Is his safety my concern?

This past spring, I heard the sound of a power tool coming from my neighbor’s garage, and I just had to see what was going on. I stopped in my tracks and held my breath when I saw my neighbor, Tom, leaning over and straddling a small, cheap portable table saw, which was on his driveway-and I mean on his driveway-no stand, no guards, no push sticks, no anti-kickback protection, no safety glasses or hearing protection, nothing. He was ripping some boards to about 3″ wide, maybe 4′ long.

Now, you have to picture this; he was bending over the saw, standing on the side, parallel to the rip fence, on the cut off side. Tom is in his 40’s, successful, competent, smart, friendly, and a get-it-done sort of guy. When he saw me, he stopped, turned off the saw, and gave me his normal big smile.

Me, “I heard the saw and just had to see what you were making.”

“Adirondeck chairs”, he replied, and went about showing me the plans, and details of construction. But all I could think about was him standing over that saw.

“Tom, if you like, we could take these over to my shop and rip them on my Shopsmith,” I offered.

“I appreciate that,” he smiled, “but I only have a few more to do…”

I walked off. I couldn’t watch anymore. He was violating just about every safety rule I could think of, except maybe being drunk.

I am happy to report that Tom got the project built, with no mishaps.

I am not happy to report that I let someone do something so foolish without saying something.

I used to say that there are three categories of woodworkers when it comes to safety:

1. those who don’t want to hear anything about safety, who are usually unsafe, and won’t change until they have an accident;

2. those who willingly listen to safety suggestions, and are usually safe, and willing to learn and adapt;

3. and those who think power tools are ticking time bombs to be avoided if possible.

But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that there is a fourth category: those who just don’t know any better.

This brings us to my moral dilemma: Should I have said something? In hindsight, the answer is of course, yes.

This page is for anyone who is willing to take the time to learn about safety, put those practices into their work habits, and let others know the right way to do things.

Some observations: I have met thousands of woodworkers over the years, and heard dozens, maybe hundred of stories of accidents. For God knows what reason, many of them wanted to tell their gory stories, and wave around the proof of those accidents, in the middle of my demonstration. This did not help me. Prospective woodworkers, and especially their spouses, needed no more than to see the stump remains of a jointer accident to give up the idea of woodworking forever. So, I began asking this simple question to the stump waver: “Sir, was it the machine’s fault, or did you do something stupid?”

The answer, 100% of the time, “Well, yeah, I was (or was not) doing abc and xyz and it was my own fault.”

I am sure there are stories of people doing everything right, and still getting hurt. In fact, if you have such a story, share it so we can all benefit. My point is, I want the odds in my favor. I don’t ever want to be one of those saying, “Well, yeah, it was my own fault.”

So, some reminders: If you are tired, buzzed, angry, turn it off. Better yet, don’t turn it on. Wear safety gear; glasses and hearing protection at the very minimum…every time. Install all your safety gear before you turn it on. One cut or a thousand, do it right. If you are among those who think tools are ticking time bombs-they are not. They are like your family car. They are safe if you are safe. Be an example!

Read the safety precautions in the front of your “Power Tool Woodworking for Everyone”, a couple of times a year, or more. Use your guards every time–I do!

Know what you are doing. Read your manuals, watch good videos (not all of them are-check out mine on YouTube), ask someone else who knows what they are doing. Ask yourself if you would let someone you love do what you are about to do.

Finally, don’t do what I did: If you see someone doing something stupid, tell them. Be nice, be polite, be helpful, be tactful, but tell them. I am going to practice saying, “would you mind a suggestion…”.  VERY SCARY, BUT ENLIGHTENING VIDEO— NOT MINE!!!  Don’t use your guards? I think you will after seeing this! DO NOT ATTEMPT, PLEASE!

5 thoughts on “Is his safety my concern?”

  1. Any advice to a dad that wants to get his kids into The Shopsmith? I want them to learn respect, safety, and love of woodworking. As an instructor I defer to your experience.


    1. I taught a group of home schooled kids, most age 9-12, and had the most fun of my woodworking life.
      Just like in my Junior high shop class, the teacher (me) did all the table saw, jointer, planer work.
      Kids who demonstrate the maturity can use the bandsaw (with close supervision).
      Most any child can use a hammer, square, ruler, etc. Most kids can use a scroll saw,but again, this is up to your judgement.
      I found that kids learned a lot besides basic woodworking: reading, understanding plans; math; understanding measuring and fractions; plus logic, planning, discipline (you reap what you sow), organization, (putting tools away and cleaning up).
      Safety is a given: safety glasses, proper techniques, etc.
      There are several good “Woodworking for Kids” books around.
      Have fun! I wish I had kids around again…


  2. Doug, Thanks for providing the Safety discussion and video link. Although I also try to consider safety in everything I do, the realization that “you don’t know what you don’t know” keeps you humble and hungry for more safety knowledge and reminders.

    The video reminds me of an adult education shop teacher who willingly shared his safety experience by holding up one hand with two missing middle fingers at the beginning of a safety talk. His mistake comes to mind often.

    The Shopsmith focus on safety is appreciated.


  3. Let me start off by saying “I am that idiot”. I thought I could cut some 2×2 on my SS without the blade guard and found out NO I couldn’t. I had set my fence for 3″, used a extension on my miter gauge, used a push stick and as I got to the end of the cut, I got a kickback that hit me on my thumb and tore the nail. I thought cut 2 pieces off a 3 ft long 2×2 was not worth the effort to install the saw guard. I now know better. THANKS for your videos and help in me using my old Mark 500. Just wish I could afford the upgrades.


    1. Danny,sorry you had to experience that. On the older MarkVs, putting the guard on was a pain. The newer models have an upper guard that installs in about 5 seconds, and self aligns…one of many great improvements.


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