Power Tool Safety Features

While replacing the floor at my in-laws’ house over the holiday season, I found myself using an older DeWalt circular saw. I’ve used a PC 18v saw for the few times I’ve needed one over the past four or five years, and using that Dewalt seemed inherently dangerous. After making a couple of cuts I realized what was different: it lacked the blade brake that the cordless Porter Cable has. Of course, I realize that a blade brake or lack thereof will not make a saw any less dangerous to a negligent user, but that experience made me realize how spoiled I’ve become. Years ago, I worked for a framing crew and used older non-braked circular saws regularly. I remember going out of my way to watch for the cord and to ensure the blade guard was doing its job (and that the blade was kept away from my person) before setting the saw down. While I’ve sliced myself open time and again with knives, razor blades, and other sharp objects, I have no desire to ever be gored or dismembered by a power tool.

Anyway, what are some safety features you look for on tools prior to purchasing? Will the lack of a feature make a certain tool a “no-buy”, or will the addition of a feature make you choose a brand you otherwise wouldn’t? Also, are there any newer tools that you feel make a job safer (impact drivers, perhaps, as they won’t twist like a regular drill)?

I’ve been using a Dwalt 20v circular saw almost daily exclusively for about 6 months, while helping my brother-in-law hang some osb in his garage he had a new corded circ saw and I swear only 3 cuts in I cut the dang cord… GRRRR! His saw supposedly had a break(did not work) and as most 7.25 saws the blade was on the right(I prefer left blades) but it was really my own fault.

A circular saw blade brake is certainly a desirable feature – and may even be called a must have safety feature if you do lots of stopped-cuts. A plunge saw (as in track saw) might be another alternative.
My old B&D Super-Sawcat has an electronic blade brake – innovative for its time (production started in the mid-1960’s). It also had a very solid shoe – with a removable outer section. Some folks say it was the best circular sidewinder –style saw ever made. I still have mine and think it shows how good a tool Black & Decker was capable of making. Some folks say (and I have no way to dispute or affirm this) that current offerings from Mafell are better made – but I’ve never seen a side-by-side comparison.


But not all vintage tools were as safe – and I always thought the Stanley Eager-Beaver was prone to kickback – even though it was rather innovative – could cut in 2 directions with 2 sole plates, and 2 trigger switches:


When Bosch bought out Stanley’s power tool business – the saw seems to have been discontinued.
Nothing that I lamented – liking my old Rockwell-Porter Cable 9314 4.5 inch worm gear saw much better.


Back on topic – buying used (or NOS) older tools – just like vintage cars – bring with it some inherent risk that modern safety features will not be part of the package. Table saws are an example. Buying a used saw today the bare minimum safety features should (IMO) include a riving knife – not just a splitter), anti-kickback pawls and a modern split blade guard. An upgrade to flesh-sensing technology (like Sawstop or Bosch REAXX) should also be in your evaluations.

The other safety feature that is sometimes disastrously overlooked – is that manufacturers may try to make a tool “fool-proof” – but that all tools will never be “damn-fool-proof”. It is up to us as tool users to get the proper training needed for safe tool use, wear the appropriate PPE, shun wearing clothing, jewelry etc. that will result in a hazard, work only when rested and alert, pay attention to our surroundings (weather, puddles, explosion hazards etc.) , not undertake jobs that we are uncomfortable doing and all watch out for our fellow workers. If that little bird in your head says: “this might be dangerous” then heed the warning and think through a safer way to do the job. If your tool has alternative settings (e.g. nail gun trigger switches that can toggle between bump nailing to single-fire) then make sure you know how the tool is set. If you need to force a tool to do a job (a cut etc.) then you are doing something wrong – and a time-out for re-thinking is appropriate. If you’re reaching from a ladder – it’s time to either move it – or better yet put up staging. Since falls are the most common cause of construction accidents – fall protection should be a top priority. And, if you have folks working at elevation with others below – it’s a no-brainer that some tool-tethering and hardhats should be in use. Since electrocutions are also up there as a cause of accidents – having knowledge about proper inspection/maintenance/use of power tools, extension cords and GFCI protection is also very important.

I am much the opposite, I find all too frequently some of the more intrusive safety devices just get in the way, or cause there own safety problems down the road. Every pwr tool I own with a trigger lock is dissabled. All we are doing is catering to the stupid with most of this crap. I cant count the number of times I ran into something because I couldnt see past the bill of a hard hat, and not 1 single time has the hard hat saved me from a falling object. I have been in the construction trades since 18, and noww 45. Have I had some close calls, HELL YEAH …and I pulled my head outta my ass real fast. Basic safety gear is fine, but its been taken WAY TOO FAR as of late.