The cartridge on the left is new; the one on the right has been used to stop a blade that came into contact with a hotdog (a stand-in for human flesh).
David Frane The cartridge on the left is new; the one on the right has been used to stop a blade that came into contact with a hotdog (a stand-in for human flesh).

In late October I had a phone conversation with Matt Howard, the VP of Marketing for SawStop, and he told me a portable saw equipped with the company’s safety technology was on the way. Unless you’ve been hiding in a cave for the last 10 years you've probably heard of the system: The saw is equipped with electronic sensors that cause a safety mechanism to slam an aluminum block into the spinning blade and drop it below the table if it comes into contact with flesh. It happens so quickly that the person whose flesh touched the blade is spared major injury.

This technology has been demonstrated at countless events by running a hotdog into the spinning blade. The hotdog comes out of it with, at worst, a small nick. The blade and $69 cartridge containing the aluminum block do not fare as well. Both are destroyed, but that's arguably better than mangling or severing a digit. It's said to be possible to replace these parts and have the machine up and running in five minutes; though I'm not sure I'd feel like using a saw so soon after a near miss.

SawStop got into the business of making saws because they could not sell or license their technology to the big power tool companies. Their early models were cabinet and contractor saws—which is not where the market is. For SawStop, the Holy Grail has been the portable table saw, because portables account for the vast majority of sales and probably most of the accidents.

The Jobsite Saw is expected to hit store shelves in March 2015 and to sell for about $1,300. That’s a lot to spend for a portable machine, and during our conversation Howard took pains to explain why, besides safety, the saw is worth it. According to Howard, the company could have introduced a portable saw a few years back but held off while they refined its features: fence, bevel mechanism, elevation mechanism, and the like. I saw the machine at its public unveiling at the JLC LIVE show in Portland, Oregon and shot a couple of videos (below). The first covers the saw's features and the second is a live demonstration of the safety mechanism.

For the record, the folks who claim portables lack the mass to withstand the force of triggering a blade stopping mechanism are wrong. The safety mechanism in the saw shown below was purposely triggered three times per day during the show. I did not cut with the saw myself but it seemed to work fine after the blade and cartridge were replaced. SawStop will be sending me a saw to test, and I expect to ruin several blades and cartridges and waste at least one hotdog before I am through with it.

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