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(Top) Looking under the saw head, I noticed where my wood went.
(Bottom) Notice the clean hole in the garage door.
(Click image to enlarge)

Ripping Error

Houston, We've had a problem.

Text & photos by Tom Hintz

Though I was aware of the anti-kickback features on my radial arm saw, I was just going to run one small test piece, just to see if it worked so I did not bother with setting those features. I turned the blade 90-degrees so it was parallel to the fence, set the width for an inch or so and depth. After turning the saw on, I moved the piece of wood to the blade and bang! It was gone. I looked at my hands--no blood, the appropriate number of digits, no swelling or numbness--I had escaped being clobbered.

   But, where did the 24-inch by 4-inch piece of wood go? I had not heard it hit anything behind me, nor felt anything go by or bounce off my side. I shut the saw off and bent down to look at the blade. As I retracted the blade guard, I saw where the wood had gone. Straight down the out feed table and through the garage door five feet away. I also realized the fresh hole in the garage door was about hood-height on my new mini-van parked outside. Fortunately, the impact with the door had knocked the momentum from the errant wooden missile and it had fallen harmlessly to the driveway.

   After a few minutes of pondering the possibilities of my carelessness, I took a closer look at the saw to see just how this had happened. I found the saw head would rotate 90-degrees to EITHER side of straight to allow ripping from either end of the worktable. I had turned the head to the wrong 90-degrees and was feeding the stock in the same direction the blade turned.

Setting up the anti-kickback features (left) on my radial arm saw takes only seconds. In some cases they actually help produce better cuts, in the wood, not your hands. I learned the hard way that getting the chip shield (right) as low as possible helps when pieces of knots are launched by the blade!
(Click photos to enlarge)

It had simply grabbed it and shot it out the other side. Just as it would have my hand if I had been even more careless.

   I turned the saw head to the proper position, set the anti-kickback, kerf separator and chip shield as per the instructions and tried it again--with the same piece of wood. This time the saw performed flawlessly and ripped the wood cleanly. Of course, the saw had performed as instructed the previous time also. I was the one in error, not the machine.

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