Tuesday, February 14, 2012


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People Who Are Destroying America - SawStop
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Maybe I should have let my brother post this, since the only thing I know about home improvement is that I want nothing to do with it. I hated it when I helped my father build our homes, and I still hate it now.

I do know that SawStop adds to the cost of a table saw (although I suspect it would cost a lot less if all new saws were required to have a safety feature like this). And there's concern about ruining the blade when a saw stops suddenly like that.

But... just think about what you're saying. Are you more concerned about the blade than your fingers? Blades can be replaced!

OK, I know there are other objections. Wet wood can cause a false stop, apparently. Well, should you really be sawing wet wood in the first place? Hey, don't ask me. I'll admit that I don't know anything about it, and I don't particularly want to know. This isn't my area of interest, not at all.

But I've worked places where people took guards off chain gears, moving blades, and other dangerous pieces of equipment, because they didn't want to be bothered with them. Hey, they were going to careful. And they were men, not pussies - men missing some of their fingers, often enough.

And those were the minor accidents. No one ever thinks that it's going to happen to him, but it happens all the time. There's no give in steel machinery. There's no hesitation. There are no second-thoughts. When you put human flesh up against steel, steel wins. Always! Every time.

I'm no expert in this. I freely admit that. If you have more knowledge than I do (and you could hardly know less), feel free to comment. However, I do know that there's never been a safety measure that didn't face opposition.

From the very beginning of factory work, when belt-driven machinery was all-too-frequently lubricated with blood, there was opposition to even the most basic, common sense precautions, like putting simple guards on fast-moving parts which would grab a loose item of clothing and drag a man to his death.

No matter how simple, no matter how obvious, no matter how cheap, these things always face opposition. I don't understand it, but it's true. That doesn't mean this particular safety measure is a good idea, of course. But it looks pretty good to me.

So why not? Please, educate me.


Gregg Garthright said...

Finally - a post that will generate mainstream interest!!!!!

I think SawStop is great technology. It doesn't surprise me that it hasn't been widely adapted (I believe it is available on a few high-end table saws).

When I worked in Factories, I was always amazed at the number of workers who would disable safety equipment - even when there was no financial incentive to do so. Sometimes, they'd risk disciplinary action or even termination to put themselves at risk.

I ran a completely unguarded press brake a number of years ago. Years later, I was exposed to modern brakes that had a "light curtain" - a photoelectric eye that would stop the machine when something besides the work was in the die area. Operators didn't like it, but after using it for a while, they didn't want to run the older machines.

There have been a lot of safety improvements in equipment used around the home - think about modern lawn mowers with a device that shuts down the blade when you take your hands off the handle. All of those added cost to the equipment, but have saved a lot of pain and anguish to a lot of folks.

I bought a "cheapie" table saw (<$150) for a home project a few years ago. As cheap as that saw was, it was way safer than the completely unguarded one I ran years ago, when I first started college. I have enough ego to believe I'd never cut my fingers off on the cheap saw, but I wouldn't mind spending a bit more to have something like SawStop (but I couldn't justify spending 20X the money for a high-end saw I didn't need). Even if it doubled the cost of the cheap saw, it would be worth in, in my not-so-humble opinion. I've got to believe the cost would come down if it was required on every saw.

I suspect workers comp companies will eventually make it financially impossible to ignore the new safety feature. If contractors and industry adopt it, it will work its way into lower-end equipment.

Of course, you should never depend on a machine's safety equipment to protect you from injury - keep all the guards in place, but pretend they're not there. Hmmm - there's probably a good blog post in that thought.......

WCG said...

Yeah, Gregg, mainstream interest. No wonder it bores me. :)

Opponents think about this as the freedom to decide for yourself. But most of the people injured by table saws and other equipment didn't buy the machinery themselves. They just work for someone else who bought it.

Obviously, there's a cost factor in everything, even fingers and hands. But this is just like air bags and seat belts. If it's just a high-end option, it will stay too expensive for most people. If it's required, the cost will likely plummet.

And it's pretty neat technology, don't you think? :)