California Table Saw Law Doesn't Make the Cut - Popular Woodworking Magazine

California Table Saw Law Doesn’t Make the Cut

 In Shop Blog, Table Saw Safety, Woodworking Blogs

Back in May 2012, it appeared that the state of California was prepared to adopt legislation requiring “flesh detection technology” on all new table saws sold in that state after January 2015. The legislation was introduced this spring, and passed the California house by a wide margin. In late June the bill was approved by a Senate committee and at the time it was expected that there would be a vote on the issue in August. According to the Los Angeles Times, the bill was allowed to die at the end of the legislative session because there weren’t enough favorable votes in the Senate for passage.

The proposed bill faced heavy lobbying by the Power Tool Institute and by retailer Home Depot. Supporters of required safety devices will now  wait to see if the Consumer Product Safety Commission will act on Federal regulations to require devices to detect when the saw blade makes contact with the human body and stop the blade in time to prevent injuries. Currently SawStop is the only manufacturer using such technology, and lengthy battles over patent issues and the mandate to CPSC that their rules not give a monopoly to any one company are expected.

Robert W. Lang

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Showing 22 comments
  • Patrick_G

    Hi, New here today. I don’t like to many rules and regulations. My question is are the power tool manufacturers driven by saftey or profit? I would say by profit! I have been using a Sears table saw for about 35 years and with no blade guard or splitter on it. I have gone to Woodcraft and looked at the Sawstop saws and they are very well built and thought out saws!!!

  • Lindy1933

    Didn’t Saw Stop offer to negotiate the rights to Delta and others for the patent rights at a reasonable price? And they refused because it would raise the cost of their product. The decision apparantly was made by an accountant not a woodworker because the devise will save a percent of expensive injury to us. So the fellow made that “Screw You” decision and made the Saw Stop machine … I don’t blame him a bit. I bought a saw stop when I was about 76 and thought that I might do something stupid after 60 years of woodworking. I had ten fingers before I bought the Saw Stop and I still have them. No blades destroyed as mentioned above. It is a pretty well made saw though I could tell them some things to make it better … same same with my old Delta that I gave away. Don’t tell me “Made in America” stuff because most all our woodworking power tools are made somewhere else and maybe assembled in America.

    • Lindy1933

      The only thing wrong with whole law idea IMHO is that the politicians will make a half right/half wrong law and everyone will be stuck with it; the good the bad and the ugly. If you don’t want the safety of the Saw Stop device, don’t buy it but be prepared to pay more for insurance because there are woodworkers out there doing stupid things. Does this sound familiar? It is midnight, “I know I’m tired but I only have this one more cut to make.”

  • rbsrig

    This law was stopped (appropriately) because of pressure on the legislature from industry, but also from woodworkers like me, who have all 10 fingers and believe that one can’t effectively legislate against stupidity. Firstly, in 90% of the shops into which I have walked, (i live in California) even those saws that have available guards, do not have them mounted.) Secondly if the inventor of SawStop were a real American, the machine would be made here, not in China, and he would license the technology to anyone making saws for $1.00. Third, although seat belts do save lives, the air bags on cars have made a greater contribution. Third: I would not buy a saw that destroyed the blade each time the sensor fired. The law “could” have been passed if it were limited to schools and industrial shops. The sponsor went too far. Robert, I suggest that you speak with real life woodworkers who work in their shops every day and ask them how they feel about this legislation. I agree that safety should be a prime consideration, BUT, the government should not make the mistake of pandering to the lowest common denominator.

  • LHWoodworking

    I think what I like the best about woodworking, is that it brings me into a huge community of fellow conservatives.


    I wish this bill had been aimed exclusively at the commercial woodworking industry as I do not agree with the bill for the homeowner/hobbyist, but do agree with this level of safety for the guys that are working on this saw 8-10 hours a day, rain or shine, tired or not.
    Honestly, the extra $400 per saw for a cabinet shop isn’t going to break them. And if the commercial insurance people were smart, they would offer rate reductions for having this kind of safety apparatus.

    HERE’S THE SCOOP: It’s OSHA that is going to step in and make this mandatory!! Just like when they were trying to make everything non-smoking and bill after bill was shot down, OSHA simply stepped in and said smoke was dangerous to the employees and that was that. No need for a Senate vote…just the strong arm of OSHA.

  • shannonlove

    I’m pleasantly shocked the California did something sane. Let’s hope the Feds follow suit. California’s supposed consumer and environmental protection laws are so overboard that they are counter productive.

    I learned that over 15 years ago when I brought a product from Home Depot and saw a California warning label on it saying it contained known carcinogens. The product? Play sand for sand boxes! It is true that if you inhale enough fine, dust like sand over a period of decades it will raise your risk of getting some type of lung cancer a notch but the exposure from a sandbox or working with play sand from a bag? The actual absolute risk for any individual is zero.

    I also saw a California warning on one of the big woodworking sites for all their woodworking plans. One caught my eye in particular: A plan for wooden pine box like you’d build in cub scouts. Why? It might be painted.

    California requires a label for any product with any component that has been shown to be carcinogenic in any quantity, realistic or not, by any assay method. Since half of all substances, natural or artificial will produce a positive result when used in large quantities on sensitive assays, the law ends up labeling literally everything.

    And since everything has a warning, nothing has a warning because everyone learns to reflexively read the warning.

    • Steve_OH

      I’m not a fan of the Prop 65 law and the omnipresent warning labels (I don’t think it’s particularly effective), but in its defense, I have to say that they’re doing it about as intelligently as they can within the constraints of the law. It’s actually pretty difficult to get a chemical added to the list (it has to be supported by real evidence), and items are occasionally removed from the list when new evidence suggests that they are not as hazardous as previously thought.

      And it’s not true that a label is required in all cases. About half of the chemicals on the list include a “no significant risk” or “maximum allowable dose” exposure level. If the exposure is below that level, the label is not required (see


      • shannonlove

        I think you’re wrong about how the intent for the law to be reasonable is translated into reality. The last time I checked a few months back, bags of play sand still carried a warning. Probably the only people who actually need that warning are the people working at the plant where they fill the bags and they are the least likely to read it.

        I was originally trained as a biologist and I can tell you that “real evidence” for carcinogen effect can be utterly notional. There are many types of carcinogenic assay methods and they have wildly different cost and accuracies. Historical epidemiology e.g. finding people who were exposed to known amounts and seeing how many got cancer, is the best, most expensive, hardest to do and the least seldom done. The worst, least expensive, easiest and most often done is to expose human cells to unrealistically high levels of a substance and count how many mutate. It is the latter test that is the basis for most cancer warnings.

        It’s a valid, scientific assay method that meets the letter of the law. It also tells you absolutely nothing about the risk in real world exposures.

        Trouble is, we know for certain that all the non-epidemiological carcinogen assays are overly sensitive because while our exposure to notional carcinogens over the last 50-100 years has increased literally by a factor of hundreds of thousands, cancer rates corrected for an aging population and known causes such as smoking, sunbathing, radon etc, have barely budged overtly and have probably decreased significantly. If the cancer assays actually reflected the real world risk, then cancer rates, especially in the non-elderly would be something like 30 times higher than they are.

        The FDA says that only 2% of all cancers are caused by exposure to natural and artificial chemicals. Most of those are industrial exposures. That really doesn’t warrant slapping a label virtually everything especially when it makes the real needed warnings e.g. on a bottle of Toluene, invisible.

        Scaring people about cancer is big business (literally) and big politics as well. When money and politics get hold of science, nothing good happens.

        • Steve_OH

          I didn’t say that the law was being reasonably translated into reality. I said that they’re handling it as reasonably as possible given the constraints that they’re faced with. The sand vendor undoubtedly keeps the warning on the play sand simply because he feels that it’s simpler/cheaper to do it that way, and that the negative connotation of the label doesn’t damage his prospects of selling his products enough to worry about.

          Which is why I said that I don’t think the law is particularly effective. There is going to be a small contingent of people who will knee-jerk refuse to buy anything with the label, and a large majority of people who will basically ignore it, because they see it everywhere. And maybe three people who understand what the label means and act accordingly…

          I don’t think the mix of science and business is the real problem. I think the real problem is that people want everything to be black-and-white, yes/no, and reality is never like that. I just read a relevant comment (on a completely different subject) at another web site: “One big part of being educated is learning to say ‘I don’t know.’”

          People don’t want to hear, “I don’t know.” If the weather forecast calls for a 20% chance of rain, and it rains, a lot of people are going to say that the forecast was wrong…

          As you should know, in the scientific world, virtually nothing is simple. But in the pragmatic, day-to-day world, simple virtually always trumps sensible. Sometimes that’s for the better, but more often it just drives sensible people crazy…


  • Dixie Gunsmithing

    I am, quite frankly, pleased with this, but I wished it had went for vote, and was defeated soundly.

    I have been woodworking since I was 16, and have ran a table saw since, and I am now 47, and have never been hurt with a saw, because I was taught, by my father, how to be safe with them.

    Currently, almost every new saw coming out, including the table top, and the contractor types, have a riving knife, and anti-kickback pawls, and that is all that is needed with a good guard.

    I had a Ryobi, which was what the first suit was about, and it had a splitter, with anti-kickback pawls, and the gentleman at the time should never have been hurt, and most likely would not have, if he had use the safety features, and a fence.

    Right now, I have a new Porter-Cable table-top saw, and it has the riving knife, anti-kickback pawls, and a split blade guard, and I couldn’t as for a safer saw, to be honest. To me, that’s all that’s needed to be safe, along with some training at the start, and you shouldn’t be able to get hurt, or that is if you follow all the table saw safety precautions.



  • sawzall316

    While I do not like the goverment forcing us to do anything, the SS tech is fantastic. What I do see is the insurance industry coming out from behind the curtain and pushing hard to have something done. Hope I am wrong!

  • bobstein54

    Listen up California Legislators. Saw Stop owns the patent rights. Is that clear. If they don’t wish to share the technology they don’t have to and here’s the best part. MAybe if you’d stop letting illegals come across the border and work at jobs where they are pushing 2 x 4’s through an undersized table saw, yes I read the real story about the jackass illegal immigrant who got hurt on the job because of rampant stupidity. When you pay attention to what you are doing you do not get hurt and when you follow the directions you don’t get hurt either and when you can read in english and follow the directions you don’t get hurt.

    • MotownJG

      But California legislators don’t listen. Sad, but true.

  • Al Navas

    I wonder what has happened to WhirlwindTool, the company founded by David Butler.

    If I do a Google search, I get hits to the company. But all links lead to the Google Search page.

    Banned, perhaps?

    I would appreciate your help in finding David Butler, as he was (is?)the closest competitor to SawStop. Thanks!


    • Dan A

      You can access most of his site from the cached version of his home page. His plan all along seems to have been to sell or license the technology, so maybe he took his site down when he started making progress with saw manufacturers. Just a guess.

      • Al Navas

        Good thinking, Dan! The only option I was getting on Chrome was to get rid of the link, though, so I started thinking it was banished 🙂

        I will keep looking for Butler, though, as his technology was closest to being commercial, and close to licensing.


  • mvflaim

    There’s no way it will fly. They can’t give SawStop a monopoly on table saws.

  • txjurado

    It’s all about following the trail…money. If Sawstop was interested in our safety, they would share their technology and allow all manufactures to use this feature. They make a great product, but forcing it on us…please.


      I do hope you meant “sell” rather than share.
      Just an fyi, I first viewed the SawStop product at the Anaheim Convention Center in the mid-90’s in a little 10’x10′ booth. That’s almost 20 years ago and the inventor/company owner has millions of his own money invested in this. I remember sitting with him at lunch and he was brown bagging it. This guy has paid his dues, it’s time for the American dream to kick in and time to show him da money.

  • bob_easton

    Thanks Robert for keeping us up to date.

    The California legislators (and others) might do themselves a favor by restructuring the proposed law. Instead of defining a specific implementation date, define implementation as when 5 independent manufacturers make the technology available on their products.

  • bluejazz

    Good news! The nanny state takes one on the chin. Though hardly a KO punch.

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