Table Saw Safety Features (Woodworking)

Whenever you’re working with a table saw, safety is paramount.

So getting to know the safety features of the table saw is one of, if not the most important thing to do before starting.

So what are the table saw safety features that you should look out for before purchasing?

  • Riving Knife & Splitter
  • Anti-Kickback Pawls
  • Push Stick
  • Blade Guard
  • Magnetic switch
  • Sensors

Read through this guide and familiarize yourself with the safety features on offer. Do this before using your brand new saw.  

It’s VERY important.

I know my brother has been lucky in the past. Very lucky…

I mean, lucky to not lose a few fingers kind of lucky…

You’re probably thinking, “Do I really have to read this?”

I can understand. We’ve all been through long-winded safety policies and procedures.

The information I’ve written here isn’t something I’d call riveting. But it’s to give you an idea of the features that are available to you.

I’m not here to insult anyone’s intelligence and common sense.

But when you have a 10” razor-sharp blade spinning at 3,000 RPM (Revolutions Per Minute), you don’t want to take any chances.

I’ve done my best to get to the point for each feature on offer to you. Mind you, many of these features come standard.

So let’s get right into the options on offer.

Riving Knife & Splitter

The riving knife and splitter are two separate safety options that you can use when cutting.

One of the most common causes of table saw-related accidents is kickback. This occurs when material is ejected directly back at you.

It happens when material binds to the fence and blade. It then gets caught between the teeth on the back of the blade.

I’ve experienced a scary incident of this myself, and so has my brother. It’s definitely not something I wish upon someone to experience.

But, you’re bound to experience it in some form if you’re going to be working with the saw.

To prevent such incidents occurring, you an option to install a riving knife or splitter. Bother are quite similar with minor differences.

Riving Knife

The riving knife sits behind the blade and is attached to the same mechanism as the blade. It also travels up and down with the height of the blade as an added advantage.

It’s a very effective device to prevent kickback as it’s mounted very close to the blade. They can be detached if required, and quickly replaced for the safest cut possible.

It can also remove the need for a clunky guard around the table. You could, in fact, use an overhead guard alongside the riving knife as a combo.

A disadvantage to the riving knife is that you can only use them on through cuts.

A positive is that it won’t get in the way of a standard blade guard.

Splitter

In comparison to the riving knife, the splitter sits at a further distance to the back of the table saw.   

It’s a vertical blade made out of steel located behind the blade. Its purpose is to keep the kerf or the cut open to prevent the material from pinching the blade. Or contacting the rear rising teeth of the blade.

A disadvantage compared to the riving knife is that it remains at a fixed height. It also doesn’t move up and down when operating the saw blade.

The splitter has to also be removed from when making a crosscut, non-through and dado cut.

I’ve read many people forget to put the splitter back in place after making a non-standard rip cut. I’ve also read many purposely leave it off because of the hassle to keep replacing it.

This is one reason I tell people to invest in a riving knife if your table saw didn’t come with one standard.

Anti-Kickback Pawls

The anti-kickback pawls on a table saw is attached to the splitter to assist with any kickback. They can also be used with a riving knife.

They’re attached either side of the splitter, and use claws to grab onto material to prevent kickback.

Like the splitter, you do have to remove them if you were to make any kind of crosscut. So you’ll have to remove them as well when using a stacked dado blade to cute dadoes or rabbets.

One thing to keep in mind when using anti-kickback pawls is that they prevent reversing of the board. This is when the material is being ripped.

If you only need to make a partial rip up to a certain length, you wouldn’t be able to move the material away from the blade.

This is because the teeth on the pawls would engage and prevent the reverse motion.

Push Stick

The push stick or push block is a safety device you use to move material towards the saw blade.

Many woodworkers I know use a push stick for the obvious reason – they don’t want to lose fingers.

A razor sharp blade pins at over 3,000 RPM (Revolutions Per Minute). This will slice through most objects with ease. So imagine what that would do to human flesh.

Push sticks sometimes come with the table saw of your choice. Or, you can buy one at woodwork supply shops. If you’re the DIY type of guy, you can make one yourself.

Either way, I highly recommend you invest in one.  

Blade Guard

A blade guard protects you from placing your fingers near the saw blade.

Many woodworkers do find that it’s a feature that can be quite annoying to use. A simple use case would be when a piece of material is stuck or a blade has to be changed. It’s time-consuming when you have to remove the blade guard. I guess it’s viewed similarly to a splitter. Great to have, but a pain to use.

Another disadvantage when using the blade guard is that many find it gets in the way when ripping. You can’t see or measure the cut when it’s attached. Most are made from plexiglass, but it’s still not precise.

I know of many woodworkers that now resort to a riving knife and overhead guard combination. It’s a lot easier to see when you’re cutting through material.

I recommend that for any new beginner, they use a blade guard. Yes, it takes some getting used to. But it also protects you from the dangers when working with a table saw.

Magnetic switch

The magnetic switch is a safety feature present on some table saw models.

This protects the motor during a power outage and shifts the power to the off position. Effectively protecting the table saw from overload.

It’s a feature that doesn’t get spoken about too much I’ve noticed. I personally recommend thinking about models that have such a feature if you’re able to afford it.

The last thing you want is the power on the table saw to turn back on after an outage. It would cause havoc if a piece of material were still in contact with the saw blade.

Once the magnetic switch is in the off position, all you have to do is turn it back on. Simple and safe.

Sensors

Over 30,000 table saw injuries occur annually. The number of finger or hand amputations has been estimated to be around 4,000 annually in the US alone. And costs approximately more than $2 billion a year to treat victims.

In 1999, a company called SawStop was founded by Steve Gass.

The forward-thinking founder had come up with a brilliant idea. In fact, Popular Science named SawStop’s technology as one of its “100 Best New Innovations.”

It’s a sensor built into the saw blade that would detect when human skin came in contact with it. If contact was made, the blade would instantly stop.

Amazing right?

But how does it work?

The human skin produces conductivity that the sensor picks up on. It then activates an aluminum break which immediately stops the blade. The blade quickly recedes into the table.

In a matter of 0.02 seconds, the user will at most have a shallow cut – preventing an amputation.

The SawStop brand of table saws is one of a kind and one I highly recommend if you can afford it.

You should check out the video that of it in action. The founder puts his money where his mouth is and uses his finger as the test object.

No way would you get me doing that!

Other manufacturers are looking into similar technology but SawStop holds many patents. This has prevented other manufacturers from using the exact same technology.

It’s this technology that makes SawStop worth their asking price.

Summary

Whenever you’re around a table saw, safety is of utmost importance.

Don’t take it lightly.

I strongly suggest that you become familiar with the working of a table saw before operating one. Even better, try and join a club and ask questions. Find a mentor even so you’re trained properly to gain confidence in operating the saw.

Be sure to look out for all the safety features before buying your first table saw and don’t forget to ask questions.

Many are more than happy to help.

If you have any further information you’d like to add, leave a comment as I’d love to know what safety tips you have in mind.

James Thomas

James Thomas

Tool Enthusiast

2 thoughts on “Table Saw Safety Features (Woodworking)”

  1. It’s awesome that this article talked about how using a blade guard on a table saw is important to have so that fingers don’t get injured even if the guard might be a little annoying. I remember when my dad almost injured one of his fingers when he was cutting a piece of wood. I’m not a very handy person, so I would have to contact a company to help me.

    1. Hi Dennis,

      Yes, it’s very important to use a blade guard. Sooner or later you will let your guard down (excuse the pun).

      Cheers,
      James

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James Thomas

Hi, I’m James. I created The Tool Square to help as many understand and know how to use Table Saws, and many other tool-related products. About Me.

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