Death Machine — Woodworking Safety Day, 2013


We’ve all experienced scary moments with powertools. The tablesaw, being so ubiquitous, tends to be one we seem to have the most memorable encounters with. I’m certain more than a few posts in the blogosphere today will include safety advice in some way relating to these screaming beasts. I’m interested in talking about the importance of maintenance and set-up as related to safety.

Above is the tablesaw organic to the woodshop I’ve been working out of the last couple of months. I have done everything I can to avoid using it because the maintenance and set-up just gives me the willies. It seems every time I do have to use it, the pucker-factor increases. So, lets have a look at why this tool has become what I refer to as “the death machine.”

UnsquareI’ve done a little maintanence to this machine in vain effort to make it less of a thrill ride to power on. The wear on the throat plate shows one of the first things that was fixed. The four set screws left the plate twisted in the throat. This left wood completely unsupported at the most critical point. You’ll notice there is no splitter or riving knife. That’s two points onto having a twist that can lead to dangerous kickback. The most frightful is the rip fence. Yeah, squaring a rip fence to the table is pretty damned important. Without it there is not only wander of the cut, but also the likelihood of a kickback goes way up. There are four machine screws that hold the fence square and the slots these fit in were packed with sawdust. I finally cleaned those out yesterday when I attempted to resquare the fence. The joke was on me. The screws are so worn that they vibrate loose during operation. After less than six feet of ripping, the fence was misaligned by about ten degrees. Worn Parts.

2013-04-30_13-11-58_898Oh look, rust! The picture barely does “justice” to the true extent of the problem. Around the miter slot you can clearly see the light orange rust. That’s really not much of a problem compared to those deep purple-red swirls toward the bottom of the image. Those portions of the table are actually rather significantly pitted. How is this a safety issue? Well, pitting means that the table is less smooth. Less smoothness means more friction when pushing material across the surface. This is bad for the motor and adds to that whole kick-back event problem. Also, that uneven wear on the table surface, due to the severe rust, means that a deadflat board will act like a twisted board when being fed into the spinning blade.

Being much more interested in self-preservation, when I have used this saw, I don’t even consider using the gummed up, dull, POS blade the owner of this machine left to corrode on the arbor.

Those are pure maintenance. How about setting up for failure?

2013-04-30_13-12-49_489It seems the saw belongs in a certain “spot” in the shop where the only available outlet requires the power cord to be fully extended in order to clear the tables that are covered in non-working grinders, a metal-cutting bandsaw, miscellaneous machine parts and other detritus.  Yes, that is a regular bandsaw just past the outfeed. Again, poor configuration leading to unsafe operation.

Then there is the wood-burning stove on the other side of the “table saw spot.” And then there are those folding chairs that just get stored there for no apparent reason.2013-04-30_13-12-26_367




Finally, the  Piece d’Resistance :


On this uneven concrete floor our intrepid tool [owner] has decided it is most convenient to have built a steel platform and place 4″ wheels to make the table saw more portable. There are no locks on these wheels. So, in addition to the befouled table saw surface, the saw is jacked up nearly half a foot higher than it was designed, and placing more than the lightest touch against the (unsquared) fence leads the entire tool to roll away from the operator while already reaching too far for balance and safe operation. I’m more than half a head taller than the owner of this saw, and I can’t comfortably reach the outfeed side of the table when bellied up to it. It’s damned scary.

At most, I hope this might serve as a list of examples of what not to do, and at least put a little more concern into the idea of good maintenance and upkeep for safety considerations. Come the end of the week I’ll be getting back to more historically minded posts, but this thing was too heinous not to shine the light of poor example upon.

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