Power tools are dangerous, and extreme caution is required when operating them. Even the smallest and simplest power tool can draw blood if you aren’t careful, and that is to be avoided.
I remember so clearly Mr. Davis’s accident in 8th-grade shop class when he lost part of his right index finger and middle finger to a planer accident. Blood was flying everywhere, bits of skin shot out with saw dust, one kid barfed, and Mr. Davis calmly said class was dismissed as he wrapped his hand in a handkerchief and went to the nurse’s office.
The saw in your shop will hurt you if you give it a chance. Fortunately, safety is high on the list of saw manufacturers, whether it’s your table saw, miter saw, or skill saw. Gloves, safety goggles, respirators, and more are, or at least should be, in every home woodworking shop. Injury is more a result of carelessness today than inherently unsafe saws.
SawStop manufactures power saws of various types, and its saws are considered among the safest saws available today for any shop or jobsite. Its saws include:
- Jobsite model – portable, wheeled frame, adjustable leveling, convenient to move from jobsite to jobsite, and with its well-known safety features.
- Contractor model – versatile with over 150 configuration settings, 1.75 hp, sturdy with a cast iron tabletop, and with its well-known safety features.
- Professional cabinet saw model – 30” fence assembly, good dust collection system, its best-selling model, 1.75 hp or 3.0 hp power choices, and with its well-known safety feature.
SawStop does manufacture an industrial size model, as well, that includes all of its best features including its patented safety system.
These saws are expensive, and range in starting prices from $1579 up to $2849, depending on the features you choose.
The SawStop Safety Feature
SawStop saws include a patented safety system to prevent serious harm to hands and limbs, and this system sets it apart from other similar saws. While it can’t protect you fully from yourself and harm, it goes a long way toward that end. The system does the following:
- The blade carries a small electrical signal that can detect skin contact. The signal changes in making that contact because the human body is conducive to the charge. The change in the electrical signal then activates the full safety system. You do not have to be grounded for this to activate, either.
- The blade housing includes an aluminum brake that is sprung into the path of the blade, bringing the spinning blade to a complete stop and shutting the power off to the motor.
- When the blade has come to a complete stop, the blade is dropped inside the housing and below the surface of the tabletop so that no further harm can be caused.
- All of this happens in less than 5 milliseconds. The blade and brake cartridge can then be replaced, taking less than 2 minutes, and the saw is ready for use again after you’ve stopped any bleeding and wrapped the finger, hand, or arm.
The SawStop website carries many testimonials from woodworkers whose fingers have been saved by these safety features.
Of course, it does require that you keep a second blade and brake cartridge on hand in the event of such an injury. It might seem like a small price to pay for the safety system, though, a system that night saves your finger(s).
Every SawStop comes with this sophisticated safety system, too, stopping the blade and dropping it into the cabinet housing in milliseconds. As an interesting side note, the human brain calculates its knowledge in milliseconds, so just as you begin to realize you’ve been harmed, the blade has already stopped and dropped, and the motor is off.
Can I Get Seriously Injured Using a SawStop?
With the understanding that anything is possible, the chances of a serious injury are very limited because of the speed at which the safety system goes into action.
The blade is sharp and turning fast, and any contact with your skin (a finger, your hand, your forearm) is going to draw blood. Because the blade is stopped so quickly and dropped below the tabletop surface, the chances of a serious injury, like lost fingers or hand, are reduced drastically. A cut finger is the more likely extent of injury, but if your hand is moving quickly into the blade before it is braked to a complete stop, there is the possibility of something more severe and serious.
Gloves are always a smart precaution when using any saw, but especially table saws where you are pushing the workpiece against the blade to cut rather than holding the saw (circular saw) or pulling the blade through the workpiece (miter saw). Using a scrap piece of wood, or a tool to push the wood, instead of your bare or gloved hand, also reduces the chance of injury.
Couple these safety tips with the safety system of SawStop saws, paying close attention to the task, and taking your time, and you have virtually removed the opportunity for harm. The SawStop system takes your own safety precautions to the next level.
The SawStop safety system is a default-on system, too. When you turn on the saw, the safety system is already activated as the default setting. Even when you have disabled the safety system, which we will get to in the next section, when you have finished your task and turned the saw off, the safety system is automatically activated in its default setting as normal mode.
SawStop Bypass Mode
The human body is not the only conductive material. Metals like aluminum and carbon fiber are conductive, as is wet or green wood. SawStop saws have a bypass mode where the safety feature can be deactivated for cutting other conductive materials.
This special temporary operation mode will allow the cutting of conductive materials other than the human body without activating the safety system. The braking system is disabled and the saw blade will not be stopped or dropped. It is far more than simply pushing a button, though, too – turning off a feature that could take a finger or two should not be made easy where even a slight carelessness could cost you skin and blood.
The steps require some attention well away from cutting anything and far from the spinning blade:
- The system has a bright red paddle that starts and stops the saw. When you turn the saw on, a red light on the control box will come on momentarily, and then turn off, activating the green light to indicate the safety system is on.
- A key is then to be inserted into the control box and turned. The green light will blink on and off.
- The red paddle is then flipped to the on position; the red light will blink once as you hold the key, and then the green light will remain on and steady.
- The key is then released, and the green light will begin blinking slowly while the blade continues to spin. This will indicate the bypass mode is activated and the safety system is disabled.
While the process for bypass mode on the jobsite model is slightly different, the process is just as easy and effective in disabling the safety system.
To disengage bypass mode, the process is extremely simple. Turn the start/stop red paddle off. The saw is now off and the blade will stop spinning. The next time you turn the saw on, the default setting of the safety system will automatically re-engage and the safety system will be on. The only time it is ever disengaged is when you actively turn on bypass mode.
Want a demonstration? We found a video that walks you through these steps very clearly.
Will Cutting Green or Wet Wood Activate The SawStop Safety System?
SawStop says its saws will cut wet wood without a problem. If the wood is especially green or wet, though, and wet enough to send off spray when it’s being cut, it may very well be conductive enough to trigger the safety system.
If you are in doubt about whether the wood is conductive and want to be sure, you can activate the bypass mode and make a test cut or two to see if the safety system would be activated. That spray, if present, will suggest the wood is conductive enough to trigger the system -the red light on the control box will indicate that conductivity.
If it is, leave the saw in bypass mode and finish your cutting. When you’ve finished and turned the saw off, the next time you turn it on the system default setting will have re-engaged.
Pricey are they? Yes. But the SawStop safety system can save you a finger or two, as well as last for years giving you good cuts. How expensive is a finger? Ask poor Mr. Davis from my 8th-grade shop class. I ran into him a few decades after that accident, and he laughed at how clumsy he thought he was. He showed me the scars, too – index and middle finger, right hand.
SawStop saws are worth considering for your shop and your safety.