Why I Bought a SawStop Table Saw


If I invented a pill that cured cancer, I can assure you that I wouldn’t try to force it down your throat via legislation, regulation or some other governmental mandate.

After my early career as a newspaperman writing about government, politics and the way those intersect the corporate world, I have a distaste for almost all mandates. You can argue with me if you like, but I have set my stakes in the ground and am watching the rain outside my tent.

So why the heck would someone like me buy a SawStop table saw? After all, the company has been working quite successfully to make its technology de rigueur on all table saws via legal and political channels. (And to be fair, many of the other machinery manufacturers have been working just as hard on the other side of the issue in the political and legislative world. There are no good guys or bad guys in this debate.)

SawStop’s methods and my methods are not the same. I have always been the kind of person who bristles when someone tries to force-feed me anything, even if it’s good for me.

So here is why I broke down and bought a SawStop cabinet saw last week: It is the safest table saw on the market.

After witnessing some close calls during the last decade (I’ve not had one myself, really), I keep thinking what my life would be like without a finger or two. I would type slower. I would have more difficulty handling my hand tools. It would feel different to put my hand behind my wife’s head and kiss her.

So $3,000 is an awfully small one-time price to pay for an incredible added layer of protection. I don’t care about the “cost to society” in my own case. I can afford to pay for my own amputation and rehabilitation. But then what? Do I want to live with an amputation I could have easily avoided?

No, I do not.

Don’t be misled, the SawStop technology isn’t perfect. It can go off when you have pockets of wet glue in a lamination. It might misfire if the cartridge is set too close to the blade for some strange reason. And when it goes off, you are out of the cost of a cartridge and perhaps a sawblade. But really, ask yourself this:

1. Is a finger worth $67 (the price of a misfired cartridge)?

2. Is a finger worth $3,000 (the price of a SawStop 3hp cabinet saw)?

3. Aren’t sawblades really disposable items when compared to fingers?

I answered those above questions by purchasing a SawStop. I paid full retail, plus tax and shipping. If you think that the SawStop company would ever cut me a deal (or that I would even ask for a discount), then you haven’t been reading my stuff long enough.

The new saw arrived Wednesday, and it is sitting next to my soon-to-be-obsolete Unisaw.

The Unisaw has served me unerringly for more than 12 years. I have never had a close call with it. I have kept the guard on it whenever I could. In fact, I have an aftermarket splitter installed on it now.

But that is not enough once you have crossed over. Once I realized how easy it would be for my left hand to slip forward on the cast-iron table of my Unisaw, I unplugged the machine and turned my back on it forever.

Should you?

I think that in 50 years or so, this discussion will be moot. All saws will have flesh-detecting technology. If you don’t think I’m right, dig deeply into the history of automobile safety technology and decide for yourself.

Until then, I’m going to keep my SawStop, keep my fingers and keep my head buried in the sand when it comes to the politics of table saws.

— Christopher Schwarz

P.S. I have disabled the comments on this post. I have no desire to hear the same histrionics that pollute the message boards.

About Lost Art Press

Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
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