You’ve probably already heard the stats about injuries and amputations. It’s estimated that 42% of the approximately 720,000 woodworking injuries that occur each year from table saws. Put another way, OSHA estimates that there’s an accident once every nine minutes.
Because table saws are so common, and arguably essential, in any workshop, we often forget that they can be dangerous if they’re not used properly. If you use one of them on a daily basis, it can be easy to get complacent with safety precautions and operate the saw on mental autopilot.
No one wants to lose a finger or get injured by their most prized piece of equipment in their workshop. And let’s not forget about the dangers of kickbacks, which can cause serious injuries when the wood kicks back toward your body if it loses its position. By following basic safety guidelines, you’ll be able to operate your machinery safely and efficiently with total confidence.
Here are 30 table saw safety tips to follow:
- Protect your eyes: Wear either safety glasses, goggles or a face shield. Your regular eyeglasses aren’t up to the task. Make sure you’re using rated safety lenses. If your saw will be throwing large chips, opt for a face shield. Most people focus on protecting their fingers, but table saw users are also vulnerable to eye injuries from flying fragments from the saw blades.
- Wear a dust mask: If you’ll be producing a lot of dust, wear a dust mask.
- Don’t wear gloves: Though it seems like wearing gloves would add a layer of protection when you’re operating your saw, never wear them. Not only can the looser fabric get caught in the blade, but they’ll also cause you to lose some of your grip power as well as your keen sense of touch. You can, and should, however, wear gloves when you’re changing the blade.
- Avoid loose clothing: Don’t wear anything that can get caught in the blade. This includes jewelry that dangles, ties, long sleeves and loose-fitting clothing. Anything that dangles in general should be avoided.
- Wear non-slip shoes: Wear shoes that won’t slip on the floor. They should have plenty of traction.
- Protect your ears: If your saw motor is loud (more than 90 decibels), this is a must, especially for prolonged use.
- Keep your work area clean: Remove any stock, cutoffs or sawdust, which can become a dangerous projectile if it touches a moving blade.
- Maintain a smooth surface: Your tabletop should also be smooth and polished when needed. This prevents grit and debris from building up, which could result in excess force to push the wood through. A dirty table can also rust, which will reduce the effectiveness of the saw.
- Keep the floor clean: Just like the surface of your table should be clean, the floor should also be free of cut-offs and sawdust. Debris on the floor could present a tripping or slipping hazard.
- Use safety equipment: When you operate your table saw, either the riving knife or the guard and splitter should be installed to help prevent kickbacks.
- Check throat plate fit: The throat plate should fit properly with a slot marginally larger than the blade. Make sure it’s in place before beginning any operations.
- Keep the blade guard in place: Only remove your blade’s guard when you’re making a non-through cut or a dado cut.
- Stay unplugged: If you’re making adjustments around your blade, ensure that it’s not plugged in.
- Avoid using your fence and miter gauge together: Never use your fence in combination with your miter gauge. Though it can be tempting to try this for easier accuracy, the wood can get pinched between the fence and the blade. As a result, the wood can turn, and that increases your danger of experiencing a kickback. There’s a rare exception to this rule, but it only applies when you’re using a stop block to crosscut short lengths.
- Don’t stand directly behind the blade: Instead, stand to either side to avoid kickback from any leftover pieces on the table.
- Use a push stick: If you’re cutting narrow stock that’s 150 mm or less (6 inches), use a push stick to protect your digits. The stick serves as a distance barrier to keep your hands and fingers away from the moving blade.
- Use a stop block: Similarly, if you’re cutting shorter lengths, use a stop block.
- Keep the blade low: As you position the blade to make a cut, don’t allow it to be too high. It shouldn’t be more than 6 mm above the stock. This will minimize the area that your flesh is cut in the event of a mishap.
- Wait for the blade to stop: Before making any adjustments to the blade or putting your hands behind or over the blade, make sure it has completely stopped.
- Don’t walk away: Never walk away from the blade until it’s stopped and never leave a moving blade unattended.
- Double check before resuming power: If you’ve made any adjustment to the blade or its position, make sure it’s free before you turn the power back on. It should be engaged or in contact with any stock.
- No free-hand cuts: Don’t attempt to do any free-hand cuts. You should also use either the fence or the miter gauge (but remember, not both together).
- Keep the fence and blade parallel: Always keep the rip fence and blade parallel to avoid binding and kickbacks.
- When to release stock: Don’t release your stock until it’s past the blade. If you let go too early, you risk a kickback and the blade can also grab a piece you didn’t intend it to.
- Stand firm: Don’t get fancy with ballerina maneuvers or contort your body to make the cut. Always stand with both feet firmly on the ground. Keep a comfortably wide stance for optimal balance.
- No talking: Keep your eyes on the prize during any and all cutting procedures. Avoid having conversations and looking around your workshop or jobsite.
- Monitor your energy levels: If you’re feeling drowsy, not mentally alert, or you’re intoxicated, avoid using a table saw.
- Check for foreign objects: Before cutting any stock, inspect it for any foreign objects that don’t belong. This could include nails, staples or knots in the wood. Again, these objects can come in contact with the blade and become a projectile. Another potential side effect is that these objects can also damage the blade.
- Check for moisture: If the wood is too wet, it can damage the saw and even pose a potential safety hazard. If the sawdust or shavings are wet, they can promote rust and gum up the inner workings of the saw. If they get caught, they can also cause kick back.
- Listen to your gut: If something feels or looks unsafe, it probably is. Find a safer way to complete the task at hand.
Your table saw is likely the focal point of your workshop and a source of pride and joy. By taking the necessary safety precautions, you can continue to enjoy years of projects with minimal risk of injury.