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Unsafe Cross-Cutting: Avoiding Dangerous Table Saw Kickback

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Table saw safety is a huge part of woodworking, and avoiding table saw kick back is a large part of table saw safety. You may find it tempting to try and use the rip fence on a table saw for cutting multiple pieces to the same size. There are scenarios in which this works, and scenarios in which it doesn’t. You need to understand the dynamic of length versus width, and how this affects the safety of the cut. This video explains how to safely make these cuts, and what to avoid.

The danger in crosscutting

What’s the problem if you use the table saw incorrectly for crosscutting? Two issues; table saw kick back, and possible contact between the saw blade and your hand. If a table saw is used incorrectly it’s relatively easy for the material to climb up onto the back of the saw blade. If this happens, things can go very badly very quickly.

Mastering the table saw

Few woodworkers will argue with the idea that the table saw is the heart of a woodshop, and key to many woodworking projects. As a result, knowing how to use a table saw correctly is a very important part of woodworking. There are so many table saw techniques available to you. A table saw is capable of much more than simple cross cutting and ripping. Be sure to check out the comprehensive collection of videos and articles that WoodWorkers Guild of America offers on table saws.

Discussion
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17 Responses to “Unsafe Cross-Cutting: Avoiding Dangerous Table Saw Kickback”
  1. Kaiser

    You forgot to mention that you need to stay away from the wood while cutting. Stay off to the side while cutting. This way, if it happens, you won’t get hit by the wood.

    Reply
  2. Johnny Hughes

    I have been using the same table for thirty-five years without a problem. About three months I was cutting a piece of 3/4 plywood almost the exact size as what was used in this demonstration when I experienced my first kickback. Fortunately I was standing to the right of the blade pushing with both hands. The cut off piece of plywood about one square foot kicked back and hit my left arm above my wrist. I thought my arm was broken and went to the emergency room at the near by hospital. Turned out my arm was not broken, however I had a cut about two inches long. Within two days my left arm was black and blue from my wrist to above my elbow.

    Reply
  3. Ryan

    Never thought of it in that perspective, but makes much more sense to think of it that way. Thanks for the advice here.

    Reply
    • Customer Service

      Hi, Norm. Cutting a square is fine. The danger level increases from there with each percentage increase of the ratio of (distance from blade to fence / dimension that is against the fence).

      Reply
  4. Alec

    Hi George, I’m new to operating a table saw, so here’s the question what if you are trying to cut a long pice of wood like a 2X4 that’s 8′ long, to a measurement of for example 12″. With the 2″ width being against the fence the 12″ cross cut exceeds the amount against the fence. This is where we would use a miter gauge instead of the fence to make this cut safely correct?

    Thanks Alec.

    Reply
    • Customer Service

      For cross cutting a 12″ section off of a 2×4 you would want to use the miter gauge or a sled. The table saw’s fence should be be used for this cut.

      Reply
      • sfb

        No offense, but the original question reminds me of “hammer-owner” where everything is perceived as a nail? [Perhaps too judgmental]

        Given the [surprisingly] lever arm of a 2 x 4’s overhang anbd relatively small size of the miter gauge I would say this too is unsafe.

        1. either with a a nad saw or circular saw cut off just in excess of the desired 2-foot length,
        2. now this 2+’ segmenbtr can be safely cut to size using the table saw.

        However, this is where the right tool ethos come to mind:
        a. Best tool would be a chop saw — even the inexpensive models – once set up properly – are better than trying to use a table toi presumably get that square cut.
        b. altrernatively, a circular saw and small framing square are fast, easy to set up [e.g.offset of saw’s base plate], and [comparatively] safe.

        But thanks, for the concise discussion — in retrospect it seems only logical from a kinematics standpoint, but then again as an engineer my contractor/woodworking friends always kid me about being too analytical….say they!

        Reply
  5. phill odonoghue

    Ticket 17972 Thank you George – an easy formula to remember. In advertainly I have experienced some movement away from the fence as you have described and my uneducated approach has been to support the material with another piece behind the piece that needed to be cut. Is this method still dangerous ?

    Reply
    • Customer Service

      Dear Phill,

      Thank you for your patience. In regards to your question-

      It’s ok to use a sacrificial trailing board. This can reduce tear out on the trailing edge of your work piece. I don’t know that this will help with keeping the work piece against the fence, however.

      I hope this helps!

      Sincerely,

      Paul
      Woodworkers Guild of America Video Membership

      Reply
  6. adambru102

    I’ve been sucker punched twice by kick- back. I don’t want it again. Thanks for this and any other advice.

    Reply
  7. Jerame Brown

    Thank you George, great advice! I have “yet” to have kickback, but never heard of this tip. Is this when you use the miter instead?

    Reply
    • Customer Service

      Hi Jerame. Yes, this would be a good situation to use the miter gauge or a cross-cut sled.
      Thanks
      Paul-Woodworkers Guild of America

      Reply

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