Saw Guard Safety

Saw Guard Safety

In the August issue of Woodworker’s Journal print magazine, Rob reminisced about a survey from a few years ago in which the results showed that about 25 percent of woodworkers who responded couldn’t find the guard to their table saw – let alone use it.

While admitting that, in his younger years, he might have been among that number, Rob noted that, with age comes wisdom, and he now uses the guard for its intended purpose. His query about whether such wisdom was limited to his personal path or reflected a broader experience among woodworkers brought so much response that it overflowed the print issue … and ended up here. – Editor

“A few years ago, I was remodeling my basement after a flood. It was late Sunday afternoon. I was tired but wanted to just finish one more piece … After spending four hours in the emergency room with two very badly cut and one broken finger, I now have guards on both my table saws and, boy, am I careful. I learned a couple of good lessons:

“The saw that did the damage is gone and replaced with a new one with a nice guard. The other saw now has a guard on it, too. And pay attention to what you are doing. If you’re tired, quit for the day. It’s not worth the pain and suffering.” – Bill Miller

“I do know where my table saw guard is, but I don’t use it. I always felt it was more of an obstruction and hindrance to what I was doing. At 66, I am very much more aware of safety using eye and hearing protection and double-checking where my extremities are, even my body as a whole, after falling off an incline after losing my balance and breaking two ribs. You are right, as we get older and more experienced, we recognize our immortality! In fact, experience is the driver of knowledge and wisdom. We can read and be told about safety all day long, but until we have that close call, whether it be in a relationship, job choice or shop accident, we will never heed the advice! Living and doing is the only road I know that works!” – Merle Riesgaard

“I enjoyed your note on starting to use guards. A few years back, that was me. Guards were cumbersome and hard to use, so they sat on the shelf, not to be used. One day, after nicking a finger on the table saw, I decided that was stupid. I still hated the guards and still found them hard to use.

“Instead of just living with it, I thought I could do better. I spent a year designing and building what I thought was the ultimate saw and shaper guards. The saw guard could handle a stationary and some movable saws from 8 inches to about 14 inches, almost any normal extension width and capable of floor mounting, ceiling mounting or rail mounting. It could be used crosscutting, ripping or dadoing and was easy to ‘get out of the way’ when those conditions happened. I built it, refined it and thought I’d come up with the better mousetrap.

“I approached over a dozen companies about making and selling my design. You’d have thought I had beaten their dog; not one expressed any interest. It wasn’t because of the design, because several indicated they liked the design, function and the wide range of applications it could cover. The most honest answer I got from one company was they felt if they made something like a saw guard it would put a bull’s-eye on their back to be sued by every person that would misuse it then would run to a lawyer.

“As it stands, I have the original on my cabinet saw. It worked very well for many years now, and it’s not let me down. It’s too bad that any attempt to make things safer just opens up more opportunities to be sued. With that mentality, everyone loses.” – Paul Hauschildt

“Given an hour, I could probably find my table saw guard. But that is not what this is about. The question, or rather questions, are: How did you acquire your first table saw and then, how did you learn how to use your table saw?

“The answers are possibly:
• I just got a table saw and started using it.
• I got a table saw and an experienced friend /relative taught me how to use it.
• I had safe table saw techniques beat into my head at school before I was even allowed to stand within an arm’s length of the table saw.

“I was a 60-year-old before I encountered the last at a cabinet building class in community college.

“The first safety-related issue that I encountered was, at school the Delta Unisaw felt uncomfortable after using my Unisaw at home and, at home, the Unisaw felt uncomfortable after using the Unisaw at school. Illogical, but my Unisaw at home was five-eights of an inch higher because it is mounted to a piece of Baltic birch and the ones at school are mounted directly to the floor. The solution is to make three or four ‘cuts’ with the blade below the table to get my muscle memory back. Yes, five-eighths does make a difference.

“It would be kind of interesting to know what your introduction to table saw safety was. Looking back, mine was scary until school at age 60 —and about 45 years later than it should have been.” – Rich Flynn

“My grandfather was a carpenter and, by today’s standard, he was a master. Even though he did not have all the power tools I have, he made furniture and other things that were outstanding with fits that are holding today after 70 years. He preached safety to me in all we did together. He had a 1947 SS 10ER which I wanted bad, but he said, ‘No, it does not have guards on it and you really could get hurt if not careful.’ He only used it for the lathe.

“I use all the guards on all my tools, plus hearing and eye protection is a must after being in ‘Nam and a GM factory for five years. I have a SS MarkV plus several other power tools, and all guards are in place, and will stay there except when using the dado blade.” – David H Garner

“Your letter resonated with me this month. I haven’t been a woodworker very long (three or four years), but recently switched over to hand tools exclusively. I do know where all my guards are: they’re buried under dust with the table saw and router table in a corner of my shop.  For a strict hobbyist, I highly recommended hand tools only!” – Jason Zvokel

“After over 40 years of woodworking, I am thrilled to say that I have all my fingers! Some serious scars, but all 10. I can empathize with a renewed safety awareness these days.

“Ever since I worked in small furniture manufacturing factories, I have made it a habit to leave my safety glasses on all day in the shop. On the other hand, blade guards gathered dust against a wall until I finally
threw them away. Then, age began to set in, and I felt like sooner or later was, well, sooner than later. We all know that good technique, a clean work area, push blocks and push sticks keep us safe. The wisdom to
actually work safely came years later for me when the thought of mutilating myself or worse overrode my complacency.

“Anyone who has ever replaced old bench tools soon realizes that modern tools are far more efficient, lighter and easier to use. As I began replacing old drills, routers and sanders, it dawned on me that
replacing 30-year-old band saw and table saw made sense. Just like a new car offers safety features that weren’t around 10 years prior, I thought new machines would be inherently safer. My SawStop table saw
doesn’t make me feel any safer, but it makes me realize just how foolishly dangerous it would be to keep up the same old habits. My new Laguna band saw has so much more power than my old Inca that I am
intimidated if I don¹t use a padded push lock when I resaw. The broken spring on the jointer blade guard still needs replacing, but I wouldn¹t dare run the face of a board across it without using a push lock these

“With all the emphasis on safety at the machines, let’s not forget hand tool safety at the workbench! Who hasn’t learned a hard lesson with achisel pointed the wrong direction or slipped with a screwdriver or
utility knife? Am I the only genius who ran a drill bit into his hand on the backside of a board? These mishaps at the bench have been huge lessons for me, especially since a finger or palm injury can take weeks
to heal.

“So, these days I use a lot more forethought, a vise, and a few clamps to keep my hands out of the thrust vector of a sharp hand tool. Here is to finishing with all 10!” – Andy Ratliff

“I was thinking of your question about table saw guards after a friend of mine cut his finger the other day on his old (hand-me-down from his Dad) table saw with the guards long lost. Luckily, his was a minor cut and his wife is a nurse, so not even an emergency visit required. I’ve had other friends that were not so lucky. I ALWAYS have the guard on my saw unless it is a dado cut. I can see the cut just fine with the guard in place, so I don’t buy that common excuse.” – Tim Callahan

“I have replaced or reinstalled the guards on all of my machines. I have also installed a red light on all of the bladed machines. I have a hearing loss of 80 to 90 percent in both ears which, when coupled with hearing protection, makes it such that I cannot tell, by sound, if the machine is running. I still have to install lights on the non-bladed tools. I will get around to that this summer. I have not been cut by any of the tools in my primary wood shop or my smaller shop. I also have a stained glass shop in my basement. I have only been cut there when showing how to cut glass, never when working by myself.  Now, if I could figure a way to put a safety guard on hammers, screwdrivers, wrenches, etc. …” – Steve Tracey

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