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Say Stop to SawStop Law?

We’ve been hearing an awful lot about the new “SawStop Law” as it’s been aptly nicknamed. This proposed California legislation was approved by the state senate committee and will likely come to vote in mid August. It has been highly controversial. In case you’re not there, I’ll try to quickly bring you up to speed. 

Table saws are dangerous. Table saw accidents happen frequently in woodworking shops across the country, causing countless injuries and amputations. There’s new technology on the market that enables a table saw blade to sense human contact and shut off within 5 milliseconds (which, by the way, is faster than Superman), before any real harm is done. This technology was invented by a man named Stephen Gass (and a few buddies). He wasn’t able to license the technology to other saw manufacturers (they all declined), so he brought this technology to the market as part of his own line of saws, through his new company, SawStop. Currently, the SawStop saws are the only ones on the market, at least the only ones with name recognition, with this safety technology. Others are certainly on the way. 

So, what’s the controversy? The proposed legislation would make it illegal in the State of California to sell a table saw that doesn’t have “active injury mitigation technology”. Yes, SawStop type technology. In other words, if you’re Delta for instance, and you don’t have this technology on your table saws, you can’t sell them in California. So there are questions of monopolizing the industry within the state. 

There is whispering (and some shouting) about some political contributions given by the SawStop company to Democrats and Republicans alike in recent months. Money is always controversial, isn’t it? 

The proposed law would go into effect beginning January 15, 2015. Two and a half years. Does this give the other saw manufacturers enough time to produce saws with this technology and get them to market? Will all manufacturers produce one type of saw for the California market, and another for the rest of the country? 

There is precedence for regulatory laws in California to spread quickly across the other states. Will this legislation push other states to spend the time and money to pass similar laws? Or, will the Federal Government move faster on a similar regulation? 

And then there are the cases in which woodworkers who have been injured while using non SawStop saws have sued their saw manufacturers claiming the saw was defective because it didn’t have the new technology – and they’ve won. The argument there is that all the major saw manufacturers were approached by Steve Gass years ago with the offer to purchase a license for the technology so they could incorporate it into their products. They all declined.  They knew the safety technology was there and they didn’t utilize it. 

It’s an interesting gumbo. 

Way over here in Maine, at Huston & Company, we don’t currently have any SawStop saws, though we are working on a plan to begin the transition in our workshop to replace our three table saws with new ones that have this technology - one new saw a year. It is no small investment, but you can’t deny when your employees use power saws all day, every day, safety is key. It’s smart, it’s good business and it’s the right thing to do.

Do we need a law around it? We’re not lawyers. We’re furniture makers. You decide. 

In an effort to maintain neutrality, I’m not linking to any of the articles related to this legislation, but there are many. Many of them are heated, and full of emotion and opinions. Any search for “SawStop law”, “table saw legislation”, or “California’s table saw safety bill” will bring you a plethora of discussions. 

To read the proposed legislation itself, click here.
To learn more about the SawStop company, it's products and history, click here.