As a woodworker, you are at physical risk every time you work at your project, most especially so if you are using a table saw. The main problem with a table saw is that it produces a really strong kickback if you used it the wrong way.
If the plank that you are cutting hits you, you will suffer from serious injuries. Do not even think that you can move quickly and avoid the incoming wood—you can’t.
As a woodworker myself, I share your risks. I have been in the woodworking industry for so long that I have seen enough accidents to last me a lifetime.
I do not want any harm to come to you so, today, I will share with you everything I know about table saw safety.
By the end of this tutorial, I need a commitment from you that you will apply these tips to ensure your safety.
1. Wear Safety Equipment
There are stubborn people out there who do not even bother wearing safety equipment. They are like “squids,” people who ride motorcycles without a helmet.
Here are the working gears that you must always wear:
- Safety glasses – protects your eyes from debris and dust.
- Hearing protection – it protects your ears from the loud noise of the table saw.
You must also wear proper clothing whenever you are working on a project. Do not wear loose clothing, as they can get snagged in different places. Do not wear neckties or any jewelry which can also get hooked in the machine.
I strongly advise you to wear an apron. Should an accident occur, your body may get hit, but the apron will protect you from getting cut. If you need help in choosing aprons, I have several recommendations about the best aprons that you can buy.
2. Do not reach anything while the blade is moving
Well, this is a no-brainer, but I have to say that many woodworkers still do this—they know the risk, but they do not care.
After cutting, the first thing you have to do is to turn off the machine. The next step is to wait until the blade has stopped spinning. One thing that many woodworkers do is that they reach to the cut wood, and then this results in an accident.
Even if you are using a pushing stick, you do not want to take this risk. Any moving blade can cut you and snag you. Also, do not reach the fence table or make any adjustments while the blade is moving.
Be patient. It will save your limb or your life.
3. Keep the Working Area Clean
Woodworking is messy—I know. However, there really is no excuse for working on a table saw that is cluttered with junk. If you must, push aside any piece of wood that you do not need on the table. These things will get pushed and snagged in the blade.
And if this happens, guess what’s next?
These small pieces of wood will come flying across the room. Every after cut, turn off the table saw and then take the time to wipe the dust. No, I do not recommend that you leave the small pieces on the floor. This can cause you to trip and fall.
4. Avoid bad table saw habits
Over time, we woodworkers get accustomed to some habits, even if we know that these habits are bad. What makes us become less mindful of what we do is the fact that for many years, we have never come into an accident.
And because we never got hurt, our brains simply begin to think if an accident did not happen before, why would it happen now?
Here are some habits that you should avoid:
- Pushing the wood too hard – the blade can only saw so much. Do not feed the wood with too much force, or it will snag and kickback. Just push gently and let the blade do its job.
- Do not lift the guard – many woodworkers lift the guard while the blade is turning. Again, a turning blade is equal to a big risk.
- Do not remove the blade guard – there is a reason why manufacturers added a blade guard on a table saw. If your table saw came with it, do not remove it, even if it seems to be a working inconvenience.
- Do not forget to check your stock – wood that has knots, splits, and other foreign objects like metal should never go through your blade. These things are going to snag your blade and cause an accident.
- Do not clean by hand – earlier, I said that you have to wipe the table clean. However, I want to emphasize that you must not clean your table with your bare hands. If the debris is close to the blade, use a tong or a stick. If you really need to do some serious cleaning, unplug the table saw before cleaning up.
Do not leave the saw running – you must never leave the saw unattended. This is the worst thing that you can do. There may be children or pets that would come near it.
5. Learn how to use the table saw properly
There is a right way to use a table saw. It is not simply a matter of standing behind it and then feeding the blade with wood.
Here is the right way to use the table saw:
- Stand on both feet – make sure that you stand behind the table with your legs slightly apart, with one foot forward. This puts you in a running stance where you can easily step back or move to the side.
- Stand aside – move to an area where your body is not aligned with the blade. This is important because if there is a kickback, you are not in the direct line of the hit.
- Do not reach towards the blade – whether you are using a push stick or a guard rail, you must always be conscious where you hand is against where the blade is. Always put your hands to the side of the blade.
- Do not rush – if you are making multiple cuts, take the time to rest and clean up. Always turn off the saw as you do so. Accidents usually happen because people who work on table saws are bored and they lose sight of the risks.
- Never attempt to stop the blade – once you turn off the blade, let it run its course. Do not push stock wood to “hurry” it up. Whatever you push to your blade will get cut. Also, never even think about pushing a stick or wood to the side of the blade—let it rotate freely. Gravity and the laws of physics will stop it eventually.
Once you are done with your cutting, push the blade down to table height. This way, it is not peeking out of the table, and no one will get hurt.
6. Never do free-hand cut
This is not just dangerous, but it is also stupid.
I have seen several woodworkers who do this. Free-hand cutting with a table saw means not using a guide or a fence. There is a reason why the fences were built—they keep the wood in place. Free-hand cutting does not put any boundary for the wood, and it can slide off.
And if this happens, I guarantee you that the wood is highly likely to get snagged. You see, wood is supposed to move forward only. If it moves just a little bit sideways, it causes an imbalance. The position of the wood and its movement is not aligned with the blade, but the blade is still running, and this is what is going to cause a serious kickback.
Those who do free-hand cutting are also likely to push the wood with their bare hands.
I cannot overemphasize that you must use a stick. Well, actually, two sticks. One should push the wood to the fence, and the other one should push the wood forward. You do not have to make your own push stick as there are many that you can buy from Amazon.
7. Read the manual
Look, even if you have used a table saw before, not all of them are made by the same manufacturer, much less have the same power and operating procedures.
If your table saw did not come with a manual, I am sure that the manufacturer has a website where you can download it.
I know how exciting it is to open your package and assemble and then test if it works. It is going to work. But before you even test it, please take the time to sit down and read the manual.
Each table saw comes with a safety feature and a guide on how to use it. Read this manual, so you know how to use it, what the parts are for, and what the table saw’s limitations are.
8. Start the saw with no engagement
What does this mean?
It means that if you start the saw, there should be nothing there. Remove the wood and then re-feed it. One of the most common causes of accidents is starting the saw when the wood is already engaged.
How does this happen?
Sometimes, as you are cutting, you may realize that something is not right. For example, you may have noticed an alignment issue. In some cases, perhaps there is a power interruption.
In situations like this, what you typically do is to turn off the blade and then re-align the wood.
If the wood is positions between the blade and the fence, you should never turn on the blade. This is the perfect recipe for disaster. What you have to do is to completely take off the wood and cut from the beginning again.
Summary: table saw safety tips
Woodworking is an enjoyable hobby and profession. However, it also has risks. The big problem with these risks is that you can lose a limb or worse, your life.
There are many ways to prevent accidents from happening, but it all starts with the right mindset. If you are negligent, an accident is bound to happen.
Sometimes, we just forget. And this is why you need to have a presence of mind. If you just care enough, it is not likely that you will forget safety procedures when using your table saw. And this has to come from you.
You see, a table saw is indifferent. It does not know you—it is a machine that will keep on working. No matter what safety features are added into the machine, it is still dangerous, and it is ultimately your responsibility to take care of yourself.