Table Saw Guards: Pass and Fail
When people visit our shop at Woodworking Magazine, they are surprised to see the guards in place on our Powermatic 66.
“Those are on just for visitors, right?” is the typical reaction.
Actually no. Years ago I got religion on table saw guards. It wasn’t because of an accident , I am accident-free on the machine. Instead, I decided to use a guard at every opportunity after shaking the hands of woodworkers at shows who had missing fingers. I concluded that it wasn’t a question of “if” I would get injured. It was just a matter of “when.”
So we installed two bits of aftermarket safety gear on the table saw. All told, the upgrade cost us less than $200, but there have been some bumps in the road with both the basket guard and the splitter. In the spirit of Safety Week 2009, I’d like to give you an honest long-term assessment of this equipment.
The MJ Splitter from MicroJig
I installed this little splitter on our 66 in 2004. I also installed it on my Unisaw at home. Because the jig is $20, this should be a no-brainer for all but the professional skinflints among us.
In essence, the MJ Splitter is a semi-circle bit of polycarbonate that presses into three holes in your saw’s throat plate. You get two splitters with the kit. And each face presses your wood against your fence to a different degree.
Installation was a snap. The instructions were great and everything went together as promised. And I was quite happy for the first year.
The problem with both the jig at work and the jig at home is that the three little legs below the splitter become weak or bent after use. The first time I had trouble was when I was ripping some stock that had a little bit of tension in it. The kerf closed on the MJ Splitter and pulled it out of the throat plate on my saw.
This happened more and more as the little legs got weaker and bent. Now it’s time to replace the whole thing. The splitter is difficult to push into the throat plate and comes out far too easily. I wish the legs were made from a more robust material. But what do you want for $20?
All in all, it’s silly not to get the MJ Splitter, but it is silly to expect it will last forever.
Penn State Industries Dust Collection Guard
Among aftermarket basket-style guards, the one from Penn State Industries has all the features you need at a remarkable price , just $170 direct from the company.
It has a shatterproof clear plastic blade cover that has a counterbalance on it. Moving the basket up and down is a breeze. There’s even a port for dust collection to help reduce the spray of sawdust from certain cuts. And you can use the system with just about any blade, including dado stacks.
So what’s the downside? The guard tended to sag, which is no surprise because of all the weight cantilevered out over the blade. No matter how firmly we fastened the whole assembly to our saw and a storage cabinet, it still tended to droop.
So we fixed it MacGyver-style with a paperclip, some nylon twine and Nair (just joking about the Nair). We looped some string around a fitting in the ceiling and tied it to the paperclip. Then we bent the paperclip into a hook shape and hooked it to the guard. The string prevents the guard from sagging and the paperclip allows us to unhook the guard when we need to slide it aside.
Bottom line: I’d purchase this guard again.
– Christopher Schwarz
P.S. Read the other Safety Week stories here.