"I have always prided myself on being cautious. Sometimes, though, there are things that we do everyday that we don't realize aren't actually safe. I was cutting some red-tops on the table saw one morning, when I had an incident that could have meant losing an eye or worse. To cut red-tops, you take a 2x4 and slide it through the table saw at an angle. Sometimes the wood gets stuck and you have to push it through. The piece got stuck, I gave it a push, and bang! A chunk of wood came flying back and hit the lens of my safety glasses. The saw kicked back and I dropped the piece of wood. I stopped the saw and stepped back. If I had not been wearing my safety glasses, it could have been a lot worse, but I also should have been wearing my safety shield like we are supposed to." - Ken (age 28) Laborer

Power saws are a great tool that can make a job much easier, but can also be extremely dangerous. Although one might think that saws are all the same, but each type of saw requires different safety precautions.

Quick Tips

  • Take a few minutes to familiarize yourself with the machine you are using. Be sure to read the instructions, especially if this is your first time using that particular saw or type of saw

  • Ensure that you wear all recommended articles of PPE when operating the saw. Different saws will require that you use different methods of PPE. For examples, some pieces of equipment will recommend that you use two types of hearing protection. Although different saws will require different PPE, at minimum, safety glasses should be worn when working with all types of saws

  • Be sure that you use the right saw for the right job. Using a saw for the wrong job can result in disaster. This means using the saw for its intended use only, not improvising to complete the task

  • Ensure that you complete a pre-use equipment checklist prior to using the saw. By ensuring that the saw is in proper working order before using it, potential risks are reduced

  • Ensure that machines have undergone scheduled routine maintenance. Don't become complacent and start cutting corners because you are confident or use the saw everyday. Always use the proper operating procedures and never skip the pre-use checklist

  • Ensure that you keep your work area clean and that electrical cords are organized and out of the way

  • Be sure that other workers are not standing nearby. Pieces of material can break off and become flying hazards that could end up striking them or wounding their eyes

Types of Saws

Power saws can be classified into three main types of saws based on the blade they use.

Circular Blade Saws

  • Circular saw: This type has a circular blade that spins. These can be either handheld or used in a mill, and have blades that are available up to 24 inches in diameter. Blades are available to cut nearly any type of material

  • Table saw: This type has a blade that rises through a slot in a table. Often cuts will require two workers

  • Radial arm saw: This type is used mainly for cross cutting, or long cuts through a wide piece of material. The blade is pulled on a guided arm that moves while the material lies on the bench of the saw

  • Rotary saw: Also called a skill saw, this type is handheld and has a circular blade. It is used for more precise cuts through thinner materials

  • Electric miter saw: This type may also be referred to as a chop saw. This type of saw is used for making accurate cuts as well as miter cuts. A basic version will have a fixed blade that cuts at a 90 degree angle, while a compound miter saw will have an adjustable arm. A sliding compound miter saw has the ability to pull through the work, making it similar to a radial arm saw

Reciprocating Saws

  • Jigsaw: This type of saw has a narrow blade and is used for cutting irregular shapes

  • Reciprocating saw: This type of saw might be referred to as a sabre saw or a sawsall. It has an in-out, up-down type of action similar to that of a jigsaw, but is more powerful and used for cutting a wide variety of material

Continuous Band Saws

  • Band saw: This type of saw is a rip saw that is on a continuous band, which is motor driven.

Remember, always be sure to use the right saw for the right job. Check to see what type of material the blade is made for, and never assume that blades can be used interchangeably. Be sure that you are aware of the direction in which you are cutting and the direction the blade is moving. Every time you use a saw, first perform an equipment checklist, and be sure to use the proper PPE.