Count Your Fingers

A woodworker describes the accident that took off the ends of two of his fingers, and a discussion ensues about the lessons learned. November 10, 2006

Well, after 30 plus years in the field, it finally happened. It happened two weeks ago in the shop while I was using the table saw, working on a simple little valance. It was in the middle of the day, I wasn’t in a hurry, and there was a fresh blade on the saw and the floor was clean. Then it happened. I heard a binding sound and in the blink of an eye I was holding a bloody stump. The end result - a mangled pinky barely holding on and the second and ring finger shortened about an inch (to the first knuckle).

I am sharing this story in the hopes that someone may remember it and consequently work safer. Remember, you can have the utmost respect for the machinery (as I do) and in a split second bad things can still happen. And don’t think you have fast enough reflexes to avoid a bite, as you would be very wrong.

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor J:
It's not being cocky - we just simply get too comfortable working on the table saw. How many of us use guards any more? Could the original poster have used a guard? Most of us have absolutely no fear of a table saw or the other machinery that we've been using for several years. We should always keep a sense of appreciation and fear for what these machines can do in the blink of an eye.

I have made a vow to myself to keep the guards on at all times unless it is completely impractical - which is not very often if you really get down to it. Most all your operations can be done with the right guard. Spend a few hundred bucks and get a good guard that will work and not be a nuisance. If you’re really serious about keeping yourself and your employees safe - get a SawStop! I have one and am ordering two more. It is the best cabinet saw ever made even without the safety features.

I just really believe that the majority of these "accidents" can be avoided by giving our machines a little more respect and doing the things you know will most certainly prevent them, such as keeping the guards in place!

From the original questioner:
Thanks for the sympathy guys. I have put my hands through more stuff before however. I had a run-in with another table saw 18 plus years ago. It was the same hand but they were able to save the two fingers that time.

I am almost ashamed to say what I was doing. In retrospect it doesn't seem too smart, though I have done it many times. I was making a 24" valance with a little decorative action at the ends and a 1" straight connecting part. I was cutting the straight part. What I would call a pocket or stop cut. Not wanting to reach over/around the blade, I was standing to the side of the saw. The piece of maple bound up as I lowered it, pulling the board in - with me still holding onto it. I am curious as to whether or not that SawStop would have worked since my hand went into the blade from the "front". The teeth were on their way up not down. Would it have made a difference? The guard was not in place.

From contributor F:
There is a good lesson in this for some of you guys out there. I had the same accident some 27 years ago when I had about three years under my belt as a woodworker. I was luckier than the original poster in that the blade didn't take any fingers off. I did cut deeply into the palm of my left hand (the more educated of the two in my case) and severed the tendon for my index finger which required microscopic plastic surgery.

I was fortunate that I was only scratching the surface of woodworking. With more experience I probably would have had the blade at full height to limit the amount of under cut for the "stopped cut" operation.

The problem as I see it is the practice of "drop sawing" for the object of stopping the cut from going all the way through the work piece. This causes you to put one of your hands on the out-feed side of the blade and quite possibly in line with the blade. If the workpiece binds up in far less time than you can imagine, your hand comes right to the sawblade as the workpiece kicks back.

The solution I now use is to start the operation with the blade completely lowered and after the workpiece is positioned, I raise the blade up through it, push the piece forward to the second stop and then lower the blade. This way you never have a hand on the out-feed side of the blade. The only way I would ever "dropsaw" again is if I stop clamp to the fence with three clamps.

From contributor X:
To the original questioner: The SawStop would have saved your fingers. The blade stops and retracts with-in 5 milli-seconds. I have seen the demonstration. It doesn't matter what part of the blade you touch, the computer will trigger the device. I would suggest going to and reading the testimonials from beginners and masters alike.

I don't care how many years of experience anyone has or how careful you are, one time is all it takes. I bet every one of you, if offered, would purchase an insurance policy that would cover all medical expenses incurred on your table saw for a flat fee of $3,000.00. That is about what you get with a SawStop. The ambulance ride alone could exceed $3,000.00.

OSHA has started recommending this saw and the Consumer Products and Safety Commission stated the following: SawStop Safety Device for Table Saws.

Each year there are about 30,000 hand and finger injuries from table and bench saws. The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has previously commended the SawStop company for developing an innovative safety technology device. This device for power saws is intended to prevent finger amputations and lacerations. The SawStop system uses sensor technology to stop the blade if contact with a human hand or finger is detected. The SawStop technology is designed to monitor electrical signals (which are conducted through the human body much more easily than through wood) and shut off the blade within milliseconds if the blade touches a hand or finger. A person might suffer a slight cut instead of an amputation. Now that this technology is available and feasible, CPSC staff is asking Underwriters Laboratory to revise its safety standards for saws.

The writing is on the wall. It won't take long before lawyers start suing you for having a hazardous table saw instead of a SawStop. Sorry for being so long winded. It pains me to hear about preventable accidents, if only the "experts" had purchased the right tool.

From contributor D:
Looking at the SawStop web site I think the machine is definitely worth the money - if you need a cabinet saw. Just having a saw with a real riving knife that tracks the blade movement and a decent guard are good reasons to buy the machine. I just don't like the idea of the SawStop lawyers trying to get laws passed to force everyone to buy into their technology. I feel safe enough using my European sliding table saw (with guard and splitter and 16" push sticks) without the SawStop technology. However, if it were available as an option I would probably have bought it.