Building a safer saw - Other paths to safety

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Other paths to safety
And then there's SawStop. By now, every woodworker has heard of the device that can detect when a blade comes into contact with human skin and instantly shut the machine down. While injury can still occur, it has been shown that the injury will usually be far less than without the device.

When the device was introduced at IWF in 2000 it was greeted with amazement, and easily won a Challenger Award for innovation at the show. It has since won numerous additional awards. At the time of its introduction, more than a few people predicted that it would be readily embraced by the industry.

It wasn't.

"We were all shocked at SawStop, because it seemed so obvious that this was the right answer," said Gass. "If you're a woodworker, and you know other woodworkers, you know somebody who's had an accident. The consequence of those accidents can be so devastating. If you had something that could prevent that and it was cost-

effective, why would you not do it? It seems like such an obvious answer, that of course you'd incorporate it. I wasn't thinking that they'd incorporate it because they had to, as much as because customers would want it. Users of table saws generally like their fingers, and like to keep them attached to the rest of their body. I thought customers would demand it from the manufacturers."

When no other manufacturer adopted the device for their lines, SawStop introduced its own cabinet saw with the device included. Sales have been brisk. Gass said that about half the sales have gone to industrial customers, with the other half split evenly between private individuals and schools. The safety issues of the SawStop device aside, the performance of the SawStop machine has garnered several good reviews from woodworking publications in its own right as a quality woodworking tool.

And, while no manufacturer has yet stepped forward to incorporate it into their machines, some admit that the technology is here to stay.

"I think it's going to be a long road of development to improve on what Mr. Gass has done," said Steel City's Scott Box. "I think that down the road that technology is probably going to become less expensive. I know of other ideas that are out there now that are being explored by other companies, and I think you're going to see some move toward that in the foreseeable future."

"There's no arguing that it has prevented some serious accidents but it is a mechanical device; and over time it has been proven that anything mechanical has the eventual potential to possibly fail. Then what happens?" Frampton asked. "Perhaps the real question is whether or not we want students and inexperienced users learning or working with a false sense of comfort or the presumption that they cannot be injured, rather than keeping that healthy respect for the equipment front and center in their minds. It takes time to develop good habits but it usually takes even longer to unlearn bad habits. In the meantime, what happens when the user goes to work on a different saw with that same 'I can't be injured' mentality? Again, we believe there's no one simple, easy solution. Good safety features in combination with good work habits formed from proper training will reduce personal injuries the most."

Of course, there are other types of safety features, some of which have been popping up on table saws for a few years now.