Like your fingers? Table Saw “Blade Guards” & Safety
No sane person wants to lose a hand, or even a finger. No sane person wants pieces of wood randomly flying around their workshop at speeds high enough to kill. Table saw blade guards and anti kickback devices are a necessary part of the table saw assembly. A necessary part of your tablesaw safety strategy. They’re made to keep your body and workshop functioning. Woodworking without your toes just isn’t the same.
How To Avoid Killing or Maiming Someone with Your Tablesaw
Most newer table saws come with a blade guard assembly and kickback protection devices. Part of this assembly is to keep your fingers away from the blade, and part of it is to prevent kickback. Granted, this is partially due to the fact that table saw manufacturers don’t want to get sued if someone loses a finger. But let’s pretend the companies that make table saws want you to keep all your fingers. After all, the more woodworking you do, the more tools you buy. Unfortunately, the more upscale safety features that do things like sense flesh near the blade are more expensive, and that increases production costs. Table saw manufacturers don’t like increased manufacturing costs. So they put on safety features that keep them safe, but limit the woodworker.
The problems associated with blade covers
The most common and basic part of the blade guard assembly is the acrylic cover that covers the blade. This is the blade guard. If the blade is covered, it can’t chop off your fingers. One problem with these plastic covers was that people kept them off because they couldn’t see where the blade was going. Fingers started flying off, and fingerpointing fault continued.
Table saw and blade guard manufacturers have addressed that problem by equipping table saws with rising blade guard covers and clearer material. Tool manufacturers started making upscale blade guards for upgrades and addons. Many woodworkers and machinists took to creating their own blade guard assemblies – primarily because they liked having ten fingers.
What’s a splinter?
This plastic blade guard is often, but not always, attached to the splitter. The splitter is a thin plate, usually metal, that sits behind the blade and is used to keep the wood separated while the blade is going through. (The opening that the saw blade makes in the wood is called the kerf.) Picture a metal ruler standing up sideways a few inches behind your blade, and you have pictured a splitter.
The splitter is necessary to prevent your working wood from being catapulted into the air and onto your face. Technically, that wood thrust into your face by a moving saw blade is called a kickback. Splitters prevent kickback. The splitter prevents the moving sliced board from enclosing on the moving blade. If the splitter isn’t set up in the table saw, the edges of the kerf could knock up against the side of the moving blade. If that happens, kinetic energy takes over faster than a blink of an eye and somebody gets hurt.
The Riving Knife: Splinter on steroids!
A riving knife is somewhat like a more advanced splitter. It serves the same purpose – to prevent kickback and keep the kerf from closing up on the blade. But it sits closer to the blade than the splitter, so a riving knife tends to be better at keeping the kerf separated. It’s also curved and attached to the arbor assembly, which allows it to move up and down with a blade. Since a riving knife is not attached to the blade guard cover, some safety remains if the blade guard cover is taken off. The riving knife is in place to help prevent kickback.
DIY Splitter? Bladeguard?
Here is a how-to.
You can make a larger splitter out of metal to accommodate large pieces of wood, and you can make a blade guard any shape and size and angle you prefer. A blade guard can be made out of wood, metal, clear plexiglass or the stronger Lexan material. Making it yourself allows you to create the size you need and make modifications that makes your line of woodworking easier. It doesn’t have to be pretty, just practical. If you can make a box, you can make a blade guard. There are, however, some very snazzy homemade blade guards out there complete with exhaust tubes and telescoping arms.
The essence of making a homemade blade guard assembly is simply cutting a 1/8” metal strip the height you want (you can also adjust thickness to match custom sawblades), then making an acrylic box and screwing it on to that metal strip. Alternatively, you can attach the blade guard cover to a stationary object (such as a telescoping arm) elsewhere on your saw or in your shop. There are different ways you can make it adjustable so you can adapt the height to tailor each project. If you must take the blade guard off to use your table saw, replace it with modern upgrades, or make your own modified version. Don’t choose to operate your table saw dangerously.
Some Riving Knifes already come with anti kickback pawls integrated…
Anti-Kickback Pawls & their Limitations
Splitters are used in conjunction with another anti-kickback device called anti-kickback pawls. You can think of these as metal hands attached to the blade guard assembly. The metal hands (anti-kickback pawls) are attached so that each “hand” guards a side of the wood. If the moving wood starts to venture towards the operator instead of away from the operator, it is the anti-kickback prawl’s job to dig into the wood and keep the wood from flying out – or at least slow it down.
The problem with anti-kickback pawls is that they often have to be removed when making crosscuts. If you’re forking out the money for a table saw, chances are you will have to make a cross cut. That creates a safety problem. Traditionally, the blade guard assembly is a one-piece deal. Traditionally, that also results in a lot of people not using the blade guard and the attached kickback safety features. Why? Because the one-piece contraptions don’t allow for wood larger than the blade, and it limits dado operations.
A woodworker has to make a choice of being limited, or being safe. When making that choice, what woodworkers often forget is the math of kinetic energy. When a woodworkers hand is on the wood, and there is improper contact between the wood and the blade as both are moving, the blade will automatically propel within milliseconds the wood with the hand towards the blade before anyone even realizes what is happening. Oops, there goes another finger.
Do i really need a Blade Guard??
Many woodworkers unwisely choose to operate their table saw unsafely. Many get hurt. There’s about 40,000 table saw injuries a year according to the National Consumers League, and 10% of those reported injuries are lost fingers. The majority of injuries (65%) are lacerations. (No surprise there.) 35% of injuries result from kickback. The 10% of lost fingers were complete amputations. These types of injuries usually result in permanent nerve damage, chronic pain, and the inability to use other fingers normally or without pain. You don’t just risk “losing a finger.” You risk losing your life as you know it.
Two-thirds (!) of table saw injuries occur on table saws without a blade guard attached. The majority of accidents happened when the blade guard was deliberately detached. Keep in mind these are only reported statistics, and the actual number of injuries is much higher because many injuries go underreported or unreported. Instead of just taking off the entire blade guard assembly, it is much safer to upgrade your saw with a newer more flexible assembly, or to at least make your own. Your fingers are worth the time and investment. Especially if you enjoy woodworking.
Look at the newer blade guards and riving knives on the market. If you’re purchasing a new tablesaw, take the blade guard assembly into serious consideration while comparison shopping. Recognize the value of your fingers. Don’t take a chance that a kickback could harm a child or co-worker.
Advice you should take to heart
If you don’t take the blade guard assembly seriously, try building something without a thumb. Try going a day without a thumb. Your fingers are an indispensable part of your woodworking talent. Keep them intact. Use your table saw blade guard. If your table saw is old and doesn’t have a blade guard, invest in a new one. It’s easier to buy a new table saw blade guard than it is to buy a new finger.
Please spread this information as far as possible! It takes 10 seconds to share this post via facebook, twitter or email – but a lifetime to cope with a disfigured hand!