Tool review: The Saw Stop airbag for fingers

Posted by Woodrow Aames ~ August 3, 2011

When remodeling, you shouldn't have to change the structure of your hand. Perhaps by now you've seen the video of a whirring cabinet saw stopping just before it slices through a hot dog. I'm not kidding. Makers of the Saw Stop line of hobbyist, woodworking and industrial grade saws use a frankfurter as the crash test dummy for their promotional videos. The sensor on the saw detects flesh and throws on the brakes.

You can find images of the slight finger cuts resulting from contact with the blade at Wood Talk Online. Blogger David Allred had a kick-back incident using one of the Saw Top contractor's saw and, with the blade guard up and out of play, the saw cut a quarter-inch slice into his finger. The aluminum sensors in the saw stopped the action immediately and, consequently, spared Allred's hand.

Remodeling tools that save money on hospital bills

Because nearly every level of woodworker from home tinkerer to accomplished cabinetmaker eventually makes a mistake, why not invest in your irreplaceable digits? American Wood Worker reports that a fully loaded Saw Stop package with 52-inch rails runs around $3,500 - some $1,700 more than a cabinet saw with equivalent cutting features. Is your finger worth more than $1,700 to you?

The brake in the Saw Stop has been called the airbag for hands. But you want a saw, too. The more I read about it, the more I see positive reviews of the tool's capabilities. Cabinet maker Dave Wright reviewed the Cabinet Saw at Wood Central. Wright says the saw "runs dead smooth and cuts effortlessly."

The aluminum brake works with any 10-inch blade. One drawback is that once the brake is activated it must be replaced with a new cartridge. The replacement takes all of five minutes and you're on your way. You may have to get a new blade, too, since a full stop can damage several teeth. But at $70, a new cartridge is cheaper than emergency room fees to treat an amputated finger.

Reviewers at Fine Woodworking tested the saw with several hot dogs, finding that the full extent of damage was a shallow slice in the skin. "All saws, "reviewers say, "should have such well-designed guards."

I plan on getting my hands on a Saw Stop and see if it's a good choice for doing decks and fences. When I say getting my hands on one, I also mean not getting my hand IN one.

See the Saw Stop in action.

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