There’s nothing quite like a table saw for getting the heavy-duty results you need. No matter your skill level, table saw safety should be at the top of your list of priorities. The number of amputations that occur as the result of poor saw safety is still shockingly high.
If you’re new to working with a table saw, or just want a refresher to make sure you’re doing things properly, then this page is for you. We’ll run through the main things to consider when working with this kind of tool and saw blade. Read our tips below to stay safe when using a table saw.
Table Saw Safety Tips
This section will outline the main things to consider when using a table saw. Remember that each work environment is different. Your shop may have specific risks that should be incorporated into your saw safety policy.
1. Wear Gloves
While it may seem counterintuitive to the inexperienced, it’s not a good idea to wear gloves when using a table saw. A key part of good table saw safety is maintaining sensitivity to the work you’re doing. Gloves can dull your senses and make it much more difficult to actually feel where your hands are.
Looser gloves can even get caught by your blade and pull you into the table saw.
2. Use a Push Stick
As a general rule of thumb, you should aim to keep a 4-6″ distance from your table saw blade at all times. As a result, you should use a push stick when working with any stock that would bring you within this distance.
Decent push sticks can be picked up on Amazon for next to no money, so there’s no excuse not to use one.
3. Loose Fitting Clothing
One of the golden rules of table saw safety is to avoid loose fitting clothing that could get caught by your saw blade. Keep your shirt tucked in, wear short sleeves and forgo any additional clothing like ties that might get caught up in your machine.
4. Proper Footwear
It’s important to wear shoes that are appropriate for the job. Sturdy, protective shoes with a grippy sole are a must. Never wear shoes that could easily slip on your shop floor. Remember that a significant amount of sawdust can accumulate on the floor which can be very slippery.
5. Proper Positioning
The way you hold yourself when using a table saw is very important. Staying at a safe distance and remaining steady on your feet is crucial. Consider the following:
- The table saw blade should never come between your hands and your torso
- Never reach over the blade when pushing your material. Your hand should be as far away from the saw blade as practically possible
- Make use of a push stick for smaller stock
- You should always feel steady on your feet. Avoid awkward positions or reaches that over extend to maintain good table saw safety
- Your body should never be in-line with the blade. This is a crucial anti-kickback measure
6. Don’t Forget Protective Eyewear
You should wear safety glasses as an absolute minimum. If you’re working on material that’s likely to chip, a full face shield might be necessary. It’s always best to err on the side of caution here. Even seemingly harmless sawdust can cause disaster if you’re not protected.
7. And Hearing Protection
A surprising proportion of people still don’t consider hearing protection when cutting with a table saw. While comparatively gradual, hearing loss from power tool use is very real and should be minimized wherever possible.
A very good pair of ear defenders can be picked up for next to nothing. This equipment can literally prevent you from going deaf, so there’s no good reason not to use them. Even if you only work with power tools occasionally, do your self a favor and protect your ears.
8. Watch out for Dust and Debris
Consider a respirator or face mask, especially when working with stock that creates a lot of dust and debris. Regular inhalation of foreign objects like particulate dust can cause significant harm. Respect your lungs and closely follow this aspect of table saw safety.
Making use of a good shop vac and dust extraction system is a great way to mitigate the harm caused by sawdust and other debris. We strongly advise using a table saw that properly tackles the waste it produces.
9. Maintain Concentration
Every table saw safety measure in the world will fall short if you’re exhausted. Staying focused is one of the best things you can do for your overall safety when operating a table saw. Especially when performing multiple repetitive cuts, make sure you take regular breaks to remain alert and focused.
Maintain your concentration to maintain your health.
10. Use a Rip Fence
It’s not a good idea to make free-hand cuts with a table saw. Use your rip fence to guide your stock through the power tool. Remember that your fence should always be parallel to the blade itself. This will help to prevent dangerous kickback from occurring.
11. Check Your Wood Before Cutting
Never use wood without first checking it for safety. Old nails or other obstacles that you haven’t noticed can cause serious damage mid-cut. Check that your stock is safe and ready to be worked with. The last thing you want when working with a table saw is unexpected kickback.
12. Check the Riving Knife
Check the riving knife of any table saw you work with. When ripping or making cross cuts, a riving knife is essential to avoid jamming. If you’re unsure, there’s no shame in checking the manual for your specific table saw model.
Spending some extra time is always worth it if it keeps you safe.
13. Use a Miter Gauge OR Fence But Not Both
As mentioned earlier on this page, you should never cut free-hand when operating a table saw. Either a miter gauge or a fence should be used at all times. It’s important to note, however, that these two safety measures aren’t designed to be used together.
There are several instances, for example when cross cutting, that can actually cause further harm if you’re using a miter gauge and fence together.
14. Remove Power When Changing the Blade
A common occurrence with most woodworking power tools is changing the blade to accommodate a variety of different cutting material. Never change the blade of your table saw when it’s connected to the power. A spinning blade that close to your fingers can spell disaster in moments.
15. Power Down When Finished
Try to make a habit of powering down your machine once you’ve finished working. This will make things much safer the next time you need to get some woodworking done. This point is especially important if you work in a shop that’s shared by multiple employees.
If you make it a rule that a table saw is always powered off when not in use, it becomes much easier for your entire team to use your power tools safely.
16. Trust Your Instincts
This one’s more intuitive than literal but it’s worth mentioning. There are times in the shop where something doesn’t feel right but you just can’t quite place your finger on it. In our opinion, the bottom line is that if you don’t feel right about a cut, just don’t do it.
Over caution will always be better than recklessness.
The checklist below can be followed each time you start work with your table saw. The idea is that over time, you’ll start building a natural habit that helps you to stay safe when working. Follow the quick checks below to make kickback a thing of the past:
- Before conducting any other checks, make sure that the table saw is powered off. You’re going to be looking at the tool’s moving parts and therefore should eliminate any risk of them activating when they shouldn’t.
- Double-check all safety features of your table saw. This includes the emergency stop, the on/off switch, fence, riving knife, push sticks and blade guard. Only start work once you’re happy they’re all in good working order.
- Check your table saw surface for foreign objects and other abnormalities. Unexpected objects can quickly cause injuries, so it’s always worth making sure things are clear.
- Assess the floor around your table saw for obstacles and trip hazards. Only continue once you’re satisfied that the surrounding area is clear and safe.
- If you know that the table saw is turned off, make sure that the saw can turn freely. This will reduce the risk of sudden jams when operating.
- Are you using the right blade for the job? Think about the type of work you’re going to be doing today. Will your blade be able to safely make cuts for you? If the answer is no, now is the time to change to a more appropriate saw blade.
- Position your tool’s power cord to minimize the risk of tripping or tangling.
- Get any supporting tools ready. If you know you’re going to be using a push stick, for example, make sure you have it handy before starting work.
We know it can seem dull, but following the checklist outlined above will entrench a strong, healthy habit that might even save your life. If you have the time, check out our clothing checklist below.
Even if your equipment is in fantastic working order, the clothes you wear can make a huge difference when it comes to saw safety. It’s worth following the general guidelines below to double-check that you’re ready to start work:
- Are you wearing anything that could be considered loose fitting? If you are, consider changing or at least tucking in what you can. Roll up long sleeves, tuck in baggy shirts, tie up long hair, etc. Anything that could get caught in your blade should be firmly secured.
- Assess which level of eye protection you’re likely to need. Working with minimal debris? Safety goggles might be enough. Cutting wood that’s likely to chip? A full face shield is probably necessary.
- Have you brought your ear defenders or plugs with you? Now’s the time to get them before the saw is switched on.
- Check your shoes. Are your laces securely tied? Are the soles of your shoes sufficiently grippy? Make sure you can safely support yourself while working.
- Remember that it’s a bad idea to wear gloves when operating a table saw.
It’s important to mention that the tips outlined above are far from exhaustive; they’re merely a starting point to help you begin thinking about staying safe in the shop. Remember that your specific work environment will likely have a number of unique safety concerns that will need to be addressed.
Your shop might be particularly noisy, or use other machinery that could effect your approach to the rest of your toolkit. Take the time to assess your surroundings and think about your individual table saw safety rules to follow.