A good table saw is one of the most versatile machines available to the home woodworker. Table saws are also responsible for about 60,000 injuries annually in the United States, and the work produced is not automatically accurate. Techniques and jigs which contribute to precision also add to safety. Mistakes and poor work habits not only cause the saw to burn and splinter the work, but also increase the risk of kickback and injury. Properly adjusted, the table saw can be used for much more than simple crosscutting or ripping.
Basic safety equipment provided with a table saw is usually nothing more than a blade guard and a splitter. Many users remove them immediately, believing they just get in the way. These two safety features should not cause any problems if the machine is adjusted and used correctly--look elsewhere for the real issues and leave the safety gear in place. The blade guard can be lifted out of the way while adjustments are made. The splitter prevents wood from closing on the back of the blade. Without it a warping piece of lumber can bind on the saw teeth, lifting off the table and projecting forward in a kickback. Push sticks and push blocks should always be used to feed the lumber through the cut. Never use bare hands--a slip can put your fingers into the blade. Eye protection is necessary since the blade throws chips both above and below the table. The blade guard deflects some but not all of the waste.
Scales on the typical table saw are not precise, giving only a close estimate of depth of cut and angle from the vertical. Making trial cuts on scrap and then measuring the results will show how far off the scale readings are. Knowing the error allows the user to compensate for future work. Except when cutting dados or moldings, the blade should be set so the teeth completely clear the top of the cut. Anything more increases the chances of binding and kickback, while anything less allows sawdust to fill the gullets of the teeth and may overheat the blade.
Most table saws can be fitted with extensions that increase the width of the table, but not the length. The miter gauge and guiding channel work well with small planks but tend to jam with wide boards or long sections. Unless the board pushes smoothly toward the blade, without chatter or lifting, the results will be uncertain. Keep the table clean and provide support beyond the table for large pieces of lumber.
For a perfect ripping cut, the fence provided with the saw must be perfectly parallel to the blade. Lightweight fences do not hold their settings well and any fence can be knocked out of line during a kickback or if dropped. The rear clamp is usually not as stout as the front fitting, and too much feed pressure can also throw the fence off. Putting a longer wooden face on a metal fence is helpful, and hold-down jigs are available that put both downward and side pressure on boards. This extra control is especially important when working with dado or molding heads that don't clear the work. Shifting the workpiece out of line with the blade can cause the special cutting heads to burn or tear the wood. Because there is only a narrow section of table beyond the blade, support for the work piece beyond the table is essential. Roller supports or homemade sawhorse jigs make control of the cut possible all the way through the work.