Habits for Your Stupid Days

September 30, 2008

What are the habits you need when working in the shop on one of your Stupid Days? These are the habits that will protect you when you have your accident.

You see everyone believes that accidents only occur elsewhere. They think that if they think they are safe that they will avoid an accident. Nothing could be further from the truth. Everyone will have an accident in the shop. The question is: how bad will your accident be?

Woodworking and woodworking with sharp and powerful tools has an inevitability attached to it. The inevitable is that you will have an accident. The question is whether or not you will walk away from it with all your fingers, eyes, and organs. If you do not have habits in place for your stupid days, you are at great risk in the shop.

Woodworkers also believe that if they have always done something one way then nothing can go wrong with the process. It never occurs to folks that they may have just been lucky. But it’s on one of your Stupid Days when you aren’t paying attention and thinking about a thousand other things that you are most at risk. Those are the days when you need to have habits in place to protect you.

Let’s first go through some set-up stuff that will help. First, on the table saw.

On the table saw, make sure that your miter gauge tracks are set parallel with your saw blade. Dead on. Follow your owners manual for the right way to do this for your saw. But make sure they’re parallel. Usually there’s three or four bolts holding the table onto the cabinet base or stand that holds the blade.

Loosen those up and adjust the table. Use a combination square to check the distance to the blade adjusting as needed. You can put a chalk mark on one tooth and check it with the tooth almost disappearing into the front of the table. Then rotate it to the rear of the table and check it again there. [Saw unplugged of course.] The distances should be the same.

Then you want to make sure that your fence is out of parallel with your miter gauge tracks. I set mine out by about 1/64″ to 1/32″ away from the rear of the blade. This way the fence will be closer at the front of the blade and farther away at the rear.

What does this do? This ensures that your cut will be moving away from the blade at the rear of the cut. This is where you get most of your saw accidents. By contacting the blade at the rear of the cut, your wood now has the potential to move up and at you very very quickly. Or it can be thrown across the blade and at you. Nothing good comes from contacting the back half of the blade. That’s why I run my fence a little bit out.

Now some will say what happens when the fence is now on the left side. Well in 30 years, I’ve done that twice so it’s not too hard to adjust for that contingency. Also with the T-square fences it’s a fast adjustment either way. If you do adjust the fence out away from the blade at the rear, you will notice that there also will be no burning of your wood, and less risk of kick-back.

Another simple safeguard is to have a splitter in place. Now regrettably most splitters are poorly designed and if you don’t use your blade guard then you probably don’t have a splitter in place. But the whole point of that splitter is to prevent your wood from touching the back half of the blade. It’s worth having. So if you don’t use your blade guard [shame on ya] and haven’t bought an aftermarket splitter to attach to your table, then you can make one.

If you make your own table inserts, which is easy to do, then you can add a splitter to one of those. All you need to do when you make a new one is to put it in place and raise the blade up to its full height. [Make sure you have a secure hold on the insert with either a pushstick or even your fence, but away from the blade area.]

Great, where does the splitter go? Do this: take the insert out and flip it 180 degrees so the back is at the front and the down side is now up. Now raise the blade back up and through the splitter again. This will cut a slot down the back side of the groove you first cut. In this space you can fit a wooden fin. Glue it in place and there’s your splitter. It obviously doesn’t raise and lower with the blade. But it will provide another small measure of protection for you. Just make sure it’s a hair thinner than your blade kerf so that all your work will pass easily by it.

The splitter will prevent any board from closing up on the back half of the blade in the middle of a cut. It will also keep a board that bows in cutting from contacting the blade. Also if you move your stock away from the fence as you cut, a big no-no, but if it happens then the splitter will help to prevent kick-back.

These are simple things that you can have in place to protect you on the table saw. There are a few others I will discuss in the near future.

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Published in: on September 30, 2008 at 8:25 am  Comments (2)  
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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Hi Gary,

    Some great points there – I particularly like that you hav formalised the whole concept that there are a list of tasks for days when you just know it would be a little bit silly to even turn a tool on (and recognising that fact).

    In my (modest) shop, I have a couch, a TV hooked up to an iPod with a stack of movies (and DVDs by….Gary Rogowski!), and a number of activities I can do there (sharpening, sketching plans etc) for just those days that I am too tired, too distracted, or it is simply too late to make a lot of noise.

    However, until reading you post I didn’t realise that this is a perfectly valid safety tool, and not just slacking off!! 🙂

    Regards,
    Stuart
    (www.stusshed.com)

  2. […] ‘Slacking off’ as a Safety Mechanism Posted on October 1, 2008 by Stuart Gary Rogowski (woodworker (insert a long list of relevant titles here) and star of a number of woodworking DVDs) makes a great point on his blog in a post titled “Habits for your Stupid Days“. […]


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