A high-tech saw sacrifices its blade to save your fingers.
by Richard Tendick
What’s that weird device stuck to this saw blade? It’s a brake. This revolutionary device stops the blade just in time to prevent a terrible accident.
The SawStop is the first tablesaw to feature a brake. It’s like a car’s airbag: You hope you never need it but thank your lucky stars it’s there. And yes, the brake really does work. It doesn’t completely eliminate the risk of injury, however. You might only get a small cut but you’ll still have all your fingers.
How much is this protection worth to you? For me, quite a lot. A completely loaded SawStop package with 52-in. rails costs about $3,500 (Photo 1; see Sources, below). That’s about $1,700 more than a roughly equivalent cabinet saw without the SawStop brake and other safety features. I consider that difference to be a one-time payment toward greater peace of mind.
Photo 1: The SawStop is a 3-hp cabinet saw. I’ve built dozens of projects with it in the American Woodworker shop during the last year. I love its safety features, but equally important, it’s a terrific saw.
Of course, paying that premium might not make sense if all you get is a mediocre saw. Let me make this clear: Brake aside, this is one heck of a good saw. It has a well-designed, extra-long T-square fence with an easy-to-read cursor. There are scales on both sides of the blade. The fence faces are replaceable, in case you inadvertently cut into them. It has a 220-volt 3-hp motor, more than enough power. Its miter gauge has virtually no play for accurate cuts. Dust collection is provided by a shroud around the blade that connects to a 4-in. port. The 30-in. tabletop is deeper than most saws’ 27-in. depth. Everything feels solid and ruggedly built. What more could you want?
Lots of safety features, that’s what. Here are the most interesting ones:
On the brake. This amazing device works with any 10-in. blade (see “How Does the Brake Work?”, below). Once fired, the brake and blade must be replaced. A new brake costs about $70. When you use a dado set, you must use a different, wider brake (about $90). You’ll fumble around the first time you switch brakes, but once you’ve figured it out, the exchange only takes a minute or two. After using the saw for a year, I tested the brake; it worked fine.
On blade guard and riving knife, I love this system. There’s no excuse not to use one or the other with every cut you make, except for dadoes. I haven’t seen a better manufacturer-supplied blade guard system on any other 10-in. cabinet saw (Photo 2). The best part is that boards shouldn’t kick back at you or become scored or burnt, because the splitter always stays close to the blade. A riving knife is like a splitter without a basket guard or antikickback pawls (Photo 3). You use it for housed cuts in which the blade doesn’t cut through the top of the wood. On most saws, manufacturer-supplied blade guards are awkward to mount. Not so on the SawStop (Photo 4).
Photo 2: The SawStop comes equipped with a user-friendly blade guard. It’s completely clear, so you can always see the blade. The splitter goes up and down with the blade. The gap between the blade and splitter is always less than 1/8 in., which minimizes kickback.
Photo 3: SawStop provides a riving knife for those cuts that can’t be made with a blade guard, such as this rabbet. The riving knife goes up and down with the blade, too. The top of the riving knife is always 1/32 in. below the top of the blade.
Photo 4: Switching between blade guard and riving knife takes less than a minute. Both clamp in a slot behind the blade. All you have to do is unscrew the throat plate and throw a lever.
On zero-clearance throat plate. You won’t be tempted to grab offcuts that can become stuck next to a spinning blade. They’ll rarely stick on a SawStop because the gap around the blade is so small, even when the blade is tilted (Photo 5).
Photo 5: The SawStop’s throat plate is a phenolic zero-clearance insert. With such a minimal gap around the blade, small offcuts won’t get jammed between blade and insert. Unlike most other saws, the SawStop keeps its blade centered in the slot as it tilts, maintaining a zero clearance for bevel cuts.
On power disconnect. Turn this switch off when you change blades (Photo 6). It’s much easier than unplugging the saw from a wall socket.
Photo 6: The SawStop’s power-disconnect switch can be locked in the off position. This switch is conveniently located on the saw’s left side. You don’t have to unplug the SawStop for safety’s sake while changing blades or the guard; just turn off this switch.
On paddle switch. If you’re in a pickle and can’t take your hands off the wood to turn off the saw, just hit the big red Start/Stop paddle with your knee (Photo 7).
With all these goodies, is there a downside to operating a SawStop? As with most high-tech equipment, you must obey some strict rules. If you cut aluminum or wet wood, for example, you must remember to flip a bypass switch to disable the brake. Otherwise, it will fire and ruin your blade. Fortunately, the SawStop comes with a thick comprehensive manual fully illustrated with color photos. You’ll figure it out, and never regret it.
How Does the Brake Work?
If your finger accidentally touches a blade under power, two things happen. First, an aluminum brake instantly jams against the blade, bringing it to a stop. Second, the blade drops below the table. The blade and brake fuse together, so both must be replaced, but that’s a small price to pay for averting a major injury.
How does the blade sense your finger? It’s all about electricity. The same principle is used in a lamp that turns on or off when you touch its base. The blade holds a very slight charge; when you touch it, some of the charge enters your fingers. The saw’s circuitry senses a change in the blade’s charge and releases a powerful spring inside the brake. The blade’s momentum throws it below the table.
This story originally appeared in American Woodworker November, issue #125.
SawStop LLC, (866) 729-7867, www.sawstop.com
November 2006, issue #125
Purchase this back issue.