My world didn’t stop, the saw did.
Over the last 48 years on my journey to master woodworker, I’ve learned carpentry, cabinetmaking, and furniture restoration along with guitar and violin making. Currently, I work in a commercial wood shop at Gerstner and Sons, in Dayton, Ohio. Looking back, I can remember working on at least 21 different power saws. I’ve seen accidents happen—and I know how to avoid them—but I’ve always been respectful and have never said it couldn’t happen to me; I knew that it could. I was always careful—until the one moment I wasn’t.
I was at work. The cut was moderately difficult, but nothing I hadn’t done before. There was no kickback; I had control. Suddenly, there was a loud pop and everything stopped. At first, I didn’t know what happened. I thought the saw had broken. Then I noticed a small pinch on my finger, and it began to dawn on me. “That was the SawStop. I touched the blade.” In a fraction of a second, the saw sensed my finger and an aluminum shoe had fired into the blade, stopping it instantly.
The other guys at the shop came running. “Are you OK?” they asked. Sure, I was OK, but I was embarrassed. “Holy mackerel,” I thought, “I’m that guy. I’m supposed to be one of the best, but I’m also that guy who had the accident.” At least I wasn’t that guy without a finger.
I reported to the shop manager. Red-faced, I “fessed up,” ready to take whatever came. “I did it,” I told him. “I tripped the SawStop.” His only question was, “Are you OK?” He took a new SawStop cartridge out of a drawer and we walked back to the saw—once a cartridge fires, it has to be replaced with a new one. The blade is shot too. As we installed a new shoe and blade, I started to feel grateful. Yes, I had made a mistake. It never should have happened, but at least I don’t have to pay for it for the rest of my life.
After we’d set up the new blade and cartridge, there was one more place I had to go. Carrying the spent cartridge and blade, I knocked on the door of the president’s office, poked my head in, and showed him the pieces. “I just wanted to tell you what happened,” I said. “I’m sure you had some questions about your investment when you switched over to SawStop saws, but I’m glad you did. Thank you.”
Paul Henry Martin works at Gerstner and Sons, in Dayton, Ohio, and also makes custom fiddles and guitars.