I just saw a bumper sticker on a truck that read “If you can’t stand behind our troops…try standing in front of them!” It’s obvious that there are more dangerous occupations than carpentry. So why are there so many injuries? I think part of the reason is power tools. If you jumped back 100 years, I doubt there would be shop teachers telling stories of how they lost their index finger to a hand saw. Then as the mesmerized student tried to mount his horse for the ride home after school, it would kick, breaking his ribs. No, Life 100 years ago wasn’t any safer overall. What I am saying is that technology often brings new risks. Less often new technology brings safety. Table saws have been around for at least 60 years. During that time, there have been very few changes. The first models had stationary motors and the table tilted and changed height. I’ve never used one of these old-school table saws so I don’t know why they changed. The first table saw I owned was actually given to me. Yes, it was that cheap. The safety guard on it required an allen key to remove, even when changing the blade. Once the guard came off, it was so complicated, I couldn’t figure out how to put it back on.
The next big improvements with table saws weren’t that big. Around 2008 most table saws started coming with riving knives. See Wikipedia for a definition. Another improvement which helped people use the existing safety equipment was tool-less installation and removal. Similar to seat-belts in cars, it’s the human that has to use it in order for it to work. If it took you 5 minutes to put on your seat-belt and another 5 minutes to undo the seat-belt, would you use it every time you rode in a car? My current table saw has tool-less blade guard, riving knife, kick-back pawls, and a holstered push-stick. It takes me 60 seconds to remove or install all these features. With my old table saw, I still can’t find the allen key that fits the guard.
Making features install without a tool is, sort of, a technological innovation. It will seem trivial compared to Automatic braking. Automatic braking is better know by the trade name that holds the patent on the technology. Saw Stop. A Sawstop saw has the ability to tell the difference between wood and flesh. When it detects flesh the saw blade, spinning at full speed, takes 1/1000th of a second to stop. Needless to say, the cheapest saw they make is 8 times more expensive than the one I own. The technology is not perfect. The table saws have been known to have false stops, which wrecks the blade each time the saw applies the brake. Why read about it when you can see the technology in action. Here is the famous Sawstop vs Hotdog video – Rated G.