The Slightly Confused Woodworker

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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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Would you take a free Sawstop Table Saw?

I read a comment on a woodworking forum last night stating: “I wouldn’t take a Sawstop table saw if you gave me one for free!” Or at least that’s what it said in paraphrase. That got me to thinking. If Sawstop offered to give you a free table saw would you take it? No strings attached, no cost, nothing, just a free saw out of the goodness of the company’s heart.
Or lets say you really love your current table saw and wouldn’t want to give it up, so Sawstop came up with a free adder to retrofit your current saw with their safety technology; let me stress free of charge. Would you take that offer?
I’m curious to find out the answers here, because there is a lot of backlash against Sawstop and many claim that price has nothing to do with it. So please feel free to comment and let me know what your reasoning is either way. Thanks.

On IKEA and Sawstop

If anybody reading this entry also read my last post, you may know that this may be my last shot at a good diatribe. I am completely serious when I say that and I am planning on holding myself completely accountable for what I proposed. Anyway, this particular entry is not going to be filled with venom or anger, I am just looking to get my point across, possibly for the last time.

Most woodworkers know of or heard of the Sawstop Legislation, or proposal, or whatever you may call it. There is plenty written about it on the web and even on this blog so I won’t go into it further. Most woodworkers have also heard of or have shopped in the furniture store IKEA. So how are the two, seemingly dissimilar companies connected?
Both companies seem to be very polarizing when it comes to woodworkers, IKEA in the sense that it’s inexpensive furniture has put higher end furniture makers out of business, and Sawstop in the sense that if it’s high end technology were mandatory on all table saws, it could possibly double the cost of purchasing a new one. The connection here, and the reason I dislike a good deal of what many professional woodworking authors, magazine writers, bloggers, and a large amount of commenters have to say, is that the same group that really hates IKEA and thinks they should be put out of business because they make cheap furniture, is also the same group that hates Sawstop because their high-quality table saws are too expensive. Does anybody, and I mean anybody, see the irony here at all?

We have a group of woodworking pros and amateurs who have lambasted IKEA as the destroyer of fine furniture for making affordable tables and cabinets. They have gone out of their way in magazines, on woodworking forums, and even in books to point out the flaws of everything that IKEA sells, and how it is detrimental to good craftsmanship, and how their cheap prices have driven down the profit margins of the honest furniture maker to the point where he cannot make a good living through woodworking. This is the very same group of editors, writers, bloggers, and amateurs who have blasted Sawstop, a company who makes one of the best and by far the safest table saw ever made, for selling a saw that is too expensive and for trying to get their safety technology listed as mandatory on all new table saws. I’m not going to name any names here, or point fingers, but just about every woodworking magazine I’ve read had an editorial in one form or another that really didn’t put Sawstop in a favorable light. Many even called what they were attempting to do illegal and unconstitutional, and accused Sawstop, along with the state of California of collusion. They insinuated that a high-quality and costly table saw would be the end of woodworking, the same way they insinuated the sale of inexpensive furniture as the end of woodworking. So which is it, what do you all want? Do you want higher quality, or do you want low quality and inexpensive? It seems to me that you want both. You want good fast food. Well I’m sorry to say that it doesn’t work that way.

Surely somebody will say that I’m not comparing apples to apples, and that the issue was not the saw itself, but the company’s attempt to mandate the safety technology on all saws being sold. That sounds like a fair point to make, but I don’t buy it at all. The reason I don’t buy it is because of the attitude towards IKEA. Not one woodworker, or anybody else, is forced to purchase IKEA furniture, and having Ikea furniture in your home is not mandatory anywhere on the planet, not that I know of at least. So what is the problem with them? Why all the outrage? Shouldn’t the free market be able to decide whether or not Ikea stays in business, which is the exact same way you all feel about Sawstop corporation?
It seems to me that most of the woodworkers and writers who really can’t stand IKEA would like to see them put out of business for selling cheap furniture. Shouldn’t they feel the same way about cheap tool manufacturers, who also completely dominate the market and make it much harder for the smaller, higher quality tool companies to compete? It would seem that they did feel that way, until I heard the hundreds, if not thousands, of arguments coming to the defense of Ryobi, who produce some of the cheapest, low quality woodworking tools on the market. By the way, many of those masterful defense arguments came from the same pens of the people who just so happen to hate IKEA, just in case I needed to point it out, again. I hope everybody reading this is seeing the complete irony of the situation. These people want IKEA, and other furniture manufacturers to make better, more costly furniture but they don’t want tool companies to make better, safer tools???? I’m a little confused.

Right there, in a nutshell, are a few of the reasons why I write what I write, and why I question the opinions and phony facts of many woodworking writers. They led this charge. They blasted Sawstop corporation, they blasted IKEA’s furniture, they praised Ryobi, they told everybody that woodworking was in danger because of companies like Sawstop and IKEA. They made a bunch of definitive statements without any real facts to back them up. They said it; I didn’t, I’m just questioning the motives, and logic, or lack thereof. I got vilified for daring to wonder these things on an open forum. I got accused of being a vitriolic wuss who would never say the things he says on his blog in person. Try me. I was called a foul mouthed jerk. I had writer’s fan boys jump all over me because my chisels weren’t traditional enough when all I did was post a photo of the project I was working on. They, and their fans, took it upon themselves to deride and attack everything and anybody who didn’t care to do things the way they felt should be done. If you like, do me a favor and check out the definition of fascist, bigoted behavior and compare it to what I am saying, and then tell me who is the vitriolic jerk. Seems to me that I never used this blog to attack companies and insult people. I’ve never gone on other woodworkers blogs or forums and insulted them with snide, rude comments that were supposed to be witty humor. I’ve never tried to influence people on where to shop and what tools to use by telling them that woodworking in is danger because of their habits as consumers. I’ve never insulted a commenter on my blog that didn’t happen to agree with me. Others have and many praised them for it; I questioned it and was considered nothing more than bitter or angry. Again, if you like, check out the definition of angry, passive aggressive behavior and do a little comparison of what I do and what the woodworking illuminati do.

Just for the record. This has nothing to do with Sawstop or IKEA. I own products from neither company. This is just an attempt to clarify some of the misunderstandings that people may have with what I write, and to explain, possibly for the last time, why I write it.

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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