Power tools can be dangerous to use. People get themselves injured all the time, doing seemingly normal work on their power tools; often doing work that they’ve done hundreds of times before. But while familiarity can be a good teacher, it can also make us complacent, ignoring common safety precautions that protect us from injury.
That has happened to me; catching my thumb in a table saw blade and splitting the bone in the fingertip. I still can’t tell you today how that happened to me, for I was pulling away from the saw, after making my cut, when it happened. But I can tell you this, if I had been using a push stick or push block to make that cut, I couldn’t have gotten my thumb in the blade.
All power tools are dangerous if we aren’t careful with them; but some seem to be more dangerous than others. I base this not just on personal opinion, but on the number of injuries that people have with those tools. Amongst them, the table saw is right up there at the top of the list.
I will have to say that part of the reason why there are so many table saw accidents is that table saws get a lot of use. They are probably one of the more common shop tools, and definitely the most common shop saw found in home workshops. They’re also a tool that is difficult to use with the safety guards in place. For that reason, many of us remove our safety guards, leaving the blade exposed.
That’s all the more reason for us to be using push sticks and push blocks when using a table saw. These accessories provide us with some much needed protection, providing added safety from getting caught I the blade and from kickback. It is even a good idea to use dual push sticks, one in each hand. Rarely do we make cuts on the table saw, where we only use one hand. With that being the case, both hands are at risk of getting too close to the blade. Using dual push sticks provides us with the ability to protect both our hands.
How to Make a Push Stick
The basic push stick is nothing more than a stick, with a notch at the business end. The notch allows it to catch on the edge of the board being cut, with the stick acting as a handle for us to hold on to. Making an actual handle on the opposite end of the stick, with a guard to keep our hands from slipping forward, adds to the safety of this tool.
The pattern below provides you with some basic dimensions for a push stick. The rounded protrusions on the top and bottom of the drawing are there to act as hand guards, preventing your hand from slipping forward towards the blade. The notch on the left end is the “business end” of the stick, which goes up against the board to be cut. Notice that the notch is not very deep, so that it can be used with thinner plywood.
Some people prefer to make their push sticks with the same sort of handle that a plane has. This is just as workable as the design shown above, but is a bit harder to make. The push stick can be made out of just about any scrap material you have sitting around. However, I would recommend either making it out of ½” thick polypropylene (an inexpensive plastic) or ½” thick cabinet grade plywood. Cabinet grade plywood has more layers and fewer voids, providing you with a more solid, sturdier push stick.
Cut the pattern out with a jigsaw or scroll saw, taking special care to get a clean angle and flat surfaces in the notch. Sand the edges, all around, on a belt sander to eliminate rough edges and/or splinters. If you have a router table with a ¼’ roundover bit, rounding all the edges would make the push stick even more comfortable to work with. But do not round the edges on the notch or you will have more trouble making good contact with the workpiece to be cut.
The finished push stick does not have to be painted or varnished; but if you decide to do so, it will help keep down splintering, protecting your hands. Two coats of either paint or varnish should be sufficient.
How to Make a Push Block
A push block performs basically the same function as a push stick. The main difference is that it provides a flat surface to back up the workpiece being cut. This is especially useful for cutting thin materials, such as ¼” lauan plywood and sheet plastics. These tend to rise up and ride over the blade, rather than pushing through the blade and being cut. Trying to hold the pieces down with your hands can be very dangerous.
Once again, there are many different designs that can be used for making a push block, but we’re going to go for simplicity. In my opinion, making a complicated push block doesn’t make any sense, as it tends to get damaged when used, much more so than the push stick does. This is because the saw blade actually cuts into the bottom surface of the push block on each cut.
I chose to use a 2”x 4” block for this so as to be sure to have enough thickness to protect my hand from the blade. It would be possible to make the push block out of thinner wood, but if you are not in the habit of readjusting your blade height, so that it is just ¼” above the piece you are cutting, you would be better off with a thick push block, like this one.
The really important part of this push block is the small piece of wood at the back end. This catches on the edge of the board being cut, allowing you to push it through. Although I made this one ¼” thick, you can make it out of literally any thickness. I’ve used paint paddles for this, which work quite well.
The other important dimension is how far the back piece extends below the main body of the push block. I’ve shown it as ¼’ in the diagram above, but if you are cutting 1/8” thick stock, this is too much. You want the body of the push block to be able to sit on the piece of plywood or plastic you are cutting. Therefore, you might have to make this smaller, to accommodate the stock you are cutting.