Finger Versus Tablesaw

A cautionary tale of a seven-stitches encounter with a tablesaw blade sets off a discussion of accidents had and lessons learned. April 25, 2006

Still a member of the 10-finger club. I've been lucky to go about 10 years without anything more than some calluses, but just this week I got my left hand twice. First one was while chiseling with a freshly sharpened 3/4" blade (8000 on a Japanese waterstone), the chisel in right hand and holding the piece with the left. Chisel slipped, and I drove it a solid 1/4" deep right into the meaty lower part of the thumb. Was so sharp that it almost didn't bleed any. Lesson: clamp the piece.

Then today with the 98 degrees in Chicago (and being a Friday), I was ripping a board on a tablesaw. Push stick in right hand, left hand about to clear the piece, when I grazed a thin kerf blade just under the thumbnail.

And I'm the one making push sticks for other carpenters, harping always to wear glasses, use respirators and ear protection. But on this one, I couldn't even tell you what happened. Was just afraid to look at the thumb to see what was left. Close call. Just slow down when your head is not in it, cool your brain down when it's cooked, or call it a day. Stay in the club...

Forum Responses
(Cabinet and Millwork Installation Forum)
From contributor L:
Hope you heal well. It is almost inevitable you will get bit a couple of times in your life. I've been nabbed twice. The first time it was very early in my career as a woodworker. Friday in the afternoon, working late to get a project done and wanting to go out and party, pushing a piece through the shaper with a bead and slot profile for a wall of paneling and slip, right into the cutter with my middle finger. It was like slow motion - I could count that the cutter had hit me 6 times, pulled my hand away and just held my finger without taking a look. I was scared. Went to the hospital and finally got a look - only took 1/16" off the tip. I was lucky, but boy did it hurt for the next 6 months.

The next time was about a year ago (15 years later!), and I was tongue and grooving the edge of a board with my dado setup. The cutter was 1/16" proud of the exposed side of the poplar board and it was winter. My hands were dry and the board was slick and boom, slipped and hit the cutter. This wasn't as bad, no stitches this time. Went to the walk in center and they bandaged me up. I felt good in 3 weeks. So go slow, be safe, and use all the guards you can to keep your hands away from those rotating cutters. I still have all 10 fingers, but the middle left one is a 1/16" shorter. So I'm still in the club!

From contributor D:
The depth stop screw on my Dewalt biscuit joiner snapped off while plunging it and it went through the work piece. Careful of those Dewalt machines. That depth screw will eventually fatigue and break.

From contributor W:
Does it count when they sew them back on?

From contributor S:
I'm constantly reminding my crew that the most important thing they can do in the shop is go home at the end of the day with all the body parts they walked in with. Oddly enough, it seems I'm the one always getting hurt by silly little quirks.

10 years ago, I had a nail gun double fire on me. On the 2nd pop, it jumped right off the work piece and drove a 2" 16 gauge nail right through my thumbnail. Chipped off the tip of the bone. Surgeon had to take the chip out 'cause they said it would never heal. 10 years and the nail never has grown back right.

7 years ago - routing a dado through some plywood with a 1/4" straight bit. I heard the bit hit something hard in the wood, but it was already too late. The shank snapped and sent a 3/8" chunk of the bit right into my palm like a bullet. Yep, surgeons had to go get that one to... too deep for the ER docs to dig out. Found out later the "something hard" was a D-ring buckle, like from a belt or safety strap of some kind. Go figure.

It's true - work with these kinds of tools and machines long enough and chances are you're going to get bit. I'm still in the club despite my occasional misfortunes, but I never take it for granted. We have a big sign on the shop: Safety is not by accident. Think! May you all go home tomorrow with all the parts you walked in with.

From contributor J:
I couldn't help notice that the first 2 posts both mentioned that the accidents happened on a Friday. Did either of you look back and think you might have had other issues on your mind besides the issue of woodworking? You both sound like safety guys. Neither of you mentioned deft equipment.

From contributor G:
Did anyone happen to read the latest Inc. magazine (July edition)? On page 87 is an article titled "He came. He sawed. He took on the whole power tool industry. Why wasn't anyone else interested in building a safer saw?" It's an article about Stephen Gass, the inventor of the SawStop. Great article and worth the price of the magazine. His opinion is he can't get anyone to license his technology because of the lawyers. Right now, you cut your finger off, and it's your fault for not being safe. If it has a SawStop on it, and you still cut your finger off, now they may be sued for selling a saw with a defective safety device. Leave it to the attorneys to CYA and keep a great addition out of the hands of those that could use it. You can see the SawStop in action at We saw it in Atlanta 5 years ago and it is amazing. Now that they are selling the saws themselves, we will be working one into our budget.

From contributor D:
I'm still not sure if this is true or not, but when Sawstop first came out, I had heard that it was the brain child of two gentlemen, both lawyers. Imagine the possibility of holding a patent on an item that every shop owner is forced to own. Reason being, if it is shown that a shop owner knew of the technology but did not implement it, they can be held liable. I don't think it's about safety on either side - it's about money.

Furthermore, I was told by a Sawstop rep at the tradeshow in Anaheim a number of years ago that damage caused by kickback on a tablesaw would likely not be much different than if the saw had no Sawstop device. Every accident I've ever seen was caused by kickback, not someone slowly sliding their finger into a saw blade like the hot dog demonstrations. Next time you see the Sawstop demo, ask them to throw the hot dog into the blade and see what happens.

From contributor L:
I bet a lot of accidents happen Monday morning or Friday afternoon. You know, the Monday sleepies and the Friday "I've got to get this done by the end of the day - move it!"

My first accident was from rushing. I was very young in my career and I don't think it had much to do with Friday. I just slipped and hit the wrong thing - the moving cutter. Still, Friday could have had something to do with it. My second incident was a pure accident, granted if I had a feather board on it wouldn't of happened, but there was no reason (safety) to have the FB on. The piece was straight and it was a simple cut. It was winter and the board and my hands were dry. It wouldn't have happened if I had put on moisturizing lotion, also. But that was then and this is now and I still got all 10. Be safe all.

From contributor J:
I'm sure accidents happen all days of the week. But in all industries I wonder if accidents happen more on Fridays than other days. By Friday, folks are usually burnt out. They're also thinking of getting off work for the weekend. Thoughts of Miller time, thoughts of weekend getaways. I can't tell you how many close calls I've had simply due to my mind wandering.

From contributor R:
I learned the hard way about horseplay. A very good friend was tossing wet paper towels at me while I was running a CNC making dovetail drawers. He kept egging me on and eventually hid behind a sheet of plywood, standing up periodically to stick his tongue out. I meant to hit the ply with a foot long stick of rock maple, but instead it flew through the air like a spear and he stood up at the wrong time. He caught the freshly cut edge in his frontal lobe. I thought it just bounced off and he was shocked, so I laughed. I walk around the corner to see if he was okay and blood was streaming down his face. Keep in mind this is a very good friend of mine - lucky for me, as he is also a big man. I drove him to the hospital for stitches. You should see me when I see anyone horsing around. It's funny now, only because he still has his eyes.

From the original questioner:
No, not equipment failure. Just temporary brain failure on my part. I grew up with safety in mind - about 25 years ago my dad took off his pinky and ring finger, and left the middle finger dangling on a tablesaw accident. They sewed 'em back on and they took! Also had a shop teacher in school with the missing pinky. On this one, in addition to hanging cabinets, I was fishing some wire up into an attic, so being 98 outside, must have been 130 plus (?) up there. Wasn't horseplay, and I often switch between dado and rips, so I never use the blade guard. So I'd say between being Friday and pouring sweat from the heat, just wasn't thinking clear.

P.S. Anyone have a feather board that holds well in the miter slot? In the field I use a Bosch tablesaw with the aluminum top, so no magnets.

From contributor F:
There is a good design for feather boards on the market that have an expanding aluminum bar that grips the sides of the miter gauges slot when you tighten a large wing nut.

I am relieved to see I am not the only guy who has gotten cut around here. I am still in the "all 10 club," but I am pretty sure I have been cut by every tool in my shop. Table saw, band saw, jointer, shaperÖ well, not every tool and not in the same year or the same shop. I think I am wiser now because I have been accident free for 7 years. Still haven't learned how to avoid splinters, though.

From contributor J:
As for the featherboard, I made my own using a piece of oak that fits in the miter slot and expands when you tighten it. Just drill a hole for the screw and scroll saw or jigsaw to rip a 3 inch cut - when you tighten the wingnut, it pulls the screw head tight and the rip expands against the miter slot. Hope that explains it. Just buy one - it's easier.

I got a splinter that broke off below the skin surface on my index finger. Lucky I was taking antibiotic for bronchitis at the time, because it swelled inside my finger and skin grew over it. The antibiotic saved me from infection - it was 2 months before it finally came close enough to the surface for me to get out . Truth be told, I should have had it taken out in the doctor's office, but you know how guys are. We don't go to the doctor till death is at the door.

From contributor B:
I'm still a member of the club, but I had my close call just a month or two ago. I, like most carpenters I know, removed the blade guard on the table saw the day I got it. The other day, when making a kerf in a board, I made the ignorant mistake of passing my palm directly over the blade. Contrary to my previous thoughts, a saw blade will not leave a nice clean kerf in your hand like it does in wood. It looks more like hamburger meat I think. Anyway, 7 stitches later and a couple days of the no fun jobs in the shop and I am back in operation. Yeah, I know what a dumb mistake it was. The bad thing is about a second before it happened I thought to myself "man, it would be easy to forget where the blade is and run your hand right ov... oh gosh."

The comments below were added after this Forum discussion was archived as a Knowledge Base article (add your comment).

Comment from contributor K:
Regarding the aluminum topped Bosch Saw - Mesa Vista Design sells magnetic feather boards at the wood shows and in magazines. They also sell a steel fence that you can screw to your table saw fence and then just leave it on. This will allow the use of the magnetic feather boards with the wheels. They work especially well as a blade guard this way, in addition to their excellent function as a feather board. Itís also quick and easy to do.

Comment from contributor E:
Make sure you unplug tools before you work on them. Once I was changing a router bit and as usual I did not unplug it before making the change. I can still remember the sound and how it seemed to last a long time. he router kicked around the table and grabbed my zipper, then jumped up to my belt and then to my T-shirt. It climbed all the way to my neck before I was able to unplug it. The router had twisted my T-shirt so tight that I had rope like burns on my ribs. The funny thing is how it seemed to take a long time for the router to turn on as if it was in slow motion. I got lucky, and I unplug everything now no matter what it is.