Ripping Thin Stuff Safely
One of the issues of using a table saw safely is that many of the things intended to keep us safe don’t work well when you really need them. Ripping thin pieces on the table saw is a good example. In our shop, we have an overhead guard with built in dust collection. It’s a nice piece of equipment until you get the fence close to the blade. As it is with most table saw guards, there isn’t room for both the guard and a push stick. A lot of accidents happen when operators lose control of thin pieces so here’s a device I use to safely manage the would-be missiles.
The picture shows the basic construction – here are some of the fine points. The plywood piece that rides on top of the fence should be close to the width of the fence; just a bit wider so that the whole thing slides easily, but not wide enough to make it wobbly. If you need a number 1/64″ is a good one to aim for. The piece on the right, that rides along the outboard side of the fence is a scrap of hardwood. This piece is about 3/4″ thick x about 1 1/2″ wide. It’s attached to the plywood with glue and a couple of screws. The short piece is a similar scrap and is used as a handle. It’s also attached with glue and screws and if you want to make it fancy you can. I just rounded the edges a bit to make it friendlier to hold on to.
The vertical piece on the left is the part that does the pushing, and it should be almost as wide as the fence is tall. It is held to the horizontal plywood piece with screws only. The pusher is sacrificial and you should have a few different ones for different thicknesses of stock. The notch is a little less than the thickness of the material to be cut, and it extends from the far end to within a couple inches of the near end.
Notice that I have a zero-clearance insert around the blade. This is essential because it prevents just-cut skinny stuff from falling into the slot next to the blade. The long section of the notch provides downward pressure on the material, and the lower portion at the end provides the motivation during cutting. My right hand is well away from the blade as I make the cut, and the piece is controlled from beginning to end. If the cut is narrow enough, the blade can cut into the push block, but that’s not a problem. Enough material will be left behind the stock to safely push it well past the blade.