Bench Dog Push-Loc

Safety equipment is only useful…..if you use it.

There are lots of excuses used to disregard the use of safety equipment – can’t find it, some safety equipment interferes with the operation of other safety equipment, the safety equipment interferes with the process itself.  Are these excuses ones that you are willing to overcome, or ones you’d rather be telling to the A&E department?

One fundamental rule is keeping fingers (bodyparts etc) at least 6″ away from moving blades, and a part of achieving that is the use of pushsticks. Bench Dog have attempted to overcome some of those other excuses with their Push-Loc pushstick, supplied by Professional Woodworkers Supplies

Bench Dog Push-Loc Offset Pushstick

Bench Dog Push-Loc Offset Pushstick

It has a storage container that you attach where convenient, such as with double-sided tape to the unused side of the fence (or on top if you prefer).  The storage container also provides somewhere for the ever-necessary pencil and tape measure to reside.

Thin Rip w Offset Handle

Thin Rip w Offset Handle

In this second photo, you can really see the advantage of this pushstick.  (The storage container is just to the right of fence).  It can fit a very narrow gap between the guard and the fence, and yet where your hand would normally snag on the bladeguard (and dust port), the handle has been offset to allow extra clearance.

So back to the original potential reasons for not using an item of safety equipment:

Not able to be found/accessed easily: mounted right where you need it

Interferes with other safety equipment: thin so can pass without impacting the guard

Interferes with primary operation: rubberised base for grip, the design both pushes the workpiece from behind, and holds it down on the table and the offset handle means the operator doesn’t impact the guard.

Ticks in all the boxes.

Kreg Pushstick

Pushsticks are an integral part of the safety equipment in a workshop, and are important for many of the tools in the shop.  They are not everyone’s cup of tea (although I find that very strange), and they are not needed for every operation (which does make sense).  A pushstick is primarily used to feed work into and through a tool when it is too dangerous to have the operator’s fingers/hand in the vicinity.

Work such as narrow rips on the tablesaw are a good example.  And a tablesaw highlights a second aspect of a good pushstick.  Not only do you want to feed work into and through a tool, but you want to control that workpiece as best you can during the operation, and you really want to avoid such events as a kickback, and if the pushstick can help decrease that risk in addition, then that is a better design.

So to look at the Kreg Pushstick:

Kreg Pushstick

Kreg Pushstick

Some of the features you can see here:- a small tailpiece, which hooks over the edge to push work through the tool.  You don’t necessarily want it very long because if you are feeding through an 8mm board for example, you’d expect the tailpiece to be clear of the table.  However, is that really important?  I guess it wouldn’t be ideal for that tail to be rubbing on the table, particularly lifting the rear of the pushstick.  What bothered me though was how often, and easy the current tailpiece slipped off the workpiece (moving to the left in the orientation in the above photo, leaving the workpiece behind).

I’m not sure which variable wasn’t working well – too short a tailpiece, or is it at the wrong angle?  Instead of being vertical, perhaps it should be a little undercut and slope back towards the workpiece, even to the point of having a sharper….point at the base.  It might benefit by having a small sharp pin added to really engage in the edge of the workpiece, or some non-slip material or something.

Pushing the Workpiece

Pushing the Workpiece

I also found the handle very high, and the pushstick felt a bit top-heavy in use.  However, I discovered why this was beneficial when ripping narrow boards, as it means the hand is high enough to clear over the top of the blade guarding.  Now the positioning of the handle is interesting, as is its angle, which allows loading to be horizontal (utilising the rear tailpiece to push the work), and vertical on the front edge, holding it down on the table which significantly decreases the likelihood of a kickback.

The handle has a hole in it so a pencil can be stored in it, but for me a pushstick is a pushstick.  It doesn’t need to be all things to all people, and should be optimised to do one job properly, and ignore any additional functionality.

It has an onboard ruler which can be unlocked and used as a depth gauge etc, but this falls into that same category.  I’d buy a pushstick for only one reason, irrespective of any other bells and whistles.

Magnetic Storage

Magnetic Storage

It has an onboard magnet for storage, which may appeal to some.

In summary, this isn’t my favourite pushstick for the majority of operations.  However, it definitely comes into its own for very narrow rips, when you have very little clearance between the fence and the blade, whether you are using a guard or not.  The handle being high enough to pass over the top of the blade is good, and the rather narrow profile is useful in that case.

Coving Jig

For the wood show, I finally used the motivation to copy a superb looking jig featured on the MagSwitch site.  And of course, I had to give it a try!

Coving Jig

Coving Jig

The jig consists of two independant sides, that are secured to the table with twin MagJigs.  They can be set to any reasonable width to cope with a wide range of stock sizes.  The significant benefit of the MagJigs allows the jig to be secured wherever you want – doesn’t matter where, or how many mitre slots you have.



So as seen, there is a board on either side.  40mm holes drilled at either end to fit the MagJigs. Two slots cut into the boards to fit the channel.  The slots were cut using a dado blade, and I’m not sure if it is the first time I’ve used a dado blade for a serious job, and it wasn’t a particularly fun experience.  The amount of stuffing around fine-tuning the dado blade size, including shims etc, was quite discouraging compared to how easy it would have been to cut the slot on the router table.  I can see a benefit to dado blades, and sure, if I wanted to cut 20, 50 or more slots then no question, a little setup time is worthwhile.  For one or two, I’d be finished on the router table before really getting the dado blades done up.

The channels are Kreg channels from Carbatec.  In these channels are the MagSwitch Vertical Attachments, mounted above the blade.  I’ve also used the Kreg Pushstick while holds the work down on the table, as well as pushing it through the blade, and it is thin enough to easily pass through the gap between the featherboards.  Additionally, it has quite a high handle, which again has definite advantage when used here.  Almost like it was built for the task……

Resulting Cove

Resulting Cove

If you’ve never tried coving before, it is an interesting exercise. To start, raise the blade to the final required height forthe depth of the cove, (without the saw turned on!), and set the angle the work meets the blade to get the required width of cove.  Lock down the jig, and drop the blade right down.  Given you are using the blade almost side on, you really need to take it slow.  Both in feed rate, and by taking many light passes.  Have a look at the coving in the above-photo.  All that missing material had to be turned into sawdust by the blade.  Compare that to how much sawdust (and therefore how much wood is removed) by the sawblade used in its typical role.  That’s why we have to take it easy.  If you push too hard, the blade will flex, and I really don’t want that happening at the speeds the blade runs at!  I want it cutting, and that is it.

If you get really serious about coving, there are blades such as this one from CMT.  They are not cheap though!

CMT Coving Blade

CMT Coving Blade

A Shallow Cove

A Shallow Cove

SW09 – Preventing a Kickback

As discussed in the previous article, a kickback is when a blade stops cutting, and instead transfers the machine’s power directly into the workpiece, propelling it with incredible force.

Not getting in the way is a really good option when it happens.  However, we are talking about something coming at you at 200km/hr is hard to dodge.  Only having less than 1/100th of a second to not only realise something is flying at you, and get out of the way kind of suggests that if you are in the way when a kickback occurs, you have already been hit.  Hard.

Ok, not everything is going to be accelerated to the full tip speed of the blade.  A full sheet of MDF will not find its way to 200km/hr.  It will still find itself winging its way towards you, and given its mass, and the power of the tool that threw it………

So hopefully we have determined that being out of way before the kickback is a really good idea.  Staying out of the “fling zone” is a really good start.  For example, on a tablesaw, don’t stand directly behind the blade, or stand to one side, and reach across the line of fire to push the work through (dumb on a number of levels).  Position yourself where you can fully and safely control the workpiece AND stay out of the fling zone.  Body armor is not a bad idea either.  If you can’t get some of this, a leather shop apron is a great idea (and is not budget breaking either)

Anti Kickback Suit

Anti Kickback Suit

So that takes care of what happens when it happens.  Now let’s try to prevent it happening in the first place.


Ensure the fence is parallel to the blade.  If you can’t be SURE it is parallel, it is better to toe out than toe in (in other words, angled away from the back of the blade rather than towards it).

NEVER crosscut using a mitre gauge AND the fence.  You have trapped the workpiece solidly between the blade and the fence, and given it is a crosscut if it has any chance to twist at all, it will bind and kickback.  I have commented in the past about how I use the fence for accurate measuring before completing the crosscut, but note even my method leaves a good 40mm for the workpiece to move into so it can’t get trapped.

Have some form of holddown (if possible) at the back of the blade.  It doesn’t have to do much, but if it resists the workpiece floating up with the rear teeth rising, lifting it then this will minimise the likelihood of it being thrown.  In saying that I took the holddowns off my saw – they were too strongly spring loaded.  My blade guard does a reasonable job anyway.

Use a splitter and/or riving knife.  As a piece of timber is cut, internal forces are relieved and you can get significant amounts of timber movement.  If that happens to be in the direction to close up the kerf, the timber can attempt to bind on the back of the blade = missile.  Also, this helps prevent an offcut coming into contact with those rear teeth (remember I said I had some evidence 12 months after a kickback – it was my gut that got in the way, and it was an offcut that was the missile).

Riving Knife

Riving Knife

This riving knife (which also carries the fence (not show)) rises and falls with the blade, and is removable with a quick release.  It is kept pretty close to the blade to prevent an offcut getting in between and being kicked.  It also acts as a splitter, holding the kerf apart so it cannot close and pinch the blade.

Never use the saw without either a mitre gauge or fence (ie never freehand cut).  If you twist the piece even slightly, see above result.

Even better is to also use featherboards, to hold the workpiece snugly against the fence.  I use the term deliberately, as a featherboard can be snug without being so tight as to really make it difficult to slide the workpiece.

These featherboards from MagSwitch are my favourite, as they can be positioned anywhere (and are not dependent on the location of the mitre slot).  And the really nice aspect I think, is that it can almost be an afterthought – you are all set up for the cut, and you remember that you’ve forgotten the featherboard (heh), it is a simple matter of bringing it in and locking it down, wherever it is needed.

MagSwitch Pro Featherboard

MagSwitch Pro Featherboard

You will notice it is positioned just forward of the blade.  Once the blade has begun cutting, I don’t want anything pushing that offcut back into the blade.

Storage of the MagSwitch is also easy, and ensures it is right onhand whenever needed.

MagSwitch Storage

MagSwitch Storage

Pushsticks are also a great idea (obviously). Not only do they keep your fingers away from the blade, but a good one, a good design will also assist in preventing a kickback.

You can easily make a pushstick, and if you want to there is no reason not to.  If however, you never get around to things, there are some good designs on the market, such as this one by Kreg:

Kreg Multipurpose Pushstick

Kreg Multipurpose Pushstick

This one is from Carbatec, costs all of $30 or so.  The reason why the design works so well, is it pushes the work through (thanks to the lip on the back of the pushstick), but because of the position of the handle, effort is both forward, and downward.  Because of the large leading edge, the workpiece is held down well onto the surface of the table.  A kickback caused by the workpiece floating during the cut is virtually eliminated by this design.

Ensure the blade is sharp.  Dull blades = accidents.  Some blades also come with an antikickback design.  These have a tongue of the sawblade body out of the back of the preceding tooth so you can’t (theoretically) overfeed the blade, and the blade has less opportunity to pick up bits of waste etc.  Not sure how effective these are, but it doesn’t detract from blade performance.

Antikickback Tooth Design

Antikickback Tooth Design

Router Table:

Ensure you use the correct feed direction.  Normally right to left when using a fence (but don’t have the workpiece passing between the router bit and the fence).  Climb cutting has its place, but the vast majority of cuts, you should feed the workpiece in the opposite direction to the spinning bit.

If freehand routing (with a router bit with a bearing) always use a starter pin.

This can be as simple as a brass pin screwed into the tabletop near the router bit, or as complex as this freehand router guard from Professional Woodworkers Supplies (and Woodpeckers)

Freehand Router Guard

Freehand Router Guard

This one has been adapted to include the convenience of MagSwitch for positioning and mounting onto the router table.

When you are dealing with smaller pieces, a router table also benefits from featherboards, both horizontal and vertical where possible.  Again I’m using the MagSwitch Pro Featherboard as an example, with the optional vertical attachment.

MagSwitch Featherboards on the Router Table

MagSwitch Featherboards on the Router Table

If you are wondering about the colouring, the one on the right is the current colour scheme, but the functionality is identical.  I have 2 mounted here, as it is a really good idea to have both an infeed and outfeed holddown on the router table (unlike the tablesaw).  You can also use a fence-mounted vertical featherboard if you have a fence that can take one (this can), and own one (I don’t!)

Other things to avoid for kickbacks – don’t try to take off too much material in any one pass, use sharp router bits, watch your feed direction, be particularly careful when first engaging the router bit – for example feeding a long piece in means the bit is first going to impact into the endgrain, and if it doesn’t just chip out, it could kick.  This is minimised by using bits with an antikickback feature.

Antikickback Router Bit

Antikickback Router Bit

You can see the large amount of body in front of the carbide.  This limits just how much of the carbide is exposed to the workpiece.  Most router bits these days incorporate this feature.  If it doesn’t, be very wary!


Again, adequate holddowns are the go, with pushsticks, and optionally a fence featherboard should be sufficient (and don’t try to take off too much in a pass)

Fence Featherboards

Fence Featherboards

Again, MagSwitch have featherboards particularly suited as they attach magnetically directly to the vertical fence.

Kickbacks do happen, and most can be prevented.  If you get a kickback, the first, second and third reasons you consider should all start with the term “User Error”.  Find out what you did wrong, and try not to repeat it!

2008 Safety Week Wrap

So that was safety week on the Wood Whisperer Network. Hope you got something out of it!

It seems from reading around, it is the same mistakes being made over and over and over…..and over and ov… (alright, enough)

What is it, that it takes a personal experience before we often will start doing the right thing? Advocates of pushsticks are often those who copped a massive kickback, machinery guards by those who have been cut, electrical safety by those who have been stung, material handling by those who can no longer lift without pain and so on. The whole OHS movement (if I can call it that) is constantly berated for being too pedantic, for making things too hard, for being too over zealous. It doesn’t do itself any favours because that is true to a certain extent, but the principle behind it is harnessing the collective wisdom to prevent injury before it occurs.

What I was talking about in the first video at the start of the week touched on this topic. Sure, safety devices are wonderful things, but they have to work for, and with the individual. If they make the job harder, less safe, are too cumbersome etc, then they will be abandoned. I don’t want myself or others to not use safety equipment, I want safety equipment to be designed to work with the activity, rather than hinder it.

Safety glasses and ear defenders are not too bad in their design and implementation, but dust masks are still poor. Perhaps the concept is too hard, or the thinking is “if you need it, you’ll put up with the poor design”. They are generally not comfortable (especially in hot weather), there are straps everywhere and more often than not it becomes a fight on the face between the mask, the glasses and the hearing protection.

There are ways to alleviate the situation…somewhat. Dust collection on the machine and dust filtering the workshop air all decrease the hazard posed.

Air cleaners such as this from Carbatec for around $370 are worth considering

To quote from their site “Once you’ve finished cutting and sanding operations and have turned off your dust extractor and protective mask, you might think you’ve been sufficiently safety conscious about protection from dust inhalation. However when you see a ray of sunlight come through window you can see that that a lot dust remains suspended in the air.” I know for a fact the same is true in my workshop, and by the end of a good day’s woodworking, my lungs are not so contented. So this is part of my workshop poor practice that I want to address.

So what else is there that suffers from the same “either the safety solution is perfect or I won’t use it at all” mentality? I’ll leave that to you to think about for your own workshop. What guards do you leave off, what safety gear do you not wear, what safety aids do you ignore because of the extra time, and hassle it is to include them? Give some thought to why this is so. If it is because they make the job harder, even increase the risk? Then don’t abandon the concept – find a better device! If your saw guard annoys the hell out of you, find a different design, if your safety specs make it harder to see what you are doing, get some new ones.

Don’t become a safety zealot only once you’ve suffered an injury. There are enough of them already (and good on them for raising people’s awareness), but let’s not continue recruiting to their ranks. Safety is much better as a preventative, than it is as at preventing a re-occurrence!

Work smart, work safe.

Safety Devices

This is a topic I wanted to cover as part of the Safety Week 08 as a video, but I don’t have a good enough range of devices yet to really do the topic justice. So I’ll write a bit about it instead!

What I’m talking about here are on-tool safety devices, and onces that we use to improve our material handling (primarily keeping things we want to keep away from the cutters!)

There are a whole raft of devices: push sticks, holddowns, featherboards, splitters, riving knives, guards, anti-kickback pawls etc and so the list goes on.

There are two primary things all these safety devices are trying to achieve: keeping your bodyparts away from the cutting things and/or stopping the cutting thing throwing the material at you at very high speed.

Before I go on, there are some rules. (In fact it seems many of the rules and instructions provided with machines can be generalised into stopping the tool biting you, or incorrectly eating the material it is being fed. I guess the code violation of reading the instruction manual may have to be overlooked if you want to be safe!)

The rules are: no loose clothing, hair tied back (unless your haircuts are as short as mine!!), no jewelery, no rings, no gloves. There are lots of don’ts. If you look at the list, it can also be generalised. Don’t provide the machine anything that it can snag on and pull you into it. It happens a lot – don’t become a statistic.

The first category of devices are ones designed to stop you getting cut. These include pushsticks, machinery guards and techniques. The first two are obvious – keeping your hands away from the cutters so you can manipulate the workpiece from a distance, and blocks so if you do stray too close there is something there to impede you from getting to the cutter.

Techniques though? Perhaps not the best term, but I’ll explain what I mean. There are a number of things you can do to reduce the likelihood of an accident occurring. Keep the blades sharp (????!!!!!), keep the machine lubricated, especially the contact surface between the machine and the material, operate the machine at sufficient speed, don’t over-tighten the material holddowns (ie so they are not pushing too tightly onto the work). All these will achieve one thing – preventing you from being tempted into applying too much pressure when feeding the material into the tool. The more you push, the more likely you are to slip, and fall into the blade. On the other hand, the easier a piece of wood slides nicely into the tool and out the other side, the safer it is, the finer the finish, and the more enjoyable the whole woodworking experience. What would you prefer – having to fight to get the material in and through the machine, or have it glide on past?

Back to the other two – guards are obvious. Well, so are pushsticks, but they get avoided so often. I think the reason they are is because of that loss of feeling and control for you as the operator. If you are physically holding the material you can better control where it is going, and how hard it is to get it there. We recognise the need for a pushstick, but are concerned about loosing control of the workpiece. So get a better pushstick! And use some of the anti-kickback devices so the concern does not have to be there in the first place.

The basic pushsticks consist of a handle, and a small notch to push on the work. Sure they do that, but there is nothing stopping the workpiece skewing and getting caught (and thrown). They are also a point-contact, so for example the back of the blade of a tablesaw can start to cause the workpiece to lift (and potentially be thrown again).

As much as they keep the hands clear, they are a poor design. Pity so many of the commercial ones are just this type.

Instead, how about ones that not only feed the work into the device, but also hold the work down on the table?

This (from Taunton’s Fine Woodworking) is just one design, but you get the idea- it pushes from behind and still holds the work down.

Couple this up with some sort of featherboard, and the workpiece is controlled, unlikely to float (what I call it when the rear of the blade lifts the work up – it looks like it is floating on a jet of air), and pushed through with your hands clear of the blade.

You can also have featherboards holding the work down, as well as against the fence, as seen here with the MagSwitch version of a featherboard.

There is no reason why you can’t make your own pushsticks and featherboards – the important thing is to have them, and use them!!

So now we are moving onto stopping the work being thrown. Commonly called a kickback, the tools, such as a tablesaw, can propel your project towards you at speeds approaching 200km/hr. Believe me, they hurt when they hit! Never mind what you were working on is probably wrecked in the process.

There are all sorts of reasons why a kickback occurs, but it all boils down to one thing – instead of cutting, the tool somehow managed to get leverage on the workpiece. It could be that the kerf on the wood closed at the back because of forces inside the wood that were relieved during the cut, causing it to close on the blade, or you slightly skewed the piece so the back of the blade got a good purchase. It could be a misaligned fence, or (such as with a router) you fed the material in the wrong direction.

There are devices to try to prevent these occurring, such as splitters and riving knives, anti-kickback pawls, featherboards and board buddies (a kind of wheeled featherboard, where the wheels can only rotate in one direction)

I’m getting a bit of track here, so let me drag it all back to this:

To be safe during a cut, you want to keep yourself from being machined (to not split hairs here), nor do you want to be hit by self-made missiles.

By using guards, pushsticks and holddowns, combined with correct techniques, your chance of a mishap occurring is greatly reduced.

Safe woodworking.

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