Table Saw Etiquette

table sawTable Saw Etiquette

By Christopher Odegard, Wood Shop Manager

The table saw probably is the most-often used power tool at the Hack Factory, in part because its operation is relatively straightforward. As a result of the heavy use ours sees, the staff has to work diligently to make sure it’s running well and ready to go. There are a number of things that every member can do to help.

Clean Up and Put Away

Keeping the saw clean—as well as the floor around it—makes the shop safer, and means the next person to use the tool doesn’t have to clean up your mess before they can start their own project. Please sweep the tabletop and floor of sawdust and debris when you are done. Use the dust collection vacuum, even if you are only making one quick little cut—this makes clean up easier and also cuts down on airborne particles.

When the saw is not being used, the saw blade should be set below the surface of the table. When the blade set to a certain height above the tabletop, this should be an indication that the saw is being used. When finished, the push sticks and other safety equipment should be placed back in the red Craftsman tool chest. This same cabinet is where the alternative saw blades and the blade-changing wrench may be found. As always, other hand tools and clamps should be returned to their proper place.

Be Smart and Safe

The Hack Factory has safety equipment all members should be aware of, and know how to use. If you recognize a need that is not filled—or if supplies are running low—please contact the Woodshop Manager. Here is a partial list of items intended to make using the table saw not only safer, but more accurate and easier-to-use:

  • Miter guide. This should be used for all small cross cuts or angle cuts. Always make a test pass before turning on the saw to make your cut—this ensures the miter guide will not strike the blade
  • Goggles and ear plugs. Protect your head, you may want to use it later
  • Push sticks and feather boards. These help keep the material where you want it, while keeping your precious fingers far away from the blade
  • Rip fence. Make sure this is securely fixed and remember the measuring tape on the tool is not precisely accurate. When using thin stock, or making thin cuts, please add a sacrificial wooden face to the guide
  • Dado sets. When a wide kerf is desired
  • Taper-cutting sled jig. For cutting long, narrow stock into bows, table legs, etc.
  • Cross-cutting sled. This supports wider and heavier boards than the miter guide
  • Run-off table. Almost like an extra pair of hands. Please keep this table clear of tools and projects so it can be used as intended

Use the Right Blade on the Right Tool

Most of the blades in the Hack Factory wood shop are intended for use only with wood and wood products! Blade manufacturers make specialty tools for cutting plastics, ceramics, metals, and other common project materials. Using a blade intended for wood on PVC can damage or dull the blade, and it doesn’t even provide you with a very good cut on your plastic.

Plastic softens when hot, and residue builds up and coats a blade not designed for that material, making it useless (a process known as chip welding). A similar thing can be said about material that has a very high glue and resin content, like particle board and MDF. This kind of specialty lumber is suitable for a wood-cutting blade, but it dulls the dickens out of them. There is a blade designated as the MDF blade, it is already a bit dull and will cut resinous material just fine.

Metal should never be cut with a blade intended for wood. Ever. Yes, this does include aluminum. The Hack Factory has a well-maintained metal shop; please use it. Fine metal dust can invade wood materials, and can even cause damage months afterward. Iron dust, for example, will slowly react with the high tannic acid content of oak and bloom with oxidation—showing up as black blotches on the surface of the wood many months after you’ve perfected that high-gloss varnish finish on your furniture. Anyone sanding, drilling, or cutting metal in the woodshop should be quickly escorted to the ample workspace and tools of the metals area.

You likely will want to do some research to learn what kind of cutting blade is best suited for your intended material. It’s a good idea to research these matters before you even acquire the project materials, but it should absolutely be done before you bring material into the shop and approach the saw. If you need a specialty blade that is not available in the shop, it probably means you will need to provide one for your project. If this is the case, please mention it to the woodshop manager; if there are enough requests for a tile cutting blade (or some other specialty blade) we might be able to justify the purchase of one for use by all members.

There are many ways circular saw blades vary. The type and shape of each tooth, the angles of the teeth, as well as the number of teeth is varied to best address the intended use. Most of the blades at the Hack Factory are listed as “Combination” or “Multi-Purpose” blades. This means the blade is suited cross-cutting or ripping of hardwood, softwood, plywood, or other low-resin composites. The intent is to make a limited variety of blades available so that users can choose the best blade for their material.

If you do not know how to remove and replace a table saw blade, find someone who can show you, or find an educational video online somewhere (like this one: It takes almost no time at all. It is a fairly straightforward process of removing the blade insert, extracting the reverse-threaded nut, taking off the vibration-dampening washer, and then carefully swapping the blades. As always, when maintaining power equipment, unplug the saw before you start working to change the blade.

Make, Share, and Learn

If you see someone working in the woodshop, it is definitely appropriate to raise the issue if they appear to be using the tool unsafely. This is a place of learning, and we want everyone to be able to use all the tools safely, and for them all to be ready and in good working order. Please help others to use the tablesaw more safely and more efficiently, as with any tool in the shop. And please be open when others approach you about such things—they are trying to look out for you.


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