Jeanne Schraub pushes a board through a table saw at the Rogue Community College Table Rock Campus in White City. - Photo by Julia Moore

Table saws: Tips for keeping your digits intact

Almost 100 people a day in the United States lose a finger or mangle a hand using a table saw.

"Table saws are associated with more injuries than any other type of woodworking tool," according to a study published by the trade Journal of Trauma, Injury, Infection & Critical Care.

Statistics compiled from emergency-room departments across the country show that about 91 table saw-related injuries were treated daily between 1990 and 2007. Of those injuries, 66 percent were lacerations while about 10 percent involved amputations. Slightly less than 8 percent of injuries required hospitalization.

However, a table saw's danger seems to rest more with the operator than the spinning blade and its various guards and guides.

"I've worked in finish-carpentry and cabinetmaking since 1971, and I have thousands of hours on a table saw with no serious injuries," says Jeanne Schraub, a site-safety instructor for 11 years at Rogue Community College's Construction Technology Program at the Table Rock campus.

"I tell my students: 'You don't have to hurt yourself.' "

Schraub's No. 1 rule?

"Keep your hands out of the red zone (around the blade)."

Then she deadpans, "It's painted red so the blood won't show." Wood-shop humor, no doubt.

Turning serious again, Schraub emphasizes the importance of protecting hands and eyes.

"Position your hands out of harm's way. Then watch the fence, not the blade, as you push your piece rapidly — not slowly — through the cut." (The fence is that adjustable guide aligned parallel to the saw blade.)

The teacher adds another item to the safety list, one that surprises at first.

"Never let anybody help you. If your piece is too big for you to handle alone, use a secure "tail" table or build or buy what you need to support the wood you're cutting. A "helper" has leverage and can unintentionally pull your hand into the saw before you know it."

Schraub and her fellow instructors insist every person in the shop wear safety goggles while power tools are running. Rarely does it happen, but a piece of debris kicked out of that spinning blade can penetrate a wall across the room. Eyeballs, in particular, are much more vulnerable.

Finally, if a little voice inside your head says, "Don't do this cut," counsels Schraub, "don't do it!"

Odds are your manicurist will continue charging you the regular 10-finger rate after that.

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