Checklist to follow before sawing

Of the 720,000 inuries per year associated with woodworking, 42 percent happen at the tablesaw. Yet common sense, proven practices and tried techniques will keep you from harm's way.

That tablesaws rank high as the cause of many woodworking accidents shouldn't be surprising. What woodworker doesn't have one? And it's probably the most frequently used power tool in the shop. Because of that use, it'll pay you healthy dividends to always be on guard around this indispensable machine.

A multi-toothed blade whirling at 8,000 rpm should spur a sense of caution and respect. It shouldn't instill fear. Armed with the advice, rules, and techniques you'll find here, you'll have the confidence to get the best out of your tablesaw, and safely, too.

Begin a habit-forming checklist to follow before sawing California Polytechnic Institute has developed a Code of Safe Practice for a number of woodworking machines as a guide for operators and supervisors in the industry. We've added to it, and suggest you always follow the checklist before doing any cutting with your tablesaw in the shop.

  • Remove from the saw table all scrap materials, tools, fasteners, and other debris. Also clear a 2' perimeter all around the saw (more where you'll stand if ripping long stock).
  • Use the blade that best suits the job (never a crosscut blade for ripping or vice versa), and make sure it's sharp. Check the arbor nut for tightness and the blade itself for chipped teeth, cracks, and other defects. Do all of this with the machine unplugged.
  • Set the blade height. Flat-ground blades should extend no more than 14 " above the wood. Hollow-ground or planer blades must be raised as high as possible to avoid binding.
  • Inspect all of your saw's safety devices (the blade guard, splitter, and anti-kickback device, if present) for proper operation. The blade guard must move up and down freely to accommodate different wood thicknesses.
  • Double-check the location and condition of the on/off switch.
  • Realign the electrical cord to avoid tripping over it.
  • Set the fence to align parallel to the blade at the width of the cut.
  • Have safety glasses ready to wear, or if cutting material that tends to chip, a full-face shield. Because a tablesaw gets so much use in woodworking, turning it on to make a cut becomes as automatic as flipping on a light switch. But it shouldn't. Ponder this advice:
  • Never run your tablesaw when you're tired. Fatigue leads to errors in judgment and mistakes. In fact, studies have shown that many serious tablesaw injuries occur to woodworkers when most other people are getting ready for a good night's sleep. Also, stay away from the saw if you're on medication or have been drinking alcohol.
  • Don't rush. Plan all your cuts.
  • When ripping stock, always anticipate the possibility of kickback. Plan to minimize any damage from it to you or the workpiece. For instance, don't stand directly in line with the blade, but off to the side of it. To make sure your pushing hand won't accidentally run into the blade, hook the small and ring fingers of the your pushing hand over the fence to slide with the wood.
  • If you're planning to rip boards longer than 3', get a helper to support the wood after it passes through the blade, or use an off-feed table or roller.
  • All cuts should incorporate either the fence or the miter gauge. Never attempt freehand sawing. Turning the stock on the blade even slightly causes it to bind in the wood and kick back. On the other hand, never use the fence and miter gauge together. If you try to crosscut with the miter gauge using the fence as a stop, for example, the cutoff piece trapped by the blade may fly back at you.
  • Don't remove the blade guard from your saw unless absolutely necessary to make a specific cut.
  • Make sure you have a pushstick handy for any cuts that require your hand to pass within 6" of the blade. See designs on the next page in part 2 for two tried-and-true pushsticks you can make easily.
  • If you have doubts about making a cut, don't do it.

Get in position to saw

You've got everything on hand, you've gone through the checklist and you've thought through all your cuts. You're set to saw. And as you do, keep the following in mind.

  • Stand with your weight equally balanced on both feet. If the board should suddenly give, you don't want to run into the blade.
  • Be absolutely sure that the blade never comes between your body and your hands, either front to back or side to side. Use a feather board to hold stock against the fence. And make sure you have a firm pushing grip on it.
  • As you saw, don't reach over the blade to push stock. Always keep your hand as far away from the blade as practical. If need be, use a pushstick.
  • If you're making repetitive cuts, stop frequently to take a break. Many accidents happen after boredom lulls a person into carelessness.
  • After completing the cut, let the blade come to a complete stop on its own. Don't push scrap wood against the blade to stop its rotation.
  • When you've finished sawing, turn off the tablesaw and lower its blade below table height.