Saving the sausage

Last fall the motor in my table saw died—for the second time.

It wasn’t my fault. I’m not hard on machines. I’m well versed in proper rates of feed and pressure. I was inclined to regard the motor’s demise as the result of poor design or manufacturing, not misuse—especially since I’d had to replace various other parts of the saw (which I had purchased new) within its first five years. The saw had been a major upgrade from any table saw I’d previously owned, but it was clearly time to make a change.

A friend mentioned that he knew someone with a 5-horse Powermatic for sale. The saw’s owner had decided to buy a Saw Stop, after, as my friend put it, “the Powermatic took off two of his fingers.” I thought this was a curious way to state what had happened–casting the saw as rapacious aggressor, as though it had intended to cut off those fingers, when in reality the accident, like most, had been caused by operator negligence.

You don’t get a chance to buy a 5-horse Powermatic for a song every day, and I was sorely tempted. Of course, the saw would come with a legacy. It wouldn’t be the first machine in my shop with that kind of record. Years before, I had bought an ancient 12-inch Crescent jointer from a furniture maker who was getting out of the business, having lost about an inch off a finger to that jointer’s four sharp knives before she even knew what was happening. I’d bought the jointer while working alone, but in the years since then, I’d had employees and students use my shop, and I was keenly aware of the need for safety. Even if most accidents result from operator error, a tool designed with safety in mind is less likely to be the site of a serious accident.

Since the Powermatic’s seller was looking at a Saw Stop, I took my own look at the company’s website, and I called my local dealer to inquire about price. I was impressed by what I heard from the dealer’s rep., who also happened to be the guy who assembled and delivered the saws to buyers. Having repaired and restored used woodworking equipment—big old industrial planers, drill presses, and the like—the fellow impressed me as someone who knew his stuff. But the 3-horse Saw Stop I was considering would cost $1000 more than the 5-horse Powermatic. Could it be possibly be worth the extra money?

I told my partner, a general contractor, that I was considering a Saw Stop. He was mildly outraged. “You can’t afford it,” he said. “Why would you spend an extra thousand dollars when you can get a great table saw for $2000?” He and his employee made jokes about the “Hot Dog Saw,” alluding to the marketing video in which Oscar Meyer stands in for an errant finger.

I wasn’t so worried about my own fingers. In thirty years of professional woodworking I had never had a serious accident. My worst lacerations had come from drill bits and utility knife blades. (Have you ever drilled into your thigh? Forstner bits are not designed to produce clean cuts in flesh. And even more painful than the injury itself is being asked by a smart-alec doctor, “So, why’d you drill a hole in your leg?”) But I was occasionally kept up at night by imagined employee injuries and what they could cost my business, let alone that they could result in an employee’s permanent bodily impairment. Now I found myself wondering whether, by simply considering the Saw Stop, I would be tempting fate. I might have gone thirty years without serious mishap, but that didn’t mean I would always remain unscathed.

In the end, I bought the Saw Stop. Yes, it was expensive, but I was immediately impressed by several features of its design in terms of basic table saw function, without even considering safety.

Last Friday I realized what a good decision I had made. I was cutting a beveled molding. The blade was set at maximum height, about 3 inches above the table, and it still didn’t clear the surface of the wood. I knew of no other way to produce the cut I needed. I had performed the operation numerous times on previous occasions without mishap, so I wasn’t worried. (Given the nature of the cut, it was impossible to use the guard or riving knife.) I thought I was exercising due caution—guiding the stock steadily into the blade while keeping it firmly against the fence with my left hand—when I heard a BANG, felt a slight tingle in my left ring finger, and realized, in a moment of fascination, The Saw Stop works! I was thoroughly impressed. Instead of cutting about 3/16ths of an inch from the end of my finger, I had only lost a thin slice of skin, about 1/32 inch wide by 3/16ths long. Even though the blade had not cleared the surface of the wood for the previous ten or so feet of molding I had ripped, it had poked through in an area that must have been a little under-thickness.

The worst part of the whole experience was removing the blade and cartridge, which had to come out together. That took almost half an hour. Cost of a new blade? About $100, with shipping. Value of knowing the Saw Stop really works? Priceless.

3 responses to “Saving the sausage

  1. Yeah!!!! for the Hotdog Saw

    love

    Mark

  2. You listened to yourself, and saved your finger! I would have been happy calling you Captain Stubby, but I prefer Nancy.

  3. These are two exciting posts I missed! Man, what a story. Rarely does life reward us with such blatant evidence of our good decisions!

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