Stay safe when using a table saw

A table saw is a useful tool for both professional and amateur woodworkers. The rapidly spinning blade allows you to cut wood much more quickly and efficiently than if you were sawing by hand.

Unfortunately, table saws can also be extremely dangerous if not used properly. More than 30,000 people a year in the United States visit a hospital to treat injuries caused by a table saw. Most of these injuries are lacerations caused by contact with the blade, including more than 4,000 instances a year of finger amputations. Others require emergency room treatment after suffering eye injuries or respiratory ailments from debris and dust kicked back by the saw.

Since a table saw can easily inflict life-changing wounds, it is essential to take precautions when using the tool. You should also be cautious when maintaining the blade and other components.

Before starting

Wearing proper attire is an important first step. The Thompson Rivers University Office of Safety and Emergency Management says you should wear safety glasses or a face shield whenever using the saw. If you're sawing in a confined area, use a dust mask to avoid breathing in sawdust.

Avoid wearing clothing that can get caught by the spinning blade. These articles include gloves, necklaces and other hanging jewelry, neckties, long sleeve shirts, and any other loose fitting clothing.

Your shoes should be non-slip and have a firm grip on the floor. This will ensure that you won't accidentally lose your balance and fall into the blade.

Remove any loose electrical cords or other trip hazards around the saw. WOOD, a woodworking magazine, says there should be at least two feet of open space around the tool. Scrap wood, fasteners, and other items should also be removed from the surface of the table saw.

While the saw is unplugged, inspect it for any potential problems such as cracks or missing teeth in the blade. Make sure the blade guard, anti-kickback device, and other safety features are working properly.

The blade in the saw should be suited for the work you are doing. Adjust the height of the blade so it is less than one-quarter of an inch above the surface of the piece you are cutting. This helps ensure that you will receive a less severe injury if you accidentally come in contact with the top of the blade.

During a cut

Where you stand is an important part of using a table saw. The magazine Family Handyman says you should be positioned to the side of the blade instead of directly behind it. If a kickback occurs, you won't be in the path of a flying piece of wood.

Use a natural stance when the saw is in operation. Standing awkwardly increases the possibility that you will slip or lose your balance.

Check the wood before you begin a cut. It should be seasoned, dry, and flat to avoid a kickback or other problems. Chris Baylor, writing for the home design site The Spruce, says you should also check for foreign objects such as staples or nails.

Stay focused when using a table saw. Avoid distractions, including conversations with others in your workshop. WOOD says you should never operate a table saw when fatigued or under the influence of alcohol or medications. It is also helpful to take breaks when making repetitive cuts, since you can easily become bored and less focused.

Never rush a cut. Doing so increases the chance of a kickback or accident.

Give the blade some time to get up to speed. Baylor says the blade should be spinning freely and not engaged with a piece of wood.

If you need to make adjustments to the table saw, wait until the blade has stopped spinning to do so. Never reach over the blade while it is still moving.

Don't try to saw a piece of wood freehand. WOOD says you should always use the fence or miter guard. Don't remove the blade guard unless it is the only way to make a specific cut.

Sawing long pieces of wood can be difficult, because the piece will start to fall off the edge of the table saw. Family Handyman says some table saws will have rollers or other mechanisms to support the end of the wood. You can also build an outfeed platform at the same height as the table saw to support the wood until it has been completely cut.

When cross-cutting short lengths of wood, use a stop block. When you reach the end of a cut, use a push stick to safely complete the operation instead of pushing the piece through with your fingers.

Maintenance

Unplug the table saw whenever it is not in use. This action should also be taken if you need to reset a tripped breaker or replace a blown fuse before using the saw again.

The saw should also be unplugged whenever you are changing a blade or performing any other maintenance.

Keep the surface of a table saw smooth and polished. The Thompson Rivers University Office of Safety and Emergency Management says a dirty or rough surface will put up more resistance when you are feeding a piece of wood into the blade, increasing the chance that you might slip or lose your balance.

WOOD says you should periodically clean your table saw to keep it running smoothly. This process includes removing resin from the saw blade and using a vacuum and compressed air to get sawdust out of the saw's mechanical components.

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