I subscribe to several different woodworking periodicals and I also read several woodworking blogs and view several woodworking pod casts. Never before have I been so angry at the stupidity of a fellow woodworker. A couple of months ago a man in Boston was awarded $1.5 Million dollars by a jury (even though he was only seeking $250,000) for nearly chopping off a few fingers while using a table saw. Does anyone remember when someone won a law suit against McDonald’s for spilling hot coffee in their lap? Did anyone else get angry about that one? Well, that’s how I feel about this.
The argument was that the saw by Ryobi was poorly designed and inherently unsafe because it did not incorporate flesh sensing technology. About 10 years ago someone developed a pretty good idea whereby the saw would detect that something other than wood had contacted the blade and would move an aluminum block into the path of the spinning blade. This stops the blade in milliseconds and prevents the separation of your fingers from your body. It does destroy the mechanism and the blade and is also expensive to incorporate into saws but it does protect the user. Apparently the inventor of that technology tried to sell it to all the table saw manufacturers with no success so he decided to create his own company, aptly named Sawstop.
As a new table saw owner myself, I quickly became terrified of the fact that I was using a tool with a 10 inch blade spinning at high RPM and the thought that my fingers would have to be in close proximity to that blade. Table saws have been around for a very long time; Longer than electricity and the electric motor have been around. I knew that somehow all those woodworkers who came before me had found a way to mostly avoid disaster. After looking more into it I discovered there are numerous safety features in all recent saws and several tools and techniques all intended to keep your fingers safely away from the spinning blade. The problem is that many people disable or remove the safety features because they decide that they are inconvenient. I purchased my saw used from craigslist and when the guy dropped it off he gave me the blade guard separately and said he had never used it. The blade guard prevents your fingers from hitting the blade while it is spinning. It can’t be used in all situations and rather than take it off and put it back on a lot of people (including professionals) take it off and leave it off. It also blocks camera views so woodworking shows on TV and magazine articles frequently show these essential safety accessories missing.
So, back to our story… Did the moron in question have the stock blade guard installed on his saw? No. Did the moron in question have the rip fence installed on his saw? No. Was he using a push stick? Unknown, but from the extent of his injuries I will go out on a limb and say No. Does it take a genius to know that a spinning saw blade sticking up 3 inches out of a flat table is dangerous? I should hope not.
It gets better! Apparently, he was having trouble getting the saw to cut properly and felt a lot of vibration while trying to use the saw. He shut down the saw and cleared away all the dust and debris and started up again with the same problem. Rather than try to figure out what was wrong he just decided to push harder to get the wood through. This is when he slipped and his fingers hit the exposed blade.
I should qualify my opening paragraph a little bit. I am not really angry at this guy who was too stupid to have any self preservation instincts and ended up getting bitten by his saw. Even people who use all the right safety techniques occasionally get hurt. Table saws are dangerous! My only lament there is that he didn’t damage anything that would have prevented him from contributing to the gene pool. What I am really enraged over are the people of the jury who not only found for the plaintiff but also awarded him such a ridiculous amount of money. When, if ever, are people going to be held accountable for their own actions in this country? Why do we constantly reward people for being so dumb? It’s getting unbearable. I almost expect BP to file a suit against the United States government because they feel they weren’t watched closely enough to prevent the current situation in the Gulf of Mexico. If they could get the case heard in Boston it seems like they might have a shot and shirking their responsibility in the matter.
If the housing bubble bursting has taught me anything it is that this country treasures its stupid people. That was another situation where the people who were too stupid to realize they could not afford a $1M house on a $20,000 a year salary got rewarded by having the laws changed to try to help people refinance rather than get foreclosed on (I know I am exaggerating here but as someone who has been sitting on the sidelines because I “knew better”, this is what it feels like).