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Woodworking Tips by Woodsmith Tip#24:

I have been wanting to write something about shop saftey for a while, but couldn't find a good way to get into it. Fortunately someone else did it for me.

D'Arcy McLean (who I believe is a subscriber to this mail list and also a contributor to our woodworking forums this week posted the question, "How many people use their table saws without the blade guard?

He says, "In the school shops and home shops that I've seen, the blade guard is never on. I'm wondering why? Is it possible that the blade makes the tool unsafe because you cannot see where the blade is?"

These questions attracted a lot of response. Here are some of my favorites:

Richard responded, "I tried the thing for a couple of weeks 5 years ago. I do too much cutting that requires the removal of the blade guard to keep putting the thing on and off. I have seen one that might work though. It's an overhead attachment so it doesn't get in the way of cutting slots and the like. The other thing I do a lot is lower the blade below the table when I am finished using the saw."

Tractor Man wrote, "Every school shop that I have been in has a guard in place, though they are not actually used at the local tech school. My old Walker-Turner saw didn't have a guard when I got it. I am careful to avoid the blade by using push sticks, etc., but every saw should have a guard. Slip-ups can happen no matter how careful you are! A guard should be used whenever possible. No, I don't practice what I preach but that's another story. By the way, I bet that Norm Abrams doesn't remove his guard "for clarity," I bet he took it off and threw it away!"

Pat Scida said, "I never use the blade guard. The blade guard that came with my Delta Contractors Saw was just not helping so I took it off. I ordered an anti-kick back accessory and that problem is taken care of when I'm ripping...."

Mark H. sees the other side of the blade guard question: "I have stitched many people back together after a close encounter with a table saw blade. I always ask if they were using the blade guard. For the most part they were not. It is unfortunate that popular woodworking shows like the New Yankee Workshop do not show blade guards in place. I'm guessing this is done for clarity of the picture, but a disclaimer should be shown.... I do note that Scott Phillips in the American Woodshop does use guards all the time and talks safety all the time. Bottom line: Use the guards. They are there for a reason."

Jim Toews echoes those views. "I work in an emergency room and have seen a fair number of table saw injuries over the years. In each case, the patient said he had not been using the guard. I always use the guard on my saw.... Although I type with only two fingers, I still have all ten."

And Paul Mayer has been there: "I used my saw without the guard, until I ripped my right index finger (that's right, ripped, not crosscut). The accident would not have occurred if I would have been using the guard. It's a little extra work, but just do it. As my woodworking mentor has coached me: 'Be smarter than the board.'"

And finally, Mark Zod relates that he reluctantly bought an aftermarket guard that cost around $350. "I bought it despite the cost, based on something I learned when taking flying lessons. It turns out that most small plane crashes don't happen to beginners. They are too nervous and their adrenaline is way up. The long timers also have good records from their extensive experience. It's those guys right in the middle, not the beginners and not experts, who think they know what they're doing that get in trouble. Getting only a few hours of woodworking in a week, I'm going to be right in that middle category for a very long time."

And I think most of us are in that category, too.

Follow-Up originally appeared in Tip #25: Last week, the topic here was table saw safety, and I presented some interesting posts from our woodworking forum about the value of using a blade guard. In response, Glen Smith of Tucson, Arizona wrote that while he agrees with the need to use a blade guard, the people he knows personally who have been injured on a table saw have said that the blade was not as sharp as it could have or should have been. "Keeping tools sharp is the best safety advice I ever received from anyone," he said. I'll second that.


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