Making the Case for a Safer Table Saw Table-saw accidents send more than 60,000 people to seek medical treatment every year, according to federal estimates. In an effort to get the power-tool industry to adopt safer technology, SawStop inventor Steven Gass visited the Consumer Product Safety Commission near Washington recently.
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Making the Case for a Safer Table Saw

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Making the Case for a Safer Table Saw

Making the Case for a Safer Table Saw

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A company called SawStop wants to fix a constant problem. It's estimated that every year, table saw accidents insure about 60,000 people. But the broader industry continues to rebuff this company's new safety technology.

NPR's Chris Arnold reports.

CHRIS ARNOLD reporting:

With its large, jagged blade spinning at 100 miles an hour, a table saw is an inherently dangerous tool, even for skilled woodworkers.

Mr. DAVID DECHRISTOFORO(ph) (Davis, California): If this can happen to me, you know, I'm not a careless person.

ARNOLD: David Dechristoforo, of Davis, California, has been doing high-end furniture and homebuilding for 35 years. He's written columns for woodworking journals, he grew up using power tools, but just a few weeks ago he was cutting some trim boards for a house and somehow his thumb hit the blade.

Mr. DECHRISTOFORO: It cut through the bone. It cut through the tendon. And it was just kind of hanging by this little hinge of skin.

ARNOLD: Every day in this country, about ten people suffer amputations from table saws. An inventor named Steve Gass says the vast majority of those injuries are preventable.

Mr. STEVEN GASS (Inventor, SawStop): So, as is typical when we do these demonstrations, we use a hot dog rather than an actual finger.

ARNOLD: We first did a story on Steve Gass and his SawStop Company a year-and-a-half ago, when he first started selling saws. We caught up with him yesterday at the Consumer Product Safety Commission outside Washington, D.C.

Gass was demonstrating how the saw works. Basically, the saw senses the difference in the electrical conductive properties between wood and a human finger, and fires a brake that stops the blade almost instantly.

Mr. GASS: So what I'm going to do is I'll place this hot dog on the board as if it was my thumb misplaced in the path of the blade.

Unidentified Man: Yep.

(Soundbite of blade saw running, stopping)

Unidentified Man: Whoa!

ARNOLD: So far, SawStop has only been selling higher end industrial grade table saws in the $2,000 to $3,000 range. But in the past year-and-a-half, Gass says he's captured 10 percent of that higher end market, selling 2,000 saws. And he says the company has documented 50 saves of user's hands, including 11 kids in schools.

Steve Gass says all this shows that the big power tool companies, Black and Decker, Ryobi, Delta, and others, should license this safety device from him and start using it.

Mr. GASS: Now the technology is proven. There's no question that this technology works. There's no question that it will save injuries. And yet they still have the same head in the sand approach, and they don't want to do anything.

ARNOLD: Executives in the power tool industry have told NPR that their companies have had valid worries about SawStop. It would cost tens of millions of dollars for them to retool to build saws with the device. And trying it out on one line of saws could create liability problems for their other saws.

Consumers might not want to pay for the added cost, and the manufacturers said they couldn't risk all that on a new, unproven technology.

Scott Box(ph) is a former executive at Delta and WMH Tool Group, who is now with a new company, Steel City Tool Works(ph).

Mr. STEVE BOX (Executive, Steel City Tool Works): It's still way too early, I think. It's still an unproven technology, and we don't know what's going to happen; it's still rather new.

ARNOLD: But SawStop is hoping that the Consumer Product Safety Commission can help pressure the industry to adopt this kind of safety device. And something else that could bring more pressure sooner - litigation. More injured people are starting to sue the power tool companies, alleging they ignored a viable safety technology.

Chris Arnold, NPR News.

INSKEEP: There's a video demonstration of the saw at

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