The Table Saw   2 comments

It’s the most dangerous tool in the shop.

I know.

I had designed the kitchen cabinets to make the best use of the space we had available. I needed to build 13 different cabinets, then remove the existing cabinetry & flooring, install the new cabinets, have them measured for the new counter tops … big doings. Oh, and this is a hobby, as I work for a living.

I had a rather old table saw – what’s called a contractor’s saw. It was mounted on a metal stand, and was light enough to be somewhat portable. I had a “just the right size” cardboard box under the table to catch most of the sawdust that fell.

Me, I’m a thinker.

But the problem was above the table. Far above, actually. The real problem was in my head, and the result was not fun at all.

The saw was not durably constructed, and it had been well used by me. The blade guard had gotten a bit bent, and wouldn’t hold its position and shape, no matter what contortions I applied to it in an effort to straighten it out. It had begun to bind when you ripped boards (cutting them the long way) and even sometimes when you did a cross cut; so it seemed every cut had the board hung up until you jiggled the guard clear of the board – while the blade was running, of course. I did what just about everyone does: the blade guard was annoying me, so I took it off.

I didn’t say I was smart – just a thinker. On a good day, perhaps.

It was late on a Saturday evening. I had stopped for dinner, and then gone back to the shop to just clean up a little. It was 8pm or so.

I was cutting scrap into burnable lengths. I was tired. Just a couple more cuts….

I ran my left hand through the saw blade.

I barely felt the cut, but my hand jerked up and away, spraying blood.

Too graphic?

Later, the kids would say the garage looked like a CSI crime scene. It wasn’t that bad, really. But it was real. Real.

I hit the power switch on the saw, and turned to go into the house. I yelled for the nurse, and she got my hand under cold water to wash the wound. She asked me if I was OK to walk to the car, and I said yes. I collapsed two steps later. She called 911.

I don’t think she’s believed anything I’ve said since.

It turned out to be an exciting evening. Paramedics. Firemen. Flashing lights. I got an ambulance ride to the local hospital, was X-rayed and stabilized, and then I got a second ambulance ride to the Kaiser hospital for surgery at midnight. My first surgery.

I had set my saw up well, with the blade sticking up above the wood I was cutting only about 1/8″. That’s good, as I only had a cut 1/8″ deep. Unfortunately, the cut began on the outside of my little finger, just above my first knuckle. The blade made a very nice, neat slotted cut into the bone while severing the outside nerve on my little finger.

Too graphic?

The first surgery repaired much of the soft tissue damage, and stitched up my left palm that also had a fairly significant, though shallow, 4″ laceration. Physical therapy followed, and then another surgery to repair the nerve damage as much as possible. It was effective. I believe I have about 90% feeling and 100% mobility back in my little finger. No damage to my hand.

I was lucky.

I never cut another board with that saw.

I bought a better Craftsman cabinet saw, which is far safer (and more accurate) than the old contractor’s saw. It’s heavier, it’s adjustable, and has better guards in place. The main reason it’s safer? I’m now smarter. I refuse to make any cut that I have the least bit of trepidation in making, and I will not use the saw without all possible safeguards in place. Table saws are the most dangerous tool in the shop, but they can be used safely if you think about what you’re doing, and avoid making cuts that are likely to result in problems … such as I describe in the photo essay, below.

Another innovation is provided by a new company, SawStop, that makes a table saw that will stop the blade before you sustain a serious injury, even if you run your finger straight into the blade. Their classic video – which you should watch – shows what happens when you try and cut a hot dog in half with the saw. You can’t, and that’s a good thing. Links below.



31,400 Injuries Each Year

Posted July 5, 2013 by henrymowry in Woodworking

Tagged with , , , ,

2 responses to “The Table Saw

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. Pingback: Kicking Back |

  2. Pingback: 13 Things I Need In The Shop |

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: