How to Use a Table Saw Safely

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Cutting down the length of lumber with the grain can be hard work if doing it manually. It's also difficult to keep the blade absolutely straight to cut the wood accurately. The solution to this is the table saw. Essentially, the table saw is a circular blade mounted in the center of a table with a guide on the side. This guide allows the timber to be gently pushed into the blade, cutting it exactly where you want along the whole length. It takes minimal effort for maximum effect. However, the downside of this device is that it can be dangerous if not used properly and safely. The aim of this guide is to ensure that once the job is done, the user is in the same condition as when they started the work.

Take Your Time

As with the use of any power tool, it's important to take your time. Table saws are great at cutting accurately and taking the effort away from the user, but they will cause a lot of damage if not used safely and correctly. Therefore, allocate the necessary time you think it's really going to take. Don't rush it because it’s really not worth it. The finished product won't be as you hoped and you'll increase the possibility of physical harm.

Wear Protective Equipment

A man cutting a piece of wood on a table saw.

PPE, or Personal Protective Equipment, are the essentials to wear in order to protect yourself. Goggles, ear defenders, and clothes that won't snag on the saw are the basics. The jury is out on gloves. Some folk are adamant that they should be warn. Others express concerns about them getting caught on the equipment and dragging fingers closer to the sharp bits. Personally, in this instance, I prefer not to wear gloves, but there are definite pros and cons in both cases.

From personal experience, keeping the sawdust out of the eyes is very important. Use of goggles or safety glasses is vital. The goggles need to be clean and not scratched; otherwise, it is like looking through a fog to determine if your fingers are in a safe approximation to the blade. Visibility is of utmost importance. If you do get sawdust in your eye, then stop, switch off the saw, and wash out the eye. Don't return to use the saw until the situation is resolved and your vision is back to normal.

When setting up the table saw, ensure that the ground is firm, stable, and level. A wobbly table is not going to produce a good end result. If the tool is in your workshop mounted to a permanent worktop, then this isn't going to be an issue, of course.

Ensure Everything Is Tight

An extraction tube for sawdust attached to a table saw.

Before plugging in, ensure that the blade has no lateral movement on its axel. There will be a small amount of flex across the diameter. If in doubt, then the nut holding the blade needs to be tightened up sufficiently using the correct spanner. Check to make sure that the tool is clean and there is minimal sawdust on it, allowing all components to move freely and without obstruction from previous cut pieces of wood.

Look at the saw and identify the rip guide and miter fence on your particular saw (if in doubt, check the instructions or Google your device) and make sure that they too are immovable, parallel to the blade, and that any clamps are tightened up. This is to make sure that the cut of the wood is straight and that the timber won't kick out of line during the cut.

If the saw has an extractor vent, ensure that any pipework is directed into a vacuum cleaner, bag, or specific extraction tool so that the sawdust is not directed at the user of the saw. (See above about sawdust getting into eyes!)

Finally, make sure that the blade safety cover is in place and free to move. I've had firsthand experience of somebody else badly injuring their wrist because they didn't have a safety cover installed properly, and it’s a horrible outcome.

Ready to Go

Once everything is in place, checked, and you’re happy, switch the saw on. The wood should cut with a gentle push. If it doesn't and you feel it needs to be forced, this would suggest that there is a problem somewhere. Forcing the wood to be cut puts undue strain on the motor and increases the risk of something going wrong. Additionally, if the cut of the wood needs to be close to where the wood is being eased through, then a push stick should be used. These have been designed specifically for this purpose and ensures that delicate fingers are kept away from dangerous blade teeth.

Clean and Tidy

Once the cut is complete, switch the saw off completely and allow the blade to stop rotating before cleaning and putting away. The table saw is a wonderful tool—it just needs to be cared for and respected in order to be used safely.