Monday, May 5, 2008

More on Table Saw Safety

Last time, I wrote about a kickback accident I had on my first table saw while making the runners for a crosscut sled. Today, I’m going to talk about a kickback accident I had recently. I even posted about it & included a picture of my gut to show the results of the accident. And yes, I’m afraid I’m going to break my promise not to show any more pictures of my gut on this blog. Maybe the horror of seeing my flab will help keep someone safe!

If you will recall, I was working on the crown molding for the corner cabinet. I had not cut all of the stock identically and I had to bevel rip a little bit off of the edges to get a better match. The board in question also had a miter cut on the end I had to push on. But I did not let this stop me.

I beveled the blade to 45°, set up my GripTite magnetic feather board to hold the stock against the fence, and used a push shoe to push the stock through the saw. Everything was going along OK, though I was a little apprehensive of this cut. Something did not feel right. But I did have the feather board set up, and I was using a push shoe, so I figured I had everything set up safely enough.

Yet, near the end of the cut, the stock managed to rotate counter clockwise behind the blade, and it came into contact with the rear teeth on the blade. Next thing I know, wham! I’m hit by the stock on my right side, over the lower ribs. Here’s how the bruise looked when it happened.

That did hurt a lot, but not as much as the saw ripping through my thumb did. My current saw is a Craftsman Professional 10” hybrid table saw, model 22124. It has a 1 3/4 HP induction motor on it, so it’s a lot more powerful than my old bench top saw was. And it can kick like a mule.

So, what went wrong? With the advantage of hind sight, I have been able to pick through this accident and identify more things I did wrong than I could back when it originally happened. So here goes.

  1. The first problem was the way I set up the cut. Yes, the feather board & the push shoe were good things to use, but by themselves they were not enough. If you look at the picture of the stock below, you’ll see that I was pushing it through with the narrow face down on the table. While this reduces the amount of tear out that might occur along the top edge, that molding is much more unstable resting on that face than it would be if I put the concave face down. This is just asking for trouble.
  2. If I had put the concave face down, I would have had to move the fence to the left of the blade to make this cut. I don’t think there is anything wrong with moving the fence, even though the blade would have been angled toward the fence & would have trapped the work piece. The work piece would have been a lot more stable in that configuration, and that probably would trump the non-captured cut with the fence to the right of the blade.

  3. I should have used a feather board to hold the work piece down on the table. The added pressure holding the stock down would have helped, no matter where the fence was or the orientation of the work piece.
  4. I was pushing on an end that was not square but cut at an angle for a miter. The direction of the angle contributed to the tendency of the work piece to rotate counter clockwise. A feather board placed behind the blade, or even just using a splitter would have made this a safer operation
  5. Perhaps a push block like the Grrrrripper would have been a better choice for this cut. Though the need to push right over the blade with the Grrrrripper, gives me the heebee geebees. After what happened to me when I last put my hand over the blade, I’m not looking forward to trying it again.

The bruise has long since healed, but I still have a scar on my flank over my rib cage to remind me of this accident. There’s nothing quite like stepping out of the shower in the morning, looking at yourself in the mirror, and seeing a reminder of your last big mistake at the table saw. It makes you think twice about what you’re doing the next time you step up to the tool.

I have had other kickbacks occur while using my table saw, but I managed to evade injury those other times. In other words, I got lucky. In fact, I may have had one occur a few minutes before I nailed myself with that piece of molding. Let’s face a few facts:

  • Any time a kickback happens, you’re doing something wrong. You really need to stop & think about what you’re doing when it happens before you try anything else with the saw.
  • It’s probably a better idea to go work on something that does not require the use of the table saw. Just getting away from it probably will help you find a safer way to make that cut when you come back to it later.
  • It might even be best for you to turn off the lights and go do something else for a while. As hobbyists, we have the luxury of not being under deadline pressure to get the job done. No matter how much our wives might complain (not that mine ever has, but I’m just saying). We should not let ourselves feel any need to rush & compromise our safety.

Lastly, if you find yourself getting angry or frustrated, that’s when you walk away from anything with a sharp edge on it. Before you hurt yourself, or anyone who happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time saying the wrong thing.

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