Why Aren't Toolmakers Interested in Protecting Your Hands?

It's hard to miss the yellow box on my home page that outlines the three stages of truth -- ridicule, opposition and acceptance -- all common reactions to the health news my staff and I have shared with you over the years on this Web site. Those very same stages brilliantly sum up the seven-year journey taken so far by Stephen Gass, the inventor of the SawStop skin-sensing table saw I told you about last month.

Puttering around in his woodshop, this patent attorney with a Ph.D. in physics developed the concept for his amazing saw over a month in 1999, then hired an engineering firm to create a production saw prototype. Then, Gass took his table saw to an industry trade show in Atlanta. No surprise, crowds formed outside his tiny booth every 30 minutes to watch hot dogs barely get scratched before the saw blade stopped.

All Gass wanted was to be noticed -- his company received a commendation from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission in 2001 -- and his technology licensed by a saw manufacturer. Manufacturers noticed the SawStop all right but wouldn't get near it, figuring a new technology meant not only huge investments in retooling their existing production lines, but having to assume liability risks for consumers and professionals who get hurt while using their tools.

Gass upped the stakes in 2003 when his company petitioned the commission to require table saws to incorporate new performance and safety standards like those found in his SawStop. As you probably expected, it was a very contentious three years between SawStop and the other major toolmakers before the commission granted Gass's petition in June. To the good, Gass's incursion in the tool market forced the big saw manufacturers to develop new technology, unfortunately, just not his as of yet...

If you're still skeptical about the performance of the SawStop table saw, watch the accompanying 7-second video at the link below that shows how quickly and safely the saw blade stops with miniscule damage done to the skin of a hot dog. Just amazing!

Design News August 11, 2006

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