Shirt pulled into table saw experiments

People have commented on some of my YouTube videos that I'm not careful enough about loose shirt sleeves around the table saw. That criticism is no doubt justified, but I was thinking, if something were to happen, the zero clearance insert might prevent things from getting too catastrophic, so the shirt probably wouldn't get sucked in like it does in this demonstration video

So I attached a piece of soft fabric from a bed sheet to a stick of wood in such a way that it could still get pulled off the stick if it got caught in the blade. I held that over the saw to see what would happen when the blade hooked onto it. I added a block of wood on the other side of the blade so that my stick wouldn't get pulled down into the blade as well.

But the wind from the saw blade made it pretty much impossible to get that piece of cloth to make contact with the blade.

I figured the cloth was just too light, so folded it over, and then folded it over again at the bottom to be like a seam, and sewed it together that way.

Still, the wind from the blade was too much to get it to make good contact with the blade.

So I put a thin strip of wood behind the cloth to force that cloth against the spinning blade.

The blade chewed up the cloth quite nicely, but it never really grabbed hold of it. I never felt any sort of tug while getting the cloth chewed up. So the blade never really hooked onto the fabric.

So my next experiment was to make something more sleeve-like. I figured this would present something better for the blade to hook onto.

Wind from the blade was again a problem, so I put a splint inside the sleeve to make sure I could get it against the blade.

But try as I might, even with the spinning blade against the sleeve, I just couldn't get it to hook onto it.

John Heisz did manage toget the blade to catch the saw in his video, but I think you pretty much need to drag the whole shirt sleeve sideways across the blade for that to happen. And the path your arm would have to take for that to happen would cause it to be badly maimed, shirt or no shirt.

So I got a bit more daring. And sure enough, I could cut a piece of cloth on the saw without it getting sucked into the saw.

Everybody always says to avoid loose sleeves around the table saw because they can get pulled into the saw. But searching around for it, I couldn't find a single mention of an actual accident that was caused by that.

This study: doesn't even mention clothing getting caught in table saws as a source of accidents.

Not to say that table saws aren't dangerous. I think any discussion of table saw safety is useful to remind people of the possibility of accidents. But you should focus your safety concerns on things other than the clothes you wear.

As for myself, I should focus more on not reaching over the blade as much. Getting your fingers caught in the blade while reaching over or around the blade is far more likely to lead to an accident than loose clothes getting caught in the blade.

Whoa.... Quite the controversy!

So I failed to get a piece of cloth caught on the table saw and wrote about it. I thought it was interesting and unexpected, and potentially useful information. But people, especially a fraction of the ever-so-mature YouTube audience reads it as "Matthias is telling people to wear long sleeves around the table saw". My only response to that Please read the article (again).

Also, John Heisz did a search, and apparently, since I wrote this article, there is now a reference to an actual shirt sucked into saw accident on the web (wasn't there when I wrote the article): Interestingly enough, my article is now the first search result for "shirt sucked into table saw". on Google. I have to admit, I wrote this article three weeks prior to publishing it. That's an ironic aspect of the internet (and media in general) - ideas that some people vehemently disagree with spread the fastest by sheer controversy.

People have pointed out that a slower blade might be worse. I would expect that too. Certainly, I was able to snag on the stationary blade, and the accident at the link above is in fact for a saw that was spinning down. Many accidents happen reaching over a saw that has already been turned off, and the biggest shirt sucked into saw danger may also be with a spinning-down blade.

It has also been suggested I should try sweaters or towels, or whatever, which I'm sure would be more likely to catch. I should remind you that this is my main table saw that I rely on for precision cuts. Dropping a towel on the blade would no doubt do something, but might damage the saw, and wouldn't tell me anything about how likely it is that a shirt sleeve will get caught in the saw.. Slamming a sleeve on a stick onto the blade isn't useful either. If you do that with your arm, it will get mangled, even if the shirt didn't catch the blade.

An insightful YouTube comment by Jeff Scott:

I started a woodworking business about 20 years ago. I had teachers come in to teach classes at night so I met quite a few experienced people. I have personally never heard of anyone's sleeve being caught in a table saw, but I have heard quite a few horror stories involving loose clothing and machines that rotate more slowly. Specifically drill presses and wood lathes. One of my teachers, a police detective by day (who had a great many years of wood turning experience), told me of responding to an emergency call where a man had been killed by an industrial lathe after his clothing was caught in it. One of my own customers nearly lost his thumb to a Forstner bit on a drill press when his sleeve was caught. Fortunately, the material tore and he was almost instantly released. Nonetheless, he was soundly frightened and bleeding.

Though you were unsuccessful in your attempts to catch the material, that doesn't mean it isn't possible. What would happen if your sleeve just flapped in the breeze of the blade and startled you? Might you then come in to contact with the blade inadvertently if you jumped, even a little bit? It isn't much of an inconvenience to keep loose clothing under control and it MIGHT just be to your benefit. If you are wrong, even just once, imaging what could happen - that could change your life. My whole, long-winded, point is: better safe, than sorry. Safety is not an inconvenience.

This is not meant to be any kind of criticism of your video. It is just my two cents as a woodworker and Millwright with 30+ years experience, who still has all of his fingers. Please be careful everyone.

Back to my Woodworking website