Although a table saw is a versatile and crucial piece of equipment in any woodworking shop, it does have its limitations. As one of the most dangerous power tools in your shop, it’s important that you aren’t misusing it.
You should never use a table saw for materials other than wood. In particular, you should avoid plastics and ferrous metals. As a stationary blade, table saws should not be used to make curved cuts or backward cuts, but users should always remember to follow basic shop safety guidelines.
Keep reading to find out more about what you should avoid using your table saw for, along with a few safety tips to ensure your projects run smoothly.
Materials To Avoid When Using a Table Saw
You probably already know that your table saw is made for use on wood. However, many people think of how convenient the table saw is when cutting wood quickly and may use it to cut other materials.
Two things you should avoid cutting using your table saw are plastics (especially PVC) and ferrous metals.
Three problems arise when trying to use a table saw on plastic:
- Plastic can overheat and jam the motor. The friction of the spinning blade is likely to heat the plastic. The melted plastic might get wrapped around the blade, causing it to seize as the motor gets jammed.
- Heated plastic releases toxic fumes. Most plastics, especially PVC, will release toxic fumes as they melt due to friction from your table saw’s blade. Additionally, breathing in microplastics is a serious health hazard that should not be taken lightly.
- The blade gets dulled by melted plastic. Every blade dulls over time, but as plastics melt on your table saw’s blade, it becomes dull much more quickly. Replacing your blade can be expensive, and it’s entirely avoidable.
In other words, don’t be tempted to cut PVC pipes using your table saw, no matter how convenient. The blade’s friction generates enough heat to melt the plastic, causing a slew of problems.
Any metal alloys containing any iron percentage are too hard to run through your table saw. You can buy specialized blades for cutting soft metals, such as aluminum, copper, or even tin. However, iron and ferrous metals are too hard and brittle to cut using a regular table saw and are likely to damage the blade beyond repair.
Types of Cuts Not Appropriate for Table Saws
The purpose of your table saw is to speed up the process of cutting wood panels at a specific angle consistently. Despite its versatility, there are nonetheless a couple of cuts that you should avoid using a table saw for.
A jigsaw or a circular saw would be better for making a curved cut. When you’re using a table saw, the blade is stationary. To make a curved cut, you would need to feed the wood into the table saw in a curve, which is extremely difficult to do safely.
Some professionals are able to achieve an acceptable curved cut using their table saw, but it is far from perfect and requires correcting. In any case, the main concern with curved cuts on a table saw is safety—it’s a quick way to slice off a thumb.
Additionally, attempting a curved cut on your bench saw can make your plywood fly off the blade, which is another potentially dangerous situation.
Also known as climb cutting, this refers to feeding the table saw in the opposite direction. The circular blade that fits into your table saw should always be spinning towards the front (where you would be standing).
The blade’s teeth should be running from the back of the table towards you, cutting into the wood before circling back. Backward cuts are an attempt to feed the stock from the other side of the table or install the blade in the opposite direction. The result is usually kickback from the blade, whereby the wood might bounce up forcibly away from the blade.
Some woodworkers attempt to climb cut safely by standing on the side of the workbench instead of the front. However, a slight change in pressure or an instant of distraction could send the stock flying across your workshop towards you at high speed.
Safety Tips When Using a Table Saw
Now that you know what you shouldn’t be doing with your table saw, I believe it’s good to go over a few safety tips. Follow these closely to reduce the risk of injury and ensure that your projects run smoothly.
- Always use safety gear. Safety goggles, a mask, gloves, steel toe boots, and earmuffs are the basics of safety gear in any woodworking shop, and you should never start operating a table saw without them.
- Follow the proper operation method. As mentioned earlier, feed the stock from the front of the workbench with the blade properly inserted. Preferably, use a push stick to guide the wood into your table saw, protecting your thumbs from potential injury.
- Never use a table saw without a riving knife. A riving knife is a device installed alongside your table saw’s blade, designed to prevent kickback injuries. While there is still the possibility of getting injured, a riving knife significantly reduces that risk.
- Provide rigid support for angle cuts. Any time you want to cut wood at an angle, it’s best to use a support jig to guide the wood into the table saw. It will result in more precision in your work, and the rigid support is also safer.
- Avoid operating a table saw when drunk or disoriented. Never use any power tools after drinking alcohol or taking drugs that warn against operating heavy machinery.
A table saw is a woodworking staple due to its versatility and convenience. Nonetheless, every tool has its limits. So long as you aren’t using it to make backward or curved cuts and only use your table saw on approved materials, you should be fine. Just remember to always follow safety protocols when using this powerful tool.