Hit me with your best shot

I got hit on the table saw this weekend by a sort-of kickback thing. Nothing at all serious, but it certainly got my attention.

Kickback injuries are among the most insidious because unless you do a particular table saw no-no guaranteed to create potential kickback – like trapping stuff between fence and blade, not using a splitter, etc. – you almost never expect them.

There was a small knot on a piece of Western red cedar I was ripping. It wasn’t in-line with the blade (in fact, I was ripping the piece to eliminate the knot), and it wasn’t even a loose knot. It was just something unsightly I wanted to trim out of the workpiece. But what I missed was that even though it was well to the left of the cut line, it was sharply angled and the portion of the knot on the underside of the board did in fact encounter the blade.

You’re probably way ahead of me here. I fed the board through, it hit that knot, and sent a piece of it flying back like a piece of shrapnel. No, not like a piece of shrapnel – it was a piece of shrapnel. Didn’t hit me in the face and spoil my handsome countenance, and my eyes were fine because I always remember that there is no more important safety rule than to wear these (tap-tap) safety glasses.

But I was wearing a short-sleeve shirt, and the projectile bulleted into my arm where it stuck like one of those blowgun darts the natives always shoot at Indiana Jones. It wasn’t deep, didn’t leave anything behind, and pulled out easier than most splinters. It bled for a while and now, four days later, there’s just a tiny scab where it was.

The lesson here is not “expect the unexpected,” which is a really stupid thing to even say, by the way. No the lesson here is that sometimes, cleaning it up for publication, “shrapnel happens.”

Of course, thoroughly examining that knot on both sides of the board might have revealed the potential danger. The shrapnel may still have happened, but I certainly could have been better prepared.



  • Dan Levin says:

    I too, have been the “victim” of surprise kickbacks. Naturally, I try to be as careful as I possibly can. I have a very tightly adhered-to set of rules. Having read and been told about very serious job-related accidents, I’ve developed a set of common sense rules that I adhere to without fail. They are: I NEVER WORK WHEN I AM TIRED, ANGRY, DRUNK, STONED and/or a combination of those situations. I know that some may say that it’s an outlandish combo, but even under the best of circumstances, accidents still do happen. So here’s what I do… First, I shut off the machine (all of my major machines have knee-operated switches. Then I step back and look at my hands and I count my fingers! Then, take a break to try to determine what caused the accident. Usually, it’s something simple, like the knot you experienced, but as we all know it could have always been much more serious! Thankfully, I still have ten fingers, two eyes and the rest of the package I was born with!

  • Jerry Finch says:

    This is a great example of why a guard should always be used with any power saw. I have similar experiences on both the table saw and the miter saw, and in most cases the guard deflected the ejected piece. I am not implying that you did not use a guard, but many people don’t. In fact, I have heard purchasers of the SawStop tell me that because of the instant stopping feature, they now don’t feel they need the guard. Even the SawStop won’t stop kickback such as you describe.

  • Ed Thiessen says:

    Way back in the late 1970’s I was a much younger and dumber wood worker. I was ripping a 2X4 with my radial arm saw when the darn blade grabbed the last of the board, kicked it out of my garage, sending it across the street to impact the curbing there thus making tent peg sized splinters from that 2X4. That was the last time I ripped anything with that machine. Lesson learned.

  • jerry Jaksha says:

    Happy to hear you barely go hurt.

    Having had that experience, would you like to test a table saw tool that stops kickback and sets up in 5 seconds?

    Since 1990 I have ripped over 10 million linear feet of warped home depot #2 pine without a kickback. This was done in front of over a million woodworkers at trade shows. We set up with only a curtain between us and our neighbors, because there was no danger of kickback.
    The key is holding down the wood before and after the blade with a spring loaded anti-kickback knife.
    Many a “real woodworker” only uses his fingers to hold a ripped board down, but fingers are a poor substitute for a tool meant for the job.
    We use our fingers because we are in a hurry, and conventional clamped featherboards take too long to set up.

    A well tested (by over 200,000 woodworkers) anti-kickback feeder exists that can be set up in 5 seconds on any table saw. Kickbacks don’t have to be part of ripping lumber.

  • A.J. Hamler says:

    Jerry: Your device sounds great and beneficial, but I doubt that it would do anything to prevent what occurred in my case, which was a fragment of a loose knot being turned into projectile. Come up with something that can prevent that 100% of the time, and you’ll be a millionaire.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Comments are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive. For more information, please see our Terms of Use.