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Sawstop legislation revisited.


Last night I was on the web doing a little online tool browsing and checking out a few woodworking websites and came upon a few older discussions concerning “Sawstop” legislation and its fairly recent demise. I had gotten into some pretty heated debates over the topic last year, well at least as heated as a debate can be when it takes place over the internet and not face to face. Since the legislation failed to pass I’ve heard little about it since and I can honestly say that I’m glad of that fact. But I am still upset over the issue, and I don’t mean the verdict. Truth be told I could care less that the legislation failed. But what did bother me and what I still can’t come to terms with is why the woodworking editors, or writers, or journalists, or whatever they are calling themselves these days, had such a problem with the proposed bill.

I heard the standard answer many times: Sawstop legislation will create a monopoly and the cost of table saws will go up so dramatically that people won’t be able to afford them anymore and it will ruin woodworking forever. Now, almost any person with half a brain will tell you that this is nothing more than the silliest form of a scare tactic. Using this logic you can also assume that if the Sawstop Legislation had passed then it’s possible that no piece of furniture may ever be made in the United States ever again. A lawyer or scholar may refer to this as Reductio Ad Absurdum, meaning a person takes any statement, law, or debate point that they don’t agree with and concludes that it will result in an extreme worst case scenario. It’s almost like a child saying that he doesn’t want to take a bath because if the water gets too cold he could catch pneumonia and die, or he doesn’t want to get his hair cut because if the barber slips he may kill him with the scissors. In any case the statement was absolutely ridiculous because it was and is completely unfounded. I’ve seen it written many times in many forms in and on just about every woodworking magazine and its corresponding web page, but I’ve not seen any…ANY numbers or proof of any kind to back the statement up. So then, is it okay to put that statement out as just the journalist’s opinion? I guess so, but it was never presented that way, not that I’ve seen.

Before I go on I want to point out that I know that some of the people who read this blog may have agreed with the decision. I also want to point out that I am not writing this to defend Sawstop. I don’t own any Sawstop products personally. At this point in my life I probably couldn’t afford to own a Sawstop table saw. I have nothing against them. If somebody offered to give me a Sawstop saw tomorrow I would happily accept it, the same way I would happily accept a free Delta Unisaw. I also want to point out that I have nothing against the handling of the legislation by the California state government. It was handled democratically, a decision was made by the state elected officials and I stand by it. I am not an anti-government nutbag who fears any form of government regulation. The way I see it is: use of the table saw results in thousands of accidents and injuries every year, and somebody in government felt the need to investigate table saw usage and found that there may be a need for some new form of safety or protective device that could help to lessen those injuries and the severity of them. I think they call that concern for the safety and well-being of the constituency. I can recall somewhere that being part of the oath of office, but I could be wrong. The California State Legislature felt that the current protective measures being offered are enough and that the consumer should be able to choose whether or not he wants Sawstop technology on his table saw. That is Democracy in action. With that being said, I’m also not here to defend everything that the government does. There are of course many problems that need to be fixed: corruption, greed, infighting, and illegal lobbying; I could go on and on. What I am saying is that you cannot assume that because some members of government are corrupt that all government legislation is corrupt. Well, maybe you can assume but it’s probably not a good idea not to do it.

Here we are six months after the legislation was shot down and I’ve yet to find an answer on why much of the woodworking magazine community was so dead set against it. Was it in defense of the quality of Ryobi Tools, which was the subject of a lawsuit involving a table saw accident? I’ll be forthright and say that I own a Ryobi surface planer and router. They are decent tools for the cost. I can also say that I’ve done both woodworking and carpentry on Ryobi table saws and I wasn’t very impressed with them. In fact, I would go as far to say that I would rather work completely by hand than use a Ryobi table saw again, and that is just my own personal opinion and view on their saw(s) as a woodworking tool. I would make an even bolder statement and say that IF the only table saw offered on the market was made by Ryobi then THAT could possibly ruin woodworking. Does that statement sound a little ridiculous? Check out the bold statement at the beginning of the blog before you answer that question.

So where does this leave me as a woodworker? Nowhere, the same place I was a year ago I guess, but a little less naïve when it comes to woodworking magazines. Because through all of the conjecture, all of the debate, as far as I can tell only two magazines of all of the woodworking magazines I’ve seen stayed out of the argument, and they also happen to be two magazines that do not accept advertising. Do I sound like a conspiracy theorist that is distrustful of woodworking magazines? Before you answer that question check out the bold statement at the beginning of the blog and tell me who is more paranoid, and who actually has a little proof to back their statement up. As I said, every woodworking magazine that I’ve read, that also included paid advertisements in its pages, had an editorial written both in print and on the web that denounced the proposed legislation. I’m not saying all woodworking magazines that take advertisements, I don’t know because I don’t read them all, but at least four of them did. I won’t name them, but you can trust me that I am telling the truth.

Why then? Why the denouncements? Were they trying to save woodworkers money? HAH! Pull the other leg it plays Fur Elise. Was it in defense of the Power Tool Institute, an organization that cares so much about woodworkers that I had never even heard of them until the legislation was proposed, and I sell power tools for a living! Who benefitted from keeping power tool manufacturers from making safer and better tools? Wasn’t me. I will say one thing in defense of Sawstop; I’ve used their saw and it was a great tool. I can’t say that about Ryobi’s table saws. Sorry to all of you Ryobi owners out there, I’m not running you down or your tools. Use whatever makes you happy and whatever you can afford. I’m only bringing up Ryobi because the case that started all of this drama involved a Ryobi saw and the Ryobi Corporation was a big opponent of the legislation. I simply find it hard to believe so many woodworkers felt that the government was out to get them, and that a corporation and their lawyers were looking out for their best interests?!? Call me an enemy of capitalism and the free market or a commie, socialist dog but I stand by my beliefs. We are in an era with metric tons of living proof just at the end of our fingertips showing the amount of corruption, graft, corner-cutting, and downright fraud committed by corporations against consumers, yet we were told by our heroic editors of several woodworking magazines that the government was out to get us through over regulation and that the only people who hurt themselves on table saws were buffoons who got what was coming to them because they didn’t put the riving knife in place. A lot of woodworkers bought it, at least from what I saw on the forums. We were told by magazine editors and writers that Sawstop saws were dangerous because they were so safe that they induced carelessness on the part of the user??? WHAT!? Of course there were again no, none, zippo, zilch, nada, zero numbers or proof to back that ridiculous statement…yet it was made more than once. That’s like saying that people who wear seatbelts are more likely to drive like maniacs. I have to question that line of thinking as a human freaking being who knows a little about logic. Maybe I’m a fucking thug who looks like a fucking thug but I’m not stupid.

That’s where I stand. That’s why I feel the need to question the statements of woodworking editors and writers from time to time. That’s why they sometimes don’t care for me too much. The problem with me is that I do happen to care. I care that woodworkers were told that buying a safer table saw was another nail in the coffin of hobby woodworking. I care that people who got hurt on table saws were called stupid by other woodworkers, some of them professionals nonetheless. I care that many of the woodworking magazines I’ve read contain nothing but biased advertisements and reviews for tools and other woodworking equipment, at least in my opinion. Yet we’re supposed to trust everything they say and take all of it at face value. Like I said, maybe I’m nothing more than a thug who looks like a thug, but I ain’t stupid.

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6 Comments

  1. Jonas Jensen says:

    Maybe the editors just followed one of the rules of mass media: Give the people what they want.
    Imagine if editors had written in favour of sawstop. I suppose that it could have gotten some of the subscribers upset, and maybe they would stop subscribing.
    I remember once a reader actually wrote a letter to PW, and resigned his subscription because of the article by Roy Underhill, that was titled: Put your a.. into it. He was so upset that such a language was used, and didn’t wan’t to subscribe anymore.

    When I compare it to my country, what makes me angry is the fact that legislators use their time on relatively small and unimportant issues, when there are much bigger issues that should be addressed first. But the politicians often don’t have the courage to start the process for the bigger issues, out of fear of not getting reelected. But they still need to show some sort of progress, and a law on a tablesaw is not going to cost someone the office. You can even get some PR company to make a campaign aimed at people who doesn’t know about this type of thing, and make them believe that you as a politician has done a good deed.

    The similar issue I am reffering to is the Danish legislation upon horse keeping. It was radically changed 4 years ago, and the changes even apply to existing stables, where people gradually have to adapt to the new law. This implies that people who have had horses in their own stable for perhaps 30 years, are now forced to dramatically change their stables if they do not want to find themselves in conflict with the law. All this was done out of so called animal welfare (not that there is anything wrong with that), But the main targets were people who were already taking good care of their animals. Now they are suddenly criminalized because the headroom in the stable is 5″ too low.
    The horses that already suffer from being kept by people who shouldn’t be allowed to keep animals are not catered for by the new law. There is not formed a taskforce whose job it is to catch up on all the already existing violations of animal welfare. But the politicians and the legislators have kept thei job by making a large and complex law that doesn’t prevent anybody from getting reelected.

    Try to make a law that will make it illegal to have a body mass index above 35.
    This will save the society for some money due to the current strain on the health care system by fat persons. But no politician would dare to propose such a law.

    The same thing goes with people who aren’t capable of taking care of their own children. or are mentally handicapped. Proposing a law that prohibits those people from giving birth, eventually by forced sterilization is also doomed to ruin a politicians career.

    But seen from the general view of the society, those laws would be to a greater benefit of the society than a law that describes how many percent natural light there have to be in a horse stable (the equivalent of 7% of the floor area of the entire stable).

    • billlattpa says:

      I have no doubt in my mind that the magazine editors denounced the legislation because the majority of their readership was directly opposed to it. I could even respect that if they actually admitted that fact. When it comes down to it I was not even a big fan of the legislation; I was more concerned with tool manufactures being obligated to make better and safer equipment, not cheaper and easier. On that subject you will constantly get the arguement that the free market will prevail because woodworkers will always purchase the better equipment and force the weaker/cheaper tool off of the market. You and I and anybody with any sort of intelligence knows that is a bunch of bull. History has proven that larger corporations nearly always prevail and mass-market, more cheaply made products will dominate over smaller, more quality made items. You only need to look at the state of furniture making to prove that point. Cheaper, mass produced furniture dominates the market and nobody can deny that fact.
      When I bring that point up the naysayers always bring up Lie Nielsen toolworks and mention how they are a small company that manages to make high quality tools and have a big market share. That is very true; Lie Nielsen is considered a small, high quality tool company. But, they are also quite possibly the largest woodworking plane maker in the United States. Their brand along with Veritas dominates the North American market because for years they were basically the only two companies that offered a full line of good quality woodworking planes. Both companies now face heavy competition from Woodriver, a company that happens to make verisions of their planes that are sold more cheaply simply because the quality of their tools isn’t as good. It is very possible that both Lie Nielsen and Veritas will one day have to lower their workers wages, or lower the production quality of their tools in order to complete with a Chinese company that can mass produce woodworking planes. Though I hope it never happens, I can make that statement with history to back me up. So is that somehow good for woodworking? Like the free market supporters and woodworking writers will have us believe? I very highly doubt it.
      I will also say that I am not a fan of government over-regulation. Like you pointed out, it can get to be absurd when it focuses on such narrow topics that really need no further legislation. And you are absolutely correct when you say that a self-serving politician can use legislation like this for his or her own advantages. I just didn’t see any real disadvantage to woodworkers when it came to manufacturing safer and better tools. I didn’t necessarily agree with forcing tool manufacturers to install “Sawstop Technology” on every saw, but I do feel the need for better protection when more than 30,000 people receive an injury every year that results in a hospital visit simply because they are using a table saw. Everybody says that better safety features will make the saws too expensive. I have no doubts that the prices will rise, but if the free-market works as well as all of these woodworking editors feel it does then wouldn’t the table saw market quickly correct itself?
      I think my whole point is that I simply cannot see the downside of only good quality items being offered, whether they are tools or cars or appliances. How in the world will that destroy woodworking? I would think that it would make it better, not worse. I’ll say it again, I did not write this post to defend Sawstop. I know very little about their organization except that they make a pretty good table saw. I am still wondering why all of the pseudo journalism from woodworking magazines? Many statements were made denouncing the legislation but there were few, if any, real facts and figures to back them up; not that I saw, and I followed this thing pretty closely. We were simply told that Sawstop legislation is bad just because the government shouldn’t tell us what to do! This is coming from the very same group of writers that tell people that using power tools lessens and cheapens the craftsmanship of woodworking greatly. You would think they would be happy that if their doomsday scenario of hyper expensive table saws hit the market it would drive more people to becoming “real craftsmen” who don’t even use table saws.
      When it comes down to it, I would rather they had said: “We think this Sawstop Legislation sucks!” I could live with that because it’s honest. Yet what they did was say that in a roundabout way using scare tactics, ridiculous, unfounded statements, and fabricated “statistics” that were and are completely unproveable. Last time I checked, when you are writing as a journalist you had better get your facts straight.
      Bill

  2. bobeaston says:

    Just stumbled upon your blog today and I find a lot to like here. I pretty much agree with your mythbusting and I really like the looks of that sturdy table.

    I too have written, in opposition, to the SawStop initiatives. Yet, not quite for the same reasons you and other comment authors mention. It comes down to the distinction between legislation and regulation.

    Several times in this post you say “legislation.” That’s not what failed. SawStop had their try at proposing legislation quite a few years ago. For several years running, their proposed legislation never made it out of committee, never got included in any proposed bill and was never voted upon. Legislators determined that it had no chance and refused to bring it to a vote.

    What has been happening since is proposed regulation. The Consumer Product Safety Commission is a regulatory body, not a legislative body. It is part of the Executive part of government. What failed was not proposed legislation, but proposed regulation.

    So what? What’s the difference? Don’t they have the same end effect, the force of law? Yes, but…

    We live in a representational Republic. Our Constitution specifically defines the role of Congress and the role of the Executive. Only Congress has the authority to make laws. Executive agencies are intended to implement the will of Congress and have only as much authority to make regulations as Congress allows. (see Articles I and II of the Constitution)

    This worked fairly well for the first 150 years of our existence, until about 1914. That’s when the Wilson administration, and other progressives since, began to not only allow but encourage more power in Executive agencies. Over the past 100 years, those agencies have become more and more powerful and are today making almost as many laws as Congress.

    There are many of us who believe the Executive agencies are constantly overstepping what our Constitution intended. The founders’ intent was that if We the People were dissatisfied with the laws that were being made, accountability is found at the polls. Send the bums home and find others that represent what the people want. That accountability doesn’t exist for the Executive agencies. They are not elected and not accountable, yet they are levying a steady stream of very expensive regulations.

    That is the reason I opposed the SawStop activity at the CPSC.

    As for a product and the safety it brings, I find it absolutely fantastic. I would like to see it more readily available, to save all the injuries that occur too frequently. Yet, I have little sympathy for the inventor.

    Being a patent lawyer first and inventor second, he so surrounded the invention with patents that it was hard to sell to potential implementors.

    After failing to find amicable ways to make alliances with manufacturers, he decided to sue them. Not a very good way to bring a product to market.

    After that failed, he tried legislation, and the legislators refused.

    Then, regulation.

    He has finally arrived at where he should have started. Let the market decide.

  3. billlattpa says:

    Thanks for the added info. I was personally not a fan of any of the proposals regarding Sawstop technology. I will say that I am a fan of manufacturing regulation. It seems to me that more and more we are being subjected to manufacturing that is not only unregulated, therefore with less safety regulation for the workers and also with less salary, we are also being subjected to inferior quality goods across the board. We’ve been told that the quality of consumer goods needs to be cheaper because of healthcare costs, fuel costs, worker salary etc…When all the while every statistic shows that workers production is at an all time high and worker salary hasn’t increased in nearly 50 years. At the same time, corporate profits are highest in recorded history. I’m certainly not a lawyer or a politician, and I know that there is no black and white explanation for what is happening. If I were going to support any regulation it would have been because it would have forced other tool manufacturers to make better equipment. In theory the free market will weed out the “lesser” product but in reality that almost never happens and the cheaper product often dominates the market, making it even tougher for quality manufacturers to level the field. At least that’s how I see it.
    Another problem I had, really the main problem, was that many woodworking magazines campaigned against the regulation, either openly, but most of the time with a lot of “read between the lines” type articles. I do not like BS, especially from a magazine that I am subscribing to. I would have preferred honesty regarding the proposals rather than innuendo. If you didn’t want to offend any advertisers, one way or the other, then there shouldn’t have been any reporting on the topic at all. Instead we got a lot of half facts and made up figures regarding why people get hurt on table saws. Again, I didn’t want to see any regulation and I still don’t today, but nobody can argue the fact that somewhere around 30,000+ people every year end up in the hospital because of table saws. Like you were saying, executive agencies may have been pushing some sort of hidden agenda, that isn’t a stretch, but I’m surprised that a product that has put nearly 500,000 people in the hospital over the past 15 years hadn’t been investigated sooner.

    When it comes down to it, I really didn’t care either way. What did bother me was a small group of woodworking magazine editors who really have no more working knowledge of patent laws and government regulation than the average person decided to speak with a lot of authority for a lot of people by presenting half truths and opinion as fact. Do you honestly think that if this proposal had somehow passed that it would have ruined woodworking? I don’t, but more than one woodworking editor made that statement. They accused Sawstop of using scare tactics while at the same time made statements such as those. No facts or figures of any kind, mind you. Here again, I am not defending Sawstop or it’s execs. I felt they acted as unethically as the rest. Yet so did many editors, while at the same time pointing a finger, at Sawstop, the government, and just about any woodworker who may have cut himself on a table saw. I said before that if Sawstop went out of business tomorrow it wouldn’t bother me one way or the other. I don’t want to see people lose their jobs but you get my point. But when a woodworking magazine editor wants to play journalist, they better do a good job of it and present all of the facts, not just their own agenda. Thanks again.
    Bill

  4. Dave Roberts says:

    Let’s not forget, seat belts and air bags destroyed the auto industry…

    • billlattpa says:

      I wouldn’t necessarily say that. The American Auto industry was one of the last to embrace the advanced(of the time) safety features offered by European and Japanese cars, and it wasn’t until the 90’s that they finally caught up with 30 year old technology and made it standard in all cars, and that only after they were forced to not only by regulation but also by competition that was destroying them. Short sightedness in the face of new and in most cases better technology will most of the time destroy an industry that doesn’t embrace it. It’s not even the fact that table saw manufacturers and many woodworking pros were against flesh detecting technology, it was the fact that they seemed to be against ANY new safety features on a saw, which like it or not has injured hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people.
      Here again, I’m not saying new technology is always better, or always necessary. Most woodworkers, including myself, use centuries old hand plane technology on every project, that being because it works, is relatively safe, and needs no real improvement. But to be arrogant enough to claim that table saws were perfect the way they were and needed no new safety features is why I will continue to question the statements of woodworking writers, in particular when all of those statements came from magazine editors writing for magazines that happened to accept much advertising money from companies affected by the proposal, and that is fact. Hell, it took the introduction of Sawstop’s technology to finally get American tool manufacturers to put better blade guards on the saws, which was a guard available on European saws for years. It seems to me that corporate greed from both magazines and saw makers was the real opinion determiner here. And like I said before, I’m not defending Sawstop or it’s business ethics; I am only saying that they manufacture a superior saw which other companies should be trying to emulate, not get tossed off the market.
      Thanks
      Bill

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