Over the summer we saw more movement in the constant SawStop battle, and we thought we’d share it with you. Honestly, we’re getting a little bit weary of the whole mess, but it’s still something we know many Toolmongers care about. I’ll just start by sharing the email that landed in our inbox over the summer, above. Take a look. We’ll wait.
For those who aren’t familiar with the whole SawStop mess, a quick rundown: SawStop is a sensing technology that, when incorporated into the design of table saws, stops the saw very quickly when it encounters “meat” (read: your hands, fingers, or body). It works, and it can definitely save folks from injury in many cases. But there’s more to this than merely safety. The creators of this system own a patent on it, and they want (from what we can tell) significant sums of money for licensing the patent. Also, the system is designed such that each time the saw stops (whether to save your fingers or, in the case of a false positive, stop), it uses up a “brake cartridge” which you must then replace. These cartridges cost upwards of $50 (the 10″ version is $70 right now, for example) — a significant percentage of the cost of the saw. Now the kicker: the owners of the SawStop patents are pushing lawsuits to mandate the use of the SawStop technology, essentially claiming that any saws that don’t include the SawStop feature are inherently unsafe by design.
Let me be clear that we’re not lawyers. We have no idea how this whole thing works legally. What we do know, though, is that a) many workers can’t afford to pay an extra $100-$500 per saw plus $50-$100 every time it stops based on the pay they receive for the work they do. It makes sense to us that these people would choose a more basic saw model and learn to be freakin’ careful with it. (Of course, they could start by not removing the damn guards on it, but hey — it’s their body, right?) However, we also feel like there are some applications which would really benefit from the SawStop system, regardless of the price. High school wood shops come to mind.
So with all that crap in mind, let’s take a quick look at the case referenced in the email above. The “Power Tool Institute” (read: a coalition of manufacturers who believe their saws aren’t inherently unsafe and don’t want to buy the SawStop technology) is happy to see this specific ruling because it holds individuals responsible for using their saws safely. According to the PTI summary of the case:
“…the plaintiff was an experienced carpenter who purchased a Ryobi BTS 20R1 table saw a few days before his accident from Home Depot. He never read the operator’s manual and never used the blade guard. He was cross cutting a piece of laminate flooring ‘freehand’ — meaning he was not using the miter gauge when he sustained a kickback of the work piece — and his left hand contacted the blade. He sustained a serious injury, including multiple amputations of fingers on the left hand…”
Unless they’re distorting this pretty heavily, it seems pretty clear that this guy screwed himself. It’s also clear to us that a lot of people do exactly what he did. It’s really easy to get lulled into complacency when 99% of the cuts you make work fine whether you’re using the safety features or not. Of course, all it takes is one bad roll to end up in the 1% — and end up missing fingers for life.
Our take-away from this: the SawStop is a cool feature. If you can afford it, you should have it. We also believe that SawStop should stop their BS legal wrangling, make a decent deal to allow the technology to be incorporated more reasonably into saws, and redesign the damn thing so it doesn’t cost as much as a saw every time it stops. Finally, we suggest that everyone take a step back and think about how much they like their fingers. From picking one’s nose to pointing at the neighbor who can’t nail a fence board on straight, fingers do all our favorite things. Seriously, folks, use the damn safety features that already exist.
Thoughts from the enlightened Toolmonger crowd?