August 9, 2021
The table saw usually occupies a preeminent position in a woodworking shop since most of the initial woodworking projects are done using the table saw. As the focal point in most workshops, the table saw is more often grinding like a workhorse. Yet, the table saw has a menacing look that could inflict fatal injury to its users. As such, you should approach its use with a feeling akin to fear and respect.
Statistics show that more than thirty thousand people yearly go to the ER to get treated for injuries inflicted by the table saw. As such, if you are going to use it, you should be wary of risks concomitant with its use. One such risk associated with the use of the table saw is injury due to kickback.
What is Kickback?
Of course, kickback refers to the sudden forceful recoil associated with the use of the table saw. It is a situation wherein the table saw’s blade picks up wood and hurls it violently at its user.
Since you would usually position yourself at the rear side of the table saw, there is a big chance that the hurled wood would hit you and injure you. Kickback happens quickly, and sometimes, you will have not much time to react to it.
It also generally happens when the workpiece gets stuck between the rip fence and the blade or the workpiece pinches the saw’s blade. The following circumstances are perfect occasions for the occurrence of kickback:
1) When the Board is Kickback While You Are Making a Rip Cut
In this case, the board goes halfway through the saw, and the board starts pinching the blade. When this happens, the saw will install. However, if you have a powerful saw, its blade can hurl the board at you or hit you right in the face.
2) When the Workpiece Gets Stuck Between the Blade’s Back and the Rip Fence
In this case, the blade will continue to spin and eventually throws the workpiece at you. You can prevent this kickback from happening if you keep the saw perfectly aligned relative to the blade.
3) When a Wood Piece Comes in Contact with the Back of the Blade’s Tooth
In this scenario, the blade lifts the workpiece and hurls it back powerfully at you. Moreover, in the worst case, your hand may get drawn towards the blade, causing a severe cut on your hand. In such a case, more often, you could not react to the kickback.
Tools & Techniques You Will Need To Prevent Table Saw Kickbak
Woodworking is fraught with risks because you will use tools with sharp blades like the table saw when you engage in it. Yet, you can mitigate the risks when using a table saw if you follow the necessary safety precautions and use the right tools that could prevent risks from a kickback. Here are some tools that you can use to prevent kickback:
1) You should Use a Riving Knife
As a thin metal piece that looks like a surfboard, the riving knife comes with the table saw. You will see it often locked into place behind your table saw. Moreover, it features a curvature that faces the saw. This prevents the wood piece from getting caught at the back of the saw once the wood moves away from the fence. You should always install this riving knife whenever you use the table saw.
2) Use Splitter
An alternative to the riving knife is the splitter that you can add to the throat plate. It is a nub that sticks up and usually serves a similar purpose as that of the riving knife. It keeps the wood from drifting or moving towards the blade.
If you are using an older table saw, you can utilize an insert together with the splitter. This insert with the splitter can keep the wood from pinching the blade. However, I would suggest you to use the riving knives instead as it may come in handy to prevent kickback better than the spilte, and they don’t move up or down when adjusting the blade’s height.
3) Blade Guard
The table saw comes with many safety features like the blade guard. The table saw has this to reduce the risks of injury when working on the table saw. Many think that the table saw blade guard is there to prevent you from touching the blade. Yet, it is there to prevent the workpiece from dropping on the blade’s top. You should not remove the blade guard if you feel that it is obscuring your view.
4) Crosscut Sled
The crosscut sled is another tool that can help prevent the occurrence of kickbacks. It is a jig that keeps your hands away from the table saw blade. It moves the fence to the blade’s front instead of having it on the side.
5) Push Stick
No single tool can make your work with the table saw 100-percent foolproof from kickback risks. Thus, it will be wise to use a push stick whenever you are cutting. The push stick will position your hand away, far from the blade. Thus, you can ensure that your hand would be away from the blade in case of a kickback. It also provides you with greater control of the board or stock.
Nevertheless, you should position the stick on the board’s middle because if you set it at the board’s side and push from there, the stock may twist and move towards the blade’s back. Moreover, you should apply enough force towards the fence’s side and not towards the blade when you push the stock. It will be useful also to take extra care when pushing wood that hangs off the table saw’s side.
You should also refrain from applying downward pressure on the stock’s end, which can cause the other side to rise and get hurled by the blade’s teeth and may hit you on the face. Moreover, you can use two push sticks to push both ends of the board.
Most Practical Tips on Preventing Table Saw Kickback
Aside from the abovementioned tools for preventing kickbacks, you should also know the following tips on how to prevent kickback:
Avoid Cutting Crooked Stock
The rip fence or the miter gauge can never keep continuous contact with an uneven board’s surface. As the blade passes through the crooked grain, chances are, there will be a buildup of pressure at that spot. Thus, when you press on the blade further, kickback may ensue.
So, as much as possible, do not cut any crooked stock. Moreover, you should observe additional precautions when dealing with boards that are replete with knots. These knots may cause blade pinching, which may eventually translate into kickback.
Never Do Free-hand Cuts
If you want to decrease or eradicate the risks of kickback or injury when using a table saw, you should not engage in any free-hand cut. Stupid people only do free-hand cuts. When working with the table saw, you should make sure that you use rip fences or miter gauges. If you want to do a rip cut, you should use the rip fence to support the board or stock while pushing the stock through the blade.
However, when doing crosscuts, you should have a miter gauge to help you when making crosscuts. You should also not cross-cut using a miter gauge together with rip fence. If you do it, you may end up with a jammed workpiece that may cause a kickback.
Never Cross-cutting Using the Rip Fence
The table saw is valuable for it can quickly make rip cuts. In such a case, you should use a rip fence. But if you are required to do several crosscuts on the board to produce identical length, you should not use the rip fence to support crosscutting. You may end up with a workpiece stuck between the blade and the fence if you do so.
Once this happens, there’s a big chance that you will suffer kickback and eventual injury. Moreover, this problem may worsen if you have a misaligned fence with the blade, which may push towards the blade’s back and hurl it up to you.
Another scenario that may happen if the board’s length is less than its width is that the blade can generate enough torque to cause the stock to spin towards the blade’s back. In such a case, your hands may also end up drawn towards the blade, causing you a severe cut or amputation.
One way to prevent the scenarios mentioned above is by clamping the fence with a stop block to measure the length accurately. Then, utilize the miter gauge to guide the stock along the blade. In so doing, you can do away with the possibility of the stock getting squeezed and pinched between the blade and the fence.
To reduce the risks of the occurrence of kickback, you need to know precisely why kickback happens. Kickback happens when the kerf begins to pinch the blade. It also happens when you are using tools that are not appropriate for such a task, like using a rip fence when you should be using a miter gauge. Moreover, it can happen if you don’t use the abovementioned safety tools to prevent kickback.
As a woodworker, your safety should be paramount in your mind whenever you engage in wood cutting. Never leave anything to chance, but make sure that everything is within your control. Anticipate the worst scenarios that could ever happen when using the table saw so that you can develop greater awareness of how you can make yourself safe and free from injuries when using it.
Jason is a 40-year-old woodworker, carpenter and author who have been involved in the woodworking and woodcraft industry with 17 years of experience. He is expertise in technical aspects, woodcraft and furniture building projects.