The Slightly Confused Woodworker

Home » Table Saw Safety » A little bit jumpy.

A little bit jumpy.


Before I get into the topic of this post, I would like to preface it by saying that I have been working with and around machinery for most of my adult life. That list includes construction equipment, printing presses, pipe benders, wire pulling machines, fork lifts and earth movers. Of course this list also includes power tools for woodworking. All of the equipment I listed could and can seriously injure or even kill.

Lately, while woodworking, I have been exclusively using hand tools. This has not been a philosophical decision. The projects I have been working on are generally small, and because my daughter has been with me ( I will not use a power tool with her in the vicinity), and because I could just as easily crosscut a few boards by hand, I have been avoiding the table saw. But over the past weekend I broke out the table saw for the first time in quite a while, and truth be told it may be a long while before I break it out again.

Last year my father-in-law brought me some hickory and ash logs from his property in upstate Pennsylvania, so I split them into smaller pieces and set them aside to dry. When inspecting them on Saturday I deemed them dry enough to use, so I decided to further prep the wood (namely the hickory) into smaller billets to be used as handle stock for some antique farm and logging tools that I have been attempting to restore. This prep work consisted of a lot of sawing and hatchet work, and I don’t recommend it if you are working under any kind of time frame because it is a long and arduous process despite what anybody will tell you. Regardless. I ended up with four “sticks” roughly 2 ½ feet long and 2 or so inches square. I planed them down mainly to get a flat reference face (this wood will be shaped into contoured handles, so there is no need to start off with a perfectly square board), and rather than spending another hour rip sawing and cross cutting, I decided to use the table saw to get all of the wood to uniform size. That is when things got weird.

The first thing I wanted to do was cross cut the boards to uniform width. I have an Osborne EB-3 miter gauge, which I feel is a top of the line product, and it has never given me any real trouble. It is accurate, and safe, and I feel comfortable using it. The blade on the saw is new and sharp. So I set the blade height, and decided on an off-cut of around 2 inches just to be sure to remove any funky end wood. So I began a process I have completed thousands of times…My first off cut shot across my garage like a rifle shot. I turned off the saw, checked the blade height-which was right where it is supposed to be-and got back to work. The second off cut, which was the other side of the same board, did not shoot across the garage again, but it wanted to. Instead, it seemed to “tug” the board into the blade slightly, and I believe the only thing that kept the board from being pulled laterally any further was the fact that my miter gauge is lined with 60 grit sand paper just for the purpose of keeping the wood from shifting. At this point, I unplug the saw and check the blade-it is tight and sharp; I check the miter gauge and it is 90 degrees to the blade (not that it should have mattered in the least but I checked anyway) I even checked the voltage at the receptacle that the saw is plugged into-121 volts. So I chalked up the missile launches to the dense hickory board and began again.
The next 3 boards yielded generally the same results: flying wood, pulling boards, and overall chaos. After the boards were sawn to length I was planning on ripping them to width as well, but by then I was becoming worried. I have always had a very healthy respect for all machinery and I am always very cautious when using it, because I’ve witnessed several gory incidents as well as surviving a few near-misses myself. But this was the first time that I can ever recall being afraid to use a table saw.

At this point I decided on some more detective work. I went back to the blade, which is a brand new 40t combination blade, a Diablo from the Depot. While I don’t consider the Diablo blades anything special, I have used them in the past many times without incident. Nevertheless I doublechecked it, and found no wobble, the teeth were nice and sharp, and as I said before, the height was set where I always set it, with the gullets approximately 1/8 of an inch above the cut. Hickory is a hard wood, very hard, so I decided to cross cut a piece of scrap pine to see the results, and while it did not shoot across the room or bog, something definitely did not feel quite right. So I re-checked the Hickory; there were no wild grain patterns or large checks, and while the boards likely have more moisture content than a kiln dried board you may find in a lumber yard or home center, they were definitely not openly wet or even damp.

However, one area of concern did crop up, and that was the throat plate on my table saw. The plate is wider than it should be, and perhaps an offcut just a few inches long will dip, even slightly, due to lack of support, causing it to touch the revolving blade, possibly shooting it back? I have always wanted to make or purchase a zero clearance throat plate, but because I use the table saw so little I haven’t considered it much lately. So to test this theory out I cross cut a scrap board so that much of the off-cut would be supported by the table and the results were improved, though I still seemed to feel a slight tug that I had honestly never noticed before until that day.

Here’s the thing, not too long ago I came to the conclusion that I am probably going to sell my table saw. I don’t use it much, but more importantly it takes up a lot of space. At the same time a table saw can be a useful tool to have around. I know that I can work without it, but I also know that there are times it will be greatly missed, in particular on those days when I need to cut a few dozen dados. I’m not sold on the notion of “all handwork, all the time.” Once again, I have nothing against it, I just don’t have the free time for it; I woodwork for fun, not as a crusade. Yet, I haven’t really used the table saw in earnest this entire year, and we are heading into September. Either way, for the first time in my life I did not feel comfortable using a familiar tool. It’s worth the $25 investment to add a zero-clearance throat plate, but that may not be the issue, and that issue may be a problem with the saw that I cannot necessarily identify without a true expert checking it out for me.

If I add a new throat plate and I still don’t notice a difference I can only see two options: sell the saw and put the money toward a band-saw, or sell the saw and put the money towards a Sawstop Saw. For the record, this is not a commercial for Sawstop. I’ve used a Sawstop saw a handful of times and I think highly of them. I don’t know if they do any more to stop kickback on crosscuts than any other saw will, but I do know that if that kick back causes my hand to slip, or jerk, or what have you, and my hand happens to touch the blade in doing so, I have a far better chance of not sustaining a serious injury. Yet, even if I sell my saw and get top dollar for it, the money raised would still be less than half of what I need. I can get a nice bandsaw for half the cost of a Sawstop, and bandsaws, in my opinion, are a far safer option, perhaps the safest option of all when it comes to sawing wood with a motor.

When it comes down to it, I’m not a kid anymore, and I’m not a professional woodworker. Maybe my months long lay-off from the table saw has me somewhat gun shy. Maybe my reflexes aren’t what they used to be, and I have definitely had some issues with my hands and fingers, so maybe that is the problem. Whatever the case may be, I was honestly rattled this past weekend, and that is no way to woodwork, and until I figure it out, the power switch to that table saw is remaining in the “off” position.

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15 Comments

  1. Artisanal Facts says:

    If a 2 in. offcut is going flying, I would not suspect the throat plate opening. Maybe the throat plate is set too low and the block is tipping into the blade.

    Check to see if the blade is parallel to the slot in the table. It has to be really close. If there is a misalignment, it will be less likely to fling things if the blade pinches on the good side of the cut, not the waste side. The reason being you are holding on to the larger piece of wood still contacting the blade after the cut. Also, an unlevel table will cause small offcuts to slide downhill with vibration.

    Unless your saw is a real basket case, the sawstop can do much of the same misbehaving without proper tuning and setup.

    • billlattpa says:

      Thanks for the comment. I made a test cut yesterday afternoon and checked it for square and it seems fine, at least as far as my try square is accurate. I double checked my miter gauge again, though once again that really shouldn’t matter. Before I go through the trouble of installing a zero clearance plate (not that it’s much trouble), I’m going to check the inside mounts, just to make sure nothing is loose etc.
      That all being said, the saw is nothing special. It’s a Ridgid r4512 contractor saw. It owes me nothing, in particular because I received it as a job performance bonus. It’s heavy enough to dampen vibration, and the table is flat. I probably need to wax it again as I haven’t done that since last summer. I’ve made some pretty respectable furniture with it, but quite honestly I don’t use a table saw much to begin with.
      When it all comes down to it, the saw could be just fine and my mishaps may have just been user error. Thanks again, I appreciate the advice.
      Bill

  2. Jim Dillon says:

    As I read through your post, I kept expecting to come to the part where you checked to confirm that the blade is parallel to the miter slots. If that’s out of whack, you’ll find using the rip fence even more dangerous!

    Assuming your blade is parallel to the miter slots, a zero-clearance throat plate, that is set at the proper height (1/64″ below the top at the front edge, 1/64″ above the top at the back edge, front meaning the side of the saw you stand at) will definitely help prevent small cutoffs from being shot out at random directions.

    I would also try another blade just to be sure. Even though it looks great and feels sharp (I’ve had fine luck with Diablos), putting in a different blade will tell you a lot.

    Finally, a couple things worth knowing about SawStops: thick, air-dried wood can trigger the brake. At Highland Woodworking, some 8/4 walnut being used for a class was bone dry on its surface but around 20% mc in the center and it triggered the brake. So with your hickory I might bypass the brake for a couple of cuts so I could get an idea of the moisture level inside before really getting into it. Another thing to bear in mind is that you can still get kickbacks from the SawStop (though its splitters, pawls, and riving knife are all as good as any I’ve used). Finally, back to my opening suggestion about blade parallelism: the SawStop adjustment for parallelism is the best I have ever seen, an example of common-sense, zero-cost engineering that made me ask “Why isn’t every table saw equipped with this?”

    I agree with your attitude on table saws. If I had to make a living by cranking out a steady stream of cabinetry, it would be a big part of my life. But since my (home shop) work is mostly smaller solid-wood projects, the work-arounds are worth it for the space I save not having one.

    Let us know how this shakes out!

    • billlattpa says:

      Thanks for the comment. Believe it or not, I checked that last night, and everything seems fine (at least as long as my try square is accurate).

      I’m in complete agreement with you that the blade itself could be the problem. It is not a thin kerf blade, but it is also not a “full” kerf if that makes sense, and that right there may be an issue. Thankfully, I have several blades in my garage that I can use to test this out. At that, it could very well have been the wood. This was dense hickory, “from the tree”, and that is something I’ve never worked with before.

      At the handful of woodworking classes and workshops I’ve attended, I can’t ever recall the table saw not having a zero clearance insert, so that is why I’m likely going to give that a try as well.

      I’ve been fortunate enough to use Sawstop table saws several times, though I really didn’t look much “under the hood” except when being shown the breaking cartridge. I was very impressed with the quality and performance, so much so that if and when I ever purchase another saw, it will be a Sawstop or nothing.

      Thanks again for the comment and tips, it is much appreciated!
      Bill

  3. Artisanal Facts says:

    As Jim said, it’s parallelism of the slots to the blade. Squareness of the gauge is immaterial since it is designed to cut any angle.

    Depending on the saw, the trunnions will have to be tweaked or the table will have to be shifted on the trunnion assembly. If you have a lower grade saw, you may get it perfect and lose the adjustment after changing the angle of the blade and bringing it back to vertical. That was the case on my old craftsman.

    Delta contractor saws from the old days used a rack and pinion blade tilt that was robust. I find lead screw tilts less so, and those are what you get until you get into a higher end cabinet saw.

    Jack the blade almost to the top of its adjustment and put a dowel against the plate at the front. The dowel is nestled in the miter gauge head. Move the dowel to the far end of the plate and see if there is clearance now. If not, push the dowel against the back of the plate and pull forward. Check for clearance again. If you really want to get a good measure, mark an X on the plate and measure the same point to eliminate blade runout from the equation.

    If you get everything to your liking, get a better blade and call it a day. Can’t go wrong with a Forrest and they are a lot less than a sawstop.

    Hope this helps.

    Steve

    • billlattpa says:

      I was checking the miter gauge just to be sure it wasn’t skewing the results. If it wasn’t perpendicular it would have been difficult to determine whether or not my test cut was 90 degrees. The way I looked at it, if my fence was straight and the cut was still off the blade had to be the culprit. I double checked the actual cut with a try square and everything looked pretty good in that regard.

      Right now, I’m thinking it’s either the blade or the wood. Once again, I probably should have installed a zero clearance plate a long time ago. But I think I’m going to take your advice and also get a new saw blade. As you said, it’s a relatively cheap fix and if I’m still having issues then I know the mounts may need adjusting, though I don’t think they do..
      Thanks again for the tips!!
      Bill

    • Jim Dillon says:

      I’ll second Steve’s comment and amplify it if I can.
      I have never found the combination square method adequate for checking whether the miter slot is parallel to the blade.
      I use a method similar to what Steve describes, only with a 1×1 or 1×2 securely clamped to the miter gauge. Once clamped, I cut the end of that stick and turn off & unplug the saw. I mark one tooth of the blade with an “x” with a Sharpie. Then I put a very thin feeler gauge blade (like .003″) between the x’d tooth and the stick and feel the friction when the tooth is at the front of the table. Then I move the miter gauge to the back side of the blade, and use the v-belt to move the x’d tooth to the back side (don’t move the blade by hand, you will deflect it and wreck your measurement). Check the feeler gauge friction at the rear of the blade. If you get the same friction, it’s parallel. But on a contractor’s saw I would be very surprised if you will. They are notorious for going out of parallel if you sneeze at them. Good luck and tell us how it turns out!
      ps) this method for checking parallel is from Mark Duginske’s Mastering Woodworking Machines, an excellent book.

      • billlattpa says:

        Thanks for the tips; I can vaguely remember hearing about the book but I don’t recall every seeing it, so I will have to check it out.

        Generally, how I check for parallel/perpendicular is to take a test cut on a wide scrap board (usually try to shoot for a 7″ wide board or so) and use a try square to make sure the cut is 90 degrees to the edge, sort of the same method you would use if you were shooting a board with a jack plane. I’ve found that if a board passes this test it is square enough for casework. In fact, I almost always check for square when I begin any new project. In this case, however, I was checking to be sure the blade itself was not skewed and not my mite gauge. As we were saying, if the miter gauge itself was off it was an easy adjustment and the Osborne Miter gauge is very easy to adjust. But if my gauge was dead-on and the blade itself was actually skewed that could lead to binding (at least I think it could)

        I haven’t seen anything so far that would lead me to think that the blade itself if off kilter, but I also haven’t tried the dowel method either.

        Thanks again.

      • Jim Dillon says:

        You have, indeed, seem something that suggests the blade is off kilter. You’ve perfectly described a situation where the blade is closer to the miter slot at the rear of the blade than at the front. Checking a cut you’ve made with a square will only tell you the squareness of the miter gauge to its own path of travel, and the vertical squareness of the blade to the table (perpendicular). Check out this video for one method for addressing this (I still prefer the feeler gauge method, maybe I should make my own video!). Good luck! and let us know what you find out when you check for parallel. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fBG7xHu2T0Y

      • billlattpa says:

        I did some checking over the weekend and nothing to report. Zero-clearance plate has been installed and so far so good, but at this point I was sawing some poplar and nothing more. I did two tests for square and both times everything went just fine and if the blade is out of parallel it is very minutely, as in my square cannot detect it. I will give it a better test this coming weekend.
        Bill

  4. Artisanal Facts says:

    Jim, I thought his misalignment was the other way since the waste is getting grabbed at the back of the blade.

    Bill, a really good blade will go from saw to saw, so it’s a decent use of funds.

    Steve

    • billlattpa says:

      Yeah, I’ve been thinking about a Forrest blade for some time regardless. A few years back it would have been a given, but since I haven’t been using the table saw much lately it kind of got put on the back burner.

  5. Bill, Bandsaw. We’ve recently upgraded ours. It’s not a beast but very solid. For someone working in solid wood I would think it a great choice.

    • billlattpa says:

      Hey Graham! Good to hear from you!

      I added a zero-clearance insert last week to the table saw, but I haven’t as of yet given it a real test. It was so hot and humid during the weekend that I didn’t feel like doing much of anything.

      I love the idea of a bandsaw, the only thing that kept me from getting one in the past has been space constraints. I’m on the fence with the table saw. A big part of me wants to sell it, just to free up open space. I have nothing against it whatsoever, but I’ve been using it very infrequently.

      At that, I have a couple of projects that I am hoping to start when the weather gets a little cooler, and one in particular has a fair amount of dados. While I’ve made dados in the past by hand, I don’t like the idea of making a dozen or more using that method, though it would hardly be the end of the world.

      Ideally, I would have the space to just tuck the table saw away in some storage area and just set it up as needed, but right now that isn’t an option, so I’m near the point where I have to make a decision one way or the other.
      Thanks!
      Bill

  6. Safety precautions are necessary to wok on this type of machine, but now a days manufacturer build automatic system if any type of problem occurs the machine stopped automatically.

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