Skip to main content

Relative danger

There seems to be an ongoing debate over how dangerous the various woodworking machines are. Questions continually arise as to which machine is the "most dangerous."

With some machines, the danger is obvious while others seem more benign. The table saw is one of the more obvious ones. Its blade is "in your face," spinning and making a very threatening sound that makes it clear to anyone that this is not something to take lightly. Planers make a lot of noise but because the blades are buried deep inside the machine, it somehow seems "safer" while the joiner, which is really just an upside down planer, has its teeth bared in a much more obvious way and so the danger again is much more apparent.

Many people will tell you that the band saw is safer than the table saw. This is true in a sense because the band saw is not prone to the kinds of vicious kickbacks a table saw can produce. But as far as its ability to separate one from ones extremities, the band saw is just as capable as the table saw.

One machine that seems to have mastered the fine art of scaring the crap out of virtually every person who uses one is the shaper. Everyone seems to understand that while a saw blade (regardless of what kind of saw it happens to be) can cut you. But any body parts unfortunate to come in contact with a spinning shaper cutter are simply going to be eliminated, with any remaining pieces ending up, most likely, in the dust collector.

The radial arm saw is a tool that offers its own unique set of dangers. With the blade and motor riding on ball bearing tracks, it's dependent on the operators arm muscle to provide sufficient control to keep the thing from climbing up the stock and jumping back at you. Some people even use the radial arm saw for ripping operations but I've never been that brave!

I have gotten into the habit of treating every machine in my shop (including the hand-held ones) like a loaded gun. A pretty thick book could be written on the various dangers inherent is each different machine. And many of these dangers have yet to be discovered. Those that do discover them may well be the "unsung hero's" of the woodworking world, like the guy that discovered that a certain mushroom was poisonous or that certain plants would cause a vicious rash if touched. We may owe these people a debt of gratitude even though history does not acknowledge them. I might not mind becoming famous but that is one kind of fame I would just as soon pass on.


Related Articles