I did a quick check on fifty of the biggest woodworking channels that I subscribe to. Out of fifty, I found three that seem to regularly use a blade guard. Two of those were in a high-end shop with industrial equipment, where the blade guard is used to assist in better dust extraction.
So what’s going on here?
I want to start out by saying that I do not advocate that you use a table saw without a blade guard. It would be wildly irresponsible for me to do so. Especially if you are new to using a table saw, I recommend using every safety feature it has.
But in the real world, I have to acknowledge that many, perhaps most people are not using blade guards. I think demonstrating safe procedures with that in mind is important.
I also want to stress that using a riving knife is non-negotiable and I believe it is the single most important safety feature on a table saw. You may need to remove it when using dado blades, but for all other cuts, make sure it’s in place. It will dramatically reduce the chance of kickback. Never make a cut without it.
What is the purpose of a blade guard?
Most people think the primary purpose of a blade guard is to keep your fingers safe. That’s partially correct, but its main purpose is to prevent wood from falling on a spinning blade. This can happen in different ways, the most common is from reaching over the blade to grab a cutoff and dropping it or dragging it over the blade which will cause it to shoot back at you.
It can possibly protect you from a cutoff piece flying back at you in a kickback situation, but if you use a riving knife you shouldn’t be getting kickback. It can also keep any small chips from flying into your eye, but you should always be wearing safety glasses.
A blade guard does provide some finger protection, mostly serving as a visual reminder to keep your fingers away from the blade. It can block your fingers from the side and back, but the front of the blade is still exposed…and that’s the choppy direction. Table saws cut super quick, and if your fingers are too close to the blade, the blade guard won’t protect them.
But it’s a good way to remind yourself where to position your hands before every cut. And it will protect your hand from inadvertently skimming over the blade. This would most often happen if you’re reaching over the spinning blade to grab an off-cut.
These are all compelling reasons to use a blade guard.
So why not just use it then?
1) Probably the biggest reason I don’t use a blade guard is that I get better control of the wood without it in the way, especially when using the rip fence. I really like to use a push block to support a board and guide it through the blade. For me, this seems safer and gives me far better control over of my work-piece. But you cannot use a push block at all with a blade guard in place.
2) The second reason I’m not a fan of a blade guard is that it makes it difficult to see the cut being made. I admit this is kind of a weak reason because once you set up for a cut, you don’t really need to look at the blade. Maybe this is just a psychological thing, but I like to see where the blade is. And if I’m cutting to a line, or nibbling boards to fit something, being able to see the blade is very handy.
3) Also, the blade guard needs to be removed for cutting thin pieces or re-sawing lumber on its edge. It also needs to be removed when making non-through cuts such as dados and grooves. They are sometimes ineffective when making bevel cuts or need to be removed altogether. And you’ll need to remove it for table saw jigs and fixtures, such as a crosscut or miter sled.
So really the only time when a blade guard would work for me is when making crosscuts while using a miter gauge and in general, these are the least likely types of cuts that a blade guard would provide protection…again, assuming I have all other safety procedures in place. When making crosscuts, I am standing to the side of the blade and both hands are on the miter gauge. And since my work-piece is usually on the miter gauge side, I have no need to reach over the blade to retrieve it.
In my workflow, with my safety gear and using a push block, there are just too many common cuts I can’t make with a blade guard in place. And as someone who teaches woodworking on YouTube, this puts me in an awkward situation. I need to be hyper aware of demonstrating safe woodworking practices and I make an honest effort to always do so and point out potential risks. But a blade guard has too many asterisks and gray areas attached to it to for me to call it a non-negotiable safety accessory. It would simply be hypocritical.
My bottom line advice is this.
- If you are brand new to using a table saw, definitely keep the blade guard in place.
- If you already use a blade guard, great! Don’t get rid of it based on this video or my opinions.
- If you let someone else use your saw, make sure the blade guard is installed.
- Spend time learning all you can about safe table saw procedures and imagine every cut before making it, knowing how you’ll position your hands and body when you make the cut for real.
- Always respect the power of your table saw, understand how it works.
- And always wear those safety glasses!