Almost Cut My Thumb Off

A close call with the table saw sparks a conversation about safe equipment and careful practices. January 11, 2008

It finally happened, the thing every cabinet shop owner dreads - an employee cuts hand on table saw. The morning didn't start well - he was running late, and he needed to rip some plywood. He had no idea that he had even cut himself. He did find it a little strange that the saw "quit working." Excalibur overhead saw guard and riving knife were in place. Employee had a perfect 15 year safety record prior.

All he had was a scratch that showed where his hand would have lost its thumb. Six months ago I invested in a Sawstop saw with the thought of stacking the deck in my favor. I can't describe my thanks for the determination of the Sawstop company's owner to persevere against the other saw manufacturers who deemed this innovation unworthy.

And I find myself a bit skeptical when the other saw companies tout their technologically advanced, "award winning" saws. These saws are the same meat eaters they have always been. No substantial improvements in safety that I can see. Somewhat of a disdain for our poor little fingers' general safety.

I will be able to sleep well tonight knowing that I did the right thing, which was to put my employees' safety first, and my small investment paid off. Now I don't want to sound like an evangelist, but if even one person buys a Sawstop because of this rant, I applaud his concern for safety. With a tool of this caliber, I cannot understand how anyone who works with a saw would not in good conscience have one of these. The sooner this technology is mainstreamed, the better.

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor H:
When I opened this thread, I expected to read the worst. It was a relief when I read that it was a Sawstop and everything is all right. I'm seriously considering investing in one myself. I almost lost the tip of my left middle finger back in January on my Unisaw. I guess the main reason I haven't upgraded yet is because the Unisaw has a huge table built around it which I'd probably have to rebuild to fit a Sawstop. However, I'm sure I'd rather do that than try to have a finger reattached.

From contributor J:
Ditto on everything contributor H said (except the almost cutting finger part). Glad to hear your employee is okay, and I'm sure he's glad you spent the extra money on that machine.

From contributor B:
You made a wise decision, and as it has been said in the past on WOODWEB. The people in your shop most likely to hurt themselves are the most experienced because they get too comfortable with the machinery. Hell, I have been running rips, sheet after sheet, and by the time I've gone through the cart, I forgot I was even ripping. That fluid motion, fully relaxed, while dangerous, is found in every shop at some point with some employees. And that's how fingers get lost. All the big players like Delta and Powermatic are crazy for not getting in on the Sawstop technology. They know many of their customers remove their blade guards, but as long as they have a legal disclaimer and a pretty hefty amount of labels telling you to be careful on the machine, they are satisfied (with no fear of legal pursuit later on).

I still use regular saws and the Sawstop, but anytime I need to cut something where my hand is close, I will jet over to the Sawstop and do it there. The best investment a shop can make is in the safety of its employees. I'm glad you took the leap and made that like many others have.

From contributor E:
I'm glad you felt the safety of your employees was worth the investment. In the end your investment paid excellent dividends. Think how much you would be out if you didn't buy a Sawstop.

I work for a large corporation that preaches safety relentlessly but does the exact opposite. We recently had a coworker get injured because he was using a defective tool. We have to use what's given to us. After he got hurt, they pulled the tool out of use until injury investigation is complete. Gave us a safety talk and put us back to work with a tool that was even more defective than the first. Of course the report blamed 90% on operator and 10% on tool. 3 of us saw it and were never asked a thing, and now injured employee will be given discipline time off when he returns to work. This injury has cost at least $10k so far. A new tool is $3k, yet they can't afford a new tool. My basic math class taught me 2+2=4. Not sure what the suits learn in the advanced class.

Congratulations on keeping your employee safe. I'm sure his family is just as thankful as he is. When do you think someone will sue the big guys because they turned down this great invention? I say OSHA will make it standard in shops within 10 years.

From contributor A:
I wish this technology was available in a job site saw. I'd buy it immediately. Last week I was cutting MDF trim strips on my Bosch portable (otherwise a wonderful saw), and I came very close to removing the end of one of my fingers. I was tired, and in a hurry. Thankfully, all I got was a nick in my middle finger before I pulled my hand back. I think that with conventional table saws, it's almost a matter of when an accident will occur, not if. I think the Sawstop saw is cheap at the price. I just wish similar technology was available in all cutting, grinding, sanding tools, etc. that require close manual operator interaction. I'm glad your worker is okay.

From contributor B:
Installed our Sawstop last week. Great machine, and I feel much better knowing there's that safety net for my employees, on that machine at least. Now, how about a jointerstop?

From contributor E:
Just read in Fine Homebuilding today that Dewalt, Porter-Cable, Makita, and Bosch all worked together on a new guard, splitter, and riving knife system. Gary Katz has been reviewing the Bosch. I haven't read the review on his site yet. Does say in the magazine it's much improved.

From contributor D:
On Saw Stop's site they have prototypes for all sorts of machines. They say the technology will work on jointers too.

From contributor P:
Would be great to be able to apply Saw Stop technology to existing table saws!

From contributor L:
I've been in a lot of shops and very rarely seen a guard on a table saw. Most of them are stupidly and flimsily made, so they are not used. We bought a SawStop several months ago, not because we had an accident, but because we didn't want to. Cost was about $4,000, cheaper than one error! It is a well made saw, better than the Unisaw it replaced.

The comments below were added after this Forum discussion was archived as a Knowledge Base article (add your comment).

Comment from contributor A:
I had a sliding compound miter saw with a faulty brake mechanism. The brake never worked, so in production at the cabinet shop I worked at you'd be quickly chopping, then reaching across to slide the piece over. The day the brake randomly kicked on, the torque sent it down on my hand as I reached under, and miraculously left nothing but a cat scratch on my knuckle. Maintenance is important, as well as not getting too comfortable.

I was freehand cutting shims on a jobsite table saw recently which I have done for many years, except this time the shim caught somehow and shot up, crushing my nose and ripping through my lip. Needless to say, I've now taken the time to develop a jig for shim cutting.