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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Adult Language, Mild Violence, Partial Nudity…

I was a little hesitant to write this post, not because of the content, or because it’s a rant of any kind, but because of the photo I plan on attaching. Yesterday afternoon I had a table saw accident, probably the worst woodworking accident of my career. Fortunately the injury is nothing serious and doesn’t even rank in my top fifty personal injuries list. But it could have been much worse. Before I scare any women and children with a picture of me shirtless, I want you all to reserve judgement for just this once. Please keep in mind that this photo isn’t of the 25 year-old, 180lb version of myself who lifted weights and played sports and rode a bike everyday. This photo is the nearly 40 year-old, 197lb version of me who has a bad back and hasn’t lifted weights in ten years. But in an effort to be honest and show what happened I figure the photograph is somewhat of a requirement.

I’ve written several posts about the dangers of a table saw. I’ve worked on heavy machinery and electrical equipment and have used power tools for my entire adult life, I’m no prude and I accept those dangers willingly. The table saw is no exception to that list. That, for no other reason, is why I supported Sawstop Legislation. Even though flesh-detection technology wouldn’t have helped me much yesterday, the way I look at it table saws can use all of the safety measures we can get on them. Yesterday afternoon I was doing everything correctly for the most part. The saw blade was a hair too high probably. I was sawing a piece of 1/4″ thick plywood. The blade was sticking out of the table probably around 1 1/4″. I generally follow the rule of having the blade extend above the piece being sawed so the gullets of the blade are just higher than the board. I did not have the guard on. I was using the rip fence and a push stick, more to keep the thin stock from rising rather than pushing it through the cut. The blade is razor sharp, actually brand new and just installed, I was wearing safety glasses and my body was to the right of the blade, not behind it. I fed the board through at a normal rate of feed when I hit a knot in the plywood which also must have had a void in it because the piece exploded off of the sheet and literally flung sideways into my stomach. Had it hit me in the ribs, and had it been a heavier/thicker board my injury would have been much worse. With that being said, I don’t think a heavier board would have “exploded” the way it did. My conclusion is that it was simply a junk piece of plywood. If anything that was my biggest mistake, the terrible sheet of plywood I was using.

When it happened I cursed a little, checked myself to make sure everything was still there, and got back to work. All in all I like to call it an accident. Accidents happen, all the time. It can be just as dangerous to walk down the street, or get into a car, or play a game of pickup basketball than it can be woodworking. And that is why I still take so much offense to those who feel the need to call people stupid when they’ve had serious table saw injuries. I would bet that there are woodworking injuries that are nothing more than the result of carelessness, and I would also bet that some woodworking injuries are just dumb luck. So to make a general statement that if you get hurt woodworking you must be stupid is just about the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard, and shows a lack of experience in any type of machinery use. The worst thing about it is that I’ve seen more than my fair share of woodworking writers make that same statement, although they managed to say it without directly saying it. Not to get pissy, but if you want to call me stupid, wait til we’re face to face before you do it. And I don’t mean anybody who subscribes to this blog, that comment has a specific audience in mind.

So last night, roughly 10 hours after the accident happened, I took a photo of it. The photo doesn’t give you the whole experience but you at least get an idea. The bruise widened and is now several different, but lovely colors. So here it is. I don’t want to hide behind my mistakes, or accidents, so I think it’s best to just show them and learn from them. If anything else, I hope it makes people aware of just how careful you need to be when operating a table saw.

cut me some slack, I'm not buff anymore.

cut me some slack, I’m not buff anymore.

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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