As we've discussed on many times, the table saw is statistically the most dangerous tool in the woodshop. Many a woodworker has lost fingers (or worse) when using a table saw, whether through careless actions or a simple lack of understanding of the safety equipment (or a decision not to use such equipment).

A proper discussion of table saw safety begins with the basics: always wear safety glasses, use hearing protection when necessary, and wear appropriate clothing. Additionally, when using a table saw, you should know where to stand to avoid any potential injury in the event of a kickback.

However, it goes beyond just knowing what to do. You need to actually implement the proper safety rules every single time you use a table saw.

That includes where you should place your hands when using the saw.

Obviously, you want to keep your hands far enough away from the blade that they don't come even close to being in contact with the blade. This begins with raising the saw blade only as high above the table as it needs to be raised to cut through the thickness of stock being cut. If you're cutting a 1-inch thick piece of stock, in most cases, there is no reason to raise the blade up to the full height of 3-inches (or more) above the table. The extra blade height only provides extra tooth surface to which your hands are exposed.

Saw's fence position

On most table saws, your saw's fence will be positioned to the right of the saw blade. This means that, as you stand to the left of the length of the board being ripped, you would want to position your left hand along the left edge of the board to keep it firmly in contact with the fence (and secondarily, firmly against the table surface if that is a concern). In some cases, use of a feather board can help with both of these tasks, leaving you to only push the wood through the cut.

If your left hand is keeping the wood steady, your right hand will be the driver that pushes the board forward through the cut. This may mean grabbing the board from the end, or from the side and easing it forward in a smooth, steady motion. With your body positioned to the left of the board, and your left hand as a guide, should the board pinch the blade causing a kickback, the board should be kicked past your body and through your hands with minimal chance of damage.

Now, when the end of the board gets close to the cutting teeth, you may wish to use a push stick to continue guiding the wood through the cut. If the board is wide enough, you may not need a push stick, but that is truly a matter of how close you're comfortable putting your fingers to the leading edge of the blade. For me, I try to never get any closer than about four inches from the blade with my hand. Using either the push stick (or my right hand if my fingers can be kept safely away from the blade), I'll then push the remaining stock through the cut and past the blade, on both sides of the blade.

One thing to keep in mind:

If the board is quite long, you'll want to use a roller stand or have an assistant help support the weight of the wood as it moves past the far edge of the saw table. You want to avoid having to force the tail end of the board downward onto the saw table because of an imbalance with the weight hanging off of the back of the saw table. That roller stand (or assistant) should only provide upward pressure to prevent the board from dropping and forcing the tail of the board to rise off of the table as you control the forward and side motion through the cut.


Published by Emily Rose