It’s not the tool that screws you, it’s the motor

I haven’t had a lot to show for my labor lately. A great deal that has been going on is adjusting to different tools and the way they work. I was a bit surprised to see this segment on the Cobert Report on the possibility of new table saw legislation a few weeks ago, and then yesterday I discovered Don Bowman’s Power Tool Song. There aren’t any transcriptions of the lyrics about, but one of my favorites is regarding chain saws: “the only tool that comes with a first-aid kit and a ‘Hire the Handicapped’ bumper sticker.” Tools can be dangerous. I have all my fingers and toes after many years of working with them and I aim to keep it that way. The best way, I think, is probably to avoid using table saws at all. I have only recently figured out why: basic physics.

The centrifugal force of a round blade spun by a powerful motor does some tricky things. It is mostly impossible to cut a truly straight line on one because the blade pulls the rear of the workpiece into the blade, creating a subtle (or sometimes not so subtle) banana shape to the line. Coupled with a rip fence, this can cause binding and kick-back where the tool throws the board back at you. Wood is not velveeta, and contains internal stresses as well that can pinch the wide round blade aggravating the problem. It’s not just a matter of not putting your fingers into the tool, it’s also a matter of not having the tool suck you into it! I’m on my second or third little contractor saw, and it’s probably going to be my last. I’m tired of fighting with these things.

Hand tools can be a problem as well. Not because they are prone to injure you, but because it’s easy to slip and mess things up. Or, in the case of saws, cut cock-eyed or twisted. It came to me in a flash what the basic problem is: it’s not the tool that screws things up, it’s the motor. In the case of hand tools, the motor is your body. If you stand wrong, you saw wrong. It’s not the quality of the tool that fails, generally, it’s the quality of you and your skill level. That puts a different spin on it entirely.

An aside: I often find myself complaining about Chris Schwartz’s tool fetishism, but I must say that when I wanted to figure out how to use my new plow plane The Anarchist’s Tool Chest had the most succinct and useful description of how to approach it.