Of Push Sticks and Thin Strips

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Project by shipwright posted 02-18-2015 05:23 AM 7712 views 5 times favorited 26 comments Add to Favorites Watch
Of Push Sticks and Thin Strips
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For some time I have been watching the various postings of push sticks and push “shoes” with interest as well as the many elaborate thin strip jigs. I have debated with myself whether or not to give my input and even took a bunch of photos and a video one day to illustrate my points…..... but …...... safety in the shop is a very personal thing and everyone has different comfort levels so I have held off.

Today I finally decided to throw my shoe into the ring as it were and explain why it is right for me and perhaps shed some light on why I just don’t get the complex versions. I realize that my solution may not be for everyone but I present it as another point of view for your perusal and consideration.

My thumbnail photo shows two “factory” pushing devices and the simple plywood shoe that I use exclusively as a pusher for table saw, jointer, router table, and even occasionally band saw. The stick style I believe to be dangerous and the pad style almost as bad.

To me a good push tool must control the workpiece and protect my hands and should be able to cut strips as thin as you want against the fence. That let’s out about all manufactured pushing devices as they are not “consumable”.

As for the shop made “shoe” styles, I like most of them but they all seem to have a feature or two I don’t like. Most, for example, have handles that stick up well above the blade, ostensibly to keep the operator’s hands farther from the blade. Unfortunately that makes them less stable than a low profile model. Others I have no issues with except that they are more complex than necessary.

This is getting long but I want to explain. This is the way I learned to cut safely many years ago. Two or three fingers hooked over the fence and the best tool we have to control a workpiece with, a hand, doing the pushing. I am completely comfortable with this down to about a 1 1/2” rip.

After that I use the shoe and keep the blade height just above the wood. My fingers can still hook over the fence to stabilize the shoe against tipping and I believe the closer to the action you are controlling the piece, the better the control.

When you cut thin strips the saw is buried in the pusher. There is no safer place for it as there is no blade exposed. When the shoe gets used up it is discarded and replaced with a new one.

I didn’t invent this. I am sure there are lots of others using it. I present it here simply to add to the discussion and to illustrate why I think “simpler is better” this time.

In the video below I am cutting 1/16” strips against the fence. They could be thinner, you just need a good ZCI.

Thanks for listening to my rant. I’ll go away now.

-- Paul M ..............the early bird may get the worm but it’s the second mouse that gets the cheese!

26 comments so far

View grizzman's profile


7836 posts in 4798 days

#1 posted 02-18-2015 05:30 AM

i like this , i agree….and i want another one like the long one you have…thanks paul, saftey is so important,ive lost a lot of teeth, but i want to keep all of my fingers, thank you, thank you thank you…...

-- GRIZZMAN ...[''''']

View buck_cpa's profile


150 posts in 3382 days

#2 posted 02-18-2015 05:38 AM

I bought the gripper a few months ago with the hopes of improved safety. While it’s nice w sheet goods – like push pads – I’ve had several instances where the grip slid across the workpiece while pushing it. This is unnerving as the workpiece can become a projectile – i.e. Kickback. I find myself reaching for my push sticks again, unfortunately. Thanks for posting. I’m going to make a few of these and compare. I don’t imagine they would take longer than 15 minutes to make.

View DrDirt's profile


4615 posts in 5237 days

#3 posted 02-18-2015 06:14 AM

Agree with you completely – I am a Shoe guy.

Pad can be ok, and don’t like the push stick style on the far right. Always have too much downward push wanting to tip the long workpiece

-- “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” Mark Twain

View greg48's profile


635 posts in 4252 days

#4 posted 02-18-2015 06:22 AM

Whether I agree with you or not, it was good of you to to bring up the topic for us to discern and discuss.
For that alone, I thank you

-- Greg, No. Cal. - "Gaudete in Domino Semper"

View longgone's profile


5688 posts in 4803 days

#5 posted 02-18-2015 06:28 AM

Paul…I completely agree that the shoe style is the safest for the table saw. The small lip on the back is so necessary to keep the push block from sliding. I have several of the pad types and stick types that came free with different tools and they are in a drawer somewhere. I even went as far as buying the gripper a few years back but rarely use it.
My homemade pushers with a back lip are my favorite.

View Dutchy's profile


4399 posts in 3663 days

#6 posted 02-18-2015 07:47 AM

You wrote Paul that safety in the shop is a very personal thing. For some time, I am curious how the safety rules are in the usa. In Europe it is forbidden (business companies) to work on a table saw without a dusthood. On L J I have seen a lot working without. And I can,t understand that this is allowed. Is it?

Well nice to mention is that in Europe you almost never see a woodworker with safety goggles and on L J I have seen many with it.

Safety is not only personal I think but also depending on the government rules.


View Sodabowski's profile


2404 posts in 4328 days

#7 posted 02-18-2015 09:12 AM

I’m not a fan of the push stick either, when I first saw one (when buying my planer like fifteen years ago) I thought “WTF is that stuff for?”, then figured it out, then immediately understood that it was anything but safe and tossed it in the garbage. Same with the tablesaw which also came with a crap-stick. Push sticks are simply way too long, they amplify any little movement from your hand and turn it into a big one (we’ve known that for ages, since Archimedes actually, so why be stupid and keep doing things wrong anyway?). Set the blade to an appropriate height, and you’re good to go.

For the router though there are other issues that make it really hazardous to push with the hands flat on the wood: I’ve had router bits climb into the wood despite being highlu torqued up (spiral bits biting into a knot in the wood can do that and did it to me once or twice).

The shoe is way smarter, safer and a sufficient means of getting the job done. Plus you don’t pay for it since you can make ot out of scrap ;)
That being said, the Grrripper from MicroJig is a tool that I will definitely buy when I get a new TS and enough time to do bigger scale projects!

-- Thomas - there are no problems, there are only solutions.

View SPalm's profile


5338 posts in 5377 days

#8 posted 02-18-2015 11:58 AM

Hey Paul, I tend to agree about sticks and friction pads. I almost always use a shoe type pusher. I have a long, short, and medium length versions I really like to use the longest one that is applicable.

I use the hand only technique more than I should.

You should put a splitter on your ZCI.


-- -- I'm no rocket surgeon

View Roger's profile


21055 posts in 4299 days

#9 posted 02-18-2015 12:41 PM

Makes sense to me.

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

View RogerBean's profile


1605 posts in 4448 days

#10 posted 02-18-2015 01:20 PM

I’ll toss in another agreement. I also use a shoe style pusher whenever needed. It’s my instrument of choice, and there’s always one close at hand. I do, however, have an INcra LS positioner on my saw, which permits ripping thin pieces from the “off side” rather than enclosing them against the fence. It works for me, though many use the fence side successfully as well.

I’m continually intrigued (amazed) by the large range of hoods, guards, blade-stoppers, feather boards, pushers, goggles, muffs and the like. I’m all for working safely, but I suspect the time, complexity, and cumbersome nature of much of this “safety” equipment offered on the market ends up going unused much of the time.

That said, I also agree that folks should use what they’re comfortable with. There’s no substitute for avoiding distractions, and thoroughly understanding the saw, so you can begin with a proper set-up for a particular cut. i.e. avoid doing “dumb stuff”. And the old rule that if you’re not comfortable doing something, don’t do it. Being buried with a full set of fingers is a worthy goal.

Thanks for the post. As always, your insights are good ones.

-- "Everybody makes mistakes. A craftsman always fixes them." (Monty Kennedy, "The Checkering and Carving of Gunstocks", 1952)

View Andy's profile


1726 posts in 5403 days

#11 posted 02-18-2015 01:24 PM

Thanks Paul, I have been wanting to say the same thing…I just don’t like the drama that often follow :-).
I agree that everyone needs to find what works for them.
These are my findings.

Personally, I never use a stick style, they are more likely to squirm the back end of the board and they don’t keep the nose down at the start of the cut.
The shoe style is safe, cheap, easy to make and use. I have them in different lengths.
I use a wide pad style with a heel when cutting short stock.
I rip thin strips the same way you do with no problem and perfect repeat-ability. The heel is the key component.
I don’t use a splitter either, unless I am ripping wide stock.

Keep it as simple as possible as long as its safe.

-- If I can do it, so can you.

View tinnman65's profile


1444 posts in 4909 days

#12 posted 02-18-2015 02:14 PM

Great post Paul, I think anytime someone brings up safety whether you agree or not with that opinion it makes people think. I agree with everything you said except that I try not to let my fingers get any closer than 3” to the blade without some sort of guard, hold down, or pushing device. That was the way I was taught and I just have always done it that way. I would be lying if I said I never broke that rule but it’s something I always try to follow.
I always keep 6 or 8 different size push shoes like the one you use around so they are always close at hand and I do use both the pad style and shoe style for the jointer. Plywood and MDF are a lot cheaper than the hospital!

-- Paul--- Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep. — Scott Adams

View kiefer's profile


5852 posts in 4162 days

#13 posted 02-18-2015 03:33 PM

Some good points and explanation Paul.
Pretty much what I have been doing for years but I feel the further away I can get away from the blade and maintain control of the work piece the better .
My biggest concern is metal being used in pushing devices .
I guess the conversation will never stop as there is no one push stick that can do it all .


-- Kiefer

View gfadvm's profile


14940 posts in 4185 days

#14 posted 02-18-2015 03:42 PM

Well said my friend! Too many LJs have had TS accidents lately. The only thing I would add is that I REALLY like my ‘hand held featherboard’ to keep stock tight to the fence as well as holding it down on the table.

“Let’s be safe out there”

-- " I'll try to be nicer, if you'll try to be smarter" gfadvm

View jumbojack's profile


1691 posts in 4119 days

#15 posted 02-18-2015 04:08 PM

My most used push tool is a piece of 2×6 with a shoe glued and tacked to the back. I make fishing nets and am thin ripping material constantly. About once a month I need to make a new one. I have cut perhaps 1000 1/8” strips using the 2×6 and not one heart flutter. gfadvm, when my stock gets narrow I too use the hand held featherboard, otherwise I just use my GOD given feather board.
Thanks for this Paul. I hope this will lead others to discard those worthless stick type push things. I saw that Fastcap was giving them away for some kind of promotion. I wondered then how many people were crapping themselves as they saw the lead end of their material rising on the back side of the blade. When this happens your next move is almost always WRONG.

-- Made in America, with American made tools....Shopsmith

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