13 Common Table Saw Mistakes to Avoid: A Beginner’s Guide to Safe Use

February 10, 2023 9 min read

table saw safety mistakes to avoid

For power tool woodworkers, the table saw is the beating heart of the shop. But it’s also the tool that causes the most injuries.

You don’t want to trifle with an exposed blade spinning at 3000 RPMs…

But getting your fingers sliced isn’t the only thing to be careful of.

Today, I’m going to warn you about 13 Common Table Saw Mistakes to Avoid — so you can stay safe in the shop while getting accurate cuts.

If you’re new to table saws, avoiding these beginner mistakes will go a long way in saving you from injury.


Table saw kickback

The obvious risks of table saws are lacerations and amputations. And you might think avoiding injury is as simple as not touching the blade.

But there’s another risk of table saws that’s far more common: kickback.

Kickback is when a board or piece of wood gets hurled back towards the user-side of the saw.

The force of a kickback is hard to imagine. But it can put a hole in a wall 30 feet away (yes, I know this from personal experience).

Table saw kickback

Not only can that mean getting smashed by a board…

The force is so strong and occurs so rapidly that your hands can get pulled into the blade in a fraction of a second.

Kickback is most common during rip cuts where you’re cutting a board along its length.

Causes include a board binding, pinching, twisting, or lifting onto the blade (you can read more about kickback here).

Avoiding the mistakes below go a long way in preventing kickback — as well as other common table saw dangers.


table saw tune up

Making sure your table saw is tuned and set up correctly is just as important as good technique while using it.

You need to make sure the table top, fence, and blade are all square and properly aligned.

It’s not too difficult of a process and doesn’t need to be done often.

But if you just purchased a table saw — new or used — it’s worth a check.

Here’s 5 Steps for setting up a new or used table saw.

Now, let’s get into the mistakes to avoid.


spinning table saw blade

Yes, this one seems ridiculously obvious. But you’d be amazed how often it happens.

All it takes is a momentary lapse of focus. Most of the time, it’s people reaching for an offcut while the saw is still running.

There are two ways to avoid this:

  • Always turn off the saw before reaching for cut boards or offcuts
  • If you don’t want to turn off the saw, use a push stick to move boards or offcuts far from the blade before grabbing

The moral of the story here is to stay focused.

Don’t make automatic motions, and be conscious of every move you make while the blade is running.


table saw ripping jig

Cutting freehand is when you cut a board without any sort of support to stabilize it — meaning no fence, miter gauge, or sled.

For a cut to be safe, a board needs to pass through the blade in a perfectly straight line.

Humans aren’t machines. And by using only your hands, there’s a high chance of rotating the board while pushing it through.

Even a slight rotation can lead to kickback.

Always, ALWAYS use either a fence, miter gauge, or shopmade sled while operating the saw.

Not only is it smart. It’ll give you the straightest and cleanest cuts.


riving knife

The riving knife is the thin piece of metal that’s mounted directly behind your table saw blade.

It’s slightly thinner than the table saw blade, letting it ride in the kerf of a board as it’s cut (the kerf is the space of waste removed by the blade).

Riving knives are critical to avoiding kickback.

They help prevent boards from twisting during a cut, and also keep the kerf from pinching the back of the blade.

On most table saws these days, the riving knife moves up and down with the blade as you raise or lower it. So even if you’re making non-through cuts, it won’t get in the way.

If your riving knife is at a fixed height, get another one and lop off the top for non-through cuts.


using a table saw safely

It seems natural to stand right behind a board as you push it through the table saw blade...

But you actually want to stand slightly to the side.

If there’s a kickback for any reason, you don’t want to be in the line of fire.

This is most critical for rip cuts, but good to keep in mind if you’re making crosscuts where the offcut is unsupported.

Kickbacks happen so fast you won’t ever have time to jump to the side. So be proactive about it.

Obviously, don’t have your feet so offset you’ve got to lean really far to push the board through. The point is to leave enough space for a board to pass if it shoots back.


table saw blade height

A lot of beginners will make cuts with the blade over a half inch higher than the thickness of a board.

There’s no reason to do this.

It unnecessarily leaves a ton of blade exposed while making cuts, increasing the chances of injury if your hand slips or there’s a sudden movement.

People might do this because they think the gullets (scooped sections between the teeth) need to be above the board — but they don’t.

The blade only needs to be high enough that the teeth reach around ⅛” higher than the board.

Before making a cut, set the board on the tabletop next to the blade. Raise the blade until the carbide teeth poke above it and lock it down.

The gullets will still do their job just fine. The less exposed blade the better.

Read more about table saw blades here.


table saw crosscut mistake

Here’s a general rule for table saw fences: Only use it to cut boards along their length, not their width.

Moving the shorter edge of a board along the fence is unstable. The short edge isn’t big enough of a reference surface and the board can twist, leading to a kickback.

Whenever cutting boards across their width, use a crosscut sled or miter gauge.

using table saw fence as stop block

The other mistake people make is using their fence as a stop block.

They’ll be using a crosscut sled and set the fence at the final distance they’re after. The danger here is the offcut will bind between the blade and fence and shoot back.

Instead, clamp a block at the user side of the fence and use this as the stop to position a board on your sled.

When you make the cut, the end of the board will be free of the stop and won’t bind.


table saw push sticks

First off, always use push sticks.

Unless the space between the fence and blade is wider than the distance between your outstretched thumb and pinky, there’s no good reason not to.

Need some gear? Here’s a 4-piece safety set with a push stick, push paddles, and a featherboard.

But to use push sticks correctly during a rip cut, you can’t just push a board forward through the blade.

You also need to simultaneously push the board down into the table top and sideways into the fence.

table saw featherboard

I usually use two push sticks and a featherboard when ripping, depending on the size of the board.

The featherboard helps keep the board snug against the fence (but you still need to add lateral pressure, especially past the blade).

I’ll use one push stick towards the front of the board to make sure it doesn’t lift. For the back push stick, I like to use one with a notch that hooks over the edge to keep forward pressure.

Make sure you’re always keeping pressure forward through the blade, down into the table top, and sideways into the fence.

One long skinny push stick at the back of a board simply isn’t enough.


ripping table saw mistake

This is another common beginner mistake with rip cuts.

To stay as far from the blade as possible, people will push a board against the fence by pushing on the outside edge.

This can work — as long as you only do it in the section before the blade.

Pushing on the outside edge past the beginning of the blade can pinch the kerf. And that can lead to a kickback.

This is why you always place a featherboard before the blade.

The best way to keep boards against the fence is with lateral pressure using push sticks between the blade and fence.

table saw featherboard placement


table saw mistake

Boards should be properly milled on one face and one edge before taking them to the table saw.

If the edge riding along the rip fence isn’t straight, you won’t be able to make a straight cut.

The board can shift position, twist, and ultimately shoot back.

If the face on the table top isn’t flat, there’s a greater chance of the board lifting up during a cut, or the blade not reaching all the way through.

Don’t worry. You don’t need a jointer to get a flat face and square, straight edge (though it definitely makes it easier).

Here’s 6 ways to joint a board without a jointer.


outfeed table

Even though they’re designed for cutting long boards, table saws don’t have very big table tops.

That means when ripping boards over a couple feet long, you really need an outfeed table for them to land on.

Sure, you could “muscle through” by putting enough pressure on the back to hold it steady. But that’s adding unnecessary risk.

Outfeed tables don’t need to be sleek and well designed. A piece of plywood on two sawhorses works great.

As long as the outfeed support is about the same height as your table saw’s table top, you’re good.

A little shorter is ok, but you don’t want it taller.


ripping thin strips table saw

Sometimes you need to cut a bunch of thin strips of the same thickness.

Your first thought might be to just set up the rip fence really close to the blade. But this isn’t a good idea.

When the fence is so close to the blade, there’s a high chance of the wood binding and kicking back. Even if that doesn’t happen, you’re liable to get burned edges.

The solution is actually to cut your thin strips on the offcut side of the blade.

Set up some kind of stop in the left miter slot. Its distance from the closest tooth on the blade will equal the thickness of your strips.

Butt your workpiece against it, then slide the fence against the opposite edge and lock it down. Remove the stop, make the cut, and repeat for subsequent strips.

We now carry this really cool thin rip table saw jig that doesn’t even have to be removed during cuts.

It locks into your miter slot and has an adjustable slider to change the strip thickness. And the stop has a roller that holds steady but won’t risk binding boards.


dado stack table saw

Even though tools aren’t sentient beings (at least for now), they can still tell you when a cut isn’t safe.

You need to learn how good cuts sound and feel.

If you’re making a cut and feel the board start to bind, or the blade stutters, or the sound gets really gnarly, or you smell burning — turn off the table saw and take a step back.

Try to figure out what was going wrong and fix it. It can be tempting to just power through, but a lot of times that’s asking for trouble.

The more you use your tools, the more familiar you’ll become with them.

You don’t need to be the table saw whisperer. Just learn what feels right — and what doesn’t.


table saw ppe

The best way to protect yourself from short or long term injury is to use personal protective equipment whenever operating heavy machinery.

Ear protection, safety goggles, dust mask — you should store these by your table saw and use them whenever operating it.

I know it can feel like a drag sometimes, and you see a bunch of people online using their table saw without them.

But if even a small piece of wood shoots back at your face, it’s better to be safe than sorry. And you don’t want to have hearing loss or dust-induced disease in 20 years.

I’d even argue that a heavy-duty shop apron is necessary PPE.

I can’t tell you how many messages I’ve gotten from people telling me that their Katz-Moses Tool Apron helped protect them from a kickback puncturing the skin.

We’ve also started carrying these 3M safety glasses that don’t fog up — even when you’re wearing a dust mask.


Table saw kickback

I’m very comfortable with my table saw. But even to this day, I do my best to avoid ALL the mistakes listed above.

No project is worth getting injured over.

And as long as you know what not to do, you’ll get great results — and not have to sacrifice any digits along the way.

Wondering how to stay safe with other big shop tools? Here’s some more reading about how to safely use a router table and jointer.

Got any other table saw mistakes beginners should know about? Tell us in the comments below!

Follow us on Instagram @katzmosestools, on TikTok @katzmoseswoodworking, and check out my YouTube channel for more great woodworking content...

And as always, STAY SAFE IN THE SHOP!

Jonathan Katz-Moses
Jonathan Katz-Moses

13 Responses

Andy Daoust
Andy Daoust

February 18, 2023

I had just read the blog. I haven’t had a kick back in decades. I use a 30 year old Bosch job-site saw. It’s a powerful and fairly accurate saw. I removed the guard when it was new as it was flimsy and always getting in the way.

Bosch sells a thin plastic zero clearance throat plate. It deflects quite a bit when a shorter board rides on it creating a hazard of the board twisting into the blade. It literally gave me goosebumps the first time I used it. It’s okay if the board is longer than the throat plate. I made zero clearance plates out of 5mm ply. It was a pain because it is 3D requiring many machine steps. It was very comforting the first time I used one.

I also built a riving knife for it upping my comfort level.

As a previous poster stated, its aluminum and feather boards are difficult, although I use one when I can.

I cut a 4×4 piece off a 24” long board, the day after reading the blog, the blade caught it and shot it like a gun across the room. I was standing to the side so it missed me.

The moral of the story is that getting injured usually takes more than one thing to go wrong. I should have had a push stick to clear the off cut, but body positioning kept me out of the firing line.

Now I’m going to step up my timeline to build a crosscut sled.

Or I’m going to buy a Sawstop job site saw. I became convinced after seeing Jonathan’s high speed video of it in action and the Bosch will be relegated to the shed and brought out for aluminum.


February 15, 2023

After reading your blog I made a nice push block out of some beautiful ash. A long taper on the nose and short 45 bevel on the rear, I drilled a 1 1/4 hole for thumb and fingers near the back up and away from saw blade.

I improved on the design by bolting a replaceable cleat on the back using 1/4 – 20 NYLON hex bolts and drilling and tapping two matching holes into the rear face.

I used NYLON because – as you pointed out in cross sled video – steel bolts may engage brake if to close to blade.

The length of 9 inches made a huge improvement on holding the wood down to table!!!

I also waxed my saw table making it much easier to guide wood across the saw.


Ken Boeckle
Ken Boeckle

February 13, 2023

I was trimming an “L” shaped piece (the top of the L was down). It did not occur to me that the leg of the L was almost as thin as the opening of my blade plate. In hindsight I should have installed my 0 clearance plate. Well, the part wedged between the blade and slot edge, exploded the part (wenge – very hard and brittle) sending parts of it 30 feet away braking the push stick and really bruising the palm of my hand.


February 13, 2023

When I first started out woodworking. I cut a board what was about as wide as it’s length, either the fence wasn’t squared or something else…well the blade took the wood and made a Ninja star out of it, luckily I stool to the left of the blade. My dog is now. WTH scared of it as it flew over her head.

Neil G
Neil G

February 12, 2023

I’ve been using a job site saw for a while. It’s only a few years old, but has no riving knife. It does have a guard with splitter and anti-kickback pawls. Having read and watched a number of articles and videos, I think it’s wise to replace the saw with one that has a proper riving knife.


February 12, 2023

Using a featherboard correctly one day, the offcut started to vibrate after the cut finished , and I pulled the offcut back towards me and it hit the featherboard which curved it into the saw blade which then took my hand into the blade. I realize I should have pushed it off the back of the saw A hard lesson to learn!

Rick Wonser
Rick Wonser

February 12, 2023

Thank you for your continued updates and educational posts.
I’m 70 and been woodworking since I was 10 yrs old, taught high school and college students all aspects of woodworking and metalworking.. Everyone can still learn no matter one’s experience level or years of working with wood …. At my age being reminded of safety, protection and procedures is still important !

Thanks again

Ken B
Ken B

February 12, 2023

Good article in a general sense. What you (and many others) assume is that the only table saws being used are those full size cabinet models with all the bells & whistles. The table saw that I have is a Metabo jobsite table saw, C10RJ, which works very well, but does have some differences from a full size saw. The first is that it does not have a cast iron table, so the magnetic jigs don’t work. The miter slot is just far enough away from the blade that the use of featherboards can be a bit difficult and that thin rip jig does not work, at all.

That is not to say that jobsite table saws can’t be used as Tamar from 3×3custom used one for many years until she recently got a full size one. It would be nice if you could post a similar blog using jobsite table saws to cover more of the differences.


February 12, 2023

Thanks for the nice article with safety tips…I had an experience that I’ll never forget and from it I established a much safer work habit…its size of the piece…I almost lost my fingers over it…I was trimming a piece of walnut. It was 1/8 × 2 × 3...I was using just my hand to rip it when it climbed over the blade and in a fraction of a second it pulled my hand over the top of the blade…I almost lost several fingers…from that I’ve decided that it’s much safer NOT to use the table saw on such a small piece but rather trim the piece with hand planes…just thought I’d pass that along


February 12, 2023

Blade guard? Anti- kickback pawls? They don’t always fit with the cut, but use them whenever possible. I’m surprised at how little attention the pawls get.

Mike Harbert
Mike Harbert

February 12, 2023

I was taught that when ripping, if it’s a through cut you should remove the riving knife (if possible) and use the splitter with the blade guard & anti-kickback pawls. Too many folks seem to completely ignore the blade guard/splitter and consign it to some dark & dusty forgotten space.

Javier Esteva
Javier Esteva

February 12, 2023

Not using the proper support in front of and/or behind the table saw.

Cliff Baughen
Cliff Baughen

February 12, 2023

In Europe table saws have to be sold with blade guards fitted. If you remove them you are putting your , and possibly others, safety at risk

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