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On the level, revisited

I just had a scary, but not injurious, table saw kickback.

Of course, all kickbacks are scary, whether you get hit by one or not. The good part is that the scare tends to help you straighten your act to help prevent it from happening again. That was the case for me and I’m pleased to report that this was the first kickback I’ve had in just over 11 years. How do I know so precisely? Because I told you about it when it happened back in 2009.

As then, the culprit was once again a combination between minor table vibration and the machine being unlevel. I was ripping 1" off a foot-long workpiece, and made the cut just fine following all safety precautions. But that 1” cutoff was very light, and vibration made it touch the blade just right, and it went flying. I wasn’t in its path – the main safety precaution I was taking – but it sure scared me when it ricocheted off the wall behind me.

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Since I knew I hadn’t done anything wrong I immediately suspected the same cause as the last time I had a kickback. I pulled out a level and, sure enough, there was the tiniest bit of lean to the table’s top, angling toward the blade.

Now, I know that table was perfectly level. When I set it up here in my new shop not quite five years ago, I fiddled with it for more than an hour getting it that way. But – and here’s the mistake I made – I had not checked it since.

Although my table saw seemed level in use, any number of things could have changed in five years. The basement floor could have settled a bit, for one thing, or the cabinet base supports could have changed imperceptibly. Needless to say, I immediately stopped working and re-leveled my saw.

The lesson here is that all the things I did to assure safety at the table were correct, from its original setup to my daily practices when using it. But time is a terrible wildcard when it comes to safety. Sometimes, just redoing what you’ve already done (or at least periodically checking) is the best safety practice of all.

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