SawStop or not? #2: Do you really want to trust your fingers to electronics that might fail?

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Blog entry by Rob posted 03-07-2014 07:31 PM 2770 reads 0 times favorited 18 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 1: Intro Part 2 of SawStop or not? series Part 3: The cheapest health insurance you can buy? »

One of the arguments I’ve seen is about whether people should really trust the electronics. For better or worse, that ship has already sailed. We already know that we put our lives on the line every time we hop in a car. Although our safety is largely dependent on our own actions as drivers and the actions of other people, modern safety systems such as anti-lock brakes and electronic stability control improve your chances of avoiding or surviving an accident. In the ideal situation, you’ll have multiple safety systems in place, and each of those will be redundant. For example, the safety-critical systems on commercial airplanes are triple-redundant. If the plane needs a sensor to do something, it actually has three. The downside is that all the redundancy comes at an enormous cost, so by the time you get down to the level of consumer products, you’re lucky to have any safety system. You still need to practice some care in order for the safety system to do any good. In the worst-case scenario, if the safety system fails, you’re probably no worse off than you were without it in the first place.

So what about when it does fail? After all, it’s not uncommon for electronics to just fizzle out. If the capacitors on my computer’s motherboard start leaking after a few years of service, what’s to stop the same thing from happening in a table saw’s electronic braking system? Fortunately, the SawStop safety system runs diagnostics every time you power on the saw. You would expect with so much on the line, these diagnostics should be very thorough, and that the parts of the system most likely to fail would be easily replaceable. But that still leaves so many open questions. Is there a certain useful life for a SawStop saw and/or brake cartridge? And if so, is it possible that SawStop might program their cartridges so you have to replace them every few years, even if the safety system has not been triggered? One Friday afternoon, I decided to ask SawStop:

Hi, I’m planning to buy a SawStop PCS this spring but have a few questions.

1. I know a lot of electronics deteriorate over time, and other safety devices such as smoke detectors and CO detectors need to be replaced every
5-10 years. If the brake is never triggered, how frequently will I need to replace the brake cartridge (or some other part of the braking system) just because it’s old?

2. Is it based on number of hours the safety device is enabled, or a more general guideline such as every 5 years?

3. From the FAQ on your website I understand that the saw will run diagnostics on startup and will indicate whether the system is working correctly or not. If the brake cartridges have a recommended service life, is this artificially enforced? For example, if the service life is 1000 hours, does the brake effectively report to the saw that it no longer works after 1000 hours, or does it continue to work fine until the electronics are actually somehow compromised?

4. I’ve read that newer revisions of the saws get improved flesh-sensing technology. Do you only get this if you buy a new saw, or are these “upgrades” included in the brake cartridges themselves?

On the following Monday, I received this reply:

Thank you for contacting SawStop. In response to your request, there is no specific life span or recommended shelf life of our cartridges at this time. As you noted, the saw does a self check and should anything be wrong, the saw will exhibit a pattern of lights to make this known. We program the cartridges with the most up to date software as they ship, so it is not dependent on the saw. Thanks!

Don’t wait for an accident, buy SawStop today

Amber Hayter
Sales Support Specialist
SawStop, LLC.

Although the response is somewhat generic, it does suggest that most of the electronics for the safety system are housed in the replaceable brake cartridge itself, and that the saw may only have the minimal amount of electronics to display the results of the power-on diagnostics. If you still don’t trust the diagnostics and want to be really proactive, or if you just want the most up-to-date programming in your saw, I suppose you could just get into the habit of replacing your brake cartridge every 3-5 years. But the important thing to remember is that you are the primary safety system, and the saw’s electronic safety system is just a backup.

-- Ask an expert or be the expert -

18 comments so far

View SteviePete's profile


226 posts in 3814 days

#1 posted 03-07-2014 07:44 PM

Limited work on the top end SawStop. Comparable to top of the line cabinet saws. Watch the TV Wood shows. They still haven’t figured how to use the safety guards that come with the top of the line saws-shame, shame. I have Delta Unisaw with good fence and all safety gear provided and I like it, feel safe but my next saw will be SawStop. I have seen too many injuries with saw blades and the technology seems effective in reducing incidents. If you have the Jack spend it on sawstop technology. s

-- Steve, 'Sconie Great White North

View Manitario's profile


2783 posts in 3394 days

#2 posted 03-07-2014 08:03 PM

A woodworker can’t trust their fingers to electronics; that is a very dangerous way of approaching TS safety. I have a Sawstop and I trust my fingers to safe work practices and trying to be meticulously careful. I view the Sawstop safety mechanism on my saw as there because I’m human and fallible and I’ve seen better ww than me have accidents during momentary lapses of concentration.

-- Sometimes the creative process requires foul language. -- Charles Neil

View Richard H's profile

Richard H

490 posts in 2192 days

#3 posted 03-07-2014 08:19 PM

The saw stop brake adds onto existing safety features like a blade guard and splitter it doesn’t replace them. I have used a number of Saw Stops in others shop’s and the saws other safety devices are really superb easily on the same level of the Unisaw and Powermatic. I also really like the Saw Stop’s dust collection hood design on the blade guard.

My next saw will be a Saw Stop PCS. Comparing them side by side in use to the Unisaw and Powermatic what little price difference there is is pretty easy to justify. Now if you think a thousand dollar Grizzly or other bargain table saw is on the same level as those three saws and don’t find the Saw Stop safety features worth the cost more power to you.

View jinkyjock's profile


488 posts in 2086 days

#4 posted 03-07-2014 08:23 PM

I remember when I was a member of our Health & Safety team at the factory and we had a large mirror made with the legend “You are looking at your designated Safety Officer” . This couldn’t be more apt than when working with shop machinery. Common sense & intuition must always over-ride any technology.

View Halc's profile


146 posts in 2113 days

#5 posted 03-07-2014 08:33 PM

I don’t think any of us buy a Saw Stop because it will allow us to work more carelessly, it just adds another layer of protection that other saws don’t have. Sure, you pay for that extra protection, but we’re all free to decide whether we want it or not. I’m not going to be mad at the manufacturer for offering it because I can buy another brand if I don’t want it. By the way, I wouldn’t trade my Saw Stop for another brand.

View Monte Pittman's profile

Monte Pittman

30441 posts in 2849 days

#6 posted 03-07-2014 09:03 PM

You are not trusting technology to save you. You will still need to be every bit as careful as before. It’s only there in case you make a mistake. That being said, I did not buy SS. Mainly a price issue. But if I had the cash, i wouldn’t hesitate to buy it.

-- Nature created it, I just assemble it.

View danofpaco's profile


118 posts in 2428 days

#7 posted 03-07-2014 09:28 PM

What everyone else said. I don’t trust my fingers to electronics that might fail. I trust my fingers to the same safety practices as I would using any other saw. The SawStop technology is there in case of an accident – and accidents do happen to experienced, careful woodworkers – we’re all human.

-- Dan :: Minnesota

View BustedClock's profile


129 posts in 3033 days

#8 posted 03-07-2014 11:24 PM

A little bit off topic, but I was surprised when I found that my school SS table saws do not have blade guards. They do have riving knives, and they are SS, but that seems to be setting a poor example. When I asked about it, the instructor said that students couldn’t see how to properly make cuts with the guard in place. On some level, that makes sense, but I’ve only ever heard ANY discussion about safety features, other than the brake, only when I asked about them. So, are a bunch of students going through the program there believing that braking technology is magical and all other safety features just get in the way?

Fortunately, there’s never been a serious injury in the shop (and possibly no injuries on the table saws).

-- Hey, I'm usually right twice a day! Except where they use 24 hour clocks.

View Craftsman on the lake's profile

Craftsman on the lake

3015 posts in 3949 days

#9 posted 03-08-2014 12:24 AM

Gee, you sound as if you’re going to regularly throw your fingers into the saw. It does a diagnostic check and lets you know if the cartridge is working. If the diagnostic part of it doesn’t work then you’d know it when it tried to do a check. It wouldn’t let you know things are okay.

On the other hand. On the outside chance you should slam your hand into the saw, I’d like to have the safety feature. If you had another saw and you had that unthinkable accident then there isn’t any option but cut your hand. You seem to be talking like… Should I buckle my seatbelt? What if I have an accident and it fails. The seatbelt might fail so why use it? Doesn’t make sense.

-- The smell of wood, coffee in the cup, the wife let's me do my thing, the lake is peaceful.

View NormG's profile


6441 posts in 3515 days

#10 posted 03-08-2014 01:06 AM

Ouch, good question, have never seen any discussion on this and I agree t should only be considered as a secondary safety

-- Norman - I never never make a mistake, I just change the design.

View RonInOhio's profile


721 posts in 3375 days

#11 posted 03-08-2014 01:11 AM

Not sure I am following the logic. Its a built in safety feature. Its not an invitation to
stick your hand into a spinning blade or disregard safety with some sort of false
sense of security.

View Rob's profile


704 posts in 3582 days

#12 posted 03-08-2014 01:39 AM

No, I’m not planning to throw my fingers into the saw…at least, not intentionally! The question I’m asking in the title of my post is based on an argument against SawStop that I ran across in one of the many debates on LumberJocks.

My main point, in case it wasn’t clear, is this:

Suppose you spend more on a SawStop than you otherwise would for a table saw just to get the flesh-triggered blade brake feature. Now suppose that, despite all your experience and caution, you have an accident.

In the best possible scenario, the blade hardly leaves a scratch and you have to replace or repair your saw blade (the replacement brake cartridge is free if you share your “finger save” story with SawStop). In the worst-case scenario, the safety system fails and you’re no worse off than if you had any other saw. Maybe the electronics were defective; maybe it was something else. Although it might not seem like it when you’re sitting in the ER, you’re still probably better off even if the safety system didn’t manage to save your fingers, because at least you won’t have to live with the regret that you could have avoided the whole situation if you had just spent that extra $1500 up front for the “backup” safety system.

-- Ask an expert or be the expert -

View Craftsman on the lake's profile

Craftsman on the lake

3015 posts in 3949 days

#13 posted 03-08-2014 11:59 AM

Rob, your last paragraph (in the last post) is confusing. if your hand is cut off because the sawstop mechanism failed how would you be better off by not having to live with the regret that you could have avoided that if you had spent the extra money for the backup system? If you had it and it didn’t work didn’t you spend the extra for it?

Not trying to be flip here… It just seems like a confusing paragraph.

BTW… during the court cases where sawstop was trying to sell their safety system to california to be incorporated in all table saws, the other saw companies touted the cost added to their saws would be $750. And Sawstop showed independent test results that the mechanism worked correctly all the time or let you know it was broken.

Either way. I’ll take the car with brakes over the one without. Even if they could, on the outside chance fail, If I’m heading for a brick wall I’ll be glad I have them.

I own an old rockwell/Delta. Love to have a sawstop though. When my 26 yr old nephew took up woodworking after he made a bed for himself in my shop he asked me about saws. I told them the handfull of good brands then told him to watch the hotdog videos. Then told him that at his age he had a long time to have that ‘possible accident’. Considering these facts then Sawstop was the only choice. He bought one. I’m glad it’s a top knotch piece of equipment too. Be sad if you had to settle for less performance just to get safety. With sawstop it’s not compromised.

I have two adult daughters. Both accomplished violinists. One Makes herself furniture in the shop with me sometimes. I won’t let her use my old table saw. It’s old without the kickback safety features of newer ones. If she wanted one of her own someday I’ll call in my last marker as Dad and forbid her to get anything else but a Sawstop.

-- The smell of wood, coffee in the cup, the wife let's me do my thing, the lake is peaceful.

View Roger's profile


21011 posts in 3315 days

#14 posted 03-08-2014 01:50 PM

Nope! Sorry, I’ll stick with my 60 year old table saw.

-- Roger from KY. Work/Play/Travel Safe. Keep your dust collector fed. [email protected]

View Rob's profile


704 posts in 3582 days

#15 posted 03-08-2014 10:35 PM

Craftsman on the lake, if you spend the extra for a SawStop and you still cut off your fingers, I’ll bet you’ll be more angry at SawStop for not living up to their promise than you will at yourself for buying that saw.

The point you made to your nephew is a good one; I was planning on covering that in a future blog post.

-- Ask an expert or be the expert -

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