How To – Do you really need to use the guard on your table saw?

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    After many conversations with professionals and hardcore hobbyists this subject is one of the most common conversations in a woodworking shop.

    Anyone that has been professionally trained either in a large business setting or a trade school will tell you that safety measures are often the only thing that have your back when you are at work every day.

    If you are actually working in a production shop some of these standards may lax and you have to consider the fact that if the boss wants you to work faster than is safe who is going to spoon feed you soup for the rest of your life after you lose a hand full of fingers?

    Seriously .. Safety should always be at the forefront of any shop you work in whether its your garage or a full scale production line.

    Excuses people make about Shop Safety

    The problem many users come back with is that it is just too difficult to make cuts with precision with the guard on or that specific cuts just can not be made with the guard on.

    Often people will say they have no problem using a guard to make rip cuts but crosscuts or angle cuts are impossible for them to make with a fence on so they remove it during all work. A tables saw is not a scroll saw.. fork out the cash and buy a bandsaw with a feed table to make cuts you can’t make.. or buy a jigsaw .. or handsaw.. or go to Ikea and buy a bookshelf.

    Other people say they have worked in the field for many years and never had or seen a dangerous situation. Those people are lying … or they are lying.

    Some people say they rely on push sticks to do all their work .. but then can’t explain all the kickback problems they have.

    Some people say they bought used equipment and never had a guard so they couldn’t use one if they wanted to. This is pretty foolish because if you are doing this professionally you spend the money to do things right and if you are doing this at home you spend the money so your fingers aren’t spewed across your shop and you can’t dial 911 to save your life.


    So, what are your options for a safe shop?

    The most important thing is to be trained to use your tools. It is pretty impossible to find anyone today that has been professionally trained who would build a shop with basic safety issues. This is because of legal reasons. The shop owner can be fined and if a person is injured who was ordered to work in an unsafe condition that business can lose everything.

    So professional training is the first thing everyone must obtain. If you are a hardcore hobbyist and haven’t taken classes at a trade school then go take a couple. You will learn how to not only work safer but also faster with better results.

    If you are a professional then contact the manufacturer about training for your staff. Many manufacturers have site reps that will come to your shop and supervise instillation and train your staff how to work safe and fast.

    If you don’t have a clue but you just want to fill your garage with tools and have fun.. well then consider the tradeoff of injury and go to a community college or trade school and take a class. Most schools run day, night, weekend and summer courses for only a couple hundred dollars and they can range from construction carpentry to fine art wood working. But review their shop and view a live class. If you see chaos and clutter find another place to learn.

    Full Guards Saw Guards vs a Splitter or Riving Knife

    Some people will confuse a full guard that protects from front, top and side injury with a Riving knife that is a tool used to split cut wood so it will not bind on the blade.

    Some people will even go all the way to modify or mount a top bar on these things with the belief they can create a less intrusive guard.

    Don’t rely on this type of system. It is not designed to save you from injury it is an aid in the cutting process and may just aid in cutting your fingers off more efficiently.


     Final Note

    If your saw didn’t come with a guard then buy one.

    If your saw came with a guard that is difficult to use then either get trained on how to use it right or see if you can find a full guard replacement by an aftermarket company.

    If you are buying a new saw then go out and test a few to make sure the one you are buying has a guard you can work with every day. If you are a “BrandX” shop and always buy their tools but their saw guards suck .. buy another brand.

    Once you are injured there is no walking it back.

    If you are injured and they happen to save your fingers you will never have 100% use of them and when you are older you will have extensive problems with your hands.

    Don’t Play around with shop safety.. either do it right or find another line of work or fun.

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