Handy Guide To Table Saw Safety

Updated: Aug. 25, 2023

A table saw deserves your respect. An expert woodworker provides best practices to ensure you keep all your fingers.

I’ve experienced my share of table saw safety mishaps. A co-worker in a cabinet shop I worked in carelessly put his hand on top of a piece of plywood he was dadoing for a shelf unit. When the blade unexpectedly poked through, you can guess what happened.

And I learned the hard way a table saw can hurt you even if you don’t make direct contact with the blade. I have a scar to prove it.

I was working with a friend on a flooring project, using his ancient benchtop saw with a misaligned fence. I stood behind him as he did the cutting. A small piece of oak flooring got bound between the fence and blade and shot back with the force of a bullet. It opened a huge gash in my right hand, but I was lucky. Kickback can cause far more serious injuries, including lost eyes.

We all know power tools are inherently dangerous, but table saws are right at the top of the list. Robert Kundel, CEO of Wellington Corp, LLC, and a wood reclaiming expert, has pushed his share of warped and knotty boards through a table saw blade. I couldn’t think of a better person to ask for tips on how to use this tool safely.

Why Table Saw Safety Is Important

Lost fingers and gashes from kickbacks are serious injuries, but they’re far from the worst scenario.

Consider what could happen if you reach over a spinning blade while wearing loose clothing, and the blade grabs your sleeve. Perhaps a board you’re ripping has a warp that makes it tighten behind the saw blade, which then spits it back toward you. I’ve seen a board ejected from a powerful shop saw with such force it made a hole in the wall.

Safety equipment and best practices help prevent dangerous mishaps. Plus, practicing table saw safety lets you do better work.

One key piece of advice from Kundel: Don’t strain the motor by forcing a piece too quickly through the cut. This not only prevents kickback but makes for a cleaner cut with fewer burn marks that must be sanded out.

Table Saw Safety Equipment

Essential safety equipment comes with any new saw, and you should always assemble it when you’re setting up the saw for the first time.

During set-up and any time afterward, if you feel a pang of doubt, Kundel urges consulting the owner’s manual. It’s not a bad idea to keep it nearby until you’re familiar with your saw. Besides the accompanying safety features, you’ll need additional equipment.

Standard table saw safety features

  • Blade guard: A retractable plastic cover that fits over the blade.
  • Kickback pawls: A pair of toothed metal plates that attach to the blade guard on either side of the blade. They latch onto the wood to prevent it from firing back in your direction.
  • Splitter: A smooth piece of metal or plastic that sits between the kickback pawls and keeps the kerf open after the wood passes through the blade. This prevents wood from binding around the blade.
  • Riving knife: Same idea as a splitter, except it’s attached to the blade carriage rather than the guard. It moves up and down with the blade when you set the height, and it stays put when you remove the blade guard to make a crosscut or dado. It also prevents anything from touching the opposite side of the blade.
  • Push stick: You can make your own from spare lumber, but the one that comes with your saw is usually better because the handle keeps your hand well above the blade.
  • Magnetic on/off switch: When the saw unexpectedly stops because of a power outage or some other problem, this automatically turns off the saw. That guarantees the saw won’t start unexpectedly when the power comes back on.
  • Miter gauge: Use this for crosscutting and angle cuts.

Aftermarket table saw safety features

  • Safety glasses: Wear them at all times to protect your eyes from splinters.
  • Hearing protection: Saws are loud. If you use yours a lot, you’ll need a good set of earmuffs to protect your hearing.
  • Outfeed table: This supports long pieces of wood and plywood so you don’t have to apply downward pressure to keep it flat.
  • Speed square: Use this to ensure the fence and blade are perpendicular to the table. This helps prevent kickback and ensures cleaner cuts.

Table Saw Safety Do’s and Don’ts

Kundel put together this list of things you should and shouldn’t do to use your table saw safely.


  • Read the manual.
  • Make sure the saw is stable.
  • Wear safety glasses and hearing protection.
  • Use a push stick.
  • Stand to the side of the saw while you’re cutting. This way, if the wood kicks back, it will go through the wall and not your abdomen.
  • Angle the fence slightly away from the blade on the outfeed side to prevent binding and kickback. Most fences do this automatically when you tighten the clamp, but it’s a good idea to double-check.
  • Check for and remove nails prior to cutting.
  • Release the wood only when it’s past the saw blade.
  • Turn off the saw and wait for the blade to stop before clearing the wood.
  • Unplug the saw before servicing it.


  • Reach over the blade while it’s spinning.
  • Wear loose clothing or jewelry.
  • Wear gloves; they can be drawn into the blade.
  • Force the piece through the cut.
  • Try to reverse the direction of the wood while you’re cutting. It will probably kick back.
  • Make freehand cuts. Use the miter gauge for crosscuts and angle cuts.