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March 18, 2010 12:27 AM   Subscribe

One World Technologies, manufacturer of Ryobi tools, has been ordered to pay damages of US$1.5 million to Carlos Osorio who injured his fingers while using a Ryobi table saw. The case hinged on the Ryobi's lack of "flesh sensing technology" which is found only SawStop's [previously] saws.

SawStop garnered extensive bad press in hobbyist circles by attempting to make their patented technology mandatory on all table saws after they failed to find a market for their blade stopping technology with other manufacturers.

If the judgment is not overturned it will usher in sweeping changes to stationary woodworking tools of every description as SawStop's technology could be adapted to anything with a blade or electric motor.
posted by Mitheral (225 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
I'm going to go ahead and call this a good thing. I've seen the technology work and it seems to have very few drawbacks.

Sure, there will be folks who get annoyed with it and disable it, and saws will cost more. Other companies have fought hard to keep this out, though, and that is a real crime.

Once you are missing fingers it changes your whole life (ask my uncle who lost his to an airplane hangar door chain)
posted by poe at 12:44 AM on March 18, 2010


What the hell was the guy doing with the table saw, trimming his fingernails?
posted by crapmatic at 12:44 AM on March 18, 2010


Suppose he should have bought a SawStop if he really wanted that feature, so I'm not sure how negligent it is on the part of Ryobi. As a tradesman who works with power tools regularly, I'd take this as an example of getting what you pay for, what with SawStop having a 4-6x higher pricepoint than Ryobi.
posted by l2p at 12:47 AM on March 18, 2010 [11 favorites]


I'm going to go ahead and call this a good thing. I've seen the technology work and it seems to have very few drawbacks.

It seems a very bad precedent to make a patented technology mandatory, or to award damages because a company didn't employ a technology which is under patent to someone else.
posted by Jimbob at 12:47 AM on March 18, 2010 [79 favorites]


Here's the problem:

It's a great technology. And everybody should use it. But whether it should be illegal not to use it, should not be decided by either the patent system or the court system.

SawStop should be compensated -- perhaps even handsomely -- for creating such a great technology. But providing essentially monopoly rights over basic hardware? SawStop could 10x the cost of the equipment if they wanted. Or they could simply declare they're only licensing the technology to one company, and everybody else can simply go out of business.
posted by effugas at 12:50 AM on March 18, 2010 [15 favorites]


Smells a bit like regulatory capture, no? (Not that it isn't something I'd like on my own saw, but as someone pointed out in the [previously] thread, lots of table-saw injuries are due to kickback, not to having an actual bodypart go through the blade.)
posted by hattifattener at 12:54 AM on March 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm increasingly convinced that patent law is broken.

Imagine, though, a world where any company that invents a sufficiently effective safety technology can have this kind of force. Engineers would suddenly be scrambling to make devices safe in amazing ways that couldn't possibly happen otherwise.

That sounds horrible.
posted by poe at 12:58 AM on March 18, 2010 [5 favorites]


That's fucking ridiculous.

The fact that people aren't interested in paying for the technology, or rather paying a huge premium for a product that licenses the patent (since the underlying technology is not very expensive). I don't know if the Air bag was still under patent when it became mandatory, since it was invented in the 1950s.
posted by delmoi at 12:58 AM on March 18, 2010


Rentseeking.

There. I said it. The fuckers are seeking a fucking rent.
posted by mr_roboto at 1:01 AM on March 18, 2010 [15 favorites]


A world without patents would be a happier, more creative place.
posted by koeselitz at 1:03 AM on March 18, 2010 [5 favorites]


Related -

Wilson M. Hood, Plaintiff-appellant, v. Ryobi America Corporation; Ryobi North America, Incorporated,

UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE FOURTH CIRCUIT - 181 F.3d 608 (4th Cir. 1999)


"Wilson M. Hood lost part of his thumb and lacerated his leg when he removed the blade guards from his new Ryobi miter saw and then used the unguarded saw for home carpentry. Hood sued Ryobi, alleging that the company failed adequately to warn of the saw's dangers and that the saw was defective. Applying Maryland products liability law, the district court granted summary judgment to Ryobi on all claims...

Warned never to operate his miter saw without the blade guards in place, Hood nonetheless chose to detach those guards and run the saw in a disassembled condition. We hold that Ryobi is not liable for Hood's resulting injuries under any of the theories of recovery raised here. The judgment of the district court is therefore AFFIRMED."
posted by inconsequentialist at 1:08 AM on March 18, 2010 [9 favorites]


poe: “Imagine, though, a world where any company that invents a sufficiently effective safety technology can have this kind of force. Engineers would suddenly be scrambling to make devices safe in amazing ways that couldn't possibly happen otherwise. ¶ That sounds horrible.”

Imagine a world so rife with patent-inspired corruption that, six years (and 18,000 amputated body parts) after a device which could have saved all those body parts was invented, the company that holds the patent still sees dollar signs in the air and can't get the apparently enormous price they're asking for the technology, so they latch onto lawsuits in the hopes of forcing companies to pay their exorbitant fees.

If they get the patent, somebody should counter-sue and pull together those 3,000 people per year who have been losing an appendage to saws since this company had the ability to help them and was too greedy to do anything about it.
posted by koeselitz at 1:09 AM on March 18, 2010 [10 favorites]


If this works with blenders and food processors I guess we can expect to see a base price of $600 for a Cuisinart in the near future.
posted by Tashtego at 1:11 AM on March 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


"If this works with blenders and food processors I guess we can expect to see a base price of $600 for a Cuisinart in the near future."

It doesn't; People are basically indistinguishable from food to the sensor (which is why the hot dog demo works). Plus it will trigger falsely on wet wood so can't be applied to tools like chainsaws and wood chippers.
posted by Mitheral at 1:16 AM on March 18, 2010


Man, what's fucking next? Asshole-sensing technology to avoid deaths from road rage?

Unbelievable.
posted by fourcheesemac at 1:17 AM on March 18, 2010


Here's the problem:

It's a great technology. And everybody should use it. But whether it should be illegal not to use it


...is not even close to the correct framing of the legal principle.

This was a tort of negligence, ie the court decided that Ryobi did not take reasonable measures in their duty of care towards users of their power tools, who could foreseeably be injured if the technology was not used.

It has nothing to do with making it illegal not to use the technology. Companies can still sell tools without the fancy new gizmo. This just makes it very financially risky to do so.

And raises the bar for everybody - if your company is not incorporating the best shit around, even if it cannot afford to buy a licence under the patent system, then be prepared to be blown out of the market by lawsuits from people who chose your product in the first place because it was cheaper than the best-of-breed doodad with the patent.
posted by UbuRoivas at 1:22 AM on March 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


It seems a very bad precedent to make a patented technology mandatory

Except that it isn't a precedent, because it already happens all the time. When discussing new standards, companies are required to disclose any patents, granted or pending, that they deem essential for complying with the planned standard. If the standard is adopted, they are then obliged to offer licences to those essential patents on "Fair, Reasonable, and Non-Discriminatory" (FRAND) terms, or they could get the anti-trust authorities on their case (just ask Rambus). Nokia's case against Apple hinges on ten apparently very strong such essential patents related to various wireless standards (GSM, WiFi, Bluetooth), which is why I believe Apple is going to end up with plenty of egg on its face for refusing to buy Nokia's FRAND licences.
This case is of course slightly different, because it isn't an industry body, but a judge setting a de facto standard. Nevertheless, SawStop would be well-advised to offer FRAND licences, not just to avoid the interest of the anti-trust authorities, but also for simple economic and industrial reasons: otherwise it would be obliged to ramp up production to satisfy on its own a demand which would then collapse when the patents expire. Besides, I seriously doubt that the competition can't find a work-around around SawStop's patents: I can think of many ways to implement a "flesh-sensing technology".
posted by Skeptic at 1:26 AM on March 18, 2010 [14 favorites]


It seems a very bad precedent to make a patented technology mandatory

Three-point seat belts were patented. Should they not have been made mandatory?
posted by rodgerd at 1:37 AM on March 18, 2010 [6 favorites]


I loved the technology (watch the video in the second link, despite the name of the company and the article being misleading their system doesn't so much stop the blade as make it vanish) when I first saw it 6 years ago but, as a sometimes remodeler I think I'll keep the $900 premium and myself out of the lines of force.
A lot of safety devices give you a false sense of security anyway and it's best to pretend that they don't exist because acting in that manner gives you the greatest chance of avoiding injury. I can't wait to hear the defense from SawStop the first time someone sues them because they lost some digits owing to a SawStop system malfunction.
posted by vapidave at 1:41 AM on March 18, 2010


My understanding is that the SawStop technology basically destroys your blade if it triggers. Good, if it saves your hand. Bad if it triggers falsely. And a user following correct safety procedures without SawStop is at least as safe as a careless user who is protected only by the SawStop technology.
posted by Joe in Australia at 1:41 AM on March 18, 2010


You can pry my non flesh sensing stationary woodworking tools from my cold dead stumps!
posted by Damienmce at 1:47 AM on March 18, 2010 [15 favorites]


Well, crap. Does this mean I have to go back to cutting up the bodies by hand?
posted by sexyrobot at 1:55 AM on March 18, 2010 [23 favorites]


This was a tort of negligence, ie the court decided that Ryobi did not take reasonable measures in their duty of care towards users of their power tools, who could foreseeably be injured if the technology was not used.

It has nothing to do with making it illegal not to use the technology. Companies can still sell tools without the fancy new gizmo. This just makes it very financially risky to do so.
Come on, that's ridiculous hair splitting. Making any company that sells these things liable for any injuries if they don't license the patent is effectively the same thing as making these devices illegal if they don't license the patent.
posted by delmoi at 1:56 AM on March 18, 2010 [3 favorites]


If the SawStop history is to believed, then they tried fairly hard to licence their technology to the saw manufacturing industry, who refused to look at it precisely because it would open them up to liability for every incident with a tool they sold that didn't have it. Given that the saw manufacturers had managed through a series of legal cases to ensure that they carried no legal liability for injuries occurring as a result of using their tools whatsoever they were loath to incorporate any safety features into their tools which might expose them to a liability which they had hitherto managed to completely avoid.

SawStop only started manufacturing their own saws after they had failed to sell the technology. Being a nîche product, they went up the quality scale because it was the only way to make a product that would be profitable: they couldn't possibly compete with the bottom of the range stuff from the major manufacturers.

People can be bad at assessing risk: we tend to assume that bad things won't happen to us, especially if we think we're in control of the system in question: after all you would never be so stupid as to put your finger through the blade of a table saw, right? In the real world, bad things can happen to good people & people are losing fingers and hands to tools that could be installed with a safety feature that would prevent those injuries at a net cost which is less than the economic cost of those injuries. The fact that the saw manufacturing industry has resisted the use of such a feature is depressing, but entirely understandable from their point of view.

(See the history of steam pressure vessels & safety valves in the US for a similar tale of an industry that refused to mandate a safety feature, because it would increase the cost of the product, at the cost of many lives until the installation of safety valves was made mandatory.)
posted by pharm at 2:05 AM on March 18, 2010 [15 favorites]


What the hell was the guy doing with the table saw, trimming his fingernails?

I saw a guy take one of his fingertips off with a chop saw. Of course he was stoned at the time, and attempting to move a plugged in power tool by picking it up by the guard and the start trigger probably wasn't the smartest move either.

I still don't think this a good thing.
posted by P.o.B. at 2:10 AM on March 18, 2010


Come on, that's ridiculous hair splitting.

Distinguishing between common law torts & criminal / regulatory law is ridiculous hair splitting?!? Lord Atkin, forgive him, he knows not what he says.

deep breaths, deep breaths, must...not...talk...law...with...non...law...talking...guys...
posted by UbuRoivas at 2:14 AM on March 18, 2010 [4 favorites]


Well, crap. Does this mean I have to go back to cutting up the bodies by hand?

NOOB! You don't use a saw to cut flesh, you use an electric knife. Then you use a hammer or axe to disjoint that sucker. Next you'll be telling me you dump bodies in the water without stickin' 'em a coupla times. See Scarabic, I coulda passed the final.
posted by BrotherCaine at 2:20 AM on March 18, 2010 [3 favorites]


Distinguishing between common law torts & criminal / regulatory law is ridiculous hair splitting?!?

Yeah it's hair splitting. The effect is the same. Think about an IT example. I mean Macs are and PCs are totally different right? But no one is going to care whether someone uses a Dell or a MacBook Pro to beat them over the head.
posted by delmoi at 2:21 AM on March 18, 2010 [4 favorites]


When I was in middle school one of the kids in wood shop picked the wrong time to reach in front of a miter saw. 18 hours of surgery or something ridiculous like that to reattach his hand.
posted by BrotherCaine at 2:22 AM on March 18, 2010


Making any company that sells these things liable for any injuries if they don't license the patent is effectively the same thing as making these devices illegal if they don't license the patent.

This ruling doesn't force anyone to license SawStop, but it does force them to spend close to what a SawStop license would cost on developing their own systems. Or to spend what they would lose in tort actions on developing their own systems. Either way, I don't see why it's such a bad thing.

And, Ubu, I think "making it illegal", in common parlance, doesn't necessarily mean "making it a criminal offence" so much as "making it something that the law forces (for some value of 'forces') you to refrain from".
posted by GeckoDundee at 2:34 AM on March 18, 2010


Well, crap. Does this mean I have to go back to cutting up the bodies by hand?

Only if you can somehow recast this in terms of Mac versus Windows.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:48 AM on March 18, 2010


I guess I don't need to worry about dental coverage after all. I'll just pick up some power tools, start the work myself, and sue for whatever is needed to finish the job professionally.
posted by Avelwood at 2:49 AM on March 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


And, Ubu, I think "making it illegal", in common parlance, doesn't necessarily mean "making it a criminal offence" so much as "making it something that the law forces (for some value of 'forces') you to refrain from".

I disagree, but will make this final comment before stepping out of the derail:

Legality & illegality are black & white - you can either do something or not. Negligence tort law is about whether or not you have taken reasonable precautions; it's a lot more grey, and instead of things being categorically ruled out, the balance is merely altered between what you do & the potential risks you face.

For an example closer to home: when some dickheaded English backpacker dived into the surf at Bronte beach after a night on ecstasy & a dozen beers, and broke his neck as a result, he sued the arse out of the local surf lifesaving club for not adequately signposting a sandbank.

This did not make surf lifesaving illegal. It merely pushed the lifesavers' public liability insurance up so high that surf lifesaving clubs had to work overtime with lamington drives etc to raise enough money to pay for the insurance.

They're very different things.
posted by UbuRoivas at 2:51 AM on March 18, 2010


I get that. But when someone says to me "no, we can't do that, it's illegal now", they rarely mean "it has been made a criminal offence" and usually mean "company policy forbids it on legal grounds" and those grounds are usually tort related.

(Though tort reform in Australia over the last decade or so has reined in most of the stupid excesses).

But why am I arguing with you? Yeah, properly speaking, "illegal" should mean "contrary to public law", which has very little to do with tort.
posted by GeckoDundee at 3:00 AM on March 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


Legality & illegality are black & white - you can either do something or not.

Oh come on, people use the word 'illegal' all the time to refer to torts. Copyright infringement would be the most obvious, even before any type of criminal copyright infringement laws passed. Here's an example on illegal interview questions, despite the fact that these only open up the chance of a discrimination suit.

And saying "It's not illegal, it's just that if you do it there will be massive legal consequences, to the extent that you will go bankrupt for sure" (And it's not something like your surf lifeguard example, which is the result of a rare occurrence, rather people will be building tons of these machines, and many people will lose bits of their fingers on 'em)
posted by delmoi at 3:06 AM on March 18, 2010 [4 favorites]


Discrimination is explicitly illegal where I come from.

Or, better put, illegal discrimination is illegal. There are also legal ways to discriminate between people.
posted by UbuRoivas at 3:13 AM on March 18, 2010


LET'S TALK ABOUT POWER TOOLS.
posted by UbuRoivas at 3:14 AM on March 18, 2010


Three-point seat belts were patented. Should they not have been made mandatory?

If a technology is found to be so useful in saving lives (or fingers) that it is deemed to be mandatory, then when I'm King, the patent shall be withdrawn and the inventor compensated with a suitably generous sum. And, yes, I would apply this wholeheartedly to drug patents.
posted by Jimbob at 3:15 AM on March 18, 2010 [6 favorites]


LET'S TALK ABOUT POWER TOOLS.
posted by Jimbob at 3:16 AM on March 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


OK, I'm going to invent a device that prevents a BB gun from firing if it's pointed at a person. When the gun manufacturers reject my device, I will persuade the parents of the next kid to have an eye shot out by a gun made after the rejection to sue the manufacturers for not including my device in their product.

There are a lot of possibilities here.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:06 AM on March 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


Whatever. I still think this SawStop bunch of jokers owes a whole boatload of amputees a whole lot of cash for greedily holding on to their patent for nigh on a decade without caring even in the slightest that people were losing limbs.
posted by koeselitz at 4:10 AM on March 18, 2010


King Jimbob, what would be a "suitably generous sum"? Because different people may have different ideas about what is suitable.
Take your example: drugs. The big cost in drugs isn't that of the research to find potentially therapeutic substances, but the Phase I, II, and III clinical tests afterwards. I've heard the Phase III tests for a single drug candidate usually cost upwards of a billion dollars. I've also read that the ratio of interesting substances to approved drugs after all three phases is about 200:1. So, when you buy a patented medicine, you aren't just paying for its R&D, but also for that of the other 199 substances.

The beauty about patents is that they let the market set the price, rather than some arbitrary ruler that may or may not like that particular inventor. Of course, the market isn't particularly moral or infallible: this is why drug companies invest more in potency drugs that in antimalarial drugs: andropausal men in the First World are apparently far readier to pay to get a boner themselves than to save the life of an African child they don't know. But that's where the authorities should intervene to set other incentives.

BTW, what you propose already exists: it's called a "compulsory licence", and even under the much-maligned TRIPS treaty it's an option open to countries in case of a health emergency. Brazil used this quite efficiently for AIDS drugs. Thabo Mbeki's government in South Africa also tried it, but bumbled spectacularly (as in much of its AIDS policy) and was held up in courts for a longuish while...
posted by Skeptic at 4:29 AM on March 18, 2010 [3 favorites]


I recognize that there's a strong thread of conservative outrage trolling in pieces like linked article, but even so, it's just frustrating that we've become such a society of loudmouthed blame-junkies that we're going to turn every simple thing in the world into an aggregation of complex systems that cost a fortune, break down, weigh a ton, or interfere with the proper function of the device.

The SawStop technology is just fine. It's a cute little psychological rubber bumper for people who shouldn't be anywhere near a table saw. Heck, it should be mandatory for high school shop class equipment, even, but if you're taking up a career as a carpenter and you can't be bothered to remember, on each and every cut you ever make, that the tool you're using can severely hurt you, you need to pick another line of work. I don't accept that "accidents happen" line of defense, because statistically speaking, accidents don't happen. Negligence happens, distractions happen, and carelessness happens, but the number of injuries caused by random mechanical failures are statistically almost non-existent.

Should we hood and guard and secure and encrust our power tools with clunky, unreliable systems, completely incompatible with each other, to the point of making the tools difficult to use because people are jumping into careers that they don't take seriously enough to make them work safely?

When I bought my little bench-top table saw, it came with a crappy overhanging rattly "guard" that was so fiddly and intrusive that it'd get me so angry just trying to make it work that I didn't work as safely as I did when I ripped it off and threw it out, because every single time I turn on my saw, I don't assume I'm going to be okay because I have always been okay in the past. Virtually every time I make a cut, I look at the work, at the tool, and at the process I'm going to use, and I think of ways that that machine could hurt me. The workpiece could kick back, or I could slip while I'm guiding the piece through, or the blade could lift up the piece and I'd foolishly reach over without thinking to push it down and—

—Except those things don't happen, because I think out every movement and every outcome before I hit the switch. I picture a fragment of nail catching the blade, zinging out and shooting through my eye, and I check my safety glasses. I picture my hand slipping as I guide a piece through and I opt to use a push stick instead. There's danger everywhere, and I take it as truth and look for the alternative path around that occurrence.

Some people find that way of looking at things to be sort of grim and unpleasant, but I love my carpentry work and all the other jobs I do that carry an inherent risk, because I actively manage the risks and benefits of my tools, materials, and skills and remember at all times that the second I get smug, overconfident, or lazy, something is going to hurt me. That's what we lose when we clap a safety system onto everything and create tools that are unaffordable, unwieldy, and short-lived (the SawStop mechanism needs to be expensively renewed periodically). It becomes easier to lose the alert and focused mental framework you need to work safely when you're assured of a safety net.

With things like seatbelts, it's a no-brainer, because that system is inexpensive, does not substantively interfere with the driving task, and provides astronomical returns for minimal investment. When it comes to a electronic system that drives explosives, I don't think it's the same equation. Driving a car, you're dealing with hundred of other drivers on a trip, any of which might make a poor judgment. Working with the saw, it should be you and your workpiece and a shell of probability assessments and nothing else.

If it isn't, you're doing it wrong.

To be sure, I'm sad for the people who have "accidents" like this, even though they aren't really accidents, but I'm sorry that something in their life history led them to do something dangerous without the psychological tools to manage the risks, not sorry that something random and unfortunate happened to them, because there's nothing random about these incidents. Someone turned on a saw without engaging their whole attention, and it hurt them. How 'bout we concentrate on educating people to do it right rather then to just push the bar back so that they can get away with lazy thinking until they do something really stupid?
posted by sonascope at 4:42 AM on March 18, 2010 [45 favorites]


I demand the right to cut off my fingers if I damn well please!
posted by Pollomacho at 5:12 AM on March 18, 2010


Fingers schmingers. I don't have seatbelts in the back of my Beetle, because - as a 1966 model - she predates the mandatory seatbelt rule, and i have no obligation to retrofit them.

I guess that exposes me to some kind of negligence tort, should a passenger be injured as a result of me thumping into somebody at 25 Mph.

That's just the kind of devil-may-care existence I lead, especially when I blast Belle & Sebastian* on the cassette deck out of the one working speaker at volume 9 (it only goes up to 9)

* only for rhetorical effect. in fact, I have no B&S.
posted by UbuRoivas at 5:23 AM on March 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


I've been working with my son since he was 6 on how to handle power tools safely. (Yes, 6.) You ALWAYS emphasize they're NOT toys, and the most important safety mechanism is a working brain that's aware of the danger. The bandsaw used to shave pieces off a Pinewood Derby car (with my hands ALWAYS on his at first, keeping his fingers well away from moving parts) will shear through a finger in short order (as shown by a wooden dowel cut badly) and that his flesh and bone is a lot softer than anything used in the shop. (Except the glue and paints, but that's got it's own problems.)

As he got older, I've let him do more and more as he's wanted to - always staying close, always keeping an eye on him, always emphasizing safety.

We messed up a lot of wood, had a lot of fun, never had any problems, always stayed safe.

Complacency breeds carelessness. Carelessness leads to lost body parts. Make something foolproof - and some fool will figure out some way to bypass the safeguards and hurt himself, then sue the maker for making it POSSIBLE for him to bypass the safeguards and hurt himself.

"How 'bout we concentrate on educating people to do it right rather then to just push the bar back so that they can get away with lazy thinking until they do something really stupid?"

Been trying to do that, Sonascope - and so far, so good...
posted by JB71 at 5:28 AM on March 18, 2010 [5 favorites]


Joe_in_Australia above brought up an interesting point. I had always thought that there was a very fast solenoid that made the blade go down inside the saw but it turns out it works like this:
"A heavy-duty aluminum brake stops the blade.

The blade stops within milliseconds of detecting contact, quicker than a car airbag deploys.

During this time three things happen:

* An aluminum brake springs into the spinning blade, to stop the blade.
* The blade’s angular momentum drives the blade beneath the table, removing the risk of subsequent contact.
* Power to the motor is shut off.

Resetting the saw is easy. It takes about five minutes to replace the $69 single-use brake cartridge and blade."
$69 dollars? And I'm sure as sensitive of an instrument as it is it knows to keep sawing bugs and plant material and other types of stuff that floats around a typical small construction site rather than mistake them for human flesh and cost $69 in the process.
No effing way are people going to pay that. Ask the contractor you work for to get one and he'll say "Keep your hands out of the blade and don't stand where the wood is going to fly when there's a kickback".

Nearly every table saw sold is to a small construction company or to an advanced diy-er and they last a long, long time. Add that to the $900 premium and the increased operating cost and I don't think we're going to see as many SawStop table saws in the future as the owners of the technology might like.

An aside: The insurance companies have a blue book for body parts. The dollar value of the insurance compensation, over and above any medical expenses, for missing arms, legs, ears, eyes &c. For hands it's detailed down to the knuckle for each of your digits and makes a distinction between favored and non-favored hand. The amounts that I remember were trivially small. Like about a tenth of what you might be willing to pay to have the part replaced if such a thing were possible. As of 1986 the external parts that differentiate women and men were entirely absent from the list.
posted by vapidave at 5:32 AM on March 18, 2010 [3 favorites]


How 'bout we concentrate on educating people to do it right rather then to just push the bar back so that they can get away with lazy thinking until they do something really stupid?

Companies that make dangerous products love this kind of thinking. That's why gun manufacturers spend so much time advocating gun safety, and alcohol companies talk so much about drinking responsibly. It places all of the blame on the victim of the accidents and deflects pressure to make the products safer.
posted by burnmp3s at 5:35 AM on March 18, 2010 [7 favorites]


Pushstick(if made from off-cut scrap): $0
Pushstick(fancy plastic kind): $3
Respecting your tools: Pricele--- Fucking necessary.
posted by edbles at 5:37 AM on March 18, 2010 [5 favorites]


Having survived several years of cabinetmaking with all digits intact, I still cannot turn on a table saw without all of my attention focused on that spinning blade. I removed safety guards not because I wanted to circumvent the ministrations of concerned engineers, but because I wanted a clear and constant view of the danger.

SawStop is an interesting technology that may prevent many injuries, but its protection is hidden to the eye (and thus the mind) under several layers of complexity. IMHO, mandating ever-escalating technical solutions tends to increase the possibility of future failure, and shifts control from the user to algorithms. Although efficiency may improve, safety awareness is reduced.

Are we tool users, or used by the tool?
posted by cenoxo at 5:41 AM on March 18, 2010 [4 favorites]


Does this mean there is going to be a rush for saws at home improvement stores similar to what's going on with ammo at gun shops?
posted by sciurus at 5:43 AM on March 18, 2010


How 'bout we concentrate on educating people to do it right rather then to just push the bar back so that they can get away with lazy thinking until they do something really stupid?

how 'bout Americans start making things again so the million or so lawyers with nothing to do can quit making laws and lawsuits and get productive jobs in the real world.
posted by larry_darrell at 5:47 AM on March 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


From the OregonLive link:

Carpinello likens flesh-detection technology to airbags, which fueled a similar slew of litigation when they were first installed in cars. Automakers without airbags got sued for not adopting the better safety design. Now, all cars have airbags.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission is considering whether to create stricter standards for table saws, said spokesman Scott Wolfson. However, the standard will not necessarily benefit SawStop. "The CPSC will not write a standard to help one company," Wolfson said. "The industry can find another way to meet the standard."

posted by mediareport at 5:48 AM on March 18, 2010


When it comes to a electronic system that drives explosives, I don't think it's the same equation.

You mean, like airbags?1

(1) Yes, pedants, I know.
posted by atrazine at 5:51 AM on March 18, 2010


You know, I was careless once with my table saw. Instead of reaching for the push stick (which was sitting right next to me), I attempted to push a small piece of ply past the blade with my hand. The top of the spinning blade went through 1/2 my fingertip before I pulled it away. I kept my fingertip but now have no sensation in that end and a nice deep scar to remind me.

It only took once.

I now approach my tablesaw with a proper level of attention and respect (and not a little fear) every time I use it. That attention and respect extends to all my tools, including the miter saw, the band saw, routers, etc. While I like the Sawstop technology (having seen it personally at several woodworking tradeshows) and think it should be mandatory in high school and (probably) factory production settings, it is no substitute for care and preparation.
posted by Chrischris at 5:59 AM on March 18, 2010


On one hand, I'm all for people taking responsability for their own actions and for makers of machinery not being overburdened with nannying H&S requirements.
On the other hand, the "dangerous sense of safety" argument strikes me as singularly fallacious: by that measure, road safety would be improved by replacing all airbags by sharp spikes oriented directly towards the driver's vital organs. That should make him more alert.
posted by Skeptic at 6:00 AM on March 18, 2010


With all the talk of car safety devices, the courts might want to consider Risk Compensation.

That theory would predict SawStop users would increase use speed at the expense of safety. A corollary is that people would not revert to old habits if switching from an equipped to non-equipped saw.
posted by anthill at 6:01 AM on March 18, 2010 [3 favorites]


koeselitz: "Whatever. I still think this SawStop bunch of jokers owes a whole boatload of amputees a whole lot of cash for greedily holding on to their patent for nigh on a decade without caring even in the slightest that people were losing limbs."

I know you're just trolling koeselitz, but as I understand it the existing table saw manufacturers simply refused to use the technology. Licensing costs were not the problem, admission of potential liability was.
posted by pharm at 6:05 AM on March 18, 2010


Sawstop: How it works. Video # 5, An Inside Look, shows the aluminum (aluminium) brake pawl jumping into the teeth of the blade in in slow motion. I've seen an example of a brake pawl that was jammed into the teeth of a saw blade, and they were stuck together pretty good. I'm not sure if the saw blade would be easily salvageable. But, yeah, you and your 10 healthy fingers could easily go to the store and buy another blade. The lawsuit and judgement? Ridiculous.
posted by Daddy-O at 6:05 AM on March 18, 2010


Cenoxo - Are we tool users, or used by the tool?

Tools of the tool, perhaps.

Burnmp3s - "It places all of the blame on the victim of the accidents and deflects pressure to make the products safer."

I disagree. It places responsibility on the user to actually respect the danger of what they're doing, and knowing the right way to do the job.

My father was pretty expert in the shop - but he mangled a finger badly when he tried using the side of a carbide studded cutoff blade in a table saw to grind down the side of a steel block. (Both things were wrong separately, but squared when combined.)

We were both in the basement at the time (I was about 14 or so) and I came over when the saw made a horrible sound and jammed. His leather glove was shredded, and the top of his right index finger was ground to the bone when the steel caught on the blade and flipped his hand against the blade. His first (coherent) words to me were "See? This is what happens when you're stupid with power tools." He knew he was misusing the blade and the table saw, but didn't think through what could go wrong.

The table saw? Safe, when used as directed. The carbide blade? Again, safe when used as directed. Combined? Still safe - when used as directed. When not used as directed? Fucking unsafe as all hell.

You CAN'T use power tools and disconnect your brain, no matter how many safety mechanisms are attached.
posted by JB71 at 6:06 AM on March 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


Safety equipment, particularly when it doesn't impair any features or add much cost, is an absolute good. There is absolutely no reason in the world why tablesaws shouldn't have this technology and arguing against it is stupidly moralistic (i.e. "cutting your fingers off builds character").

But I agree that a monopoly is a bad thing. That's why patents expire.

Once every hardware manufacturer in the world needs to add this technology, I'm betting that SawStop becomes only one of many vendors with technology like this. In 20 years, we'll look back on present tools with a fond horror--"I can't believe we used to endanger our lives with tools like that!"
posted by DU at 6:10 AM on March 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


arguing against it is stupidly moralistic (i.e. "cutting your fingers off builds character").

Or perhaps an analogy is a better point: Go look at the arguments against mandatory seatbelts in cars from 30 years ago. (That is, including them in the first place during manufacturing.) They are the exact same arguments against safe tablesaws that are in this thread.
posted by DU at 6:12 AM on March 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


'Do not attempt to arrest motion of table saw with hands or genitals,' what do you know, the warning was there the entire time.
posted by LD Feral at 6:17 AM on March 18, 2010


anthill: "With all the talk of car safety devices, the courts might want to consider Risk Compensation.

That theory would predict SawStop users would increase use speed at the expense of safety. A corollary is that people would not revert to old habits if switching from an equipped to non-equipped saw.
"

Whilst I completly agree that risk compensation is real, what also matters is the disconnect between the perceived risk of an activity and the real risk. You can see many examples in this thread of what you might call the agency fallacy: we're hard wired to think that if we're in control of a situation then we can control the risks associated with it.

Unfortunately, our mental heuristics that we use for risk management every day mean that we tend to significantly underestimate the probability of rare catastrophic events where we control a system. (Correspondingly we tend to overestimate the probability of catastrophic failure in systems that we don't control.)

Hence as a group, carpenters are almost certainly underestimating the probability of injury due to table saw accidents: the "It'll never happen to me because I'm a careful carpenter. Those other guys? Well, they weren't careful enough." line of thinking.

Risk compensation happens when people adjust their behaviour to perceived risk. If the real underlying risk improves by a greater amount than the increase in risk due to a change in behaviour, then the net change can still be positive. I personally suspect that the SawStop falls within this category.
posted by pharm at 6:18 AM on March 18, 2010


I don't think so, Tim.

someone had to say it
posted by mccarty.tim at 6:18 AM on March 18, 2010 [3 favorites]


It places all of the blame on the victim of the accidents and deflects pressure to make the products safer.

Table saws are boxes that contain a spinning wheel of death. The wheel is designed to be raised or lowered and to be angled to one side - but to be used it must protrude from the table. It is intrinsically dangerous. You can do a whole lot of things with a table saw - they're marvellous devices and marvellously cheap. It is indisputable that they can be made safer, but even the SawStop technology doesn't actually make them safe. One dangerous thing about table saws is that they can send wood flying out of them at high velocities. Another is that the blade can shatter. There are lots of ways you can hurt yourself with a table saw and making them safe would, in my opinion, require that they be like professional table saws with huge roller tables and gear-fed cutting paths. I'd love a table like that! I could stand to one side and make perfect cuts every time without being anywhere near the Giant Disc O'Death. But I would pay literally five to ten times as much for a table saw like that.

You might say, well, you have to legislate for safety. And there are times when I agree - I think seatbelts are a great idea, I use mine all the time. But I think there's something good about people being able to buy tools cheaply and do things at home. And even though this is intrinsically dangerous (as compared to paying a professional to do it) it's the price we pay for keeping skills within the community.
posted by Joe in Australia at 6:18 AM on March 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


DU: "Or perhaps an analogy is a better point: Go look at the arguments against mandatory seatbelts in cars from 30 years ago. (That is, including them in the first place during manufacturing.) They are the exact same arguments against safe tablesaws that are in this thread."

What, the argument against seat-belts was "don't have car accidents, then you won't get hurt" ? That seems to be the main argument against SawStop being advanced in this discussion!

The risk compensation arguments against seat belts did hold water: in this kind of problem everything turns on how the relative risks are perceived, and whether it's possible to "spend" the extra safety with extra risk taking behaviour. I'd suggest that whilst it's easy to see how a car driver can "spend" their extra safety from wearing a seat belt (by driving faster / more aggressively) if the SawStop is as effective at eliminating a risk that carpenters are already discounting (because of the agency fallacy as I discuss above) then it's introduction will result in a net decrease in injuries even after any risk compensatory changes in behaviour.
posted by pharm at 6:27 AM on March 18, 2010


If this is so all-fired important, simply seize the patent from SawStop, distribute it to anyone who asks, and be done with it.

...if this is really about safety, SawStop will heartily encourage this action.

Unless it's just about money. It's not just about money, is it? Of course not. No.
posted by aramaic at 6:32 AM on March 18, 2010 [4 favorites]


I look forward to this SawStop technology protecting me from misuse of my chisels.
posted by Slothrup at 6:33 AM on March 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


This impasse reminds me of some of the complicating factors in other debates currently going on in society. It seems to me that SawStop needs to let go of their monopoly on their safety mechanism, and other companies need to be able to decide whether or not to adopt and/or adapt those features. Then the consumer can evaluate whether or not to buy and use the saw according to the specs and rules provided. Responsibility all around!

Simplified and naive view, to be sure. But I do feel it's the conceptual space we should be starting from, and complicate from there, keeping our eyes on the prizes, and not patents or profits.
posted by iamkimiam at 6:33 AM on March 18, 2010


On the other hand, the "dangerous sense of safety" argument strikes me as singularly fallacious: by that measure, road safety would be improved by replacing all airbags by sharp spikes oriented directly towards the driver's vital organs. That should make him more alert.

As a pedestrian in Rhode Island, I notice that a "dangerous sense of safety" afflicts the drivers here. They are very complacent and casual in their driving habits and adherence to driving laws. I wish they would be more alert. I would like a mandatory safety feature in all automobiles that detects when a Rhode Islander is in the driver's seat and disengages all functions until that situation is remedied. It would probably give me a "dangerous sense of safety" when I crossed the street with the lights, though, and I would be run down by visitors of Massachusetts....
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:36 AM on March 18, 2010


aramaic: "If this is so all-fired important, simply seize the patent from SawStop, distribute it to anyone who asks, and be done with it.

...if this is really about safety, SawStop will heartily encourage this action.

Unless it's just about money. It's not just about money, is it? Of course not. No.
"

Every now and then, I run into a rare case where two non-mutually-exclusive things are both true. Like the SawStop developers really are concerned about safety and they also think they should gain some financial benefits from developing the technology. That doesn't seem unreasonable to me.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 6:40 AM on March 18, 2010 [4 favorites]


There's always a lot of loose talk about what the Founding Fathers "really meant", but I can't believe they intended the patent system to act as a means for the government to create a monopoly via legislation.
posted by tommasz at 6:43 AM on March 18, 2010


If a technology is found to be so useful in saving lives (or fingers) that it is deemed to be mandatory, then when I'm King, the patent shall be withdrawn and the inventor compensated with a suitably generous sum. And, yes, I would apply this wholeheartedly to drug patents.

and

If this is so all-fired important, simply seize the patent from SawStop, distribute it to anyone who asks, and be done with it.

See, here's the thing. That's a 5th Amendment taking, and the government would have to pay SawStop the present value of all of the money it could expect to make over the life of the patent, which, if the technology is legally mandated, is a lot. This also shifts the cost from the purchasers of power tools to taxpayers generally.

For another example of a patented technology being legally mandated (this time by a federal law), see the DataTreasury patents on electronic check processing and the Check 21 Act.
posted by jedicus at 6:44 AM on March 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


Well, if this lawsuit causes more companies to license the SawStop technology, I'm all for it. I don't hope to see a monopoly, but if this creates one, it will also create a big incentive to create a competing technology. So on net, this will probably be positive, even though the suit itself is pretty dumb-sounding.

I've taken up woodworking in the last few years. I love my table saw and use it all the time. I'm also scared to death of it. I think through everything I'm doing and use every safety device appropriate. I'm planning to get a SawStop soon, and I'll work in exactly the same way as before. Call it a belt-and-suspenders approach.
posted by echo target at 6:44 AM on March 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


iamkimiam: "Simplified and naive view, to be sure. But I do feel it's the conceptual space we should be starting from, and complicate from there, keeping our eyes on the prizes, and not patents or profits."

That's great iamkimiam, but given that table saw manufacturers have shown no interest whatsoever in improving the safety of their tools how exactly are you going to pay for the R+D necessary to design such safety improvements in this perfect world of yours if you prevent any potential designers from ever making a profit from their work?

Oh, and for about the third time, SawStop was completely unable to sell their technology to the table saw industry not because they asked for too much money, but because the table saw industry didn't want to know. The industry had successfully eliminated all liability for any injuries caused by their tools & using the SawStop technology would have opened a legal can of worms for them. This is not a story of the evil patent owner squatting on a patent for their own profit at the expense of carpenters hands and fingers, no matter how much you might like to frame it that way.
posted by pharm at 6:44 AM on March 18, 2010


I apologize if this comes off as too curt but cars have been used for comparison a few times in this thread and they have got to be one of the least apt for comparison to table saws for this topic.

Cars are ubiquitous. Table saws not.
Oftentimes cars get in accidents where it is entirely the other persons fault. Accidents on the table saw are the fault of the operator always.
In the pricing I did earlier comparing SawStop saws to comparable models the SawStop saws cost 250% as much as one of equal amperage and quality. The cost to put in the third point for a 3 point restraint system in a car is trivial. The added cost for an airbag was around 3 or 4 hundred dollars, I believe, when there was first talk of making them mandatory. That is 2% of the price of a $20,000 dollar car.
50,000 people die each year in automobile accidents. Very few in table-saw accidents.

If the cost for the safer saws was anywhere near the percentages for the car safety improvements I'd be all for them but on a cost/benefit basis I think they are too expensive.
Seriously, I bet you would probably save a lot more limbs (and lives) if you took the money that would need to be spent for every saw to be replaced and spent it on diabetes screening instead.
posted by vapidave at 6:47 AM on March 18, 2010 [4 favorites]


Gary K. Michelson wrote:
Companies will not invest in uncertainty. The power of the patent gives small entrepreneurs and large companies alike the certainty that they require to invest their time and money. This creates jobs and frequently a better way of achieving the same result or a better result. Sometimes the better way is the thing itself.

posted by exogenous at 6:48 AM on March 18, 2010


A world without patents would be a happier, more creative place.
posted by koeselitz at 4:03 AM on March 18


Said by a guy who probably has no patents. The inventor of the SawStop patent had an idea that neither you nor the thousands of people in his industry before had. To get him to share his idea with the public, the government lets him prevent you from stealing his invention. The deal you make with the government when you file a patent is that you make a full pubilc disclosure of the best way to get your invention to work, and they let you exclude other people from using the invention via a property right enforceable in court.

Furthermore, nearly every safety device that keeps you alive, including those in tools but also those in your kitchen that prevent your oven from incinerating your house, your microwave from melting your eyes, your car from exploding, crashing, or suffocating you, your lights from electrocuting you in the shower, etc. every single one of them is the subject of probably a dozen patents. If you are going to put things into the market you can't hide from the eyes of reverse engineers, you need a way to protect your investment.

Here is the problem SawStop has. They may have great safety patents. But they don't have table saw patents, because the Ryobi's and Delta's of the world already have them.

I will bet anyone in this thread a million dollars that right now in every single table saw manufacturing company in the US, Europe and Japan, there are engineers examining the SawStop patents and working on saw safety solutions that are better, less expensive, more reliable, and also don't require a license from SawStop. And every single one of those ideas will be filed in one or more patents, iteratively.

Now if the table saw industry is at all like every other industry in the world, the established players are all licensed to each others patents. Yes, even Microsoft is a licensee of Apple and vice versa. In a healthy industry, the players will fight it out in the market, not in court. When a new entrant shows up, with really great patents of their own, but no patents on other peoples stuff, they'll basically cause trouble for a few years until they license everyone for a tiny but reasonable sum (thus incentivizing the licensee to design around the licensed patent) or they'll discover that to participate in the market themselves, they need the IP of others as well. The end result is that eventually everyone cross licenses for free or for nominal sums, and the patent litigation war chest gets turned over to the marketing and sales department.

But to say patents are bad is idiotic. Thomas Jefferson thought they were bad too--until he started inventing dumbwaiters and plant hybrids and filed his own patents.
posted by Pastabagel at 6:48 AM on March 18, 2010 [4 favorites]


As a journeyman patternmaker (industrial woodwork) and studio furniture maker, I sympathize with both sides of this. Technology should not be substituted for awareness and care. Conventional table saw guards absolutely suck unless you're only doing the exact sort of work the particular guard was designed to facilitate. If you're making a wide variety of cuts then the guard is problematic most of the time. Every shop I've ever worked for has routinely removed the table saw guards, either some or all of the time. OSHA regulations that mandate the guards are despised by worker and shop owner alike. The SawStop technology is totally different. It doesn't get in the way, and its cost, even now, is negligible compared to the costs of a single injury.

As a professional woodworker I find Sonascope's chest-beating, accidents don't happen. Negligence happens, distractions happen, and carelessness happens talk pretty friggin offensive. The fact that an accident has underlying causes doesn't keep it from being an accident, and nobody deserves digital amputation as punishment for a moment's distraction. As a professional woodworker I've gone to work every day while my wife was in an ICU after a suicide attempt, and later during a divorce, while at the same time my boss was leaning on me to GETITDONEGETITDONEGETITDONENOWNOWNOWNOW! I have depended on power tool use to earn a living while I had damn good reason to be distracted despite my best efforts to stay focused. I have never had a significant power tool injury, and this is no doubt partly because I've gone home, sacrificing needed wages, on a few days when I knew I couldn't keep my shit together. But I have also been momentarily distracted and realized a second too late that it was only thanks to dumb luck that my blood hadn't been sprayed across the room. I've also watched irresponsible employers put undertrained apprentices to work with dangerous machinery day after day, resulting in the occasional accident which the apprentice himself did not understand or anticipate. In commercial settings, at least, SawStop technology is too good to not use it or something similar.

All of that said, the government is going to have to pry my old Italian combination saw-jointer-planer-shaper-mortiser, which isn't and never has been available with this technology, from my cold, dead hands.
posted by jon1270 at 6:49 AM on March 18, 2010 [17 favorites]


Safety features are not an absolute good. Have you ever used a table saw with a blade guard? Mostly the service they provide is to obstruct your view of the material you are feeding into the machine. Which means that you’re entirely going by how the material feels against the blade and can’t brace yourself for knots or other similar defects in the material. Similar concerns have been listed for false starts on a SawStop. And I’d like to point out the seat belts are a life or death matter. Losing fingers while nothing to laugh at, is not on the same scale of misery.
posted by edbles at 6:49 AM on March 18, 2010


I have to imagine that if this technology is adopted as mandatory in High School shop classes, we'll quickly see the few remaining shop classes shut down for budget reasons. It's far too easy to smuggle a hot dog from the cafeteria and fling it at the blade when the teacher's not looking.
posted by explosion at 6:49 AM on March 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


It is intrinsically dangerous. You can do a whole lot of things with a table saw - they're marvellous devices and marvellously cheap. It is indisputable that they can be made safer, but even the SawStop technology doesn't actually make them safe.

I'm not saying that SawStop will suddenly make a dangerous product completely safe, or even that this particular safety enhancement would reduce injuries if applied universally (that would be require either conducting studies or actually mandating it and looking at the results).

What I am saying is that although the free market encourages cheap products, and also usually encourages high quality products, it does not usually encourage safe products. Consumers often underestimate the risk of using dangerous products, especially in cases where the risk comes from misuse (of course I wouldn't use the product improperly), and therefore companies know that spending money on safety does not usually increase profits. Instead, companies continue making products that they know could be made safer, and focus on reducing their own liability for any accidents.

That's why government-imposed safety standards need to exist. You can argue that SawStop is not a good idea, but even if it's the greatest idea in the world companies are probably not going to make their products more expensive by including them. Those same companies also tend to blame accident victims for any injuries or deaths that occur while using their products, and claim that the solution is more education rather than increased safety standards.
posted by burnmp3s at 6:50 AM on March 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


Americans are not allowed to blame themselves for their own stupidity, so of course this will end up being mandatory. Any stupidly self-induced injury misfortune must have an easily identifiable culprit so that the opportunistic lawyer --the defining parasitic asswipe of our culture-- can get a toehold.

We spend so much wealth, time and energy thwarting the good work that evolution tries to do. Maybe I'll move to Australia.

Oh wait....
posted by umberto at 6:54 AM on March 18, 2010


Having spent a not unreasonable amount of time at the tablesaw and powered tools in general without causing mayhem, and watched the other louts who would gleefully cheer 'No, idiot! Like this...' and promptly injure themselves, I can see both sides of this.

However, something about an explosive-driven plate slamming into a, how was that put 'spinning blade/giant disk of death' makes me a wee bit uncomfortable. I wonder how the sensor would detect a slight bind, or, say, plastic/vinyl siding.

Also, 70~$ to replace the unit? Not likely. No crew I worked with would do more than intentionally blow out the system, replace the blade, and keep a half-opened box of replacement systems around. Hooray for loose bits now flapping about in the system.

There is the concept, and the reality; until one is reconciled with the other, or one accepts that it cannot ever be, someone is going to be unhappy.
posted by LD Feral at 7:00 AM on March 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


I apologize if this comes off as too curt but cars have been used for comparison a few times in this thread and they have got to be one of the least apt for comparison to table saws for this topic.

Cars are ubiquitous. Table saws not.


Right conclusion but wrong logic. Table saws are quite ubiquitous. There isn't a consturction project in the country of any size that doesn't involve at least one. They are sold in Sears. High school students are taught how to use them.

Cars are the least apt analogy primarily because their safety features are extraordinarily regulated by the government, but also because cars are highly complex machines with thousands upon thousands of parts. Furthermore, operators of cars must be licensed by the state to ensure a bare minimum standard of operational safety.

I suspect the reason SawStop saws are more expensive is because of economies of scale. How many saws does Ryobi make, and how many parts are interchangeable among various models? Furthermore, ryobi makes all kinds of other tools, and there are likely to be efficiencies there as well.

Finally, SawStop has a products liability insurance problem--because they are advertising the product as being superlatively safe, any injury anyone sustains on their saws more serious than a 1/8" cut is going to shut them down, because the standard they will be judged on is not what is standard in the industry, it will be "What did you represent to the customer?" So if SawStop safety feature only addresses some dangers but not others (or worse, if their safety feature for protecting your finger raises the risk of electric shock) and someone gets seriously hurt, they are well and truly fucked.

As the saying goes, build something even a fool can use and a fool will use it.
posted by Pastabagel at 7:01 AM on March 18, 2010


I would like to point out that part of the reason SawStop's own saws are so much more expensive than Ryobi's is that Ryobi makes cheap & often crappy tools.
posted by echo target at 7:14 AM on March 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


an explosive-driven plate slamming

I believe it's actually a spring, not an explosive.
posted by Slothrup at 7:16 AM on March 18, 2010


just an information point, "One World Technologies" is actually a 'wholly owned subsidiary' of TechTronic Industries.

I'd always wondered about who 'Ryobi' actually was. I'm guessing that wanted to come up with a name that sounded vaguely japanese...
posted by ennui.bz at 7:21 AM on March 18, 2010


I ran my hand through a table saw without a guard 20 years ago. I was working in the saw shop of a lumber yard at the time. My problem wasn't that I was inexperienced, I had run thousands of board beet of lumber through the table saw, double-edge trim saw, chop saw, and gang saw. I just didn't use a pushstick that time. I was routing a piece of 1X2 oak with a dado blade, 1 inch wide and 1/8th inch off the table. It turned three of my fingers to hamburger (real hamburger not sarcastic hamburger).
I learned that I really didn't like wood tools. I still have some, and use them when necessary.
Now I work with industrial diamond abrasives everyday. I like those a lot more. With a wet saw, I can run my finger along the blade without cutting myself.

That said, I think that Sawstop technology to be dangerous. It makes you complacent. It allows you to discount the risks of working with the equipment. If you are using a power tool, you should look at how it will bite you, and move accordingly. Even if this technology became mandatory on all new tools, someone would still pick up a 10 year old tool and, unthinkingly because they never had to before, cut themselves with it.

Getting bit that time has made me more risk averse, and I look for liabilities, and how to avoid them, in nearly every situation and job I come across. It made me think smarter about how I do my work, and gave me a healthy respect for all tools I come across. That's how it should be.
posted by Balisong at 7:32 AM on March 18, 2010 [4 favorites]


Well, jon1270, I'm sorry you find my conjecture offensive, but I think part of the problem is that you are reading moral judgments into what I'm saying. Just because chest-beating moralists use similar arguments to mine to make boneheaded points doesn't undermine my point, which is not that someone who's careless "deserves" to lose a finger, or is "punished" by losing a finger. That's your own view.

If you're careless or distracted with a power tool, you will injure yourself. It's not a diviine punishment, or universal justice, or anything else--it's purely physics. You push your finger in front of a blade, you lose your finger. The moralizing isn't my concern. I do take issue with the word "accident," which implies a random, unavoidable element, as in these dictionary defs:

1. an undesirable or unfortunate happening that occurs unintentionally and usually results in harm, injury, damage, or loss; casualty; mishap: automobile accidents.
2. Law. such a happening resulting in injury that is in no way the fault of the injured person for which compensation or indemnity is legally sought.
3. any event that happens unexpectedly, without a deliberate plan or cause.

If a woodworker chooses to work when they are not fully alert, aware, and ready to do the job properly, they are inherently planning to fail. There are lots of reasons why that would happen, but a random occurrence at the table saw isn't the root of where things go wrong. I'm sure there are a million little side arguments and appeals to how this contention is misused by crappy bosses trying to blame their employees from problems that come from their shitty management techniques, but that does not undermine the basic reality of it. If you push your hand in front of a spinning blade, for whatever reason or excuse there is, you will cut it. If a boss pushed me into a work situation that made that occurrence a possibility, I would, and have, quit on the spot or at least taken a proper industrial action.

You've said so much yourself, that you've had the good sense to get out of that situation. That's why you're in possession of your digits. How is that any different than what I said?
posted by sonascope at 7:37 AM on March 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm curious, but what if Ryobi sold a table saw with similar technology but the user chose to buy one without it? Is Ryobi still liable?

Where does the user's responsibility begin and the manufacturer's end?
posted by Talanvor at 7:51 AM on March 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


Osorio’s case is one of more than 50 lawsuits pending throughout the United States against the major table saw manufacturers for failure to adopt the technology...

In other words, a lot of courts are going to have a lot to say about this in the future. By the time the (saw) dust settles, it probably won't look like this one case.
posted by warbaby at 7:52 AM on March 18, 2010


Emo Philips on how to operate a table saw (UHF)
posted by nomisxid at 7:56 AM on March 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


For another example of a patented technology being legally mandated (this time by a federal law), see the DataTreasury patents on electronic check processing and the Check 21 Act.
posted by jedicus at 6:44 AM on March 18 [+] [!]


Oh yes, that was a good one. Like Jeff Sessions' (R-Bank of America) subsequent attempt to expropriate those patents on behalf of the banks.

Jedicus, do you know how that one ended? I lost track after the CBO warned that that would cost the government a billion dollars to compensate DataTreasury under the Fifth Amendment. But what's a solitary billion between friends, in the post-TARP era?
posted by Skeptic at 8:18 AM on March 18, 2010


Sonascope, I fail to understand how common tablesaw injuries don't perfectly fit the first and third definitions of "accident" that you cited. Such incidents are generally undesirable and unfortunate, they happen unintentionally, and result in harm, injury, casualty, loss and mishap. The second definition is tighter and more in agreement with your stance, but the third isn't.

It's not the moralizing that bugs me; it's the pride. I have seen enough to know that my alertness has been my savior only most of the time, and have had a couple of close calls that fell into the 'there but for the grace of god' category.

It also sounds as if you're saying that power tools are inherently dangerous, therefore they shouldn't be modified to make them safer lest we change their inherent nature. This seems patently ridiculous. I don't know exactly where you're coming from, but this attitude smacks, to me, of a sort of defense of one's own status; if one sees oneself (and you may not, but this is common) as better because one is able to manage a dangerous situation, then any change that reduces the danger undermines one's danger-managing status. Thus I was, as an apprentice, goaded with hazing-like challenges that if [I] was a real patternmaker, I would be able to [do X stupid stunt].

When I was younger and more socially and financially vulnerable than I am now, I was frequently pushed to do tasks in ways that were quicker but more dangerous. I also know from experience that inexperienced woodworkers often find themselves in the position of having seen other people do something that looked much like something they want or feel pressured to do themselves. They don't know that it's safe; they trust that it's safe. Sometimes that trust is misplaced.
posted by jon1270 at 8:20 AM on March 18, 2010 [5 favorites]


First point: Am I right in suspecting that this technology would render the table saw unable to cut metal?

Second point: I wouldn't want this for (about) 999 cuts out of a thousand, because the risk of a false-positive and a $69 "damp bit of wood fee" would far outweigh the risk of my hands getting anywhere near the blade.

But have any of the carpenters here never found themselves with no option but to make a very sketchy and frankly dangerous cut? Not even one time? I suspect it's not an issue of lack of skill and ingenuity on my part -- every once in a great while, you have no other choice. So you grit your teeth, analyze every second of the proposed operation, cobble together anything you can to protect yourself, take a few deep breaths, grit your teeth a little harder, and do it.

Those times? I would love to have the option of engaging the "if it all goes to shit" device here.
posted by rusty at 8:25 AM on March 18, 2010


I thought I'd relate a little of my history here, as far as it comes to power tools and bad judgment.

I grew up with parents that were sort of a low-key version of the back-to-the-land folks, and who were doing and making things that virtually all of the other kids around me would just hire others to do. We renovated our own 200 year-old log house, built a huge workshop from the wood we got salvaging an old gas station on base at Fort Meade, and fixed, upgraded, and repaired pretty much everything we had.

My dad had this highly-traumatic way of making his points. Everytime he had a new skill to teach me, we'd get in the truck and drive down to the then-secret Walter Reed “museum,” just south of us in DC.

“Son, if you're going to run the lawn mower, we have to go over some things,” he'd say, and off we went.

Walter Reed's collection of nightmares was really sort of a archive more than a well-formatted public exhibition, and it was tended by a clerk that got to know my father pretty well.

“What I'm looking for is a foot that's gone into a lawnmower blade,” he'd say, and the clerk would dutifully look up a terrifying thing in a jar, floating in formaldehyde like a yellow hamburger flecked with bits of bone. We'd stand there, me almost unable to catch my breath, countless nights of troubled sleep ahead of me, and he'd explain a hundred ways a lawnmower can hurt you.

“When you want to back up, you turn around, then pull it behind you—never just walk backwards. When you need to clean out the deck, you pull the plug wire off. When you...”

...And so on.

Hated him for it, sometimes, and hated that I was the only ten year-old in my school and possibly the world who knew what it would look like if got my pant leg caught in the PTO on our Gravely tractor, or if a a router bit caught a hard knot in a piece of wood and shot it through my cheek.

“Yeah, I'm looking to show the boy what happens when a radial arm saw climbs over a work piece and runs up your forearm. You have any photos of that?”

Aaaaaaaaauggh!

At times, he'd overdo it. I didn't learn to use a table saw until he'd been dead a few years, our scared me so bad. It's my main tool, these days, a real cabinet of mechanical wonders, but I look at it with a mixture of celebration and grim understanding, and so far, I've been fine. I think there's a societal tendency these days to think that you can make the world safe and teach kids entirely without explaining consequences or manifesting the trauma of potential disasters, and it doesn't seem like that would work, but maybe I'm missing something in the equation.

I've found a lot of solace and comfort in the reality of risk and danger in certain things, not as something to be toyed with or avoided, but as an inevitable and emotionless consequence of not being serious at all times. It's very much what the Taoists see in the balance of yin and yang, the interplay between creative and destructive energies, IMHO, and the way darkness and light come together. A table saw is not inherently dangerous. If you turn it on and stay in its vicinity this is less true. If you put your hands near it, the danger is even more present. It's all about managing the risk/benefit balance.

The ironic part to this, and the part that might clarify that I'm not being intentionally boastful here, is that I woke up this morning, read and wrote a bit, cleaned myself up, stepped out into the sunshine, and climbed on my Vespa (well, Stella, actually, but that's a longer ramble) to make the 24 mile trek to Baltimore to get to my work. It's cool and beautiful and the scent of the spice warehouses at Rte. 175 had me singing in my helmet, and I made a quick stop at my other facility, picked up some things, and was two blocks away from the Tower when I hit a patch of gravel and dropped my bike at about 35 miles an hour.

After grouchily picking myself off the street and thanking all the people who stopped to see if I was okay, I had to chuckle a bit at the life lesson there is in writing a pointed piece about accidents and then having one literally within an hour...except it wasn't an accident. I was going a bit too fast, trying to make a light, and feeling my oats a bit with the onset of springtime. Everything that happened was the cold and clinical result of my inattention. I was in a full-face, gauntlet gloves, leather jacket, and heavy denim pants, which is why I'm just bruised and scuffed up instead of on an IV. The thoughtful, diligent, and careful things I did do gave me room to take the lesson and learn from it.

It's not always a pleasure to be human (ow ow ow), and there is always room for improvement and new wisdom, but we get those things by facing into our failures and our mistakes, not trying to make excuses for them. I could say, “well, hell, who would expect to find a bunch of gravel at a city street corner?” but that's beside the point. There aren't judgments, and things aren't fair, and sometimes you get stuck with consequences for things that don't seem like huge oversights, and that's just life. No morality, no judgment from on high, just math and physics. Introducing complicated systems to deny this essential fact just seems, to me, to push the responsibility away instead of respecting it, but that might just be me.
posted by sonascope at 8:29 AM on March 18, 2010 [21 favorites]


There is so much misinformation and ignorance in this thread it makes one's head spin. People accuse Saw Stop of withholding the technology when nothing could be farther from the truth. They tried to license it but the industry balked. I don't think Saw Stop is completely absolved though. A 3% royalty is not high, but the 8% royalty probably is. People talk about the huge price increase if this technology is added, but the article quotes $150. To be fair, I don't think that price includes the royalty payments. That doesn't seem like very much to protect ones fingers. People talk about sawing bugs and tossing hot dogs to trigger the brake. Neither have sufficient capacitance on their own, and of course any kid purposefully triggering the brake in shop class will probably get suspended.

Interesting article from Inc. magazine on the whole mess here.
posted by caddis at 8:31 AM on March 18, 2010


jedicus, do you know how that one ended?

The government hasn't taken the patent, and I believe the current draft patent reform bill leaves out the taking. In related news a fairly major infringement trial is ongoing. The jury was recently impaneled, and I believe the trial proper starts next week. Something like 36 banks have settled with DataTreasury, but there are a lot of holdouts. The current trial is against US Bank, Viewpointe, and SVPco, and there are other trials scheduled for later this year against Wells Fargo, Bank of America, and other big players.
posted by jedicus at 8:31 AM on March 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


I prefer old fashioned "blade sensing technology". Sensory nerves hooked up to an attentive brain.
posted by Kabanos at 8:31 AM on March 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


caddis: A hot dog is used to demonstrate the system in action in all of SawStop's videos.
posted by rusty at 8:33 AM on March 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


Somehow we've had table saws with an acceptable level of risk for, what, 50 years? 100 years? And suddenly because some company with a patent wants a slice of the action all those old saws are no longer safe? That's crazy.
“Hopefully, this means the industry is finally going to recognize that catastrophic injuries could be averted and they need to make this technology standard so people don’t have these senseless injuries,’’ said Richard J. Sullivan, one of the lawyers representing Osori.
Hooray for the heroic personal injury lawyer, making us all safer.

I'm not sure about seizing the patent entirely, but isn't there plenty of precedent for courts enforcing specific patent license terms on essential patents? Ie: SawStop would still own the patent, but the royalties and license terms would be limited by the court?
posted by Nelson at 8:34 AM on March 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


Emo Philips on how to operate a table saw (UHF)

See also, and this. (Safety Warning: Contains Gore! May not be safe for some workplaces!)
posted by Pollomacho at 8:36 AM on March 18, 2010


yes, and a person is holding the hot dog.
posted by caddis at 8:37 AM on March 18, 2010


FWIW, here is a relevant thread (one of many) at the professionals-only Woodweb forums. Sawstop has an extremely good reputation among people who have actually used it.
posted by jon1270 at 8:45 AM on March 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


So not only is the technology expensive to implement, it destroys your saw blade and costs you $80 for a replacement single-use "cartridge" every time you so much as try to cut a piece of damp wood with it. Where do I not sign up?

Good god people, it's a saw. It cuts things. Things far tougher than your fingers. If you put your fingers where the wood is supposed to go, you will lose your fingers.

Similarly, a stove gets really hot -- hot enough to sear meat. If you put your fingers where the meat goes, you will sear your fingers instead of the meat.

And a nail gun? It drives nails through things. If you put your hand where the nails come out -- guess what? -- you'll get a nail through your hand.

It's not that I'm not sympathetic to people who get hurt. I feel bad for them, but it's in the same way that I feel bad or sympathize for someone who falls asleep at the wheel and runs into a tree. It's unfortunate, but it's preventable and they really don't have anyone to blame except themselves. That's not to say that I think they deserve to get hurt or anything, or that they're bad people, just that they did something stupid, got hurt, and it's really not -- and shouldn't be -- anyone else's responsibility.

I could conceivably see a requirement for anti-falling-asleep devices in cars, because a driver who falls asleep at the wheel risks other drivers (I actually think the argument for such a device is far more compelling than that for mandatory seatbelt use), but I'm pretty squarely against nerfing power tools in order to make them more safe for the incautious.

If you're not careful, you'll get hurt. You don't need to believe in some sort of just universe philosophy, or be completely devoid of sympathy or compassion for people who get hurt, to see that the solution isn't expensive mandatory safety equipment but teaching people to be more careful, and accepting that some people are just going to injure or kill themselves.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:47 AM on March 18, 2010


So not only is the technology expensive to implement,

No it's not.
posted by caddis at 8:49 AM on March 18, 2010


The power-tool industry is going to respond to this by calculating the numbers. If they don't incorporate flesh-sensing technology, their liability insurance will go up (which they'll roll into the price of their products). If they do, their unit costs will go up (ditto). I'm guessing that the liability-insurance costs will still be less than the costs of new safety features. So they'll try to reckon the marketing advantage of the new safety features vs lower costs.

A Sawstop 10" contractor saw looks to cost about $1800. A DeWalt 10" contractor saw on Amazon costs about $400. I'm pretty sure I've seen bench saws at Sears for $150.

Some of the Sawstop's high cost must be due to the relatively small volumes that Sawstop is selling. Some would be irreducible marginal costs, and some must be payback for development costs

Assuming there was widespread interest, and Sawstop started licensing its technology under FRAND terms, the questions would be A) how much will they license the technology for, and B) at economies of scale, how cheap would the marginal cost be. My wild-ass guess is that the additional hardware would cost at least $100, plus the consumables, although clever manufacturers might be able to roll more of the mechanism into the consumables (sort of like inkjet printers & cartridges), lowering the upfront costs for payback down the line (talk about rent-seeking). I have no idea what Sawstop would seek in royalties, but if it were $10/unit, it seems like they would make out pretty well without making the product less affordable. There would be some additional marketing and customer-education expenses to sell the new safety features, but I can't guess how that would affect the price.

What would be the increase in liability insurance on a per-unit basis? $10? $50? I dunno. Let's say $50, which I suspect is very high.

I doubt very much that we'd be seeing Sawstop technology added to low-end products.

So now my choices would be between buying a very basic "danger" saw at Sears for $200, a decent "danger" saw for $450, or a decent "safe" saw for $560. If $400 was too much for me to contemplate spending on a saw in the first place, I'm still getting the cheap saw. Or going to the pawnshop and getting a used one (which will probably go up in value). But if I was prepared to spend $400, and now my choice was between the $450 one and the $560 one, I'll probably spend the extra money for the one that won't cut my fingers off.
posted by adamrice at 8:49 AM on March 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


it destroys your saw blade ... every time you so much as try to cut a piece of damp wood with it.

No, it doesn't.
posted by jon1270 at 8:55 AM on March 18, 2010


From the Inc. article:
Then Dan Lanier, national coordinating counsel for Black & Decker, steppped to the podium. His top:"Evidentiary Issues Relating to SawStop Technology for Power Saws." Lanier spent the next 30 minutes discussing a hypothetical lawsuit- in which a plaintiff suing a power-saw manufacturer contends the saw was defective because it did not incorporate SawStop's technology- and suggesting ways defense counsel might respond. Lanier recalls it as a rather dry exploration of legal issues. Gass heard something different. To his ears, Lanier's message was this: If we all stick together and don't license this product the industry can argue that everybody rejected it so it obviously wasn't viable thereby limiting any legal liability the industry might face as a result of the new technology. (Lanier denies this was his point.)
posted by caddis at 8:56 AM on March 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


Skeptic: "The big cost in drugs isn't that of the research to find potentially therapeutic substances, but the Phase I, II, and III clinical tests afterwards. I've heard the Phase III tests for a single drug candidate usually cost upwards of a billion dollars. I've also read that the ratio of interesting substances to approved drugs after all three phases is about 200:1. So, when you buy a patented medicine, you aren't just paying for its R&D, but also for that of the other 199 substances."
Wait, so every approved drug cost $200 billion dollars to test?

Did you by any chance used to work as a Hollywood accountant?!
posted by hincandenza at 8:57 AM on March 18, 2010


If you use your saw twice a year you're going to get the $200 saw; if you use it twice a week you will (eventually) get a pro-grade tool.
posted by Mister_A at 9:00 AM on March 18, 2010


This is incredibly stupid. I did 4 years in a serious woodworking program in high school (incredibly well respected, I was offered an apprenticeship with a well known furniture maker my senior year), and from day one it was stressed that a vast majority of power tools are dangerous when you are not using them properly. As a result I have a lot of nice pieces that I made, and I still have a healthy respect for power tools, and I also have all of my fingers because I maintained that respect.

I am willing to bet that had the plaintiff actually been using the saw properly he would have all of his digits intact. This technology is unnecessary, people just need to learn how to properly use their tools.
posted by BobbyDigital at 9:03 AM on March 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


hincadenza Wait, so every approved drug cost $200 billion dollars to test?

Nope, only a handful of the 200 even make it to Phase III, which is the most expensive. But it does happen that a few of them fail at that moment, which can hurt. It can hurt a lot.
posted by Skeptic at 9:06 AM on March 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


hincandenza, that's really not what he's saying. Most drug candidates never even make it to phase 1. Also the billion-dollar number is inflated; it's drug co. PR. Much of that billion dollars is essentially pre-approval "marketing". That's not to say that you don't spend a ton of money on phase 3 trials; you must. The costs of a large randomized prospective clinical trial are typically measured in the tens of millions, and you will need at least two per indication to get FDA approval.

So, skeptic is saying that only one of every 200 candidates makes it to approval, and that the ones that do get approved cost about a billion USD each in development. Again, I disagree on the exact figures, but these are reasonable figures.
posted by Mister_A at 9:06 AM on March 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


Nice links there Skeptic! I know this will rub some people the wrong way, but why would anyone toss in a half-billion based on a promising result from a Russian trial?
posted by Mister_A at 9:07 AM on March 18, 2010


The best safety device I ever saw was in the woodshop for my high school theater. It consisted of a line of rust-colored spatter marks running up the wall behind the table saw, and up along the ceiling overhead.

We never asked what caused those marks, and for all I know, the theater director simply put a blood bag under the spinning blade. But we were all very cautious using that saw, and we never had an accident in the time I was there. FWIW.
posted by happyroach at 9:14 AM on March 18, 2010 [3 favorites]


A guy I know, a carpenter by trade, cabinetmaker at night, and an uptight, careful dude 24/7, recently had an incident. I have no cautionary tale to tell because he has no idea what happened. The last thing he remembers is setting up with some 2x4s for some simple chops. His next memory consists of sitting on the floor, cradling his hand, watching all of his fingerstumps leak out blood. They had to use one of the more mangled digits to rebuild the others. He mentioned he was just able to close his hand this month. Neither he nor his employer had heard of SawStop. Hard telling if he'll ever be able to effectively work at his trade ever again.

I'll just go tell him he wasn't cautious enough now. I, after all, still have an index finger on my dominant hand, so I am still able to shake at him for being such a careless boy.
posted by adipocere at 9:16 AM on March 18, 2010 [4 favorites]


Mister_A: Nice links there Skeptic! I know this will rub some people the wrong way, but why would anyone toss in a half-billion based on a promising result from a Russian trial?

Because it involved a prospective drug against Alzheimer's just as the baby-boomers reach retirement age (and Medicare coverage)? Greed is a damn powerful motivator.
posted by Skeptic at 9:16 AM on March 18, 2010


"Three-point seat belts were patented. Should they not have been made mandatory?"

Is this a good example? Three point belts were featured in Volvos in 1959, I'm assuming they were patented before that, they didn't become mandatory in cars until the 70s. Besides Volvo released the seatbelt to all manufacturers royalty free.

"$69 dollars? And I'm sure as sensitive of an instrument as it is it knows to keep sawing bugs and plant material and other types of stuff that floats around a typical small construction site rather than mistake them for human flesh and cost $69 in the process."

Plus the cost of the blade. Any half way decent blade is going to be more than the cartridge. I also worry about cost creep on the cartridges; seems like any time the bottom line needs a boost they can raise the price. What are you going to do: idle a $2500 saw over $100?

"Carpinello likens flesh-detection technology to airbags, which fueled a similar slew of litigation when they were first installed in cars. Automakers without airbags got sued for not adopting the better safety design. Now, all cars have airbags."

All cars have airbags because they were legally mandated; alternative SRS systems were marketed right up until the deadline.

"I'm not sure if the saw blade would be easily salvageable."

Even if you could some how pry the block of aluminum away from the blade and have the blade pass a visual inspection do you really want to be anywhere around it when it's spun up to speed or hits a knot?

"Here is the problem SawStop has. They may have great safety patents. But they don't have table saw patents, because the Ryobi's and Delta's of the world already have them. "

This isn't future tech, there aren't any limiting table saw patents. My saw was built in the 1970s and is essentially an exact copy of the 1930s Delta Unisaw and is the same as saws made 5 years ago (Delta went to a new design a few years ago). The only real advances have been nods to materials science.
posted by Mitheral at 9:21 AM on March 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


Also I hope someone ports this technology to jointers; they scare the crap out of me and reassurance of this backup safety tech would let me fire mine up more often instead of jointing boards by hand.
posted by Mitheral at 9:24 AM on March 18, 2010


Putting aside the judgement specifics, if you have bought and used a tablesaw in NA, you should have a beef.

The typical (and by typical, I mean 99% of them or so) of tablesaws sold in NA are a safety travesty. Clearly the manufacturers do not care a single iota about safety and do not assist the user in anyway. They do *nothing*.

They provide a splitter that
a) Typically is so poorly made that you can bend it back and forth, causing possible jams
b) Is integrated into the guard so that the function are linked
c) Rises above the blade such that any non-through cut cannot use it
d) is so difficult (i.e. time consuming) to remove and replace and re-align well that one incident of (c) means it never gets on again

They provide a guard
a) That is difficult to take off and replace as per the splitter
b) Provides minimal protection
c) Has anti-kickback pawls that are horribly designed and interfere often with operation

They provide a fence
a) That is often flimsey and can deflect, increasing the chance of a kickback
b) Does not have the simple feature that allows front of the fence to be indpendent, so that it can be used for cross cutting (where a lot of kickback happens)

The switch is almost never a magnetic switch, so if power trips and re-engages, the table saw will be on, greatly increasing the chance of an incident. A magnetic switch drops out on a power loss.

The throat insert is typically poorly made and gaping open, causing small parts to drop in easily causing an incident. They do not facilitate the addition of zero-clearance inserts and in fact frustrate it in many ways.

I could actually go on. It is unbelievable, really. They are total crap, safety wise.

As to why not buy a better saw? The problem is price point. Basically, most buyers will not pay $100 for a saw with better safety. So, there are saws with much better equipment, but they are also much much higher quality saws in many other regards; the upshot is to get a saw with better safety from the box, you will need to spend the kind of money sawstop charges, with or without the sawstop feature.

So, while this judgement seems to be off-kilter to me, it would hearten me to see manufacturers have some incentive.
posted by Bovine Love at 9:31 AM on March 18, 2010 [3 favorites]


Good god people, it's a saw. It cuts things. Things far tougher than your fingers. If you put your fingers where the wood is supposed to go, you will lose your fingers.

You know, I thought the same way when I first saw this posted.

Then I started reading jon1270's link to the woodweb story where SawStop saved a thumb, and I read more pages on woodweb of SawStop saves. Then I read the pages on accidents (negligence/carelessness/inattention/distraction/whatever) where professionals, many with decades of experience, lost fingers using table saws. Some were fortunate enough to have them reattached, some lost fingers permanently. Yes, a common theme seemed to be a Friday accident, tired from a long week or rushing to get something done. Yes, these people probably shouldn't have been working when they weren't 100% mentally up to the task.

But we all make mistakes. Most of us don't make mistakes that lose fingers. SawStop saves those fingers.

I'm now convinced the SawStop technology is good stuff. If I had a professional shop getting a SawStop saw is now a no-brainer. They seem highly regarded just as saws, safety features aside. The price premium for their saws + $69 for the replacement cartridge + the cost of a new blade is still going to be far, far less than the medical bills than me or an employee would run up with a lost-finger accident. Never mind the psychological trauma.

And the injury numbers are much higher than I would have guessed: 30,000 ER treated injuries in 2001 involving table saw blade contact (see page 9).

It seems like these lawsuits are going to force the rest of the industry refused to do on their own: license SawStop technology or develop their own blade-stop technology.
posted by 6550 at 9:38 AM on March 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


if you're taking up a career as a carpenter and you can't be bothered to remember, on each and every cut you ever make, that the tool you're using can severely hurt you, you need to pick another line of work.

That's the value of power tool horror stories. We tell them so we can learn from the mistakes of others.

One of the senior scientists where I work was cutting little wedges on the table saw, pushing the bits of wood through the saw by hand. I walked over and told him a story about a guy who was doing the same thing and ended up with blood on the ceiling.

It didn't stop him, but I hope it kept the grad student he was working with from following his example.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 9:43 AM on March 18, 2010


If a woodworker chooses to work when they are not fully alert, aware, and ready to do the job properly, they are inherently planning to fail.

Ah, but there are things you cannot plan. Like sneezing, an unseen knot in the wood that catches, or someone who doesn't know better tapping you on the shoulder while you're working. It's great to think that everyone can work in a fortress of solitude, but that's not the case. Even if you're completely focused on the job before you, there are external complications that can ruin your plans. Not all lost fingers are due to sleep deprivation, being stoned on the job, or not following proper safety procedures.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:46 AM on March 18, 2010


Hmm, yet another thread about personal responsibility vs the "Nef the world" crowd.

If: You place a body part against a moving saw blade
Then: That body part will not remain attached.

Looks like yet another core human craft, "woodworking", will soon go the way of so many others that no one can afford to do for the cost of sufficient safety equipment.

People used to build their own cars? People used to play with home chemistry and physics kits that included radioactive materials? Kids used to hunt squirrels totally unsupervised with air rifles and .22s? People used to ride bikes without gearing up better than a linebacker?

"Grandpa, did you ever have to use a scary ol' table saw? Woooow, can I count your fingers again?"
posted by pla at 9:47 AM on March 18, 2010


If I remember the video I saw a few years back, both the emergency brake and the sawblade need to be replaced when deployed. The blade buries itself into the brake to rapidly stop.
posted by Tacodog at 9:47 AM on March 18, 2010


So, skeptic is saying that only one of every 200 candidates makes it to approval, and that the ones that do get approved cost about a billion USD each in development.

On the other hand, a drug that fails approval in the US may still meet approval in other countries. Many years ago, I participated in a drug trial that ended when I started showing signs of excess liver toxicity. The drug is, according to wikipedia, commonly prescribed in China now.
posted by No1UKnow at 9:50 AM on March 18, 2010


Here is the demo using a real finger.
posted by atomicmedia at 9:55 AM on March 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


Kadin2048: And a nail gun? It drives nails through things. If you put your hand where the nails come out -- guess what? -- you'll get a nail through your hand.

Not to disagree with your point at all, but nail guns do very strange things with surprising frequency. I'd amend this to "If you are anywhere in the vicinity of a nail gun, including directly behind it, when the nail comes out, you stand a non-zero chance of getting a nail through some part of you."

Of all tools, nail guns (especially framing guns) make me the most nervous, precisely because they don't seem as dangerous as they really are. The giant spinning blade of death on a table saw is a pretty good danger signal. Nail guns seem deceptively under control.
posted by rusty at 9:59 AM on March 18, 2010 [3 favorites]


Man if I'm ever unlucky enough to need something made by one of these nightmare machines, I'm going to pay a professional to make it for me. I'm fine with having heavy-caliber firearms around the house but power saws scare the hell out of me.
posted by hamida2242 at 10:02 AM on March 18, 2010


rusty: "Of all tools, nail guns (especially framing guns) make me the most nervous, precisely because they don't seem as dangerous as they really are."

I've been scared of nail guns ever since Snoop went shopping for one on The Wire.
posted by sharkfu at 10:08 AM on March 18, 2010 [6 favorites]


That was my favorite single scene of the entire series. :-)
posted by rusty at 10:12 AM on March 18, 2010


Hell, I can get you a toe by 3 o'clock this afternoon... with nail polish. These fucking amateurs...
posted by Pollomacho at 10:14 AM on March 18, 2010


See, the difference between this and seatbelts is that you can be a perfectly good driver and still have an accident due to the fact that there are OTHER drivers on the road and you, in no way, can control their actions. When using a power tool, however, you and the tool are the only factors in the equation. Misuse the tool and the odds of you sustaining an injury go up to being pretty high.

I'm not arguing that SawStop is a bad thing. However, it is not something that should be legally mandated (especially since the technology is patented). Having said that, I'm sure you can agreethat the BLADE GUARDS are on the saw to PROTECT THE USER FROM THE BLADE. If you remove them then you're greatly increasing the risk of injury. This is what happened in this case. If you remove the seat belts from your car and are injured during a car accident as a direct result of you removing those seatbelts can you sue the car manufacturer for not including more safety features in the car?
posted by enamon at 10:36 AM on March 18, 2010


What if the seatbelts in your car required that you strap it on over your left eye, or if it wrapped around the clutch? I leave my blade guard on whenever I possibly can, but there are some cuts you just have to take it off for.
posted by echo target at 10:45 AM on March 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


Also, it looks like you need special blades for this to work. I see two problems with this. One, this, obviously, eliminates the option to use third party blades. Two, well...

It looks like the blade detects if something is conductive or not. If the material is conductive the SawStop device is activated. But what if, as someone had stated previously, the wood is wet or what if you're cutting into something that conducts electricity? The SawStop is activated. And all the demo videos just show hot dogs or fingers being used. What happens if the blade had been used for a few hours and is dirty? Will it still function?
posted by enamon at 10:47 AM on March 18, 2010


Do you guys who claim that the safety mechanism will engage if you cut damp wood with it have a cite for that? If there's any truth to that, I must have missed it.

You super-confident fellows can talk all you want about how it won't happen to you because you are always smart and perfectly attentive. Maybe it won't and maybe you are. But these injuries do happen, with significant frequency. If I'm running a shop and an initial investment of a few extra hundred dollars up front makes my table saw significantly safer, that seems like a smart bet to me. I'd gladly pay $70 per incident thereafter to save my worker's fingers. But then, I'm not laboring under the illusion that it's impossible that I'll never be the guy who is working a little too quickly, or was a shade too distracted while at the table saw.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 10:49 AM on March 18, 2010


echo target: Then you should be EXTRA careful. What if you're cutting wood that is moist and could set off the SawStop technology? The whole point is if you have an accident who is liable? Who is responsible?
posted by enamon at 10:54 AM on March 18, 2010


Pater Aletheias:

You'd gladly pay, yes, but the issue here is what if every manufacturer was required by law to have this patented device in every single table saw sold. You'd have to use the SawStop cartridge and only SawStop blades. As for a citation on if wet wood would set it off, according to their website the blade contains electrical sensors which detect conductivity. Wet wood is conductive (at least the surface is).
posted by enamon at 10:57 AM on March 18, 2010


See, the difference between this and seatbelts is that you can be a perfectly good driver and still have an accident due to the fact that there are OTHER drivers on the road and you, in no way, can control their actions. When using a power tool, however, you and the tool are the only factors in the equation. Misuse the tool and the odds of you sustaining an injury go up to being pretty high.

Fine, let's go with handrails then. Falling down the stairs is a common type of injury, and it kills over a thousand people a year in the US. For a person who falls down the stairs, the only two factors are them and the stairs. Normal people can properly walk down a flight of stairs with no problem 99.9% of the time, and most people never sustain significant injuries even though they use stairs a large number of times over the course of their lives. That doesn't change the fact that handrails do make stairs more safe, and that mandating them in building codes can reduce injuries.
posted by burnmp3s at 10:59 AM on March 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


If I'm running a shop and an initial investment of a few extra hundred dollars up front makes my table saw significantly safer, that seems like a smart bet to me.

Quite right, too. But I'm guessing this guy was DIY (table saw for floor planking? Why not a chop saw?) who figured it wouldn't happen to him either. Must have, otherwise he would have bought the expensiver model. Or hired a professional.
posted by IndigoJones at 11:00 AM on March 18, 2010


atomicmedia : Here is the demo using a real finger

Wow... I'd seen the hotdog demo (I actually tried to convince a former employer to buy chopsaws using this tech after an accident - No luck), but never with a real finger.

Very, very cool.

I wonder, though... On the ultra-slowmo, you see small flecks of something flung in the direction of travel of the blade (ie, where you would stand while ripping something long). For that demo, they used a spotlessly clean saw, suggesting that those flecks consist of obliterated chunks of either the blade or brake.

Not in any way to diminish the vastly improved safety here, but I wonder how many safety glasses will actually stop a 2mm bullet.


Pater Aletheias : Do you guys who claim that the safety mechanism will engage if you cut damp wood with it have a cite for that? If there's any truth to that, I must have missed it.

This works exactly the same way as touch-lamps. And yes, touching them with damp wood will turn them on and off.

That said - Unless you work as a lumberjack, only an idiot cuts wet wood. It will tear on you and warp as it dries, and makes a bloody (no pun intended) mess of sticky dried pulp on all your tools.

I'd gladly pay $70 per incident thereafter to save my worker's fingers.

Agreed, 100%. But, in the same scenario, if you find yourself blowing $70 per month per saw for misfires (and keep in mind that $70 refers to the brake plus a $20 blade from Home Depot, not the $400-$800 blades used in all-day-every-day manufacturing environments, where taking one saw offline for an hour can mean thousands of dollars in lost productivity)... At what point do you say "nope, not worth it, just make damned sure you get enough sleep, guys"?
posted by pla at 11:03 AM on March 18, 2010


The whole point is if you have an accident who is liable? Who is responsible?

This is the way that table saw manufacturers have always thought about it, and this is exactly why they all refused to make even one saw that has this safety device. The whole point here is not "who's liable", but "who's short a finger or two."

This particular case is a bit ridiculous, but if it forces the major manufacturers to improve the safety of their equipment - whether by licensing SawStop or by creating their own comparable system - then it's a good thing. It's a shame it'll take a lawsuit to make them do that.
posted by echo target at 11:04 AM on March 18, 2010


I found this on the SawStop FAQ:

6. Will cutting green or "wet" wood activate the SawStop safety system?

SawStop saws cut most wet wood without a problem
. However, if the wood is very green or wet (for example, wet enough to spray a mist when cutting), or if the wood is both wet and pressure treated, then the wood may be sufficiently conductive to trigger the brake. Accordingly, the best practice is to dry wet or green wood before cutting by standing it inside and apart from other wood for about one day. You can also cut wet pressure treated wood and other conductive material by placing the saw in bypass mode to deactivate the safety system.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 11:06 AM on March 18, 2010


I think the real crime here is how the industry decided to bury the technology rather than offer it to their customers so that they would have better arguments in product liability suits. Now you can only get it on very high end saws, not normal consumer saws for week-end jobs etc. I am glad they lost and I hope they lose some more until I can get this on a $500 table saw.
posted by caddis at 11:09 AM on March 18, 2010


Ha, yes. Dry out your PT so it's all twisted up before you try to cut it. Well done.
posted by rusty at 11:14 AM on March 18, 2010


"Also, it looks like you need special blades for this to work. I see two problems with this. One, this, obviously, eliminates the option to use third party blades."

It uses regular blades, all the videos feature sawstop brand blades for advertising.
posted by Mitheral at 11:16 AM on March 18, 2010


Ever wonder why outboard engines don't come with a propeller guard? You know, a little fiberglass or metal collar that will keep the prop from chopping you to death? (Or chopping Manatees to death)?

Because the lobbyists for the marine industry fight it like the devil... if it were made available, then the motors that don't have it would be liable for the injury they cause.

Propeller guards aren't under patent - but the manufacturers who refuse to make them standard equipment are evil fucking incarnate. Sawstop is under patent, and the manufacturers who refused to license it under any conditions are evil fucking incarnate. They put liability and cost concerns above human life.
posted by Slap*Happy at 11:16 AM on March 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'm also wondering how strong the actual saw frame needs to be to support the (presumably immense) sudden load of the blade stopping in 5 milliseconds. A lot of lightweight jobsite tablesaws would simply break, unless they have some very clever shock absorption mechanism.

Agree with everyone else here who said this is a great technology and it's a shame it's not more widely used, but it can't possibly be made mandatory by either regulation or intolerable liability risk.
posted by rusty at 11:18 AM on March 18, 2010


This particular case is a bit ridiculous, but if it forces the major manufacturers to improve the safety of their equipment - whether by licensing SawStop or by creating their own comparable system - then it's a good thing.

Well, given the patent, they're prohibited from doing a comparable system for a few decades. Maybe they could license it?

SawStop asks for licensing fees of 3 percent of the saw's wholesale price to start. As the device becomes more widespread, the fees could increase to 8 percent. The price of table saws range from $200 to several thousand dollars.

Saws currently on the market can not be retrofitted with SawStop's device. Manufacturers would have to redesign saws, which could cause a price increase of about $150.


Whoa! A three to eight percent private tax on all saws sold in the US? ON TOP OF an additional retooling cost? Well I wonder why they didn't leap at that deal? Fortunately, we can force them via torts! The only people who lose are the customers and, probably, the manufacturers. Whew!

Monopolies suck, and it doesn't much matter who controls them.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 11:20 AM on March 18, 2010


Slap*Happy: Um? Propeller guards are also known as "little cages to make absolutely sure that any small piece of flotsam or line will always foul your propeller and require a dive."

There are any number of reasons to object to boat prop guards that have nothing to do with corporate greed.
posted by rusty at 11:22 AM on March 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


There are any number of reasons to object to boat prop guards that have nothing to do with corporate greed.

Most of them fabrications or blown out of all reasonable proportion by the manufacturer's lobby. Aftermarket ones work fine. Yet the manufacturers won't offer them on =any= model, including ones they market to shallow-water bass boat owners. Hmm. Why is that?
posted by Slap*Happy at 11:30 AM on March 18, 2010


"Well, given the patent, they're prohibited from doing a comparable system for a few decades. Maybe they could license it?"

Patents are only in force for 14 years, and the clock started ticking a decade ago.
posted by Mitheral at 11:35 AM on March 18, 2010


Propeller guards aren't under patent - but the manufacturers who refuse to make them standard equipment are evil fucking incarnate. Sawstop is under patent, and the manufacturers who refused to license it under any conditions are evil fucking incarnate. They put liability and cost concerns above human life.

Good point. All cars should now be made out of bubble rap. Cost is no object just to save a life! Anyone who makes a car you can afford is evil incarnate!
posted by Big_B at 11:52 AM on March 18, 2010


I use my table-saw to cut hot dogs. WHAT AM I TO DO?!?!?!

I like how clean the cut is
posted by blue_beetle at 12:00 PM on March 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


Yes, Big_B, that is completely analogous.
posted by Bovine Love at 12:04 PM on March 18, 2010


BTW, interesting tidbit from the SawStop FAQ:

5. I have a table saw made by another company. Do you sell a kit to retrofit your safety system into other table saws?

No. It is not economically practical to retrofit other manufacturers' table saws. The structural changes necessary to incorporate the safety system into another saw and the cost to have it installed would exceed the cost of a new saw.

From: http://www.sawstop.com/howitworks/how_faq.php
posted by enamon at 12:07 PM on March 18, 2010


Patents are only in force for 14 years, and the clock started ticking a decade ago.

Design patents you mean. Utility patents, the ones people normally think of, expire 20 years after the earliest US priority date. They used to expire 17 years after issuance, and ones filed before June 8, 1995 get the longer of the two systems.
posted by caddis at 12:12 PM on March 18, 2010


Oh, and by earliest priority date I don't mean provisional applications. You can get an extra year by filing a provisional application and then filing a non-provisional utility application one year later. It's the non-provisional which starts the clock ticking.
posted by caddis at 12:15 PM on March 18, 2010


All it would take is one false activation and $70 blade replacement for the average handyman to permanently "place the saw in bypass mode to deactivate the safety system."
posted by digsrus at 12:15 PM on March 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


Good point. All cars should now be made out of bubble rap have airbags, three-point seatbelts for all passengers, and safety glass. Cost is no object just to save a life! Anyone who makes a car you can afford that will kill you and your family in a mild wreck is evil incarnate!

FTFY.


(All of which was fought against, tooth and nail, by the automobile industry. Sure are a lot of tools in this thread. Not all of them used to work wood.)
posted by Slap*Happy at 12:17 PM on March 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


I've just invented a 6" wide rubber cone that slips over the heads of hammers to prevent smashing your thumb. Everyone must now use them all the time, as mandated by federal law, and by the way, pay me to do so.

Oh wait, that's asinine.
posted by Aquaman at 12:19 PM on March 18, 2010


I know of several people who use a SawStop on a regular basis, although all in a shop (not on a site). In that situation at least, false activation is very rare.
posted by Bovine Love at 12:20 PM on March 18, 2010


Everyone must now use them all the time, as mandated by federal law, and by the way, pay me to do so.

See, that's where your analogy goes off the rails. They wouldn't mandate use of safestop, but rather the installation. So to use your hammer example, its as if the cone comes intalled on every hammer, but you can take it off if you want, sort of like the tags on matresses.
posted by Pollomacho at 12:24 PM on March 18, 2010


Yeah, where are the citations for the high rates of false activations? Since it keeps coming up there must be something.
posted by 6550 at 12:24 PM on March 18, 2010


SawStop not safestop.
posted by Pollomacho at 12:25 PM on March 18, 2010


Since it keeps coming up there must be something.

Not necessarily. It is one of the most frequent arguments against the SawStop: "But what about false activations?". This does not mean it is frequent, it just means it is a debating tool. In the absence of facts, it is a useful one.
posted by Bovine Love at 12:27 PM on March 18, 2010


Not a high rate of activations. Just one would mean you'd need a new blade and have replace the cartridge. A minute of googling brought this up:
http://www.machinejunkie.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=389
posted by enamon at 12:35 PM on March 18, 2010


When SawStop was first shopping their invention around, I was the hardware manager in a large private building supply company. I dealt daily with muckety-mucks from Porter-Cable, Hitachi and Milwaukee tools. We even had the owner of SawStop come by and demo his invention - it was awesome: he would stop a fully spinning table saw blade by running a raw hot dog up to it like a piece of wood. The blade stopped so fast it barely nicked the hot dog.

I can say with certainty, that although the added cost was a concern to the manufacturers, the reason they didn't support SawStop was because they were afraid of the (perceived) liability concerns should the mechanism fail to work properly.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 12:41 PM on March 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


As for anyone comparing this to seat belts and air bags. The question is at what point does personal responsibility take over? Most auto accidents could be completely eliminated if driving was automated. The technology is there. The next time you have an auto accident could you sue the auto company for not incorporating the technology into their vehicles? Adding seat belts and airbags do not considerably add to the cost of a new car. Nor do they mandate the use of only one brand of consumable. Just because you drive a Toyota, for example, doesn't mean you have to use Toyota motor oil or Toyota gasoline. I can buy a table saw right now for $150. I would not be able to do this if this legislation comes into effect. That said, this guy removed the blade guards in order to do the job that he wanted. He knew it was risky but he did it anyway. If he had a SawStop table saw and disabled the mechanism in order to cut through wood that may have a staple or three in it and ended up cutting off his fingers because of negligence would SawStop be liable? After all, they could've incorporated resistance measurements into the mechanism to tell the difference between a human finger and a staple. At what point does the responsibility fall on the user?
posted by enamon at 12:45 PM on March 18, 2010


enamon, did you read your own link? There's nothing but glowing recommendations there, and no mention of false activations.
posted by echo target at 12:51 PM on March 18, 2010


Actually, most likely he removed the guard because it was a total POS that got in the way.

I'm a strong believer in personal responsibility. That goes for the people who make the saws, too; they have to at least make an effort to make a safe saw (they are accepting money for it, after all). They don't. It seems to me that a lot of the "personal responsibility" folks in this thread seem to think the manufacturers are exempt from such responsibility.

I'm not sure the judgement in this case is fair (there should be share responsibility, but it seems to me Ryobi is shouldering all of it), but that most certainly still doesn't mean there should be no liability on the part of the manufacturers (though how much is a good discussion) nor does it mean the SawStop is useless or a waste.
posted by Bovine Love at 12:53 PM on March 18, 2010


echo target:

Yes, I did. Read the post by crzypete posted on Sun Apr 06, 2008 1:39 pm:
I got to see a sawstop saw last weekend on a visit to RIT's woodshop. Hopefully we will have another users review to add to this thread.

I learned some more about how the saw works. To stop the blade, you destroy the blad. An aluminum extrusion is jammed into the saw blade as it drops below the table. Each time it fires you need to replace this extrusion and most likely your saw blade. They have had it fire four times- never with the touch of a finger, simply a false alarm.

Here are some pics I took of the blade stopping mechanism- after having being fired.


After that he follows it up with photos of the blade stopping mechanism after it was fired.
posted by enamon at 12:56 PM on March 18, 2010


I would not be able to do this if this legislation comes into effect.

There you go UbuRoivas. Your implied prediction has come true. How many comments did it take?
posted by The Bellman at 12:56 PM on March 18, 2010


cryzpete is talking about an in-store demo. You can see in that and other posts that he's a fan of the technology, which he certainly wouldn't be if it were misfiring anywhere near that often.
posted by echo target at 12:59 PM on March 18, 2010


My point was that you have to stop somewhere becuase eventually the costs have to be taken into account. People still die/get hurt in cars with airbags/seatbelts/safety glass.

Tripling the cost of the saw becuase people are not careful enough to use them seems asinine.

That said I've been shopping for a table saw and I've located a dealer locally who sells these, so I'm going to consider one.
posted by Big_B at 1:00 PM on March 18, 2010


Also, I can't find any details about how Carlos Osorio lost his fingers. I've found the full text of his legal complaint (found here: http://www.scribd.com/doc/27961064/Osorio-Complaint) and all it says, on page 4, is that he was operating the Ryobi saw "with all due care" when his fingers got cut off. What exactly happened? How did his fingers come in contact with the saw? I can't find these details anywhere.
posted by enamon at 1:00 PM on March 18, 2010


echo target:

considering that his report of it misfiring was his last post on that thread how can you tell that he's such a big fan of it after learning that it misfired four times? Is there another thread that you found?
posted by enamon at 1:03 PM on March 18, 2010


So now my choices would be between buying a very basic "danger" saw at Sears for $200, a decent "danger" saw for $450, or a decent "safe" saw for $560.

I am now going to refer to them as DangerSaws.
"Stand back! I'm gonna cut this here piece of wood with my trusty DangerSaw!"
posted by Kabanos at 1:06 PM on March 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


No, you might be right after all on that one. I'm still not convinced that it's really an issue for anyone who's not cutting soggy plywood. Maybe they got a lemon.
posted by echo target at 1:08 PM on March 18, 2010


echo target:

Also, it wasn't an "in-store demo". RIT is the Rochester Institute of Technology, from what I can gather.
posted by enamon at 1:08 PM on March 18, 2010


Tripling the cost of the saw becuase people are not careful enough to use them seems asinine.

Who said anything about tripling the cost. It adds about $150 and in quantity probably less.
posted by caddis at 1:08 PM on March 18, 2010


Not soggy plywood but lot of wood has staples in it. Also, are you going to test every material you cut for conductivity? At the very least a mistake can cost you $70 a pop. Whereas following proper safety procedures is still the best way to prevent table saw injuries.
posted by enamon at 1:09 PM on March 18, 2010


I'm afraid I'm just going to continue to go with "this is an inherently dangerous activity, and people undertaking the activity should understand and accept the dangers". This isn't about mandating kids pyjamas don't catch fire and that refrigerator doors can be opened from the inside. This is about a device that designed for cutting things off, and people using it should understand that it's primary use and feature is for cutting things off. I would prefer mandating training and licencing for users before mandating SafeStop. My opinion.
posted by Jimbob at 1:10 PM on March 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


I work in the shop of an art school. We teach students how to use a lot of various power tools, including table saws. Our safety record is pretty good (knock on hot dog); just a couple of minor instances in my time here, both with power sanders. We've called 911 for students passing out in class more times than anything to do with tool use.

We talk with other schools in the area about what's happening in their shops and to discuss best practices. If there's an accident, we hear about it. To be sure, accidents can happen when students haven't had proper supervision, or didn't use the tool as they were instructed for whatever reason. But a lot of accidents, and often the worst ones, happen to people who've had years of experience. It didn't happen around here, but one awful example is the furniture instructor who cut off his thumb during a safety demo. You get comfortable enough on a tool and and its use becomes second nature, but even just walking you can screw up and trip for no apparent reason.

One school in our area got SawStop saws a couple of years ago. They don't tell the students about the safety feature because a student might someday work on a regular table saw somewhere else. They haven't had the mechanism fire yet, as far as I know. But for those of you that think the SawStop reduces the tool's perceived risk, there's no way I'm going to look at a spinning blade and trust it to take off only 1/8" if my hand gets too close. And 1/8" can be a lot of finger.

By the way, we've also found that splitters and blade guards don't work for our shop, but we have been happy with anti-kickback rollers like the Board Buddy.
posted by hydrophonic at 1:10 PM on March 18, 2010


enamon: "Most auto accidents could be completely eliminated if driving was automated."

Citation please. This has been a technologist's myth since the 1950s. They can't even automate driving in open pit mines, let alone closed-access highways.

A theme throughout the history of human-automation interaction problems is false alarms that are part of dealing with the (unpredictable) real world. Humans respond very predictably to false alarms - they investigate them at first, then ignore or disable them. Posters above have already proposed how the most beneficial adopters of SawStop (contractors) would respond to many hundred-dollar false alarms.

Design of SawStop 2.0 (or its reverse-engineered self) will have to address these issues.
posted by anthill at 1:10 PM on March 18, 2010


Now that the liability floodgates are open, every manufacturer will probably license this technology for at least their high end lines. I suspect they'll still have low end lines with no saw stop, and a big shiny safety feature comparison chart that shows what you are missing by not paying the $400-$1000 more.
posted by BrotherCaine at 1:19 PM on March 18, 2010


accidents could be completely eliminated if driving was automated

Not an automobile, but...
posted by Pollomacho at 1:21 PM on March 18, 2010


BrotherCaine: Well from what I gather they want a legal mandate to have this on ALL table saws. I hope I'm wrong.
posted by enamon at 1:22 PM on March 18, 2010


Also, are you going to test every material you cut for conductivity? At the very least a mistake can cost you $70 a pop.

Wait, what happened to personal responsibility?
posted by dirigibleman at 1:33 PM on March 18, 2010


See, that's where your analogy goes off the rails. They wouldn't mandate use of safestop, but rather the installation. So to use your hammer example, its as if the cone comes intalled on every hammer, but you can take it off if you want, sort of like the tags on matresses.

And if that federally-mandated safety device added as much as 35% to the cost of your (let's say) $450 hammer (most of which goes into my pocket), you'd be fine with that, even if you had no intention of ever using the Rubber Buddy Safety Cone™ due to reasonable and practical objections on your part?
posted by Aquaman at 1:34 PM on March 18, 2010


dirigibleman:

Exactly! This thing is nice but should not be legally mandated on every single table saw sold.

Anyway, I'm tired of talking about this. We all know the solution is very easy. ROBOT HANDS!!!
posted by enamon at 1:37 PM on March 18, 2010


I am glad they lost and I hope they lose some more until I can get this on a $500 table saw.

Alternatively, they might just stop making saws altogether. What that does to the price of saws I leave to economists.
posted by IndigoJones at 2:02 PM on March 18, 2010


With some things the benefits of regulation is clear. Seatbelts only nominally increase the cos of a car yet provide tremendous benefit. Prior to regulation they were expensive because they were specialty items. Manufactured in quantity they are cheap. The sawstop is pretty cheap at $150 (perhaps less in quantity) but on low end saws that is still a significant cost. I am not sure that mandating this system is necessarily the right thing to do given the cost. On the other hand the industry's stance of burying the technology to avoid perceived liability is really vile. I hope they lose a bunch of these suits. I also hope they find their burying strategy to be not so wise and decide to license the technology. I have no problem if they sell saws with and saws without. Let the consumer decide. However, if they price it out of reach that is just as bad as burying it. I wouldn't be surprised if one of the factors in the jury giving an award larger than requested by the plaintiff wasn't some evidence of the industry wide tactic of burying the technology. If the technology was available at a reasonable cost and the consumer opted not to buy it I would think it would make that consumer's product liability case very, very difficult.
posted by caddis at 2:16 PM on March 18, 2010


I will bet anyone in this thread a million dollars that right now in every single table saw manufacturing company in the US, Europe and Japan, there are engineers examining the SawStop patents

Hmm, I don't know. Every company I've worked at as an engineer has expressly forbid us from looking at or searching patents. Because if we did, and later did anything remotely similar, it would leave us more exposed in case of a lawsuit. ONLY lawyers are allowed to look at or search patents.

(maybe this only applies to software companies, but it's true at most of the big ones)
posted by wildcrdj at 3:08 PM on March 18, 2010


I can purchase a decent tablesaw for $400-600. A really good blade will cost me $120-200.

Adding a SawStop jacks the price by over a third, and each time it activates I am effectively spending half the cost of a new tablesaw to replace the device and the blade.

Damn straight I'd be bypassing that expensive little gadget.
posted by five fresh fish at 3:09 PM on March 18, 2010


"I hope they lose a bunch of these suits."

One of the problems is this approach could significantly reduce or even eliminate choice on the low end of the market. Just like the after effects of the Dalkon Shield fiasco essentially eliminated the IUD as a birth control option in the US for years or the liability hit small craft general aviation took in the 70s and 80s.

"Not soggy plywood but lot of wood has staples in it. Also, are you going to test every material you cut for conductivity?"

I do now, well random samples from every batch, to ensure quality.

"Anyway, I'm tired of talking about this. We all know the solution is very easy. ROBOT HANDS!!!"

You joke but next winter I hope to construct a cedar strip canoe and before I get started I'll be adding a power feeder to my saw.
posted by Mitheral at 3:11 PM on March 18, 2010


Price comparison for 2 saws from the same category; "Contractors Saws" on the same website.

DeWalt 10 inch contractors saw - $629
SawStop 10 inch contractors saw - $1,599

Both are 10 inch, 15 Amp, 1.75 horsepower.
DeWalt stands at the upper end in price for most manufacturers. For contractors saws those manufacturers are all in a price group within about $200 of each other. The least expensive SawStop saws are at least $800 more expensive than any similarly specified table saw.

What concerns me about the lawsuit is that the result seems to mandate either a retrofit to existing saws or the purchase of a saw with the SawStop system with the manufacturers of existing saws being held liable for the actions of people that had previously purchased their product?! When they mandated the 3 point harness and airbags the manufacturers of existing cars were not forced retrofit pre-existing cars or be held liable.

"I wouldn't be surprised if one of the factors in the jury giving an award larger than requested by the plaintiff wasn't some evidence of the industry wide tactic of burying the technology."

Agreed.
posted by vapidave at 3:12 PM on March 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


Just one would mean you'd need a new blade and have replace the cartridge.

Forget SawStop. It's much cheaper to hire a new carpenter when the old one doesn't have enough fingers left to work.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 3:23 PM on March 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


...the "dangerous sense of safety" argument strikes me as singularly fallacious: by that measure, road safety would be improved by replacing all airbags by sharp spikes oriented directly towards the driver's vital organs. That should make him more alert.

As it happens, Massachusetts is running an experiment along those lines. Instead of spikes, the Big Dig tunnels use innovative handrails to separate service walkways from the test-subject traffic.
The handrails have been dubbed the “ginsu guardrails,’’ after the knives advertised on TV, by some police officers called to the grisly crashes.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 3:42 PM on March 18, 2010


the manufacturers of existing cars were not forced retrofit pre-existing cars or be held liable

But once the technology has been marketed and used successfully, the manufacturer's who failed to license Saw Stop I'd think would be liable at that point. So saws purchased before Saw Stop's first units were widely available = no manufacturer liability, saws afterwards = liability.
posted by BrotherCaine at 3:44 PM on March 18, 2010


I can't figure out why they need a ~$100 consumable to accomplish what they do. Seems to me they could easily design mostly reusable parts, and reduce the consumable cost by a factor of 10.
posted by Chuckles at 4:04 PM on March 18, 2010


Ever wonder why outboard engines don't come with a propeller guard? You know, a little fiberglass or metal collar that will keep the prop from chopping you to death? (Or chopping Manatees to death)?

Oh, the hurt manatees.
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:04 PM on March 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


Hmm, I don't know. Every company I've worked at as an engineer has expressly forbid us from looking at or searching patents. Because if we did, and later did anything remotely similar, it would leave us more exposed in case of a lawsuit. ONLY lawyers are allowed to look at or search patents.

That is the MO of infringers. I now have an additional question to have our outside counsel to ask during every depo. This will not protect those companies. They are so stupid.
posted by caddis at 4:32 PM on March 18, 2010


I can't figure out why they need a ~$100 consumable to accomplish what they do. Seems to me they could easily design mostly reusable parts, and reduce the consumable cost by a factor of 10.
posted by Chuckles at 7:04 PM on March 18 [+] [!]


Go for it guy. You find the solution and I will hook you up with the right patent attorneys, although Gass is a patent attorney himself and appears to have really blanketed this area with patent filings.

One of the problems is this approach could significantly reduce or even eliminate choice on the low end of the market.

I don't think that is necessarily true. If the system is available on saws at a reasonable price and there are saws without the system I think most needs are met. If the option is available (and by available that probably means at a reasonable price) and a consumer opts out that will make their suit for negligence very tough. For someone like me who might use their saw four or five times a year it might be overkill. I would pay the extra money (one or two hundred) just for the peace of mind, but I could easily see others deciding not to do that. I am a firm believer in insurance, especially where the risks are not just monetary and include loss of important body parts.
posted by caddis at 5:55 PM on March 18, 2010


The legal arguments in this thread have been uncharacteristically poor for MeFi. The stories of personal horror have made it totally awesome, though. Thanks!
posted by norm at 6:32 PM on March 18, 2010


That is the MO of infringers.

Caddis, this is standard procedure in the IT world. No engineer looks at patents because there patents on practically everything & if you can be shown to have known about the patent before hand then you're liable for triple damages for wilful infringement.

Every piece of code ever sold in the US infringes a patent owned by another company. The only reason the whole industry doesn't collapse in a sea of lawsuits is because of the MAD deterrent.
posted by pharm at 5:11 AM on March 19, 2010


Court Documents: Osorio Wasn't Using the Guard or Rip Fence:
Osorio is from Colombia, has a degree in computer science and was installing flooring as he learned English. At the time of the accident, he was trying to make a rip cut on a 2'-long, 2-1/2"-wide by 3/4"-thick piece of oak flooring, according to court records. He was attempting to cut the board “freehand” without the rip fence, according to the documents. Osorio intended to make a cut in a straight line all the way through the board. He had cut only a small portion of the workpiece when it got stuck at the blade. Osorio immediately experienced chattering and felt vibration in the workpiece. He stopped cutting and cleaned the tabletop. He then attempted to make the same cut again but the chattering continued, and he decided to push the board harder. His left hand then slipped into the spinning saw blade, according to court documents.

The saw blade height above the tabletop was set to approximately 3" – at or near the maximum elevation, and the guarding system was not installed on the saw during the operation, documents state. "
posted by zamboni at 8:12 AM on March 26, 2010


Osorio did everything wrong that is possible to do wrong. He showed absolutely no respect whatsoever for the machine. The jury was irresponsible in awarding him any payout.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:34 AM on March 26, 2010


Osorio got one thing right, he picked a freaking awesome attorney.
posted by vapidave at 9:18 AM on March 26, 2010


The more I think about that description of his actions, the more appalled I am that the jury saw fit to do anything more than punish him further for his mind-boggling stupidity. 3" above the top of the plank?!! No pushstick? WTF, no fence!!!?! What an irresponsible jerk.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:56 AM on March 26, 2010


FFF, what makes him a jerk? That he knows nothing of table safety? I dunno. I know a few people who have used a tablesaw like that completely due to ignorance. They were nice people, not jerks at all. The question is why they were ignorant (did the manufacturer make sufficient effort) and did the manufacturer make sufficient effort to make the device safer (no, not completely safe, but did they try at all).

Clearly something went awry in the defence in this case, but an good analysis of why the case went at is did would be interesting.
posted by Bovine Love at 10:39 AM on March 26, 2010


What makes him a jerk is that instead of taking responsibility, he blames the manufacturer.

What he did is no different than if I were to hop into a Cessna and try to fly. I'd have to be a colossal asshole to then sue Cessna when I immediately crash.

The jury was absolutely wrong. I hope Ryobi challenges their decision.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:45 AM on March 26, 2010


The person at fault here is the plaintiff's employer. He obviously had not a clue about how to use a table saw, and his supervisor should have given him at least basic training in proper operation, and sent him off the job if he couldn't follow proper procedures. There's no way he could have gotten a clean cut with what he was doing, even if he did walk away with all his fingers.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 10:49 AM on March 26, 2010


Since, at least on its face, this would set precedence that would cost Ryobi many millions of dollars, I am sure they will pursue it to the highest possible court they can, plus spend money on getting legislative cover (exemption). Meanwhile, they'll continue to not spend a penny on making their products safer.
posted by Bovine Love at 10:54 AM on March 26, 2010


"Safer" is rather moot when you remove the rip fence, jack the blade as high as it goes, forgo the pushstick, and then jam your hand into the blade. It is completely ridiculous that this should be the case that determines whether tablesaws are safe enough.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:20 AM on March 26, 2010


Well, no. If it had a sawstop, potentially (even likely) he still would have been safe. Mind you, this guy would have probably have removed it.

The guards suck *huge*. He likely removed the rip fence because he was doing a taper cut (common enough in flooring); this is stupid, but not so easy to otherwise accomplish (even if he had a taper jig, they can be PITA to use). A high blade both reduces the amount of force to push the wood in and also reduces the chance of kickback; it actually lowers the chance of an accident due to kickback. However, of course, it increases the chance of hand contact with the blade should a problem occur. The whole push harder thing is hard to justify :)

Look, I'm not saying it is a good case (at least on its face, it isn't), Yes, the guy was completely ignorant of safety and usage as well as reckless. I'm just saying the manufacturers have it coming, and very likely still won't spend a penny on making it safer, though they will spend plenty on legal and/or legislative means trying to avoid getting sued. The simple fact is that generally they wilfully avoid making the saws safer, even little things like quality guards. Perhaps the jury was punishing them for the general lack of effort. Or maybe the defence lawyer was as ignorant as the plaintiff.
posted by Bovine Love at 11:44 AM on March 26, 2010


"He likely removed the rip fence because he was doing a taper cut (common enough in flooring); this is stupid, but not so easy to otherwise accomplish (even if he had a taper jig, they can be PITA to use). "

Actually this is easy to do when you are installing flooring. All you have to do is screw the piece you desire to cut onto a second piece at least as long as the first. Align the taper line with the edge of the second piece; set your fence to the width of the flooring; and run it through. Make sure you run the screws first through the second piece and then into the back side of the first so no holes show.
posted by Mitheral at 12:41 PM on March 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


Doh, that is clever. I've done it in the past with a track saw (but I doubt he had one).
posted by Bovine Love at 1:22 PM on March 26, 2010


I've been trying to find out the background of the attorneys for Osorio to figure out on what basis this case was argued. I'm having trouble unraveling who the Richard J. Sullivan named in the linked article is. I think that he is actually Richard J. Sullivan Jr., son of a former risk and insurance attorney and now judge. Richard J. Sullivan Jr. and his father both practice(d) insurance law.

This case must have been cast in a "big picture" of risk and liability because the plaintiff was inexcusably careless. I remain surprised however that with the number of pending cases that are available Osorio was the one they chose. Maybe a perfect case is just too perfect for the jury.
posted by vapidave at 8:59 PM on March 26, 2010


My guess is that they submitted evidence of the defendant purposefully burying the safety technology in an effort to save litigation costs, putting profits ahead of safety, and that probably went over about as well with the jury as evidence that Ford cavalierly avoided making changes to its gas tanks because in the end they figured that paying off a few product liability death suits would be cheaper.
posted by caddis at 6:22 AM on March 28, 2010


The Carlos Osorio vs. One World Technologies Inc. et. al. lawsuit centers on whether the table saw being used when Osorio's accident occurred was defective. Osorio’s team claims the Ryobi BTS 15 was defective because there was no independent riving knife, no “user-friendly” guarding system and the saw did not incorporate SawStop technology or a similar technology that detects contact between a person and the spinning blade of a table saw, according to court records. The latter was the focus of the proceedings.
posted by zamboni at 1:05 PM on March 31, 2010


I own that tablesaw model (well, the all-aluminum one, a step above it). It does have a riving knife, it does have anti-kickback pawls, and it does have a blade guard. They do their job about as well as one would expect, which is to say they get in the way.

The BTS-15 is a dirt-cheap saw. One hardly expects it to have sophisticated anti-hurt measures. Osorio is a dick, plain and simple.
posted by five fresh fish at 1:24 PM on March 31, 2010


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