the saw that most DIYers use so expensive that we will not be able to afford them.

    I will not buy a product from Saw-Stop after reading this. I will also not buy a product that uses their patents.

  • rustyaurand

    If the government issued regulations to protect the stupid things people do, there would be so many that they would: 1. Be uninforceable 2. Cause the library of congres to expand it’s space 4 fold and 3. Create BIG BROTHER in every thing we do. Get a life people, if you don’t follow the saftey rules published by the manufacturers, suffer!

  • Dick76

    I agree with dreamcatcher, use common sense, take your time, think your cuts through before making them. Supposedly “safe technology” puts too many people to sleep when they should be watching. Work Safely and enjoy a great hobby. Get the government out of this, their record is not that good.

  • capnjack2

    This is RIDICULOUS! First of all, $100 will not cover the cost of any real flesh-detecting mechanism. You’d be better off installing something like the Grrripp’r (or however you spell the name of that push stick) and requiring the user to employ it to make any cut. Machine wont work if you touch the wood. And secondly, you have to use the fence or miter gauge for any cut, right? Well, this moron was using NEITHER! He was attempting a tapered cut freehand. Should have jigged up something as a tapered fence. Third, what if he had been using a Powermatic or Jet or Delta cabinet saw. The issue of smaller saws being unsafe/less safe would not be on the table then. Dreamcatcher is 100% right: common sense and a little familiarity with the machine works on every machine in the shop. Think it through: will there eventually be flesh-detecting gouges and chisels for my lathe???!!!??

  • Milford

    By now, everyone seems to have forgotten that this whole issue began with the consequences of the grossest possible misuse of a tabletop saw, possibly by someone who hadn’t been properly instructed before being allowed to use it and certainly not adequately supervised, judged by a jury whose members probably had never even used a table saw – a fine example of dreamcatcher’s “ignorance” at its worst. Before that, every injury was treated as necessary without government intervention. At about the same time, a possible safety feature was invented, apparently with all possible alternatives excluded, and now the government would like to step in and demand that this person’s product, always for his financial benefit, be included on all table saws, whether or not that is even physically feasible – the possibilities of trying to stop rotating machinery on a light-weight tool have been described by a number of writers here. This is definitely not the way to progress toward safer tools. Safer operators, however, can not be created by government edict, so we have no way of knowing what the future consequence of table saw use will be; a number of other possibilities than blade contact have also been described.

  • retiredseal

    I am one of the miss fortunenet that have had an accident with a table saw, luckaly it only cut the tip of my index finger. I have little to no sensation on the inside and middle of my finger. I think I read that when he first invented his technology he offered it to all the manufactures and they dismissed the idea. I feel that like all technology as it comes available the whole industry should take the initative and adapt. I think Gass came up with a wonderful and safe idea and I know that SAWSTOP saws are more costly that the average saw but if you put it perspactive, the cost of an injury out weighs the cost. My accident cost over $6000.00 and I still have my finger and still can use it. I have since purchased a contractor Sawstop saw and I love the added safety. It is about time that the rest of the industry catches up and implaments the same type or something like the Sawstop technology.

  • mitch

    it’s always been my impression (and i do have some professional background in the area of mechanical engrg & production mfg) that the oft-quoted “$100” figure to equip all saws with SawStop tech is a long-term best-case-scenario number, VERY LOOSELY, and VERY OPTIMISTICALLY, based on the supposition that if ALL saws were made with it, the per unit cost would eventually get down that low. however, i seriously doubt it even begins to account for the expense of the massive re-engineering necessary to install the technology (electrical isolation of the arbor, beefing up the frame & drive components*, completely re-configuring the drive system, etc.) and re-tooling for production. it was NEVER going to be possible to simply retrofit existing saws or plug it into existing designs without a MAJOR OVERHAUL.

    *the ‘blade drop’ feature on SawStop units is sold as an additional safety mechanism, but it has virtually NOTHING WHATSOEVER to do with safety (how dangerous is a stopped blade, right?). it has everything to do with transferring & dissipating the tremendous energy of a blade, shaft, motor windings, etc, rotating at 4000 rpm. imagine sticking your toes in the spokes of the front wheel of a bicycle going 100 mph. all that rotational energy doesn’t just magically evaporate into space, now does it? IMHO, it’s entirely possible that bench-top saws do not weigh enough to handle blade stop mechanisms in their current configuration. the ‘blade drop’ would likely flip them- perhaps rather violently. another strong likelihood is that lightweight bench-top saws would simply have to be considered ‘disposable’ (irreparably damaged) by triggering the blade brake. instead of replacing a cartridge, you’d just replace the entire machine.

  • leftistelf

    Gass is an inventor of wonderful technology other manufacturers never considered or, at least, never brought to market. Touching a spinning blade is bad news for everyone. He should be compensated for his technology invention.

    His actions to require this technology due to a change in law/rules rubs me the wrong way. I detest patent trolls, but I detest patent trolls that want to create a monopoly even more.

    He acts like Apple. And his technology is just as novel as Apple’s. But Apple doesn’t mandate Apple technology. I own Apple technology. I like it.

    I believe consumers should have choice. I like both inventors’ technologies a tremendous amount. I will purchase a Sawstop, gladly paying $1000 more to ensure my safety, just like I pay a premium for Apple products. But I want choice. Gass’s actions are nothing more than a patent troll requiring all manufacturers to use his technology. I see the altruistic motive, but i despise his method. If he wants to help more consumers, he should license his technology cost effectively.


    I lost the end of my right ring finger in a table saw. It wasn’t the saw’s fault, it was me being careless and not using my pushstick. It is ridiculous to make manufacturers scapegoats for my carelessness. All the law would do is raise prices on Tablesaws. Would I like the sawstop, you bet, but I’m also satisfied with the saw I could afford. Just my 2 cents.
    Sincerely, Michael Wurm, Mich.

  • Rob Porcaro


    Great job covering this issue, thanks.

    We all like the idea of safety, but nothing is free and all things have consequences, many of which are difficult or impossible to foresee. This is particularly true when even well-intentioned government regulators get into the game.

    As a matter of personal choice, I own a Saw Stop cabinet saw and like it for its quality and relative safety. Quite another matter, however, is the government dictating the marketplace with very specific device requirements, replacing our ability to choose in the matter. Such requirements are almost invariably heavily influenced by favored “insider” corporate operatives who use their position to slant things in their favor. In other words, the government is not an impartial referee, but picks de facto winners and losers in the game. All under the claim of helping us because we are supposedly not wise enough to choose for ourselves.

    Not always, but usually, the narrow “wisdom” of a few in the government is no match for the broader, more dynamic, and more adaptable realizations and good sense of the many as exercised through a more free marketplace. Perhaps there is another, or six other, great safety ideas out there whose development will be stunted by regulations favoring a particular device such as Saw Stop’s. As you point out, Bob, maybe costs will drive some woodworkers to do foolish rigging of cheaper methods and get hurt that way. Perhaps a black market will develop of cheap tools with even worse safety. Maybe many experienced companies will drop their lines of table saws and inexperienced companies will produce saws that are deficient or unsafe in other aspects. And so forth.

    I am not saying all government safety regulations are a bad idea, nor that the marketplace is infinitely effective in all matters. But government restrictions, particularly at the behest of those who stand to gain directly from them, ought to be viewed, at the very least, with great suspicion, and the possible consequences must be considered. Government bureaucrats seem rarely to think these things through, instead looking for superficially attractive “solutions.”

    Rob Porcaro

  • GregMiller

    Robert, I am still watching with interest this debate from down here in Australia. Having read the PTI statement and having kept an ear to the unfolding saga in the USA around this matter, it would appear that the real issue confronting you may no longer be about safety. It’s about commercial advantage, a desire to monopolise a market and attempt to stifle innovation through legal means in order to eliminate any future competition. Good old entrepreneurial capitalism at its worst. I hope your CPSC ultimately acts for the common good. There is a lot at stake here.

  • dreamcatcher

    As a professional woodworker I often come off as anti-amateur. It’s not that I am a total jerk but imagine how would a veterinarian feesl about a hobbyist animal doctor? That’s how I feel too. So please, hear me out.

    In the realm of table saws I would like to think that I have used more sizes, types, and qualities of table saw in my life time than the majority of your readership. In that regard, I deem that your statement “…these low-end saws are inherently dangerous…” is quite opposite the truth. A table saw is a simple machine consisting of a blade, a table, and a fence. It doesn’t matter the brand, I know exactly what it is going to do when I turn it on. So the problem therein doesn’t reside with the low quality saw but rather with the low quality user of the saw.

    Here’s the deal, I don’t care if the price of saws goes through the roof. If raising the prices to ridiculous levels saves thousands of people from getting hurt then I guess I am for it. But it doesn’t really solve the problem,it just uses cost and technology to side step the real issue: Ignorance = Injury.

    Here’s a basic fact of the matter – the vast majority of injuries that happen on a table saw (or any shop tool for that matter) happen not because of equipment design flaws but because of the ignorance of the operator. Now, don’t get all awry just because I used the term ‘ignorance’. Let’s be rational here! If you really understand how a table saw works then you understand that it cannot hurt you if you use it properly. That is; If you don’t stick your body parts into the spinning blade then you won’t get cut. It really is that simple. If at some point you get the notion that you might stick your hand into the blade then immediately stop what you are doing and think it over – there is probably a safer way.

    I recall having this debate (here or maybe on another forum) and someone mentioned that he didn’t get hurt on his saw because of ignorance but rather because he was “just too tired and trying to do things too fast.” That’s being ignorant folks. Another person suggested that “it’s not always the saw operator’s fault – i.e. what if you’re sawing and your wife and kids walk into the shop and distract you.” Duh, shut off the saw. To keep sawing with distractions around you is plain ignorant. Find me a person who was cut by a table saw and I will find a person that was injured due to ignorance.

    In my 17 years of professional use I have never been injured by a table saw (*). Funny thing is that I am not a safety nut. I don’t use blade guards. I don’t use splitters. I don’t have an extraordinarily safe work environment. I don’t own a SawStop. I am not some woodworking guru and I am definitely not just lucky so far – I simply think my cuts through. I know my limitations and more importantly I know the limitations of the machine. If a particular cut seems dangerous on the table saw I might decide to use a different tool or method to make the cut.

    I use common sense to overcome ignorance and that’s the real way to stay out of danger. It’s far more cost efficient than any mechanical nanny device and 1000 times more effective. It’s there whether I am using a brand new Saw Stop or a 100 year old POS table saw. Better yet, it works on all the tools in my shop.

    (* note : for some reason, whenever I use this as a reasoning why my methods are safer than someone who has already been injured I am often accused of gloating as well as ‘cursed’ to be injured soon. For the record, I am gloating. Since when did having a perfect safety record become a bad thing? And why would anyone wish or even suggest future harm onto another? Just because you perform ‘dangerous’ tasks everyday doesn’t mean you must succumb to the same fate as everyone else whom has performed that task before you.)

    Thanks for reading this rant. Please, stay safe and have some common sense.

  • Toma

    All the pros I know have cabinet saws in their shop and also have bench top saw to haul around when needed. I

    All the amateurs I know use bench top models. Pros spend many hours week in and week out at the saw, sooner or later they may get careless,but it may take years or it may never happen. Pros know the rules, safe habits become second nature.
    The worst accidents I have personally heard about have been from inexperienced users on a bench top saw. The woodshop is full of dangerous things, and nothing can protect a careless worker. If we need this protection on table saws why not radial arm saws, band saws etc.? This proposed legislation will cut down on the number of injuries because it will cut down on the number of saws.
    The words of Ronald Reagan come to mind, ” the scariest words you can hear… I’m from the government and I’m here to help you.”

  • Justin Tyson

    I appreciate that you are taking a reasoned approach to this argument, as I, too, am worried about the consequences of a government-mandated safety device on every new table saw. However, some of your reasoning is misleading, if not incorrect.

    “If most of the saws in use are the value-engineered benchtop saws it makes sense that they account for most of the injuries…But most of the reported injuries happen on contractor and cabinet saws.”

    You mentioned that annual portable tablesaw sales greatly outnumber the sales of contractor and cabinet saws, but this does not necessarily indicate that there are more portable saws “in use” than contractor and cabinet saws. Consider that portable tablesaws have been in production for a much shorter period of time, and there are many, many old contractor and cabinet saws still in use. They are built to last longer than a tabletop saw, and they do.

    Consider also that the total number of hours logged at a particular type of saw in a year’s time is probably a much better predictor of the number of accidents that occur at that type of saw than the total number of units sold in a year’s time. A saw in a commercial cabinet shop may be used for six hours a day, but a portable saw on a construction site may only see twenty minutes of use. Similarly, a serious hobbyist who spends several hours a week in the shop is more likely to have a contractor or cabinet saw, but the piddler who only fires up the tablesaw to make gifts between Thanksgiving and Christmas is more likely to be satisfied with a portable saw. (Of course, this brings up the issue of the affect that experience and familiarity have on the rate of accidents – which lends more evidence to the obvious fact that it is a complicated issue) In reality, there may not be much difference at all between the average annual number of hours that a portable saw is used compared to a contractor or cabinet saw, but without data, how do we really know?

  • JaredMcMahon

    This all makes me wonder about vehicle airbags. They started as an added bonus, a selling point. Now they’re mandated. When I first heard about the push to legislate the SawStop technology, I thought “This feature is a very nice added bonus but certainly not a necessity.” Then the airbag parallel struck me. Looks like I have some reading to do about how that process happened and who the winners and losers were. Might help shed a little light on the future of SawStop technology.

    Full disclosure: due to space, power *and* safety concerns, I personally went the bandsaw route for my primary piece of machinery.

  • cam1297

    I am looking forward to the following posts. I appreciate the impartial stance being taken by PWM. That’s why you are the best.

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