Kickback

I had my first real kickback incident this weekend. I didn’t like it. I don’t want another.

Let me say two things. First, no serious injuries. Second, I did nothing to cause it.

That is, I performed no act that made it happen, like binding something between blade and fence or knocking the offcut into the blade. I also did not cause it with an act of omission, such as removing the splitter and anti-kickback pawls or simply not paying attention. It literally just happened, as things sometimes do.

I was doing a simple crosscut, and was doing it properly. My miter gauge and workpiece made the cut smoothly and cleanly, and had cleared the blade. The offcut stopped where it was once the cut was complete – my workpiece was less than 4” wide, so neither it nor the offcut had even engaged the splitter and pawls. I turned off the saw, intending to come back for that offcut once the blade had spun down. As the blade began to slow there was a sudden loud sound (for those who’ve never had one, kickback makes a ka-TANG! sound), and the offcut launched into the air. It struck my right hand, hitting just below the largest knuckle of the middle finger. There was another loud noise as the offcut hit something on the wall behind me and went spinning to the floor. One corner of the offcut was chewed up where the blade had grabbed it. Another corner was smashed where it hit something on the back wall. There’s a blue-green smear at the impact site on the offcut; I still can’t figure out what it hit.

My finger was bleeding from a small cut – kind of a shallow groove, really – but what really hurt was the impact. Now, two days later, the little cut has scabbed over, but my finger has a pretty decent bruise where the offcut hit, and it still hurts.

So, what’s the point of the story? Not sure, really. I did everything right and nothing wrong, but still got a kickback. My guess is that the slightest bit of vibration brought one corner of the cutoff – already barely kissing the blade – just far enough farther into it to grab. Where’d the vibration, if that’s what it was, come from? Who knows?

I guess the point is something I talked about in my June 30 blog (“Great Expectations”) and reiterated a few weeks later (“Afraid of the Dark,” July 24).  You can try as much as you can to expect the unexpected, but you still can’t prepare for it.

Till next time,

A.J.

COMMENTS

  1. Brian Donahue wrote:

    From your story it sounds like you were cutting a pretty small piece so a vertical panel saw might not have even been a option but for cutting of larger pieces it can help you to avoid kickback.

    Brian

  2. Jack Hoying wrote:

    That “ka-tang” sound is embedded into my mind forever, as that is exactly what it sounded like when I had my first major kick-back 22 years ago. Lost my index finger and use of my thumb. My mistake was that I was holding the board down, in front of the blade. When the board kicked back, my hand went through the blade with the same “ka-tang” as the board.

  3. John Lucas wrote:

    First, I am glad you are OK; 2) thanks for explaining it in detail — we can learn by this.
    In Monday morning quarterback mode, would SawStop have handled anything differently. I don’t think so. Your skin wasnt near the blade and your safety pawls and other devices acted normally and didnt save you. If you pushed the right side thru with a push staick, that would have been KB producing even though you would be controlling the offcut.
    I think the only thing we can all take from this is: 1) acidents can happen; 2) but still do all the right things; 3) honor the exit path of such scraps; 4) keep 911 handy; 5: let the blade come to a complete stop before you do anything.
    AJ, thanks for telling it. It is a good study topic.
    jrl

  4. Rick wrote:

    OUCH , I too had my first over the weekend . BUT , It was my fault ! My kickback was a nice hard pc of Bubinga and it clobbered me right square on the clavical ! 3 days later , no bruise but all red and sore as h— . It felt ( if I could imagine ) like a bullet hitting me . I HATE WHEN THAT HAPPENS !

  5. Frank wrote:

    You were lucky! I wish I could say I’ve never had a kickback, but that would be fiction. Luckily, I’ve never been injured, nor has anyone in my shop. Some lessons you learn in (the now nonexistent) high school wood shop stay with you. I’ve always stayed to the left of the saw blade, and I never take my eyes off the blade or move until the blade comes to a COMPLETE stop. I’m not saying your circumstances would have changed much if you had done all of these things (and maybe you did). Thank Jesus the ancient carpenterfor looking out for you.

  6. Denny H. wrote:

    You didn’t say where your rip fence was. I’m sure you are smart enough not use your fence to set the cut length. But if the fence to blade distance was set less than the diagonal dimension of the offcut then as it vibrated and rotated into the blade start the countdown to launch when it gets pinched between the two. A small piece that doesn’t get pinched won’t get launched as you discribed.
    I,also, am not a stranger to to kickback and got a broken finger ripping small plywood pieces.
    Keep up the good articles. Thanks

  7. Barry wrote:

    Over the years i have had this same thing happen. i have learned that when completing small crosscuts i stand out of the way to the left of the blade. i have found that when the saw is switched off and the blade is slowing there i generally quite a bit of vibration to the point that it at times may bey loudly audible. thus the small offcut always heads for the blade. i have always found that if i clear the scrap first the kickback happens less. i have a 2inch scar on my wrist that you can see where the corner of the kickback hit as a daily reminder. glad to here no serious injury.

  8. mark wrote:

    it took years for my first also .. the day it happened I sold my table saw and bought another with a sliding table and riving knife .. for dadoes etc I now use a router with a table .. needless to say the kickback scared the you now what out of me …

  9. A.J. Hamler wrote:

    Denny…

    The rip fence wasn’t on the saw at the time; it was in it’s holder on the side of the saw cabinet. You are absolutely correct that using a rip fence to directly set a cutoff distance is just asking for kickback.

    It’s possible to use the fence to set the distance, but only if you clamp a piece of scrap to it, locating that scrap piece well ahead of the blade. Your workpiece can then register off the scrap long before it reaches the blade, and be inches away from the fence when it contacts the blade.

    A.J.

  10. Ken wrote:

    Perhaps setting the size of the off-cut by using a known thickness between the fence and the edge of the off-cut would eliminate the binding of the off-cut.

  11. John Glendinning wrote:

    To avoid this sort of kickback in the future try rigging up a fixture on the side of the blade opposite the one your mitre gauge is on. This can simply be a board that is clamped close and parallel to to blade and has an angle cut away on the leading end so that when your cross cut is complete the off cut is deflected away from the bade along the angled end. This is especially useful when making a series of cuts

  12. Kent wrote:

    I don’t get it. I thought that a free spinning blade would not kick back a loose object that happened to encounter the back side of the blade. My understanding is that the object had to be trapped against the blade, not loose. Where was the trapping in this case? I thought a loose piece that encountered the back of the blade would just be nudged away. Am I missing something?

  13. A.J. Hamler wrote:

    Kent..,

    Yes, you are. The offcut didn’t encounter the back of the blade at all. The workpiece was less than 4″ wide, so it didn’t get all the way back there. (It didn’t encounter the splitter or anti-kickback pawls, either.) The offcut stopped right at the edge of the front of the blade. The offcut then shifted and touched the front of the blade, which caught it and slung it yonder through the shop.

    A.J.

  14. Randy Hughes wrote:

    About the same time as A.J. I had a similar incident. I had just finished ripping a board that was angled on the front. As I cleared the cut peice, the cut-off turned into the blade and caught. I am sporting a very colorful gut, and new found levels of humility. My error was running without the splitter engaged, and am looking for any other advice on minimizing this risk.

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