Table Saw Safety: 15 Hazards to Avoid
A table saw is an essential tool for making long cuts on big or small pieces of wood. It gets its name from the table-like surface that supports large sheets of plywood and other boards. While the board moves across the flat tabletop surface, the blade cuts through the material.
Since using a table saw requires pushing a board towards a moving blade, there’s plenty of potential for accidents and injuries. Before you dig into a project using a table saw, be sure you’re aware of, and avoiding, the following safety hazards.
1. Choosing Not to Use a Guard
A table saw guard is a piece of thick plastic that covers the blade. The guard lifts out of the way as the wood moves across the blade. It then automatically drops back into place when the cut is finished.
The guard helps protect against accidental cuts, so it’s an essential safety component. Always keep the guard in place whether the saw is in use or being stored.
There may be some cuts where the guard will restrict the movement of the board and will need to be removed temporarily. When this is the case, use extreme caution during the cut and replace the guard as soon as the cut is complete.
2. Pushing Wood Through Without a Block
When cutting large boards, such as sheets of plywood, line up your cut and feed the board across the blade, making sure to keep your arms, fingers, and hair away from the blade.
When the board is more than halfway through the cut, a second person is helpful to guide the board out while the first person turns off the table saw. This way, you’re not getting close to the blade as you push the last part through the cut.
For smaller cuts, you need to avoid getting your hands close to the blade. There are many types of blocks made specifically for this purpose. Simply place the block on the edge of the board to push it along. This important gadget is the best way to keep your fingers away from the moving blade.
3. Missing Essential Maintenance
Like every type of tool, a table saw needs a bit of maintenance now and then. A well-maintained saw is much safer than one that catches, sparks, binds, or rattles.
Be sure to unplug the table saw before doing any work. Also lower your blade below the surface using the crank handle.
Clean your table saw regularly by vacuuming away any sawdust and larger particles. If the vacuum fails to suck up particles from small openings, use forced air from an air compressor hose to blow it out.
Empty the sawdust from underneath the table saw too. There may be a bag or bucket in the enclosed bottom portion. If dust is allowed to accumulate, it will eventually cause the blade to slow, catch, and bind up.
Wipe down all the surfaces. Then use a drying lubricant to oil the tool. Don’t use a straight oil, which will stay wet and cause sawdust to clump. Apply the oil to any moving parts. See your owner’s manual for specifics.
Ensure your blade is square with the table’s surface. This is essential for making straight cuts. There are a few ways to go about this.
You can use a metal square. Line it up with the groove on the table saw and allow the other end to lightly touch the blade. Then move the square forward, keeping it straight and flush with the groove. If the other end doesn’t maintain contact with your blade, you need to make an adjustment.
There is also a special tool you can buy to perform the same procedure in an easier and more reliable manner. If you need to make this measurement often, it’s worth the investment.
To adjust the blade, move to the bottom of the housing. You’ll see the unit the blade sits inside. Near the front of that housing, you’ll see adjustment screws. Loosen them slightly and gently move the entire housing in the needed direction by tapping it with your hand or a rubber mallet.
Watch the dial indicator on your tool to know when it’s in alignment. Tighten the screws and check your indicator dial again.
For stains and rust spots on the table surface, try a cleaner. If that doesn’t work, use an orbital sander equipped with a fine grit (320 or higher) sandpaper to restore the finish. Wipe it clean with mineral spirits when you’re done sanding. Continue wiping until a white rag is clean afterward.
Next, apply a paste wax to the metal surface. Once dry, buff it off with a dry cloth. Once properly cleaned and waxed, you’ll notice your wood slides across the surface with ease.
4. Skipping the Guide
Table saws are equipped with a long metal bar that locks into place on the table top. It acts as a stop to hold sheets of wood in place while you make cuts.
Don’t skip the guide when working with a table saw. Freestyling table saw cuts allow large or small pieces of wood to jump, twist, and bind. In addition to this being a safety hazard, it creates imprecise cuts.
To use the guide, loosen the tightener and move it to the desired location based on your measurements. Place the board on the table, flush with the guide. Then check the alignment of the blade to the line you’ve made on the board. If everything is exactly where you want it, lock the guide in place.
Keep the board pressed against the guide as you push it through the blade.
5. Using a Dull Blade
The table saw blade is the single most important piece of the machine. Therefore, it makes sense to always use a sharp blade. A dull blade can bind and create rough cuts.
6. Failing to Adjust Blade Depth
The blade on a table saw lifts several inches above the surface of the table. In the other direction, it sinks all the way into the bottom cabinet of the saw. There is a hand crank that raises and lowers the blade to different heights.
It’s important to match the height of the blade to the size of the wood you’re cutting. If you’re cutting through a three-inch board your blade will obviously need to be higher than if you’re cutting a sheet of ½” plywood.
If your blade is too low, it won’t cut all the way through the wood and will be difficult for you to see as you guide the wood through. This can result in injury. On the other hand, if the blade is set too high, there is more risk of getting tangled up in the blade.
7. Forgetting to Wear Safety Equipment
Safety equipment is important for every type of shop activity. When it comes to a table saw, that means using appropriate goggles to protect against flying debris. You’ll also want to wear ear protection when making cuts with a table saw. In addition, consider wearing some form fitting gloves to avoid splinters.
8. Working in a Confined Space
Although there are small, portable versions of table saws, the standard size saw is a large unit. In addition to the saw itself, you need to allow workspace around the equipment.
If you’re using the table saw to cut a standard piece of plywood, you’ll be starting with a sheet that’s four feet wide and eight feet long.
Allow yourself plenty of room on the sides of the saw table if there will be an overhang. Also ensure there is space to place the board on the table saw and adequate space as it moves through the cut and out the other side.
Trying to use a table saw in a compact space can be a significant safety concern.
9. Using Saw on a Dirty Floor
You need to maintain good footing while working with your table saw. In addition to wearing the proper type of close-toed shoes, make sure the space below and around the saw is kept clean.
Remove any obstacles you need to step over. Trying to maneuver a sheet of wood and straddled items on the floor at the same time is asking for trouble.
In addition, sweep the area often. Sawdust can be very slippery on some surfaces, such as a cement garage or shop floor. Also make sure all extension and power cords are out of the way and not a tripping hazard.
10. Jewelry/Dangling Sleeves
Accidents happen in a second. Be on guard by avoiding loose clothing and dangling jewelry that can get caught in a table saw blade.
11. Clearing Small Debris While Blade Is Moving
Some cuts rip a large board in half, leaving nothing behind except the sawdust. Other cuts remove a small section of a larger board.
Small pieces need to be removed before your next cut, but it’s critical you don’t try to dispose of them while the blade is still in motion. Wait until the blade has completely stopped before attempting to remove any wood fragments from the machine.
12. Cutting the Wrong Materials
A table saw is an incredibly useful tool. Once you’re comfortable with it, you’ll find yourself using it for ripping hardwood flooring boards, making bookcase shelves, and building furniture.
We’ve talked a lot about using a table saw to cut different types of wood, but you can use it for other DIY projects too. For example, it’s a great tool for cutting laminate flooring and even melamine sheets. It can also be used for some metals like brass and aluminum.
Just be sure you replace the blade to match the material you’re cutting. You don’t want to use a wood saw blade to cut aluminum.
However, a table saw has its limitations. Using it for materials it’s not meant for can bring a high potential of injury. With this in mind, avoid using a table saw to cut any metal that contains iron. That includes steel, galvanized pipe, and other hard metals.
13. Working Without an Outfeed
An outfeed is a support for your wood as it comes off the backside of the table saw. This is a crucial aid for long boards because the weight of the board will otherwise cause the front of the board to lift off the table.
It’s obviously a safety hazard to have lumber moving around while using a power saw, so ensure you use a properly-placed outfeed to facilitate safe movement of the board as it progresses through the table saw cut.
14. Not Setting Up Dust Collection
As mentioned earlier, sawdust on the floor can be a safety hazard, causing slippery conditions while you work. It’s also problematic on the surface of the table and inside the working parts of the table saw.
To avoid these issues, make sure you have an effective dust collector installed, functional, and turned on. Also remember to frequently check the dust collection bag. Empty it before it’s completely full to maintain airflow and efficiency.
15. Creating Awkward Movement
Before making any cut with a table saw, evaluate the amount of space you have. Visualize the cut to ensure there are no obstacles on the table or in the area where the wood will eject. Make sure you have your push block readily available and your safety equipment on before turning on the machine.
Never reach across the moving blade. Set up the system so you don’t have to.
Consider whether you’re right hand or left hand dominant and layout your cut accordingly. For example, if you find it easier to flip off the power with your left hand, use the guides and place the board in a way that frees up your hand to do so.
Also make sure you have a solid footing and balance during all cuts to avoid risks of falling into a moving blade.
A table saw is an essential tool for many cuts in the DIY handbook. Get the job done right with a bit of caution and attention to safety.
Learn more about How to Build a Sliding Table for a Sliding Table Saw and look into Adding A New Table Saw Fence To An Old Table Saw.