We sent out a survey over the course of a few weeks and received nearly a thousand responses. The survey covered practices relating to tool use on a jobsite or in a shop - and included table saws, miter saws, circular saws, routers, hammer drills, as well as personal protective equipment and first aid. One of the most interesting comments was this: "After all the years I've been using one I've found that the best safety procedure is to be scared of your saw, and therefore, be careful." Here are the results of the survey relating to table saw use. If you hover over the chart, you can see the actual number of answers that make up each slice.

Not at all surprising is the number of participants who never, rarely, or only sometimes use a blade guard; about 75%. Here's what respondents had to say:

  • Thinking about reassembling the guard and knife now more than ever.
  • By avoiding the guard I once sliced my thumb lengthwise about an inch. It healed with 2 overlapped thumbnails and the loss and displacement of some nerves.
  • Guard always on shop-based saw, not on portable job-site saw which gets used infrequently.
  • Haven't seen a guard that works well yet.
  • First thing I do with every new table saw is remove the guard (if it comes pre-assembled on unit) and riving knife; it makes the table saw a much more versatile tool.
  • I don't own a table saw, so all table saws that I use belong to my company or a co-worker. The guards and riving knives are missing, but not because of my actions. I'm going to start asking why these items are missing. I can't imagine removing such things from a saw, but most people seem to be doing it.
  • My saw is probably 60 years old, a non-portable model from an old factory. It doesn't have any safety features, but I suppose that's no excuse for me not using personal protection devices.

Most surprising to me are the number of you who never, rarely, or only sometimes use a riving knife or splitter. Considering the fact that riving knives are mounted on all portable and jobsite saws these days, one can only assume that you are removing them. Keep in mind that riving knives can typically be re-positioned - and can be used even for kerf cuts on many saws. So there's rarely a time when you should need to remove a riving knife - with exception of when you're using a dado blade, of course.

Some of the survey's participants commented that they did not know what a riving knife or splitter is. In short, both are safety devices that are mounted towards the back of the blade that are meant to keep the board you're ripping from pinching the blade. This prevents kickback significantly. Cabinet or shop saws have had splitters for a long time. Relatively new are riving knives, which are now mounted on all portable table saws. A riving knife maintains its same distance from the blade, whether the blade is raised or lowered, and also stays with the blade as it's tilted. Riving knives essentially mirror the blade and are the same thickness. A splitter remains in position as the blade is lowered - so the distance between the two can increase. There's a good explanation of the two types in this video from the Woodworkers Guild of America.
Here's what respondents had to say:

  • I try to balance perceived risk and convenience. I always wear a respirator in a dusty environment, never use a riving knife because it's such a PITA to get lined up perfectly with the blade at all depths and angles. (At least on my jobsite saw; on the $5K cabinet saw, it's not so bad.) Safety glasses are an always, no matter what.
  • My current saw doesn't have a riving knife, and was acquired used without guard and splitter. I would like to have a riving knife and would use it whenever possible.
  • My saw is too old to have a riving knife.

A little more than half of respondents use a dust mask or respirator. Several people commented that with adequate dust collection, particularly in a shop setting, the a dust mask seemed unnecessary. Here are some of the comments:

  • Good dust collection is a must
  • Often we have a vacuum hooked to the table saw and don't feel the need to wear a mask.
  • A lot depends on where the table saw is being used. For example, in my shop, I have a dust extraction system that keeps the level of dust down quite a bit, so there I might not wear a mask.
  • I try to balance perceived risk and convenience. I always wear a respirator in a dusty environment, never use a riving knife because it's such a PITA to get lined up perfectly with the blade at all depths and angles. (At least on my jobsite saw; on the $5K cabinet saw, it's not so bad.) Safety glasses are an always, no matter what.
  • I often use a vacuum; when I do I don't wear a dust mask or respirator.
  • I wear a dust mask when working indoors. When I'm outside, I rarely use a dust mask unless I'm working with MDF or woods I'm allergic to.
  • You and I know that unless in "production" mode ppe's are minimal.

A good number of participants use hearing protection always, often, or sometimes - about two-thirds of respondents. I am slightly surprised that this number isn't higher given how loud table saws are. Even when they're in use outdoors, the decibel reading is significant. (Personally, I've trained myself to be completely put-off and annoyed by the sound so much that I can't bear to use the saw without hearing protection. Part of that is probably due to the fact that I play the drums - and my ears feel particularly sensitive as I near my mid-40s.) No one had any comments regarding the use of hearing protection.

Almost 90% of those who participated in the survey wear safety glasses, and a very small number never wear them. When I was younger and first starting out in the trades, I admit to rarely wearing safety glasses. But I got a wood chip in my eye once and since then, I won't turn on a table saw without wearing glasses. There weren't any comments relating to safety glass use; the numbers speak for themselves.

Almost all of the respondents - 97% - always, often, or sometimes use a push stick. While the parameters for recommended use vary, the general consensus for using a push stick is when ripping stock within 6" or less from the blade. Push sticks are outfitted on all portable and jobsite table saws these days. In retrospect, I realize that mentioning a feather board as part of this question may not have been most appropriate. Feather boards do come into play with respect to safety when you need to keep consistent pressure against the board close to the fence. The question could have been worded better. Only one person commented: "I only use a push stick if the piece between the blade and fence is less than 2". Also the blade is never more than 1/4" above the surface of the wood." Needless to say, getting your hand within 2 to 6 inches of the blade is never a good idea.