A table saw is one of the must-have tools for a flooring installer, providing the ability to rip and crosscut flooring planks to fit into a space too small for a full plank. And although you likely make most or all of your crosscuts at the miter saw, there’s no denying the table saw’s clear advantage over other tools when it comes to ripping. But these tools inherently are dangerous, responsible for thousands of injuries every year – injuries that cost tens of thousands of dollars in medical treatment, rehabilitation, and lost wages. That’s why it is paramount to use your table saw safely.
Here are some helpful tips and practices for using a table saw.
Table Saw Basics
As with other tools, make sure your saw is tuned up properly and in peak working form. Keep it clean, lubricate the internal gears (preferably with a “quick-dry” spray lubricant), maintain proper drive-belt tension (if so equipped), and keep the blade aligned with the miter slots and rip fence (ideally within .01”).
Always wear appropriate personal protective equipment: safety glasses, hearing protection, and a respirator or dust mask. And always use the blade guard/splitter/anti-kickback pawls that come with your saw as much as possible. When not possible, use the riving knife to help prevent kickback.
Equally as important is using the right blade for each cut. Use a 24-30 tooth blade for ripping thick hardwood planks, but a 40-60 tooth blade for thin laminate or engineered planks; a crosscut blade for all crosscuts and miters (60-80 teeth); a specialized blade for cutting veneered plywood or melamine (usually 80 teeth); and a stacked dado set for cutting wide channels, such as dadoes, grooves, and rabbets. Many smaller benchtop and jobsite saws work best with thin-kerf blades – consult your saw’s owner’s manual for the proper blade specs. And don’t forget, many flooring materials contain abrasives that dull blades quickly, so keep several of each type in your toolbox.
In addition to blades, you also need to have a number of accessories on hand to make different cuts better and safer. Your saw should come with a miter gauge, but they’re usually small and functionally limited, so consider upgrading to an aftermarket miter gauge with more angle detents and a fence with flip stop. For crosscutting wide pieces (more than 8” or so), get a miter sled or crosscut sled to increase that capacity and make those cuts safer. You’ll need several push sticks of different widths so you can use them when the rip fence gets close to the blade, and a push block to help you control larger workpieces. Because portable table saws have small tops and flooring planks can be long, have several outfeed supports handy to prevent planks from dropping to the floor mid-cut.
Practice Good Table Saw Techniques
Make sure your saw stays put when cutting. This usually won’t be a problem with saws on stands, but if it becomes so, find a way to firm up the stand. For saws without a stand, make sure to get one with rubber feet to prevent scooting; these also prevent scratching the flooring if you move it along with you across a room.
Always set the blade height so it stands about 1/8” above the thickness of your flooring planks. Too much blade exposed serves no good purpose and increases the chances of an accidental blade injury, even with the blade guard installed.
Follow these guidelines when cutting anything on a table saw:
- Don’t reach over the blade or directly behind it. Instead, use push sticks or push blocks to keep your fingers clear of the blade.
- Never reach to remove offcuts until the blade stops. Too many people get injured doing this.
- Never wear gloves when cutting – this can increase the chance of a blade injury if your fingers get near the blade.
- Always unplug the saw or lock out power before making blade changes or removing the blade guard or riving knife.
- Connect a shop vacuum or dust extractor to the portable saw’s dust port to capture dust during all cuts.
When ripping flooring planks or lumber, stand to the left of the blade (or to the right if the fence is on the left) to better reduce the chance of a kickback piece from hitting you.
If not already in hand, have a push stick at the ready to grab during the cut. Always push the section of wood between the fence and blade all the way past the blade, then shut down the saw and let the blade stop before moving the offcut.
When crosscutting, always use a miter gauge or sled – in the miter slot – to reference the board against. You should be standing in-line with the miter gauge/slot. If you’re cutting small pieces, always use a sled that allows you to clamp the piece before cutting to keep your hands safe and prevent unintended movement during the cut. If possible, attach a sacrificial fence to the miter gauge or sled. This does three things:
- It prevents grain tear-out,
- It sweeps the cutoff past the blade, and
- The kerf shows where the blade will cut.
Protecting against accidents is top of mind for us at SawStop, where we utilize active-injury mitigation skin-sensing technology that stops the spinning blade on contact with skin in less than five milliseconds. Our company has logged thousands of finger saves over the past two decades. We hope this article helps you take table saw safety to a higher level.
Bob Hunter is a content specialist with SawStop. Prior to joining SawStop, he worked 17 years as an editor for WOOD Magazine, where he tested all kinds of tools and accessories, wrote how-to articles, and taught classes on various woodworking techniques and topics. When not working with wood professionally, Bob can be found working with wood as a hobby in his home workshop. Learn more about SawStop’s saws and skin-sensing safety technology at sawstop.com.