Table-Saw Technology Aims to Save Fingers

A SawStop demo video

A SawStop video uses a turkey frank, which has the same electrical conductivity properties as a human finger, to show how the technology works. SawStop hide caption

itoggle caption SawStop

Table saws are great at ripping through wood, but the power tools can also cause serious injuries, sending upwards of 40,000 people to emergency rooms each year. More than 3,000 of those people — professional woodworkers, hobbyists, students in high school shop class — suffer amputations.

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For four years, inventor Stephen Gass has been trying to get power tool manufacturers to adopt a new technology called "SawStop," designed to stop a saw blade almost instantly after it hits human flesh — before it can mangle or maim a person's hand.

Mandating SawStop

SawStop Inventor Steve Gass has petitioned the Consumer Producer Safety Commission to require an emergency brake on all table saws. So far, he says, his is the only technology that can do this.

Gass argues that power toolmakers have an ethical obligation to add the safety device to their saws before thousands more people are seriously injured or maimed. The industry counters that the technology is unproven and may not withstand heavy use, and notes that it would cost tens of millions of dollars to retool assembly lines to incorporate it.

Public Comment

The power tool industry objects to Gass' CPSC petition. Below are links to public comment on the petition. The power-tool industry's official comment begins on page 35 of the link "Public Comment, Part 2."

Industry sources say the major manufacturers also worry that adding the safety brake to some table saw models but not others would make them vulnerable to lawsuits.

Frustrated with the industry, Gass is now selling his own line of table saws. NPR's Chris Arnold reports.

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