GWOT: Global War on Tablesaws
I just read another post about a fellow who hurt himself on his table saw. I think it takes guts to report an injury like this on a wood working forum and I applaud all who do. Unfortunately, I’ve seen several such posts and I don’t read the “Normal” forums.
I make all sorts of mistakes in my shop. I think I’m a little clumsy in some ways. But none of my accidents have or even have the potential to rob me of my digits. And I guess I’m wondering how long we’re going to sit here and do nothing about the table saw. We express our sympathies, suggest one can continue doing good work without one’s fingers (even though we know it’s not true) and move on.
I’m sympathetic to the issue: A basketball injury left me with a poorly functioning right forefinger. The middle joint dislocated while blocking a chest pass and the upper bone punched thru the skin on the inside of my hand. All the ligaments and tendons were damaged. It’s a common injury for basketball players but a devastating one for woodworkers who enjoy fixing cars. I have very little grip in my right hand, and my hand aches (even after 13 years) following a hard day’s work. I was told my middle finger would compensate. It hasn’t. My wife has to open the pickle jars. This is a tiny glimmer of what it must be like to lose even a portion of a finger.
So I’m thinking it’s time to declare all out war on table saws. There are people in this world who have to use table saws. But I’m not convinced any of us are among them. There are alternatives. I’m looking to the woodworking press (in all its forms) to take the lead here. Its been (we) the press that have told woodworkers the table saw is a “must have” and “essential tool”. We have called it the “heart of the workshop” and depicted it prominently in photos and articles. I think it’s high time we start having frank discussions about the darker side of this tool. In short, it’s dangerous and its unnecessary.
I suspect that many injuries go unreported and woodworkers need to know that in the flash of a second, your future work can be very different. I don’t believe there should be a home in any shop for a tool that can do this. Paraphrasing President Bush, we need to route these tools from the basements where they hide and bring them to justice.
Here’s what I propose: I’d like to see a series of articles in PW (other magazines are welcome to join, Asa) about the risks and reasonable alternatives. I think some such articles have been run, but I’d like to see them repackaged and focused specifically on replacing the table saw. I think Europeans have a few interesting tools like the rail based Festool products. Maybe Marc Spagnuolo can help. They also have special guards. I learned this from Kelly Mehler who’s Felder equipped shop is a sight to behold. Kelly has used table saws and taught students how to use them for a long time. I can tell you, he’s no great fan of the table saw and freely admits it scares him.
Table Saw Magic? The only thing magic about the table saw is that it can rob you of your fingers in the blink of an eye. No offense to Norm, but I’m not crazy about the reproduction in the background. I recall that episode and thought it lacked all the charm of the original. Had Norm used his hand planes and saws (yes he has them) I think it would have been a nicer project. Interestingly, Jim Tolpin, author of “Table Saw Magic” has recently given away his stationary power tools. Tolpin is going unplugged. At least Norm has left the guards on. How many of you have guards on your table saws?
Chris Schwarz recently editorialized about table saw law suits that may force the industry to incorporate expensive guards. I took Chris’ comments to mean he was concerned about the lawsuits pricing some woodworkers out the hobby, or pricing some manufacturers out of business. In my opinion, I think we should employ the “preemptive counterstrike”. If you need this saw to make your living, you need the additional safety equipment. If you are looking to do weekend projects or are new to the hobby, skip the table saw all together.
It has been my experience that a few people, a few articles, and consistent public statements can affect change. This is your chance to get in on the ground floor. It isn’t true that table saws are essential tools. They aren’t. Woodworkers need to see and hear from us on this issue before someone else gets hurt. Let’s put table saws on the endangered species list. Not illegal, not extinct. Endangered.