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You’ve probably heard this a thousand times, starting with your high-school shop teacher. Sure, he might have had less than a full complement of fingers, smelled a little funny, and listened to whatever passed for uncool music when you were 17. But he’s right about this: Use a damn pushstick with your table saw.

“But it’s just one cut!” you might think. Or, alternatively, “I’m not stupid enough to push my finger into the saw!” Sadly, while some people do indeed push their finger(s) into the saw, that’s far from the only way to get mangled by one.

I stumbled across an interesting website today: tablesawaccidents.com. I’m not entirely sure who put the site together or what their ultimate motive is, but the numbers on it appear to have come from the CPSC, and they’re pretty interesting. For example, the site shows that 52% of all table saw accidents occur during rip cuts — and a whopping 65% of accidents happen when the user is pushing or feeding material.

Further graphs dive into the various mechanisms by which you can be injured by your table saw. In 12% of accidents, the user was hit by the stock. Not surprisingly, though, 82% of the time the user made contact with the blade. Of those blade contact incidents, 42% of the time a body part hit the blade. So while you might feel pretty sure you’ll never make that mistake, lots and lots of people have.

However, in 25% of blade contact accidents, kickback forced a body part into the blade. Yep, even if you don’t TRY to put your body into the saw, a kickback can happen so fast that before you can even register what’s happened you’ve lost weight the, um, “easy” way.

You can avoid a ton of these incidents just by using a pushstick. You can buy a fancy one from Rockler or your favorite “woodworker crack” dealer, or you can do what Sean does and just make a cheap-ass one yourself. They both work just as well. In fact, the last time I was over at Sean’s shop he had a whole collection of pushsticks that his saw had broken over time, each one representing a part of his body still intact.

Seriously, take a minute and check out some of the collected stories on the site I mentioned. Learn from their mistakes. I used to read the accident reports in Flying magazine for the same reason. My dad used to say that accidents are rarely a single mistake — despite how often they seem to be just that — but rather a series of mistakes that all come together to cause horrible consequences. Break any point in the chain and you avoid the accident. Had you not been distracted when cutting, you wouldn’t have had the accident. But if you’d have used a pushstick, you’d have just lost a pushstick. Or better yet, waiting until you were better rested might’ve had the same positive effect. Manage the situation to avoid getting ‘caught out.

(Thanks, geishaboy500, for the great CC-licensed photo.)

Table Saw Accident Stories and Statistics [tablesawaccidents.com]


20 Responses to Save Yourself, Use A Pushstick

  1. Josh says:

    My Dad had a pretty bad tablesaw accident a few years back; went in to clear some chips after he turned the saw off (thankfully) and got his hand pulled into the still-turning blade. Broke 5 or 6 bones, sliced clear through the flesh on all of his fingers and has permanent nerve damage and restricted dexterity. Use those pushsticks!

  2. Tony says:

    …and yet they never get around to telling you how to use a table saw properly.

  3. Dave says:

    Dude desperately needs a new web designer.

  4. Jerry says:

    I’ll start by mentioning an old movie seen in shop class (late 50’s) that had a lovely graphical representation with good effects of a two by kicking back and going into the guys stomach. I think the movie was”Signal 13″ but that may have been from drivers ed.
    About 15 years ago I was cutting some very thin strips and my finger was too close. I was very fortunate that the finger is only about 1/4″ shorter and the nail even came back.
    I began using push sticks regularly after that. I started out with the cheapo plastic ones. Should have bought a whole case. Now, I just make 3 or 4 at a time so there will always be at least one handy.

  5. John says:

    I’m going to go conspiracy theory on this one and say SawStop is behind that website to push regulation to get their patent selected as the safety solution all manufactures need to implement.

  6. Chuck Cage says:

    @Dave: True dat.

    @John: Yeah, I wonder who’s behind it, too. FWIW, though, if it was the folks at SawStop, they didn’t really push me toward their product. It’s a great idea, but I see a whole ton of accidents that could happen even with SawStop. It just make me think “man, worth a few seconds to be careful and plan ahead.” 🙂

  7. Paul says:

    Maybe it’s time the manufacturers throw one in with saws in the box. A cheap plastic one would do to get people to at least get used to using one

  8. Mike says:

    Thanks for the article. I managed the workshop at the design firm I used to work at, and it was always hard to get people to use the saw safely. I’ve walked in on people trying to freehand cut something on the table saw, despite having been instructed on safe use of the saw.

    We had a SawStop, and I think that made people behave in a less-than-safe manor because of the security the placed in the mechanism saving them.

  9. Ben Granucci says:

    I agree that there should always be one “in the box” when you buy a saw. One would think that the 10 cents that would cost would be totally worth it. I know my Craftsman table saw sure did. I have always been of the belief that no matter what the tool is you are using, you should be using it safely.

    Years ago, before I started there, one of the carpenters in our scenery operation sliced off part of his finger. Now, they make pushsticks on the CNC router by the 4×8 sheet full. There is always at least a few at each of the table saws (I think there’s 4 saws).

    And use the guards too. They put them there for a reason.

  10. Matthew Gerber says:

    My portable DeWalt table saw did come with one. Even has a place to lock it on for traveling. It’s always there, so I always use it. Need to make some longer ones though…

  11. Mr. Patrick says:

    It’s the router table in my shop which I always keep an eye out for.

  12. Greg says:

    Site seems to be registered to Automation Engineering Inc.



    Probably just using the site to gather information and statistics, for research or some product development.

  13. Brau says:

    “accidents are rarely a single mistake”

    I’d have to agree with your dad. It’s usually failure to slow down that is at fault for people not thinking out the whole cutting process. Instead I watch too many get in a “hurry” (AKA lazy) so much so they don’t grab a push-stick or safety glasses, don’t stand aside of the stock, don’t have stock supports properly set up, push with their hands, wear loose clothing, stand amid loose cuttings strewn about the floor, or don’t ask for assistance when they really should. The list goes on. No amount of safety devices can save safety-ignorant users from themselves.

  14. Tony says:

    Most table saws come with a plastic pushstick these days. Some even toss in a couple of featherboards, and no-volt switches are becoming standard.

    Conspiracy theorists can remove the tinfoil, I doubt this is related to SawStop. The guy behind it has a bunch of sites, eg http://measurepcb.com and oddly http://blueribboneggs.com/.

    They’ve been around for a while (2003) but not updated for a couple of years.

  15. Rick says:

    The website is owned by Robert Bible who also appears to own a company called Automation Engineering Inc. It is a small technical consulting company. I wasn’t able to find any link between them and SawStop or Mr. Gass.

    However I did notice that this information is not compiled from any meaningful statistics. Instead the site asks the end user to enter their accident data. This is a highly flawed method of data compilation. There is also no mention of the size of the data sample (how many people have responded).

    The page mentions the report from the Consumer Product Safety Commission. However it does not state that the report is the source for the pie charts.

    All that said, I do like the SawStop because it is actually a damn good table saw. For me, the safety features are simply a bonus. However I do not like Steve Gass. IMO, he is an A-hole that has made it his business to force his views upon everyone.

  16. Dave P says:

    I used to always reach behind the blade and pull stock through because it seemed safer than getting my fingers near the “cutting side” of the blade. Well, it cuts on both sides. If you’re pulling a piece through and it starts to bind, your hand is going to reflexively grab on tight, and it’ll take a ride right into the blade.

    1. Use a push stick.
    2. Either use outfeed support (1st choice) or let the stock drop.
    3. Never reach behind the blade.
    3. Face shields don’t look cool, but with a table saw, glasses aren’t enough. I’ve got a real cool scar on my chin from a small piece of padauk zipping into my chin, splitting through it and knocking my bottom teeth loose. Wouldn’t have looked nearly as cool with it sticking out of my nose or throat.

  17. dex says:

    never used a push stick. What dims are you all using for them? Just a 1 x 2 18-24″ long or what? I guess that would work when I’m cutting ply (mainly what I cut).

    I also like the idea of a face shield. I wear glasses, but face shield is probably best. Problem is, I need a good one that fits over glasses and doesn’t get fogged up.

  18. turbogeezer says:

    Maybe this face shield from Garrett Wade.
    It gets mixed reviews on their site, but I use it and like it.

  19. JohnAspinall says:

    I’ve owned a Delta contractor’s saw since 1986, and I’ve never suffered any bodily harm from it. I have made a few “stupids” with it, and I’m not claiming anything more than common sense, plus maybe a bit of luck, but here’s what works for me.

    If I’m tired, or even a little bit slowed by alcohol, I don’t touch it. Brau’s comment about not being in a hurry applies here too.

    Face mask, always. My wife and I each use the saw and we each have our own masks, with the headband adjusted for the individual user. That way there’s no hassle putting it on; it’s as fast as putting on glasses.

    In a small shop, the workbench is my outfeed table. Like Dave P says. Marginally lower than the saw, this eliminates the need to lean forward over the blade to balance a long piece I’m ripping.

    Riving knife. I’m just starting to use this; it’s far less intrusive than a guard or kickback pawl, yet it addresses the #1 cause of kickback – a rip cut that closes up on the blade.

    Paddle-type on/off switch in a prominent position. I guess these are standard now, but when I bought my saw, it came with a stupid little toggle that welded its contacts closed after a year of use. I replaced it with an aftermarket paddle, mounted proud of the front panel. Looks like crap, but I can turn the saw off with my knee if I have to.

    Finally, push sticks, yeah. Long ones, short ones, thick pads for pressing down, and thin ones for slicing edge bands close to the fence. A scrap piece of 1/2″ ply, 30 seconds on the bandsaw and 30 seconds on the sander to ease the edges. Most of them have grazed the blade now and then. That’s what they’re there for.

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