Staying Safe on the Tablesaw
Marc Adams shares his tips for safe ripping and crosscutting, including jigs to beef up your miter gauge, a good crosscut sled, and a zero-clearance insert.
Synopsis: Hundreds of students pass through Marc Adams’ woodworking school each year, so he needs rock-solid safety practices for everyone who comes in, regardless of skill level. Tablesaw safety is essential, and here he shares his core principles for staying safe and avoiding kickback: Maintain control, use a splitter to avoid kickback, and limit your exposure to the blade with essential gear such as push sticks, pads, and the blade cover. Included are tips for safe ripping and crosscutting, including jigs to beef up your miter gauge, a good crosscut sled, and a zero-clearance insert.
Most woodworkers, including me, will answer yes to the following two questions, while looking sheepishly at their penny loafers. Did you ignore the “Using Your Saw” section in the owner’s manual when you got your first tablesaw? Have you experienced kickback?
I have had workpieces kick back a few times in my life. Fortunately, I wasn’t hurt. For others, though, that instant on the tablesaw has been tragic and life-altering.
With hundreds of students passing through my school each year, I’ve developed firm guidelines for safe tablesaw use, regardless of skill level. My first rule is to keep all 13 saws properly set up and maintained. But this article focuses on the second part of the equation: a knowledgeable operator. If you understand how the saw works and know the best practices for its use, the chance for a bad accident can be virtually eliminated. Machines don’t think, but you can.
Kickback is the main danger
Kickback accounts for the majority of tablesaw accidents. Unfortunately, I encounter many woodworkers who don’t understand the cause of kickback, or the cure.
Here’s how it happens. The teeth at the front of the blade do the cutting, and they move downward, helping to keep the board safely on the table. But the teeth at the back of the blade are not your friend; they spin in your direction at over 100 mph. During a safe cut, the slot made by the blade brushes past the back teeth without incident. But if the back of the board pivots as you push it, or one of the halves is pinched into the blade somehow, only one of those back teeth needs to grab the workpiece to set kickback in motion. And it happens in milliseconds, as the lifting action converts almost instantly to horizontal force aimed right at you.
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