More than 2-1/2 years ago, we reported on an exciting new safety brake that could save the fingers of thousands of table-saw operators. Most of us are familiar with power-tool brakes that stop a spinning blade quickly to prevent injuries; this one stops the blade immediately to minimize an injury.
Briefly, the instant that the SawStop safety brake detects contact between a spinning blade and a finger, or other flesh-like object, the device explodes like an automobile air bag, bringing the blade to a dead stop within 5 milliseconds. If your table saw is equipped with a SawStop, and you're the injured party, you end up with a Band-Aid or at most a few stitches, rather than microsurgery or a lifetime disfigurement.
The only downside to the SawStop is that, like an airbag, it's not an aftermarket retrofit. Saw manufacturers have to retool their production lines to accommodate this safety feature, and that's where the problem lies. Today, almost three years after the SawStop was introduced, not a single tool manufacturer has stepped up to adopt this important safety feature.
Early on, a few potential clients expressed concerns about the reliability of the device, claiming that it was not adequately sealed against dust and that extremely wet lumber might cause the brake to engage inadvertently. SawStop founder Steve Gass says that he carefully examined these criticisms and made all of the necessary corrections, yet still found little interest on the part of saw makers.
"Having heard all of the various reasons put forth by the manufacturers for not doing anything, I firmly believe it simply comes down to money," says Gass. "They cannot figure out how to make more money by adding SawStop. They are not paying for the injuries that occur now, so why should they spend money to change their product to eliminate a cost they aren't bearing?"
Gass estimates that the cost of retooling to accommodate his device could initially add as much as $150 to the retail price of a typical contractor's saw, but he predicts that large-scale production should be able to bring that costs below $100.
The SawStop stops the blade when it contacts flesh or a flesh-like object (see a video of this feature in action).