I had a pretty good chunk taken out of my left ring finger by my table saw a couple years back, and I "nicked" a couple more in the same incident. I only call them nicks becasue compared to the big chunk that's all they were. I think I read something somewhere that said the router and the bandsaw cause a ton of injuries.
The main reason the table saw is so dangerous is the fact that you need a lot of knowledge to understand where the danger is. For most tools, if you do not put the hand in the blade there is no danger (most cutting tools). Putting the hand in the blade is probably only a minor contributor for table saw injuries. The problem, as MsDebbie points out, is that the table saw is a cannot first and a saw second. Maybe the question we should ask is what is the second most dangerous tool. Surprisingly (I read this somewhere but cannot remember where), chisels account for a large portion of ER visits (might be more than the table saw). Using chisels properly is even harder than understanding how the TS works.
The thing to learn with the TS is to never let go no matter how bad things get. The only serious accident I got in 3 years of woodworking was with a bad tablesaw because I let go too early (the guard was missing mostly because I could never align it with the blade). I immediately purchased a contractor saw and have been safe ever since. I do get myself cut regularly with the chisels (no ER visits though).
How many of you have hit your thumb with a hammer?
Ooooooh, power tools. Sorry. Yea, table saw.
But you know what else is nasty? Drill press + gloves. Thats a bad combination. Gloves get sucked into the chuck and make Jello out of fingers.
Another one is circular saws ("skill saws"). They kickback just like table saws, but… it is the running saw and saw blade which goes flying toward you instead of just a chunk of wood. We get a lot of contractors coming in to our tool store with missing digits from circular saws.
I think the table saw can cause the most serious damage, it's pretty unforgiving. My most common boo boo comes from my belt/disc sander combo when I'm holding a small piece and I end up removing finger prints along with wood.
I agree that the radial saw is more dangerous than the table saw, but due to the fact that less people have them, there are less accidents with them. I had a radial saw years ago, but ended up using it only for cutting long stock down to usable dimensions.
Everything you do on radial saw is more dangerous, as you said, because the blade is right there. For almost every process, the table saw is safer.
You would think a drum sander would be pretty safe. We were sanding raised panel cabinet doors with a Grizzley dual drum sander, and my partner cranked the handle down too much (in a hurry) and the sander shot the next door he fed into it out the front and across the room, finally crashing into a glavanised trash can bending it in half. I was catching, but walked away from the front of the machine to get a set of dial calipers. That would have been a serious injury if I was in the path of that door. Yes, table saws are dangerous but ANY power tool has the ability to hurt you.
I went out looking for real numbers, and found The Consumer Products Safety Commission Hazard Screening Report: Power Tools and Workshop Equipment. It doesn't give as much of a breakdown as one might like, but for the period 1997-2002 it puts "Bench or table saws" at 31,884 ER room visits, 64,651 medically treated injuries, third behind "Manual Workshop Tools" and "Miscellaneous workshop", but well ahead of categories like "Saws, not specified", "Grinder, buffer polisher", or "Welding, soldering, cutting torches".
Obviously there are likely reporting issues and other problems, and none of these numbers are broken down per hours of use, but for a whole bunch of reasons table saws continue to scare me.
However, table saws have a "$0" millions in death costs, whereas those torches and lifts and jack stands will kill ya. Maiming and disfigurement generally beats death, but it's still a matter of "sucks less".
I agree that a table saw has the potential to be the most dangerous tool for a number of reasons already stated (prevalence amongst users) but I think lack of proper safety precautions and complacency due to heavy use probably play just as big a role.
I've heard that the router is probably the most dangerous because the damage inflicted by a saw blade is relatively "clean" as opposed to a router that will take chunks of flesh instead of a cut. Also, once the bit hits something to cut, it "grabs" on.
I'm thinking the most dangerous tool is the one being used at any particular moment. They're ALL dangerous when not respected. I've seen some pretty nasty fingers on framers that just use a hammer all day (I know, I know, that doesn't count). Probably right about the tablesaw though. At least those framer's fingers were still on their hand.
Quote from Fine Woodworking small booklet entitled, "The Small Shop:"
"By far and away, the tablesaw is involved in more serious hand injuries than any other woodworking tool or machine. It was responsible for 42% of all the injuries reported, followed by the jointer at 18%, the radial-arm saw at 7%, and the bandsaw at 6%. Although several other power tools - the shaper, chainsaw and circular saw, for instance - seem more hazardous, all figured in fewer accidents than even the hand chisel, which accounted for 4% of the total."
In my humble opinion the most powerful "power" tool in the shop is the old noggin. If you don't use your head when using any tool, electric or not, you'll get hurt. My goal whenever I go in the shop is to come out with what I went in with, all my digits and all my blood.
I've never had an in shop injury and I hope to keep that in tact by using my head. Only time will tell if I can keep this record going. I've been dabbling in woodworking since 1989 and got serious about it about 5 or 6 years ago. I hope that LJ's will be here when I've completed my 50th year of woodworking so I can report back!
Martin - 50 years - I hope you can keep this going that long!
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