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]