Recently I had to show someone his way around a table saw. It got me thinking about sharp blades and shortened fingers….
The table saw is at the heart of any woodworking shop – every piece used, whether solid timber or sheet material, goes through it at least once – and will therefore be in use for more of the time than any other single piece of equipment. Unless you are a turner or scroll sawyer!
Consider the versatility of this machine: it is initially used to rip raw timber, can be used for cross cutting, it will mitre, bevel, groove, rebate, tenon, fingerjoint, house and otherwise joint components. Beyond these basic uses lie hundreds of specialist operations which can be carried out with ingenuity and some jigs. In this way even cove moldings can be formed for example.
The table saw’s design is fundamental and normally has only one exposed moving part – the blade. Although simple, I have seen more fingers removed on these than on any other machine in the shop. This might be due to its simplicity, inviting a lack of care and a disregard for safety that invites the machine to bite back – which it can do with alarming ferocity.
With this in mind, the following few simple guidelines will increase your chances of keeping all 10 fingers:
DOS AND DON'TS:
DO ensure the sawblade is sharp; the resulting cut will be more accurate. A blunt blade will make pushing wood through the saw difficult, increasing the chance of a mishap. It will also give a bad finish and might cause burning of the material.
DON’T rush – take the time to set up properly.
DO wear safety goggles, dustmask and earplugs. I don’t wear any earplugs and 20 years later, I can’t hear my wife complaining any more….
DON’T leave clutter on the bed of the saw. This includes offcuts, tape measures and cups of coffee!
DO use a push stick when running wood through the saw. It is an obvious extension to your hands that won’t drip blood if it accidentally touches the blade. It is easily made out of an offcut – ensure the notch is sufficient to hook over the end of the wood for a firm downwards hold. I have several hanging at the ready on the side of my saw.
DON’T wear loose clothing and if a stranger to the barber like me, tie long hair back and out of the way.
DO set the blade as far above the timber as possible so the cutting action is in a downwards direction against the bed – a blade set to low will tend to force the timber back towards the operator. Too high a blade exposes more teeth for potentially taking fingers so try to find a balance, keeping all this in mind! If possible stand slightly to one side of the cutting line so that if the timber does come shooting back, it won’t ruin your manly (or womanly) parts.
DON’T work with the table saw when tired, unfocused or in a hurry. Every single accident I’ve had has been with at least one of those factors in play. Mostly at the end of the day when I’m tired or rushing to meet a deadline…I still have all 10 although some of them are a little crooked and scarred!
DO make sure the fence is locked down firmly. Recently I was cutting some shallow grooves in a batten. I didn’t lock the fence down (unfocused!) and as I did the cut, unbeknown to me, the fence moved. I managed to cut neat grooves in two of my fingers! Lady luck was on my side, the blade only protruded about 3mm above the bed at the time!
DON’T pull out those loose slivers that sometimes lodge themselves beside the blade until the machine has stopped running.
DO make sure that the OFF switch is very accessible and easily switched off. I can switch off my saw with my knee, thus I can keep my eyes and hands on the table. Fitting a homemade wooden hinged paddle can facilitate this.
Guards and riving knifes.
Although a lot gets said about blade guards and riving knifes in safety circles, the reality is that the table saws in most shops don’t have these, for various reasons. The main function of the riving knife is to prevent the wood from binding or pinching the blade. If you don’t have one or can’t fit one, have a shallow wooden wedge handy. If the wood you are cutting moves and starts binding the blade, shove it into the cut behind the blade to force the pieces apart until the cut is done.
Never, ever, cross-cut so that the off cut is trapped between the blade and the fence. Always dimension timber from the free side of the blade using a stop on the cross-cut fence and clear off cuts with the push stick immediately.
Follow these guidelines and not only will your chances of finger survival increase but the accuracy and quality of cuts will also improve. Nuff said!