Push Your Way To Safety
If it's never happened to you, count yourself lucky. The scenario goes like this: You re trying to rip a board barely a few inches wide on your tablesaw. There s the whirling blade, the fence, the workpiece, and your hand. You grab a scrap to use as a pushstick to move the workpiece through the cut and beyond the blade. You push, guide, then suddenly WHAM! Flying wood. Shaking, you shut off the saw and examine yourself for injury. What went wrong?
How pushstick accidents happen
Here's why such accidents happen: The pushstick hits the blade and breaks or gets kicked back. Simple enough. But the pushstick wouldn't have contacted the blade if it hadn't been too thick or if it hadn't slipped off the workpiece. There are contributing factors, too, blade raised too high through the workpiece (1⁄8 " to 1⁄4 " of teeth should extend above the wood). To avoid accidents with pushsticks, it's good to understand why and where you should use them. Stock less than 5" wide is considered narrow stock, and your hand guiding it across the tablesaw while ripping won't pass safely between the blade and the fence. That's where a pushstick comes in. But there are a few guidelines to keep in mind. So that it won't hit the blade, your pushstick should always be thinner than the distance between the saw blade and the fence. That is, it should never be thicker than the width of the stock you're ripping. Ideally, you should have several pushsticks on hand-each of a different thickness-to use with wood of varying widths.
Choose a pushstick style that works best for you
A pushstick can take many a shape. The most common shopmade, wooden pushsticks appear as extensions of your index finger, but angled to exert pressure on the stock. The business end has a notch to engage the end of the wood; the grip end is rounded to comfortably accommodate your hand, and usually has a hole for hanging at or near the tablesaw.
There's another type of pushstick that takes a saw-handle or shoe shape, as shown in the homemade example, at left. This type provides greater contact with the surface of the workpiece and offers a surer grip for your hand. The shopmade pushbox takes the handle or shoe shape another step. This type rides the fence, contacts a greater area of the workpiece, and positions your pushing hand well away from the blade. Shown at left, it's suited for thin-strip ripping.
Of course, you can buy ready-made pushsticks in several shapes, styles, and made of various materials. The models shown above are available from woodworking supply dealers at prices ranging from $6 to $20.
Pushblocks, in both one- and two-hand styles, hold the workpiece firmly against the saw table with downward pressure. A friction pad on their sole keeps them in contact with the wood. Pushblocks, however, normally find more use at your router table, shaper, or joiner than at the tablesaw.
The difference that material makes
Most shopmade pushsticks are of standard 1⁄8 " or thinner plywood rather than cut from a board of solid stock That's because grain direction presents a breakage hazard in other than a straight stick. However, Baltic birch plywood proves a stouter, safer choice because it has no voids and more plies. Another good, solid material from which to make pushshoes is medium-density fiberboard (MDF). It cuts, shapes, and sands easily, and takes abuse. Although it comes in several different thicknesses, use 5⁄8 " or thicker for durability and strength.
Store-bought, molded pushsticks made of hard plastic are inexpensive and well designed. But when a blade hits them, they can fragment or even shatter. More durable are ones manufactured from ABS plastic-a softer, resilient material-or of fiber-filled nylon. Aluminum pushsticks, while they it, can throw flak back at you.
Know the proper way to push Just as a refresher, here's how to rip narrow stock: Standing to the left of and out of the way of the blade, use your right hand to push the board forward and your left hand (or a feather board) to hold it firmly against the fence to start the cut. When the workpiece clears the front edge of the tablesaw, grab the pushstick with your right hand and use it to complete the cut, as shown left. Don't remove the pushstick until you have moved the stock beyond the blade. Turn off the saw and retrieve the wood. Never ever reach across the blade to pick up the workpiece.