SawStop, and my Woodworking Assistant

On one hand, the shed is regarded as a dangerous place for the unwary, and the inexperienced. Not so much inexperience in woodworking, but inexperience in life.

On the other hand, being able to enjoy woodworking with you child (or grandchild) can be an immensely rewarding experience, for both of you.

I would normally be very reluctant to have an inexperienced hand using a tablesaw, yet while making some shelving for some kitchen cupboards, Jess (my 7 year old) wanted to help, and not just help by standing around watching. Having a SawStop meant the answer to that question was not “No” or even a reluctant “Maybe”. It was a definite “Yes, of course”.

Now she didn’t get to cut the board unsupervised or unattended – I’m not that confident! Tablesaws can do damage in plenty of other ways, particularly hurling things at you at 250km/hr!

By setting up a featherboard, having the guard in place, and standing beside her, she was able to feed boards through the blade, and not give me absolute conniptions. Even on a regular saw, she would have been safe, but knowing that there is also the SawStop technology between her and a disaster really enhances the experience of woodworking with your offspring.

And it is another activity for her to add to the crazy quilt that is life’s experiences.

SawStop really makes a huge difference in relieving some of the stress that can surround the workshop.


Got out to the shed for the first time in ages (been busy with work, family, and the TWC assembly manual), and even that was a small window.  Decided to tackle (at least start) a small project that I’ve been meaning to do for ages (since June 2008).

Triton Router Bit Cabinet

Getting my router bits into this cabinet.  It may not be the most efficient storage system, but I prefer the concept of each bit having its own holder so it can be lifted out and not roll around the bench until it is needed, and having the front edge of the holder cut with the actual bit to demonstrate its profile.

It is space-wasteful compared to some other storage methods, but hey – I’ve got space to spare (haven’t I?)

Back then I was intending to decommission the CMT 100 bit storage, but still sadly, I haven’t achieved it – perhaps now?

I started by taking some lengths of Tassie Oak (kiln dried) and ran them through the thicknesser to get them down to the thickness of the existing holders.  Although the thicknesser worked, it would have been better if the base was polished and lubricated – the cast iron is showing some (faint) signs of neglect throughout the shed.  Next, I ran the pieces through the tablesaw using the new Flai Ultimate blade, and was a bit surprised with the amount of burning I was getting…on both faces.  So I tried the next bit faster – still burning.  After a few cuts, it started cutting without issue, so I’m wondering if there was some preservative on the blade that was causing an initial problem.

But what was really rusty wasn’t the tools in the shed, but the tool I bought with me…….me.  Not that anything went wrong, or was unsafe, but I just felt rusty.  Need to get those cobwebs blown out with a good, long, successful session (or three) out there.

Checkbox Safety

Got an email about a tool survey from Fine Woodworking (most tools were either not in my workshop, or not in Australia, so I guess rather limited appeal for non-Americans when that Tool Review mag surfaces), and came across a sort of games/quiz section on their website.

After playing around a little with “Spot the Difference” with classic Fine Woodworking covers, I took a tablesaw safety quiz (multichoice), and found I was getting some of the questions ‘wrong’, although I disagree that I was. Not that what was being given as the ‘correct’ answer wasn’t necessarily right in some circumstances, or for some skill levels, which I feel reveals more the danger of using the absolutes of multichoice when discussing machinery safety.

Unless of course, for each question, after A. B. C. and D. there is also “E. Depends”

For example, one question was whether you can rip an irregularly shaped or circular piece of timber on a tablesaw. Their answer is “no”, yet I have ripped many pieces of widely varying shapes on a tablesaw perfectly safely (with the use of a carriage), so the absolute answer really required a “Depends” checkbox.

Operating safely in the woodworking workshop is not a matter of pure black and white “right and wrong”. It is much more a matter of what is needed (including knowledge and skill level) to complete a specific task, rather than whether it is simply “safe or unsafe”.

Can you safely rip an irregular shaped piece of timber on the tablesaw? Depends.

Can you cut a circle safely on a tablesaw? Depends.

Can you cut timber with knots and/or nails? Depends.

Safety Guards should always be used. Depends.

(and before I get tonnes of hatemail, try using a riving knife and blade guard when coving! So “depends!”)

Update: As Sven has pointed out in his experienced comment, there is only one real piece of safety equipment. If that isn’t working in optimum condition, no manner of guarding, or pushstick or anything will help, and that’s the grey mush between the ears.

If you are tired, distracted, intoxicated, or for any other reason off your game and/or not focusing on the job, and tool at hand you might instead be finding yourself suddenly focusing on your hand in the tool.

If your primary safety equipment is switched on, you have every chance of having another great, productive and safe sawdust generating shed session.

Shed Security

Had a good question asked by Calum about securing your shed, particularly given how expensive this hobby can be become

“I recently found signs of prowlers around our house. This set off the alarm bells, how secure is my garage. How secure is the electronic garage door opener? Better put some bolts on the external doors. Better take an inventory of my tools and also take pictures. Have I kept the receipts of all my purchases?

So Stu, What have you done to secure your Shed? Do you keep an inventory. I imagine there are woodworkers out there with tools that would be very hard to replace. I wonder what the insurance companies think about sheds full of expensive tools.”

Nothing gets me thinking about Indiana Jones type property protection than the thought of deliberate acts to deny me what I have bled to collect together. Of course these days the prowlers seem to have more rights than you do, so I guess I’ll put away Spielberg’s imaginings and settle for what is allowed.

There are a number of things to approach with this topic, and if anyone has additional thoughts – do drop them into the comments!

Door Security – a roller door with electronic opener is ok wrt the electronic door opener is concerned, so long as the (hmm – what’s the polite term?) thief doesn’t get access to the space. If they do, then it is a simple button to override the mechanism and, well…… So give consideration to how strong the other doors are – some rear garage doors are done on the cheap, and use a hollow-cored door (especially if it is accessed from the house), rather than something robust. On any hinged door, give consideration to what hinges you use – can the pin be popped out and the door removed? There are hinges designed for secure doors. Roller doors can be pulled off their tracks, and levered up, so just how secure is any roller door? The one saving grace is because it is a garage, with a roller door it is normally fully visible from the street, so any attempts are going to be loud and obvious. Having security lighting (twin movement sensor floods) is cheap, but make sure the power switch is inside the secure area (eg inside the shed)

Roller doors can be great when woodworking- open the whole space up. On the other hand, because you are facing the street, anyone and everyone gets to see what you have.

Having a big door will definitely help (as in a big labrador!!)

Sometimes getting into the shed space is easier if you don’t go through the door! Is there laserlight on the roof? What are the walls made of? How is the wall material fixed to the structure? Some sheds can be easily entered using a Phillips (X) screwdriver, and unscrewing the few tec-screws holding the walls on! No need for a master key (aka bolt cutter). Speaking of which, if you are choosing a lock/padlock, remember what you are securing. Spending an extra $25 or so getting a better quality of lock is an investment in security. Going cheap is false economy – again remember the value of what you are protecting. I went “high security” for both the padlock, and the hasp and staple for the lock mechanism.

If the thief gets access to the shed, then your secondary security systems have to kick in. Motion alarm is a good start – if the idiot gets a surprise, they might just bolt. They are also very cheap.

Your computer can be a sophisticated security system. With a cheap web camera in the worshop plugged in and some software such as Webcam XP, you have a little security system . It has the option of when it contacts you – it can be set to movement sensor mode, so if more than (eg) 10% of the view changed (such as someone working into the scene), you can choose to have the program email you with photos, or with an email to SMS account, your shed can send you an SMS call for help!

You can even view the inside of the shed in realtime through a web browser.

Now, if the worst occurs, what can we have done to help return the status quo?

Insurance obviously. The company needs proof of purchase – either a receipt for example, or a photograph (photos are a great idea). The biggest danger is under insurance. How is that a bad thing? For example if I have contents insurance for $100,000 (and the shed contents is worth a lot less than that), but the house and shed contents combined are worth $200,000 and I have a robbery and the $2000 tablesaw is stolen I should be right ($2000 being a lot less than $100,000).

No. Being 50% under insured means that any pay out by the insurance company will be reduced by at least the same amount (50%), so you’d only get $1000 as the payout. Sucks huh! So don’t underinsure – the correct amount of cover is not that huge a cost (compared to loosing your workshop).

So photograph the collection, keep a record of all tools in the shop, and any identifying marks, serial numbers where available etc. Engraving or using microdots may also be good options.

Put up a sign on the fence “beware of the dog” and one on the shed “smile- your photo has already been emailed to the police”

Finally, remember that they will only really try to steal from you while you are not there. So (just for security purposes mind), the more time you spend out there, the less likely they will be to steal from you!

Hope that helps!

(I’d still prefer an Indiana Jones suitably sized bear clamp, with blowdarts, a 20′ granite boulder that is set loose if my handplanes are touched etc!)

Productive Days

Been a couple of rather productive days, which always feels good, recharges the batteries, keeps the electron population down and generally results in piles of sawdust!

For those that have been asking – yes, the pen turning video (and CA finish) has been shot, and is “In-the-Can” as they say.

Had a few successes, and a few failures, but that is also acceptable as it hopefully means something learned, and therefore less likely to be repeated.

One of the failures was actually the router bit of the month back in November last year – the Linbide Flush Trim Bit.  I cannot seem to use this bit without some colossal grabs, and kickbacks, and I’m starting to feel surprised by the number I’ve had, that I haven’t had a body part pulled into the cutter.  I don’t understand what is going on with it, as I came to a conclusion that I probably will shelve the bit for a good while (at least until the heart recovers (bloody good thing I installed a defibrillator recently!!)) before giving it one last attempt, and the benefit of the doubt.  However, given the number of startling grabs I’ve had with it, I returned to my old pattern copying bit (or straight cutter with bearing bit, however you want to call it), and with the same material, same approach etc etc, I didn’t have a single grab or scary moment.  I was starting to doubt myself there for a while – thought I’d lost my touch (and was quickly loosing my nerve), but it is the bit I tells ya.

Ran some more material through the drum sander tonight – this time some cyprus pine that I had resawed aways back.  I’m steadily becoming more and more impressed with the machine- it is achieving exactly what I was hoping it could do (but didn’t know as never having seen, let alone used one).

‘Slacking off’ as a Safety Mechanism

Gary Rogowski (woodworker (insert a long list of relevant titles here) and star of a number of woodworking DVDs) makes a great point on his blog in a post titled “Habits for your Stupid Days“.

As I replied to his post:

Some great points there – I particularly like that you have formalised the whole concept that there are a list of tasks for days when you just know it would be a little bit silly to even turn a tool on (and recognising that fact).

In my (modest) shop, I have a couch, a TV hooked up to an iPod with a stack of movies (and DVDs by….Gary Rogowski!), and a number of activities I can do there (sharpening, sketching plans etc) for just those days that I am too tired, too distracted, or it is simply too late to make a lot of noise.

However, until reading you post I didn’t realise that this is a perfectly valid safety tool, and not just slacking off!! )

Airborne Dust

I’ve been rather indecisive about this for a long time, and as mentioned in a video earlier in the year it is about time I got a bit more serious about safety (without buying a inflatable plastic ball to live in).

One thing that I have long just accepted is air cleanliness, and have (on occasion) worn breathing apparatus, or had a fan blowing past me in the general direction of the door, or just done the work then walked out of the dust cloud for a breath.  It’s amazing what we just accept for ourselves that you’d never dream of putting up within a workplace (and I’m not referring to workshop type workplaces here – if it was an office, the inhabitants would have run screaming a long time ago).

As the shed is undergoing the upgrade, I’m trying to do things just a little bit better this time around.

I was really unsure if I wanted to justify spending money on air filtration.  I’ve always disliked the bad night’s sleep after a big workshop session (let alone all the black snot that is blocking the nose afterwards)  So I have to ask myself – why am I using the last line of defence for my lungs as my only line of defence?

I looked at the price of different systems – the Carbatec branded one, the Jet one from Woodworking Warehouse, and the Microclene one that a couple of visitors have recently pointed out that I had forgotten about, and they were all money to put it simply.

I then thought what I really wanted to do was replace the air in the shop 6 – 10 times an hour.  There is no point sucking good air in from outside – that would only dilute the dust but not be rid of it.  But what if I vented the shed to the outside?  That would suck clean air in all the various openings, and blow the dusty air out.  Good – so now all I need is a good fan (or two).  Off to Bunnings – these fans can’t be all that expensive?

Hmm – what overpriced pieces of …very ordinary stuff.  Boy do people get ripped off.  You can’t use a ceiling fan in a wall – the bearings will give out (and remember I’m planning on sucking dusty air through, so there would be a double insult on the bearings).  Wall mounted fans – a little one, like 150mm and they were asking upwards to, and over $100.   To get one with a good airflow was double that.

So I could have saved a few bob and made a box with a filter or two, and mounted a ceiling fan in it and gone that way, but no – I decided that the compromise that I always find myself doing just doesn’t ever leave me really happy with the solution, and for a bit more, I could have the real thing.

So that’s what I did.  Off to Carbatec, and I’ve bought a CTF-1000 air filtration unit.  You just can’t always compromise, and here is the right unit for my shed.  It will filter the air in the shed greater than 12 times/hour depending on what setting I put it on.  I’ll take a photo of it when I’ve gotten it installed, but for an initial view, this is from the Carbatec website:

At some stage I will reinvestigate the dust extraction itself, but first I want to install the trunking for it to my current (1HP) unit and see how it performs before deciding if I need to upgrade to 2HP.  It is located in the second shed, so any dust that escapes (and dust always does from these things) doesn’t fill my workshop.

2008 Safety Week Wrap

So that was safety week on the Wood Whisperer Network. Hope you got something out of it!

It seems from reading around, it is the same mistakes being made over and over and over…..and over and ov… (alright, enough)

What is it, that it takes a personal experience before we often will start doing the right thing? Advocates of pushsticks are often those who copped a massive kickback, machinery guards by those who have been cut, electrical safety by those who have been stung, material handling by those who can no longer lift without pain and so on. The whole OHS movement (if I can call it that) is constantly berated for being too pedantic, for making things too hard, for being too over zealous. It doesn’t do itself any favours because that is true to a certain extent, but the principle behind it is harnessing the collective wisdom to prevent injury before it occurs.

What I was talking about in the first video at the start of the week touched on this topic. Sure, safety devices are wonderful things, but they have to work for, and with the individual. If they make the job harder, less safe, are too cumbersome etc, then they will be abandoned. I don’t want myself or others to not use safety equipment, I want safety equipment to be designed to work with the activity, rather than hinder it.

Safety glasses and ear defenders are not too bad in their design and implementation, but dust masks are still poor. Perhaps the concept is too hard, or the thinking is “if you need it, you’ll put up with the poor design”. They are generally not comfortable (especially in hot weather), there are straps everywhere and more often than not it becomes a fight on the face between the mask, the glasses and the hearing protection.

There are ways to alleviate the situation…somewhat. Dust collection on the machine and dust filtering the workshop air all decrease the hazard posed.

Air cleaners such as this from Carbatec for around $370 are worth considering

To quote from their site “Once you’ve finished cutting and sanding operations and have turned off your dust extractor and protective mask, you might think you’ve been sufficiently safety conscious about protection from dust inhalation. However when you see a ray of sunlight come through window you can see that that a lot dust remains suspended in the air.” I know for a fact the same is true in my workshop, and by the end of a good day’s woodworking, my lungs are not so contented. So this is part of my workshop poor practice that I want to address.

So what else is there that suffers from the same “either the safety solution is perfect or I won’t use it at all” mentality? I’ll leave that to you to think about for your own workshop. What guards do you leave off, what safety gear do you not wear, what safety aids do you ignore because of the extra time, and hassle it is to include them? Give some thought to why this is so. If it is because they make the job harder, even increase the risk? Then don’t abandon the concept – find a better device! If your saw guard annoys the hell out of you, find a different design, if your safety specs make it harder to see what you are doing, get some new ones.

Don’t become a safety zealot only once you’ve suffered an injury. There are enough of them already (and good on them for raising people’s awareness), but let’s not continue recruiting to their ranks. Safety is much better as a preventative, than it is as at preventing a re-occurrence!

Work smart, work safe.

Safety Devices

This is a topic I wanted to cover as part of the Safety Week 08 as a video, but I don’t have a good enough range of devices yet to really do the topic justice. So I’ll write a bit about it instead!

What I’m talking about here are on-tool safety devices, and onces that we use to improve our material handling (primarily keeping things we want to keep away from the cutters!)

There are a whole raft of devices: push sticks, holddowns, featherboards, splitters, riving knives, guards, anti-kickback pawls etc and so the list goes on.

There are two primary things all these safety devices are trying to achieve: keeping your bodyparts away from the cutting things and/or stopping the cutting thing throwing the material at you at very high speed.

Before I go on, there are some rules. (In fact it seems many of the rules and instructions provided with machines can be generalised into stopping the tool biting you, or incorrectly eating the material it is being fed. I guess the code violation of reading the instruction manual may have to be overlooked if you want to be safe!)

The rules are: no loose clothing, hair tied back (unless your haircuts are as short as mine!!), no jewelery, no rings, no gloves. There are lots of don’ts. If you look at the list, it can also be generalised. Don’t provide the machine anything that it can snag on and pull you into it. It happens a lot – don’t become a statistic.

The first category of devices are ones designed to stop you getting cut. These include pushsticks, machinery guards and techniques. The first two are obvious – keeping your hands away from the cutters so you can manipulate the workpiece from a distance, and blocks so if you do stray too close there is something there to impede you from getting to the cutter.

Techniques though? Perhaps not the best term, but I’ll explain what I mean. There are a number of things you can do to reduce the likelihood of an accident occurring. Keep the blades sharp (????!!!!!), keep the machine lubricated, especially the contact surface between the machine and the material, operate the machine at sufficient speed, don’t over-tighten the material holddowns (ie so they are not pushing too tightly onto the work). All these will achieve one thing – preventing you from being tempted into applying too much pressure when feeding the material into the tool. The more you push, the more likely you are to slip, and fall into the blade. On the other hand, the easier a piece of wood slides nicely into the tool and out the other side, the safer it is, the finer the finish, and the more enjoyable the whole woodworking experience. What would you prefer – having to fight to get the material in and through the machine, or have it glide on past?

Back to the other two – guards are obvious. Well, so are pushsticks, but they get avoided so often. I think the reason they are is because of that loss of feeling and control for you as the operator. If you are physically holding the material you can better control where it is going, and how hard it is to get it there. We recognise the need for a pushstick, but are concerned about loosing control of the workpiece. So get a better pushstick! And use some of the anti-kickback devices so the concern does not have to be there in the first place.

The basic pushsticks consist of a handle, and a small notch to push on the work. Sure they do that, but there is nothing stopping the workpiece skewing and getting caught (and thrown). They are also a point-contact, so for example the back of the blade of a tablesaw can start to cause the workpiece to lift (and potentially be thrown again).

As much as they keep the hands clear, they are a poor design. Pity so many of the commercial ones are just this type.

Instead, how about ones that not only feed the work into the device, but also hold the work down on the table?

This (from Taunton’s Fine Woodworking) is just one design, but you get the idea- it pushes from behind and still holds the work down.

Couple this up with some sort of featherboard, and the workpiece is controlled, unlikely to float (what I call it when the rear of the blade lifts the work up – it looks like it is floating on a jet of air), and pushed through with your hands clear of the blade.

You can also have featherboards holding the work down, as well as against the fence, as seen here with the MagSwitch version of a featherboard.

There is no reason why you can’t make your own pushsticks and featherboards – the important thing is to have them, and use them!!

So now we are moving onto stopping the work being thrown. Commonly called a kickback, the tools, such as a tablesaw, can propel your project towards you at speeds approaching 200km/hr. Believe me, they hurt when they hit! Never mind what you were working on is probably wrecked in the process.

There are all sorts of reasons why a kickback occurs, but it all boils down to one thing – instead of cutting, the tool somehow managed to get leverage on the workpiece. It could be that the kerf on the wood closed at the back because of forces inside the wood that were relieved during the cut, causing it to close on the blade, or you slightly skewed the piece so the back of the blade got a good purchase. It could be a misaligned fence, or (such as with a router) you fed the material in the wrong direction.

There are devices to try to prevent these occurring, such as splitters and riving knives, anti-kickback pawls, featherboards and board buddies (a kind of wheeled featherboard, where the wheels can only rotate in one direction)

I’m getting a bit of track here, so let me drag it all back to this:

To be safe during a cut, you want to keep yourself from being machined (to not split hairs here), nor do you want to be hit by self-made missiles.

By using guards, pushsticks and holddowns, combined with correct techniques, your chance of a mishap occurring is greatly reduced.

Safe woodworking.

Main Machinery Operating Noise

As discussed in the previous post, I took a sound meter around the workshop to get an idea of the different machines and the amount of noise they generate.

To qualify these figures, the machine in use was out-of-spec, so the readings should not be taken as gospel.

A reading of 85dB or above means there is a risk of permanent hearing loss.
100dB gives a max allowable exposure of 15 minutes
110dB – hearing damage likely after 60 seconds.

Remember that the time is cumulative. I don’t know over what time period (probably in 24 hours)

A 3dB increase in volume represents a doubling of the sound energy. Because the scale is logarithmic, a 10dB increase in volume represents 10 times the amount of sound energy, which will sound twice as loud.

Shed Ambient Noise: 58dB

Tablesaw: no load 85dB
With a non-noise limiting blade that had a resonance with the TS, 105dB
During a cut: 95 – 100dB

SCMS: no load 110dB
During a cut: 120dB – 125dB

Thicknesser: no load 106dB
During a cut: 110 – 120dB

Lathe: no load 62dB

Jointer/Planer: no load 80dB
During a cut: 100dB
Forcing the cut: 110dB

Drill Press: 85dB

Bandsaw: no load 70dB
During a cut: 100dB

Router: 100dB

Circular Saw: 115dB

Nail Gun: firing 126dB
During disconnect: 124dB

These figures are not as accurate as I would have liked (limitation of the equipment), but it gives a pretty fair idea that thicknessers, brushed motors (SCMS and circular saws) and in general during an actual cut on other machines, hearing protection is mandatory.

The screaming motor of a thicknesser which is often used for quite long jobs, multiple passes will leave you with permanent loss every job.

The sound a nail gun produces may not last more than a fraction of a second, but that instantaneous sound will lead to a hearing loss that is less temporary.

Some interesting findings out of all that: Increasing the pressure during the cut can increase the sound energy ten-fold. This can move a sound from needing 15 minutes to damage your hearing to one that will take 60 seconds to do the job.

Brushed motors are bad news (my thicknesser, SCMS, circular saw)

If something sounds loud, and particularly louder than something else, the amount of sound energy required to achieve that increase in volume is huge. If something sounds loud, be sure that your hearing needs your intervention!!!!


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