I bought myself a table saw – happy birthday to me – and have been using it for over a month now. It’s a huge help to my woodworking efforts and I’ve developed a level of comfort with using it, seeing as it outright terrified me at first. Which is part of the reason I was hesitant about buying one in the first place. But now that I have, I’m glad I did.
I opted for a DeWalt 745. It’s a portable jobsite-style table saw, which means that it isn’t very big and only weighs about 50 lbs. Size and portability were important to me, because on nice days I’d like to bring it outside and work in the driveway. Plus it has excellent reviews and the price was right.
But it was still a difficult decision to make. Just like with photography, when it comes to buying a new piece of equipment I did some research online. I read forum posts and individual user reviews. I read blog and tool site reviews. I read retail site reviews. And, just like with any other hobby/vocation/question, the opinions vary.
In woodworking you have the purists and the bleeding-edgers, and everything in between, which is no different from the spread between the film purists and the bleeding-edge digital photographers. But interestingly enough, table saws are kind of a big deal. Some woodworkers layout their entire workshops around them and make them a vital component of daily use. Others eschew them entirely. And then there’s the debate over which is more useful, a table saw or a band saw, and which is more important to invest in.
There’s also the fear factor. A table saw has the potential to inflict serious injury very, very – terrifyingly – quickly. A board launched off a table saw due to kickback becomes a projectile which, if it hits you, can cause serious injury. Kickback can also suck your hands into the blade faster than you can possibly react. There are no shortage of horror stories about these tools.
The trick is, as you learn about power tools and begin working with them you convert that initial fear to a healthy respect for the danger posed, all while doing your damndest not to make any stupid moves.
Here’s the good news. A table saw makes life much, much easier. Right out of the gate you can make clean, straight rip cuts (long cuts that go with the grain). Prior to this, I had been using my little Ryobi circular saw, guided along the edge of my four-foot metal ruler. Setting that up was time consuming, with lots of extra measurements to incorporate the proper offset between the guide and the actual cut, all while keeping it clamped down and square. The table saw eliminates all that work and gives me straighter cuts.
I built a small crosscut sled, and can now make simple cross cuts (cuts perpendicular to the grain). I’ll also be able to use the table saw to cut accurate miters and bevels (angled cuts) for making boxes and picture frames. It’s proved its use already.
I guess my point here is to not let yourself be overcome by fear, irrational or otherwise. In negligent or malicious hands, an automobile is an extremely dangerous tool. Yet almost all of us drive them daily without dwelling on the risks. My saws, my router, my chisels are no different. All of them can inflict major bodily harm or even death. But that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t ever use them. After all, all of life presents risk. The trick is to manage that risk, to operate in ways that minimize it. Plus I believe that it’s a good and healthy thing to face our fears. Overcoming them means we’re growing, and that’s always a good thing.