ToolCrib.com's Ultimate Guide to the Top Ten Most Dangerous Woodworking Power Tools

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“What is the most dangerous woodworking power tool?”

That’s what I asked the woodworkers at the woodworking forums FamilyWoodworking.org and WoodNet.net.

WoodNet.net’s woodworkers responded with 55 replies and the guys at FamilyWoodworking.org responded with 51 replies with over 3000 views between them.

The chilling experiences and hard-knock wisdom from both forums inspired this article, and I hope that by reading this and following the links I provide that you become a safer, more tool-respecting woodworker.

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The #1 Most Dangerous Power Tool
After over 100 responses to the “most dangerous tool” question the seasoned woodworkers from both forums delivered an unequivocal answer.

There IS INDEED a power tool that’s more dangerous than any other in your wood shop and you need to treat this tool with more respect and care than your table saw, shaper, jointer or chain saw.

And the number one most dangerous power tool in your wood shop is YOU.
(a mirror is actually a great first aid addition for woodworkers in case you need to examine your face after facial injury)

Make sure that YOU treat every tool with the respect and care it deserves, that every tool you use is well maintained and well sharpened, and that your wood shop or work area is tidy enough to prevent spills.

Also, learn to listen closely to your internal voice of experience. Many woodworkers report thinking “gosh this is dangerous,” or “this could really hurt” right before their big trip to the emergency room. Back off immediately if you find your safety senses tingling.

Dig deeper into basic wood shop safety by checking out these web pages:
Basic Woodshop Safety (by a woodworker)
Hand and Power Tools: Hazards and Solutions (what OSHA thinks)
Shop Safety Checklist (should get you thinking… check it out before your next project)
Using your Woodworking Tools Safely (in depth stuff from About.com)

and… ALWAYS READ THE INSTRUCTIONS THAT COME WITH YOUR POWER TOOLS FOR MAXIMUM SAFETY.

The Ultimate Guide to Your Wood Shop’s Top Ten Most Dangerous Power Tools
And so, without further ado, here’s the table of contents for this safety guide:

I) the top ten most feared and respected tools by Woodworkers
II) The Most Dangerous Power Tools Statistically
III) The Condition of the User
IV) The Condition of the Tools
V) The Condition of Your Workspace
VI) Woodworking Safety Accessories
VII) the Woodworker’s First Aid Kit

I) the Top Ten Most Feared and Respected Tools by Woodworkers
Below you’ll find the top ten most feared and respected woodworking power tools based on the votes they received in FamilyWoodworking and WoodNet. I counted votes as tool mentions, and I counted more than one “most dangerous tool” per person if they listed more than one. This is NOT intended to be scientific in any way, nor is it intended to suggest that you be more careful with one tool than any other.

Also, because these woodworkers indicated that maintenance is such an important factor in tool safety, I included maintenance resources – when available – for each tool.

There’s a similar non-scientific most dangerous woodworking tool survey from rec.woodworking… the results are quite similar, though neither survey listed there include a wood shaper…

Also, WoodNet’s Jakesaw pointed out this web-based power tool safety project that lets you input how you got hurt, what hurt you, and your experience level so that others can come later and learn from your mistakes. AWESOME.

Update – Yak from WoodNet pointed to the mother of all woodworker’s safety guides from OSHA.

1) YOU are the most dangerous power tool (or – alternately – which ever tool you use next is the most dangerous)
I’m not sure if the tool operator got the most votes for being the most dangerous or not. I do estimate that “the power tool operator” got the most overall conversation, discussion and debate in both forums.

Treat every tool you use with respect… and check out the “condition of the user” section below for more ideas on keeping a “safety first” mentality while using power tools.

It’s impossible to overemphasize that the tool between your ears is really the most dangerous tool you possess…

Brain Maintenance Links
Preventive Maintenance For the Brain

2) The Table Saw: 15 Votes
The table saw received the most votes, beating out the shaper by two.

I noticed that many guys who said “table saw” mentioned that they’d heard it was the most statistically dangerous, not that they feared or respected it the most.

Even so, the table saw is a formidable wood shop tool and worthy of respect due to its frequency of use and the sheer number of saws in wood shops around the world.

Table Saw Safety Links:
Two Dozen Table Saw Safety Tips
Table Saw Safety – There is a Lot to It!
Table Saw Safety Procedures

Table Saw Maintenance:
Table Saw Maintenance (this article includes a table saw maintenance schedule… NICE!)

3) The Shaper: 13 Votes
I sensed the most power tool respect… and fear… in the replies that included the mighty shaper. What is it that gives woodworkers pause when firing up the “grand father of routers?” It’s got to be the size of the blades on those bits… and the realization of the size of hole it could make in your body.

Shaper:

Shaper blades:

Shaper Safety Links
Shaper Safety

One woodnetter provided defense of the shaper to folks who swore against using it.
(Learn more about the wood shaper.)

4) Chain Saw: 6 Votes
The roaring engine, the exposed and oh-so-mobile blade, the Texas Chain Saw Massacre, is it any surprise that the chain saw made its way onto the list? My only surprise is that it made the list from guys at woodworking forums… that said, there is an interesting thread in woodnet about chain saw sawmills

Chain Saw Safety Links
Chain Saw Safety
Chain Saw Safety: No Tricks
Chain Saw Safety (from About.com)

Chainsaw Maintenance Links
CHAINSAW MAINTENANCE (includes maintenance schedule)

5) Router: 6 Votes
In the tool kit of many a wood shop, the versatile router is also amongst the top most-feared power tools, though primarily when used free hand. Why? Some guys have gruesome imaginations when it comes to fixing physical damage from a router… as one forum member put it, you can sew fingers back on but there’s no sewing back what a router could do to you.

Router Safety Links
Safety Tips for your Router
Router Safety Tips

Router Maintenance Links
Router Maintenance (from DIY network)

6) The Jointer: 6 Votes
The jointer made it up into a three-way tie with the chain saw and the router. Probably because of the ease with which one could feed one’s hand into it… plus the fact that it’s not going to gash you, but rather give you a puree-style wound.

Jointer Safety Links
Jointer Safety Practices (scroll – it’s at the bottom)
Safety Hazards of Jointers and Planers (from CA’s OSHA)

7) The Band Saw: 3 Votes
The band saw is another wood shop standard that seems relatively harmless… especially next to something like a chain saw. I think it made the list in part because it’s a tool that many woodworker are comfortable with. Comfortable = dangerous.

Tod Evans of FamilyWoodworking said, “for myself i need to be very careful using the bandsaw `cause after a short time i notice my eyes drooping kinda following the downward path of the blade….”

Band Saw Safety Links
Woodworking Band Saw Safety Procedures
BANDSAW SAFETY

Band Saw Maintenance
The Band Saw: Tune Up and Maintenance

8) The Chisel: 2 Votes
You may wonder what hand tools are doing here on the most dangerous power tool list. Well… they’re here and they reemphasize the point that the most dangerous tool is the one that you’re using and that the one you treat with the least respect is liable to be the one that bites you.

Chisel Safety Links
Chisel Usage and Safety
Chisel safety (from About.com)

Chisel Maintenance
Sharpen Planes And Chisels Without Going Broke

9) The Radial Arm Saw: 2 Votes
The radial arm saw potentially exposes you to a LOT of blade, and the RAS was one of the few tools that some woodworkers said they flat out WILL NOT USE.

Radial Arm Saw Safety Links
Radial Arm Saw Safety Procedures
Radial Arm Saws
Radial-Arm Saw Safety Tips (scroll down)

10) The Circular Saw: 2 Votes
The circular saw is a power tool standard. Its usage spans across groups, from DIYers to woodworkers to general contractors and beyond. Save for the religiously-hand tooled, few self-respecting tool kits are without a circular saw and, like the table saw or band saw, familiarity and frequent usage make them dangerous.

Circular Saw Safety Links
Safe Operation of Portable Circular Power Saws
circular saw safety
How to Use a Circular Saw
Choosing and Using a Circular Saw
(interesting – the history of the circular saw)

****Remember, ALL TOOLS ARE DANGEROUS. But not all of them got into the top ten from WoodNet and FamilyWoodworking.****

11) The Miter Saw: 1 Vote
The miter saw has a big blade and it’s used for quick, chopping cuts that can easily claim a digit.

Miter Saw Safety Links
Chop Saw Safety for Beginners
Miter Saw Safety
Chop Saw Safety

12) Air Powered Nailers: 1 Vote
Guess who voted for the nail gun as most dangerous power tool? That’s right – someone who’s not likely to get bit by one again.

Nailer Safety Links
Pneumatic Nailers – Safety & Use Tips
Use Nail Gun Safely

13) Sanders: 1 Vote
Sanders seem like they’d be the least dangerous of power tools. Someone else probably thought the same thing just before a trip to the emergency room.

Sander Safety Links
Sander Safety
What should you do before using sanders?

14) Angle Grinder: 1 Vote
Exposed, whirling metal. Yeah, this guy’s worthy of some goggles. And gloves… GOTCHA! Don’t use gloves – they could get pulled into the whirling mechanism.

Angle Grinder Safety Links
SAFETYLINE ESSENTIALS: – ANGLE GRINDERS
angle griders safety safety safety!! rant

15) A Coiled Extension Cord: 1 Vote
What painful experience won the extension cord a spot on the most dangerous power tools list? I don’t want to think about it. Keep your work area safe and as neat as possible.

Extension Cord Maintenance

16) Buffing Wheel: 1 Vote
Keep your hair tied up while using this little beast – especially for quick jobs.

Buffing Wheel Safety Links
buffing wheel safety

II) The Most Dangerous Power Tools Statistically
I noticed once or twice in the forums guys cited government studies regarding which tools are, statistically speaking, responsible for putting the most guys in the emergency room.

In the study I found from the US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) – Hazard Screening Report: Power Tools and Workshop Equipment from 2003 (warning – that link is a PDF) – I was NOT able to statistically determine the power tool that put the most people in the hospital.

HOWEVER, the tool group – after “manual workshop tools (hammers, utility knives, chisels etc…)” and “Misc. workshop tools” – that caused the most health care EXPENSE was Bench or Table Saws, at around $2 billion.

Anecdotally speaking, Frank Fusco of FamilyWoodworking, whose son is a Board Certified emergency room physician in a Level 1 trauma unit, noted:

“I’ll repeat what my son, an emergency room physician, says. The most frequent serious injuries are with table saws.

The second most frequent serious injuries, in terms of numbers of incidents, are from miter and/or compound miter sliders.

However, in terms of most devasting the CSM is far and away the worst. Those usually involve finger amputations. The table saw accidents are serious gashes but (usually) leave the fingers in place.

He also says that most of those injuries are to guys like me, middle age to retired age. And, they all say the same thing, ‘I never do it that way, but just this once………’”

Don’t let the statistics scare you – too much. It only makes sense that the tools that we use the most frequently end up hurting us the most frequently. It’s far more important to look at our next section – the condition of the user.

III) The Condition of the User
Time and again the guys in the forums reminded me that the USER is the most dangerous power tool, and that the most dangerous power tool is the one that you pick up next.

I identified several other condition-of-the-user-related points from their comments, and combined that with some wise words from Basic Woodshop Safety, by Howard Ruttan, who I’ll quote here:

“If you are hungry or sick, tired or angry, hot or thirsty, you are at risk. Don’t work if you are overly fatigued or not feeling up to your game. Attitude is extremely important also. Remember that woodworking is supposed to be fun. Isn’t that why you are doing it? Take a break when you get frustrated. Don’t work angry.”

Some other dangerous mental conditions include:

  1. woodworker’s just too comfortable with the tool and doesn’t give it proper respect
  2. trying new tool out just for a second – one woodworker told a story of opening up a new chisel just to try it out for a second, resulting in a trip to the hospital
  3. ignored/didn’t fully recognize the importance of the pre-tingles that sometimes come before getting hurt (STAY ALERT!! many injured by power tools report tingling senses…)
  4. trying something new, cutting/chopping/ripping/drillng in a different way – experimentation is important and necessary… and risky. Remember the words that Fusco’s son hears in the trauma unit from injured woodworkers: “I never do it that way, but just this once……..”
  5. working tired, hungry, rushed, angry or some combo of the four…
  6. lazy – doing job the quick way
  7. do I really need to put drunk or drinking alcohol on here? Gosh I really hope not.

IV) The Condition of the Tools
“i`d say that i agree with the most dangerous powertool being one that`s poorly maintained, specifically one with dull cutters….
shapers/routers-n-moulders will turn meat into hamburger….no repairs!”
- Tod Evans

Tod, of FamilyWoodworking, says it well. Take care of each power tool you own as advised in the manual. Sharper is safer.

Tool Maintenance Made Easy, an excellent article from Rockler, breaks it down like this:

Part I – Keeping Them Sharp
Part II – Keeping Them True
Part III – Keeping Them Clean and Smooth
Part IV – Keeping Them Running Smooth

Want the details? Read Tool Maintenance Made Easy for tips and advice.

If you’d like a second opinion This Old House brings us TLC for Power Tools.

OSHA delivers, more for the wood shop business owner, HAND AND PORTABLE POWERED TOOLS, which includes common repairs and things to watch for.

V) The Condition of Your Workspace
Are you the neat and tidy type? If you’re like me you’ve got dishes on your desk and clothes on the bedroom floor. This means you have to work twice as hard to keep your wood shop or workspace safe through cleanliness and organization.

That said, it’s not just tidiness that keeps you safe… it’s also keeping your workspace free from distractions that break your vital concentration. This includes, but it not limited to the radio, someone hollering that the phone is for you, your cell phone ringing and the list could go on…

Minimize interruptions by notifying – in no uncertain terms – the folks around you that they are not to speak to you when you’re operating power tools.

from SAFETY IN THE WOODSHOP I’d like to point you to:

Make certain you have proper lighting when carving. Spotlights are preferable to overhead incandescent or fluorescent lighting. Lighting located behind and to your side best highlights your work.

Keep floor swept and clear of tools and other clutter. Wood chips and dust pose many safety concerns (e.g. respiratory, fire, safe footing).

And keep those power cords off the floor!

The National Ag Safety Database offers some great guidelines on a safe wood shop. They include suggestions and guidelines for stuff like lighting, heat source, ventilation, wiring, fire extinguishers and more.

Here’s Shop Safety by the NASD.

This shop safety guide from Ohio State provides an excellent shop safety checklist… and then safety guides to many of the power tools mentioned above.

VI) Woodworking Safety Accessories
Do you have push sticks, push blocks and a finger or feather board? These are very easy to make and are available practically anywhere you can buy good power tools or wood.

Here’s a short little guide to using push sticks to increase your safety Using Push Sticks

About.com’s Chris Baylor teaches you how to Make Your Own Featherboards

And the DIY network offers a rundown on all of the woodworking safety accessories I mentioned above.

VII) First Aid
You keep a first aid kit in your wood shop for the same reason you drive with auto insurance. No NOT because it’s the LAW… because luck favors the prepared.

I particularly liked the woodworker’s first aid kit as described by Howard Ruttan. Not only is it comprehensive, but it has some of the real-world humor you only hear from woodworkers. Such as at the end of his reason for keeping a 1 gallon plastic bag in your first aid kit:

Used for carrying amputated bits in whilst en route to the hospital. I am not kidding here. Just last year a contractor in Pennsylvania cut his entire hand off in a sliding compound miter saw. The bag has to be big enough for every contingency. Try to wash the amputed part before placing it in the bag. However, if you are unable to, I am sure the doctors will understand.

The DIY network also provides an excellent overview of what should be in your first aid kit.

VIII) Bonus: Wood Shop Safety Humor

“WAIT A MINUTE” I can hear you thinking… what does HUMOR have to do with SAFETY?

One of the cool things about forums – and one of the pains sometimes – is how a conversation thread can take a sharp and sudden turn, sometimes 180 degrees from where it once pointed.

Bill Wilson took the WoodNet.net thread 180 degrees with his clever, creative and funny response to my question about the most dangerous power tools.

Here’s a taste:

Welcome to The Wild Wood Shop. Today we will explore the unique ecosystem, known as the home woodshop. Below is a brief description of some familiar wood shop dwellers.

Table Saw (unisawrus rippicus)
A solitary and regal predator, the table saw employs sharp powerful teeth, well suited for ripping even the hardest woods with relative ease. There are several varieties of table saws, ranging from the small bench top, to the king of table saws, indeed the king of the predators, the Unisaw. Though primarily a stationary creature, it is perhaps one of the most active of all woodshop animals. Table saws have proliferated and are found in nearly all shops where wood is in adequate supply. They prefer choice, imported hardwoods, but when hungry will readily feed on cheaper domestic softwoods. They have become less of a threat to humans, due to careful breeding and training, but still are to be considered quite dangerous, especially while feeding. Occasionally they will, with minimal provocation, disgorge their food with breathtaking force.

Push Broom (sweepus seldomus)
The most primitive and oldest species of wood shop animal. It is believed that ancestors of the contemporary push broom were domesticated millions of years before the first wood shop animals appeared and often cohabited with humans. They gradually were relegated to garage, basement and shop environments during the Electrolux era. This venerable and simple scavenger has survived the eons due primarily to its ability to go for long periods of time without food. By conserving its energy, it can appear to fall into a near trance-like state of suspended animation for extended periods of time. Unlike the voracious Dust Collector and Shop Vac with which it competes, the push broom is content to sit idle for days, even months.

Thanks + Wrapping it Up
I would like to extend a special thanks to the woodworkers at WoodNet.net and FamilyWoodworking.org who contributed so much wisdom and experience to this project. If you’re hungry for more woodworking community I gladly point you to BOTH forums as wonderful environments for learning.

I hope this guide helped you recognize some ways you can take more responsibility for your personal wood shop safety.

If you have any questions or comments about this guide please email me at GFrench@ToolCrib.com or just comment on this blog!

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31 Responses to ToolCrib.com's Ultimate Guide to the Top Ten Most Dangerous Woodworking Power Tools

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  3. Michael says:

    Excellent article. You need to show the “Saw Stop” table saw. The one that won’t cut a hotdog.

  4. Warren McBee says:

    RE: 10 Most Dangerous Tools. I have had my RAS for over 35 years, and had no accidents and only one even slightly close call. It was my only stationary saw for most of those years. Safety in all operations is critical. I remember seeing my Dad, sometime around 1950-52,nearly cut his thumb off when his knee bumped the table saw power switch while changing blades. He had overlooked the simple task of un-plugging the saw first. I don’t see the RAS as any more dangerous than any other power tool, WHEN utilized with safety in mind, and observing those safety precautions. Remember, you can’t make a new finger or two, even from the best wood.
    Saw in Safety.

  5. Joel Hess says:

    All it takes is one wrong move, one moment of hesitation, a single lapse in concentration, or a misplaced step. And it doesn’t matter what power tool you’re using. They’re all dangerous…if…you don’t take the time to think about what you’re doing.

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  8. What about the Sawzall? It has almost taken off my fingers many times. We get brave with a “saw that cuts it all” and push our luck sometimes. Sometimes it wants to cut off your fingers!

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  24. Bill says:

    The electric hand plane is a finger mangler for sure!

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  31. It is an interesting survey. It is actually true that we probably are the most dangerous part of a tool. But sometimes even if you are paying attention and trying to be safe, accidents can happen. Are the cordless tools in anyway safer than others?

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