Disclaimer: First I have to warn anyone from trying the things I did for this story. All of them are dangerous and were done strictly to show you what can happen to drive that point home. Even with all of the thought and planning shooting this video very nearly went terribly wrong. If you think staging the events in the video was stupid, you are correct. Even more stupid is not doing what you can to prevent them from happening in your shop! Virtually everything in this story and related images is exceptionally dangerous and can result in severe injury. Do not attempt any of this yourself!
You can get kickbacks on the router table and table saw but both are easily prevented. Now, watch the video and see if you want to be an idiot.
Kickbacks can happen virtually any time we use a spinning cutter. The most common situations in woodworking are on router tables and table saws. While the kickbacks on these machines generally happen a little differently, the result can easily be severe injury – on either one.
About the Push Blocks
Though I normally don’t use them at the table saw the push block let me turn the wood exactly when I needed to while constantly pulling back towards me and away from the blade.
Normally I only use the push blocks at the table saw when cutting large sheet stock as I get a better grip and still keep my hands far from the blade. However, for this kickback video I needed the grip to turn the wood into the blade, something that I could not generate with the taller push handles I normally would use. The push block also allowed me to be pulling on the handle as I rotated the nose of the wood towards the blade.
We always want to feed the wood against the rotation of the cutter. Forget that on the router table and you could be in trouble.
I had hoped that this muscle tension away from the blade would keep me farther from it. It may in fact have done that to some extent but as we wold see later my finger got far too close. Despite doing a lot of thinking on creating a kickback as safely as possible there just was no existing information to work with. Now I know why that lack of information existed.
Against the Cutter
On a router table you actually have two choices of feed direction. One is correct the other is not and can lead to disaster in the blink of an eye. We always want to move the wood against the rotation of the cutter so that there is an opposing force that actually gives us lots of control. On the router table we feed the wood right to left. If we move the wood in the same direction as the cutter rotation (left to right) the cutter instantly becomes a hyper-efficient feed mechanism and snatches the wood out of your hand and tosses it off the table – and that is if this accident goes well. If you don’t catch your hands soon enough when the wood more or less disappears your hands continue moving towards the cutter. I know lots of you privately think that you can jerk your hand back before something bad happens but you can’t. If you were working too close to the bit without using a push device, the injuries this type of accident can cause are seldom minor. The cutters we use to cut wood will cut us even better and they have no regret at all.
Kickback on the Table Saw
The board here is from today’s intentional kickback. Note the damage to the push handle. When you see the video note where my fingers go after the handle is shot out of my hand.
For years it was thought to be safe or even fashionable to use a table saw without a blade guard or riving knife. If the accompanying video does not make that sound like a dumb way to use this machine there is a better than even chance that you are an idiot. Until today, I was an idiot also for thinking of doing this demonstration but after watching my own video I am cured. There are many ways of having kickbacks on the table saw but the most common seems to be the wood simply turning towards the blade as it passes the rear edge of the blade. The action from that point on is blindingly fast and makes it impossible for a human to react quickly enough. That is not speculation, it’s a simple fact.
The simple riving knife (right) makes this kind of kickback very difficult to have.
I had a kickback that happened like this many years ago and was lucky to come away from that with a good-sized bruise on my side. That may have emboldened me because today I thought that I could do it again to show you, this time being safer. I did stand in a better spot and I did use a good push handle. But, I very nearly lost a finger or two nonetheless as you will see.
The major point here is that this is a totally preventable accident. Use a riving knife or the blade guard and it is virtually impossible to have this kind of kickback. But, we see people who should know better using a bare blade “so you can see better” even though a riving knife doesn’t impede vision. If you use the riving knife or blade guard system the dramatic events on the accompanying video are very, very unlikely to happen at all.
I know many will say that I am an idiot for doing this video and they are exactly right. At least up until I got to see the video I had shot. After that point, I am not an idiot anymore. I will not do this again and as I always do since my early kickback years ago, will ALWAYS use my riving knife or blade guard system. The ball is in your court now. Are going to be an idiot and not use a riving knife or blade guard? Unfortunately I am certain that some of you will continue one certain that you are above the accident. That is sad but reality. I am hoping that this video and the effort behind this story will at least convert some of you. If you watch this video and forevermore use a riving knife or blade guard I will be a happy camper.
Tom Hintz is the sole owner and operator of NewWoodworker.com. There you can find more of his tips, tricks and projects, as well as blogs about his other interests.