Stay Sharp, Stay Safe

By Todd McDonald

Safety is a must when using a table saw during wood flooring installation. Saws must be properly set up, maintained, and used according to manufacturer- recommended operating procedures to prevent accidents.

Always read and understand the tool’s operator’s manual, tool markings, and the instructions packaged with the accessory before starting any work. Proper personal protective equipment (PPE) is essential; you should always wear safety goggles or safety glasses. Use the appropriate mask or respirator in dusty work conditions, and wear proper hearing protection. Wear the proper clothing and secure long hair when operating the saw to avoid material getting caught in moving parts.

Crowded, cluttered work areas that can cause tripping or loss of balance are particularly dangerous. Keep the saw table clear of other tools, workpieces, and debris. Only use table saws that are completely assembled and secured according to their instructions. A table saw should be equipped with a rip fence, miter gauge, blade guard, riving knife or spreader, and anti-kickback device. Never alter a guard or use the tool with a guard missing. Be sure all guards are in place and working properly before each use.

Choosing the correct tool and the proper accessories can help to reduce the risk of serious injury. When used according to the manufacturer’s instructions, the proper tool and accessory will accomplish the job safer and faster. Use sharp blades; damaged or dull blades could throw teeth, posing a serious injury risk. A sharp blade will tend to cut its way out of a pinching condition.

Always use the proper blade for the job and watch out for overheating or vibrating blades. Be sure to use clean saw blades, as a buildup of pitch or sap on the surface of the saw blade increases blade thickness and also increases blade friction. Finally, make sure the speed marked on the blade is at least as high as the no-load RPM marked on the tool.

Use auxiliary work stands/tables to support and control long or wide workpieces properly. Make sure that the saw is secure and not going to move while you are cutting. Cut only wood, wood-like, or plastic materials; do not cut metal. Avoid cutting small pieces of material that can’t be properly secured, as injury could result from small pieces being thrown back at the operator if the blade pinches and binds. Be very cautious of stock that is pitchy, knotty, or warped, these are most likely to create pinching conditions and possible kickback. Do not cut wet wood; it produces higher friction against the blade. Also, the blade tends to load up with wet sawdust, creating a greater probability of kickback. Anti-kickback devices may not work when cutting smooth, hard surfaces. Always cut with the smooth, hard surface down, on the table. Check the workpiece for nails or other foreign objects.

Before working with a table saw, make sure the tool and its accessories are in proper working order. Failure to do so may increase your risk of injury and may result in kickback, blade pinching, binding or stalling, and loss of control. These situations may cause the workpiece to jump back at the operator and can result in an injury. The saw should always be turned off and disconnected from its power source before making adjustments, installing accessories, or making repairs. Check blades carefully before each use for proper alignment and possible defects. Never use a bent, broken, or warped saw blade. Make sure the blade has adequate blade set. Blade set provides clearance between the sides of the blade and the workpiece, thus minimizing the probability of binding.

Be sure the blade flanges (washers) are clean and correctly assembled on the shaft and that the blade is properly supported. Check often to assure that the blade guard functions properly and returns quickly to its rest position. If a guard seems slow to return or “hangs up,” adjust, repair, or replace it immediately.

Be sure the tool switch works properly. Do not use a tool if the switch does not turn it off when returned to the off position. The rip fence must be parallel to the saw blade to prevent binding and possible kickback. Make sure the blade is installed to rotate in the proper direction – toward the front of the saw. Do not use grinding wheels, wire brushes, or abrasive wheels on a table saw.

Concentrate on what you are doing and be aware of kickback. Kickback can cause an uncontrolled workpiece to be thrown toward the operator and is the result of tool misuse and/or incorrect operating procedures or conditions.

Take these specific precautions to help prevent kickback:

  • Always keep the fence parallel to the blade.
  • Always push the workpiece through the cut.
  • Set blade height to no more than 1/8″ to 1/4″ greater than the thickness of the material being cut.
  • Use the riving knife or the spreader for all “through-sawing” operations (where the saw blade cuts through the thickness of the workpiece).
  • When using the table saw for non-through cutting operations, use pushsticks, pushblocks, featherboards, jigs, or fixtures to keep your hands and fingers away from the saw blade.
  • Do not use the fence as a cutoff stop when cross-cutting.
  • Always use the miter gauge when cross-cutting, and hold the workpiece firmly against the miter gauge to assure a straight and even cut.
  • When you start your saw, allow the blade to reach full speed before contacting the workpiece.

Do not cut “freehand;” always use the miter gauge or rip fence to ensure a straight cut. Use pushsticks to keep your fingers away from the saw blade for short or narrow ripping operations. Use featherboards to firmly hold the workpiece against the fence and table when ripping narrow stock. Always use the riving knife (spreader/splitter) for through-sawing. This prevents the kerf from closing and pinching the blade. Make sure the spreader is properly aligned with the blade. Anti-kickback pawls/fingers are included with every table saw. Although the tendency is to remove them, they are there for a purpose. If a kickback should occur, they are designed to engage the workpiece and keep it from being thrown back toward the operator. Keep the teeth of the pawls/fingers sharp.

Feeding work too aggressively can overheat a saw blade causing it to bind or warp and create a kickback. The buildup of sap on the blades, insufficient set, dullness, and freehand cuts can all result in an overheated blade. Never reach over or behind the saw. Keep arms, hands, and fingers away from the blade as the saw blade may coast after the saw is turned off.

Always, turn off the saw after each completed job. When done cutting, unplug the tool and lock the switch in the “off” position to prevent unauthorized use. Clean and store the tool in a safe, dry place after use.

Stay safe, remember to always keep your tools sharp, and yourself sharper.

Todd McDonald is Owner of Maple Ridge Hand Scraped. He can be reached at

Source: General and Table Saw Safety; Power Tool Institute Inc.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.