Checkbox Safety

Got an email about a tool survey from Fine Woodworking (most tools were either not in my workshop, or not in Australia, so I guess rather limited appeal for non-Americans when that Tool Review mag surfaces), and came across a sort of games/quiz section on their website.

After playing around a little with “Spot the Difference” with classic Fine Woodworking covers, I took a tablesaw safety quiz (multichoice), and found I was getting some of the questions ‘wrong’, although I disagree that I was. Not that what was being given as the ‘correct’ answer wasn’t necessarily right in some circumstances, or for some skill levels, which I feel reveals more the danger of using the absolutes of multichoice when discussing machinery safety.

Unless of course, for each question, after A. B. C. and D. there is also “E. Depends”

For example, one question was whether you can rip an irregularly shaped or circular piece of timber on a tablesaw. Their answer is “no”, yet I have ripped many pieces of widely varying shapes on a tablesaw perfectly safely (with the use of a carriage), so the absolute answer really required a “Depends” checkbox.

Operating safely in the woodworking workshop is not a matter of pure black and white “right and wrong”. It is much more a matter of what is needed (including knowledge and skill level) to complete a specific task, rather than whether it is simply “safe or unsafe”.

Can you safely rip an irregular shaped piece of timber on the tablesaw? Depends.

Can you cut a circle safely on a tablesaw? Depends.

Can you cut timber with knots and/or nails? Depends.

Safety Guards should always be used. Depends.

(and before I get tonnes of hatemail, try using a riving knife and blade guard when coving! So “depends!”)

Update: As Sven has pointed out in his experienced comment, there is only one real piece of safety equipment. If that isn’t working in optimum condition, no manner of guarding, or pushstick or anything will help, and that’s the grey mush between the ears.

If you are tired, distracted, intoxicated, or for any other reason off your game and/or not focusing on the job, and tool at hand you might instead be finding yourself suddenly focusing on your hand in the tool.

If your primary safety equipment is switched on, you have every chance of having another great, productive and safe sawdust generating shed session.

3 Responses

  1. Stu,
    I have been running big, industrial woodworking machinery for over 35 years. The three times I have been injured enough to require medical attention, I have been overly tired and/or distracted. AND, because I maintain the discipline of “safe” tool use, knowing full well that machinery can turn flesh, bone, connective tissues and nerves into hamburger in a heartbeat, none of the injuries resulted in the loss of a digit or permanent disability.

    Fine Woodworking, its editorial staff and contributing writers have obviously changed over the life of the magazine. Early on, folks like Tage Frid emphasised the “discipline” of safe tool operation. Discipline meaning a focused, conscious use of the primary essential tools. Those being the two hands attached to the person running the machine!

    The Saw Stop people have a great product. However! The recent successful law suit and those who would require such technology on all machinery under penalty of law, smacks of overregulated, invasive, nannystate, Big Brother mentality.

    BTW, The “Cool Tool” folks returned last week to do another shoot. A fun time was had by all and sundry.


    • Some excellent, informed observations there- thanks Sven.

      I’m with you on not thinking SawStop tech needs mandatory legislation. In saying that, I actually think that it may become slowly adopted over time voluntarily until it is the norm, rather than the exception. The airbag analogy is referred to in almost every SS discussion, so to keep with the standard, in Oz, every car sold that I’m aware of has airbags- from 1 (driver) to 8 or more, and yet it isn’t mandatory here. It is simply that a car without airbags doesn’t sell.

      The day another manufacturer pays for and includes SS tech in their product range will be the day the thin edge of the wedge is inserted, without legislative encouragement.

      And yet, without a switched on brain even SS isn’t perfection. Kickbacks are still achievable, jambs, and I still expect a day when someone does some serious self injury on a SS when they have switched the mechanism off and done something foolish.

      Switch off brain, and count how many fingers are being held up…… -1 ………. -1 ………. -1 ………..

      Finally, I am very jealous about missing out on the next Cool Tools shoot. Had such a good time with the previous one! There really needs to be a “Down Under Special”!!!!!

  2. RE: a “Down Under Special” …I will mention that to Darin and the other DIY people at High Noon Productions. I think that is a grand idea.

    While discussing revisitings; there is one corner of Colorado I do believe you might enjoy visiting. That would be the South West in the heart of the San Juan Mountains. There are a some of the finest 4,300 metre peaks in all of Colorado. Pics of the two closest to my own heart can be found here:

    Speaking of discipline, safety and preparation…climbing in the San Juans requires an abundance of all three, along with pre-requisite mountaineering skills and the cardio-pulmonary system of a Mountain Goat!

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