Why Are Table Saws Dangerous?

With the knowledge that ten finger amputations occur a day due to table saw accidents, it’s easy to imagine why someone would question the safety of this high-powered tool. From kickback to blades built to slice, table saws can be a dangerous machine to operate.

Table saws are dangerous due to their high speed and sharp blades. Accidents often happen due to not operating them safely. Despite the high numbers of hospital visits related to table saw accidents yearly, more safety awareness and practices can mitigate the severity of the accidents.

Awareness of the most dangerous components of a table saw can go a long way in preventing serious accidents. Additionally, having safety procedures in place or purchasing table saws from brands that value safety can lead to the safe operation of this helpful machine. Keep reading.

A Table Saw’s Blade Is Its Most Dangerous Component

The first thing you’ll learn in your woodshop class or on a new job site is the importance of safety and what to look out for when using a table saw. Even the most seasoned operators risk injury if they let their guard down. 

For starters, the blade is one of the most dangerous parts of a table saw. The blade spins around 3,000 to 50,000 RPM (revolutions per minute), allowing it to cut through anything in a snap. The blade spins so fast that it can even eject sawdust into the air around you, which is a hazard for your eyes.

Another piece of equipment to keep an eye on is the fence. It’s an instrument that keeps the wood in place while you feed it into the blade. The fence is like a guidepost for your material while operating the table saw. You can adjust and brace the wood against it while cutting material. Common issues with this component include kickback. Kickback from the blade can be dangerous to you and anyone who gets hit with the ejected object. 

Common Ways a Table Saw Can Be Dangerous

Table saws are potentially dangerous and complex machines. Every time you use one, you should know how an injury can occur. 

The Blade Can Slice or Accidentally Eject Objects 

The blade presents the most danger while operating a table saw. From the razor-sharp teeth to the potential for ejected objects, most safety precautions should be built around this component of a table saw. Operators must know that a project can quickly turn bad if they’re not wearing protective gear or complying with safety rules.

Wearing heavy-duty gloves and protective eyeglasses will help mitigate the danger presented by the blade and ejected objects. What’s more, developing some safety rules that align with the type of table saw you’re operating can go a long way in mitigating the danger they present. 

Keeping a small hand brush near your workspace to clear accumulated sawdust is a good idea, too. If too much sawdust clogs the blade, it can cause resistance, noise, and resistance when cutting your material.

The Teeth on the Saw Blade Are Razor Sharp

The teeth on the blade of a table saw are curved, sharp, and rotated at high speeds. Most people can’t react in enough time to prevent an injury caused by a table saw blade. 

A dull blade or compromised teeth are another highly overlooked hazard regarding table saw blades. If the blade is worn, it can easily catch material and eject it from the machine. Moreover, if the teeth are cracked or loose, they can break off and essentially turn into shrapnel, flying from your table saw at you at high speeds. 

Because of this, it’s a good idea to change your table saw blade out after 100 to 120 hours of use or once you start to feel resistance between the blade and the material you’re cutting.

Note that dust accumulation around the blade can also cause resistance. A vacuum will help you remove the debris, allowing you to test the blade’s resistance accurately. Don’t mistake a dull blade for a clogged workspace.

A Kickback Can Eject Your Material at the Operator

Commonly known as a kickback, this phenomenon occurs when an object is suddenly and violently ejected from the table of the machine while you’re cutting it. Kickback is the most common cause of table saw injuries. While guiding material through the blade, it can sometimes drift away from the table saw’s fence. If it drifts enough, the blade will shoot the wood at high speed toward the operator. 

There are three types of kickback you may be up against as you operate a table saw: 

  • Straightline kickback: The most common type of kickback occurs when the material strays from the fence and is ejected from the machine by the blade. 
  • Back-Side kickback: This type of kickback occurs when the back teeth of the saw catch the material. The object is lifted from the table and is ejected at about the same speed as the spinning blade. 
  • Over-the-top kickback: When your blade is dull, it can catch the material and lift it off the table, ejecting it toward the operator. Over-the-top kickback can occur when the blade height is too low, which results in a lower pressure applied to the material. This leaves it susceptible to catching the blade or straying from the fence. 

Adjusting a Material Mid-Cut Can Cause the Blade To Eject It

This safety error goes hand in hand with kickback. If you’re trying to adjust material mid-cut while the blade is on, it could end badly for you. As discussed, kickback results from material pulling away from the machine’s fence. If you adjust your material mid-cut, you risk the blade catching the material and ejecting it from the table saw. 

Saw Dust and Other Particles Can Get Into Your Eyes

Due to the speed of the blade, table saws can easily kick up clouds of sawdust or shavings from whatever you are using the machine to cut. Sometimes, wood can contain embedded metal shavings or staples, which can be ejected into your eyes or face and can cause damage if you aren’t wearing the correct protective gear.

Despite their inviting smokey smell, these particles will damage your eyes if you don’t take the proper precautions. Eyeglasses will help mitigate most potential damage, but a heavy-duty vacuum will ensure that most harmful particles don’t get ejected into your airspace.

The Noise a Table Saw Makes Can Damage Your Hearing

A table saw can reach anywhere from 90 to 95 decibels, depending on what you’re cutting. Over-exposure to this level of noise can damage your hearing. In fact, if you don’t use ear protection at that noise level for longer than an hour, you risk irreversible damage to your hearing. 

The reason for this noise is due to two things: 

  • Friction between the blade and the material you are cutting 
  • The sound the engine makes while running

The best way to counteract these damaging effects is to wear the proper ear protection. Over-the-ear or foam earplugs will make a huge difference in preserving your hearing while you work. 

Clearing the Table While the Saw Is Operating Can Injure You

While cutting material, it may be tempting to clear your workspace of bits of wood or other fallen shavings. However, doing this is dangerous as it removes your focus from the blade. Such danger can result in injuries from the blade.

If you think smaller pieces of cut wood will impede your project, turn off the machine and clear the table of sawdust and other small chips of material before continuing with your project. 

Is It Safe To Use a Table Saw?

Using a table saw is safe as long as you practice safety precautions and educate yourself on proper machine operation. However, you should be aware of the risks such as ejected material, cuts from the blade, and the noise level.

There are many easy ways to protect yourself when using a table saw. Some craftsmen use gloves or protective wear, but you can also purchase table saws with built-in safety features. For example, some table saws will feature a blade guard or dust collector already incorporated into their design. 

It all depends on your knowledge of operating this machine and your preferences. Beginners should buy a table saw with more safety features. On average, models with added safety features will be more expensive. However, the protection will be worth it as you learn to operate your new tool safely.

How Can I Protect Myself?

Preventative techniques are abundant online and handed down from experienced craftsmen to their apprentices.

You can protect yourself by always wearing protective gear such as goggles, gloves, and a heavy-duty apron while operating the table saw. It’s wise to have extras on hand just in case your set is damaged or if you need to lend them to someone else. 

However, safety goes beyond just what you wear. You’ll find many products on the market with safety features to reduce those incidents and combat the inherent danger of the table saw components I discussed earlier. For example, you can purchase dust collection systems or blade guards on your saw blades. 

Safety Precautions To Prevent an Accident

While there are a few rules of thumb to follow, it’s beneficial to be aware of all safety precautions before operating a table saw. Check out the list below to review the most important safety precautions:

  • Wear eye protection.
  • Use earplugs to dampen noise.
  • Wear tear-resistant gloves.
  • Wear a heavy-duty apron.
  • Install blade guards on your machine.
  • Don’t clear the table while the saw is running.
  • Ask questions if you’re unsure how to use the saw.
  • Turn the saw off if you need to readjust your material to prevent a kickback.

Products That Value Safety

Due to the high volume of table saw-related injuries, several brands created products that value safety above all else:

  • SawStop 10-Inch Professional Cabinet Saw: The SawStop brand values safety and quality in their machines. They feature a saw dust collection vacuum, and their patent blade technology will retract the saw blade in 5 milliseconds upon skin contact. 
  • Micro Jig GRR-RIPPER 3D Pushblock for Table Saws: If you’ve already invested money in a table saw, there are additional components you can purchase to enhance the safety of your machine. For example, the GRR-Ripper Pushblock is a device that holds wood down and allows you to guide the material through the blade while keeping constant pressure. This product eliminates kickback and blade-related injuries. 
  • Milescraft 1501 Dust Router: If wood is the primary material you work with, a saw dust collection mechanism will come in handy. Saw dust particles can easily make their way into your eyes and lungs, causing significant damage if not treated properly. For a reasonable price, you can eliminate this potential health hazard. 

Final Thoughts

Without practicing the proper safety precautions every time you operate a table saw, it can be dangerous. The blade, kickback, and ejected materials can harm you.

However, there are time-tested ways to ensure you won’t be harmed by this tool. Always wear protective gear. Your toolbox should never be without gloves, safety glasses, and a sturdy apron. Moreover, make sure you have a mentor to guide you through any questions you might have regarding the safe operation of a table saw.

Damien Madeira

Damien has been doing woodworking for the last 5 years. He began as a hobbyist with hand tools and slowly worked his way up to own larger machines and mill rough wood into beautiful creations. While still considering himself a hobbyist, he has a passion for woodworking and enjoys working with epoxy as well.

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