Nearly every table saw comes with a single push stick. But that’s not enough. You need at least a push stick and push block to provide proper pressure contacts. Otherwise, your cuts won’t be straight, and you’re risking a severe injury.
Using a table saw always involves some amount of risk. You are moving the material towards and through a sharp spinning blade. Depending on how powerful your table saw is, the blade spins between 3,000 and 5,000 revolutions per minute (RPM). That so fast your eyes can’t keep up.
When it comes down to it, anything capable of cutting through wood can cut through your soft fleshy body. Even without considering the risk of injury, you run the risk of experiencing kickback, and your cut won’t be straight, leaving you with disappointing results.
Kickback is Incredibly Dangerous
Warning: The following section discusses the dangers of table saws and may make some readers squeamish or uneasy; we recommend skipping to the next section if that describes you.
If you’re unfamiliar with the concept of kickback in woodworking, count yourself lucky. Kickback occurs when the spinning blade of your table saw grabs a piece of the material you are cutting, lifts, and throws it at high speeds. Because the blade spins towards you, the wood, in turn, is thrown in your direction and may hit you hard enough to injure or even kill you.
That isn’t the only danger from kickback. Because the blade is pulling the wood onto it, the process draws your hands towards the blade as well. If you’re lucky, you have minor cuts. But it’s also possible you could lose fingers to the spinning blade.
One form of kickback occurs during a rip cut as some of the wood begins to pass the backside of the blade. If the material drifts away from the rip fence, a corner of the wood can catch the rising teeth of the blade, which pulls the wood onto the blade, leading to a thrown wood piece.
The following is a video demonstrating this type of kickback. Fair warning, the person in the video comes out uninjured (just barely), but it’s still scary to see how close they come to serious injury.
As the video shows, this kickback occurs as your wood piece drifts away from the rip fence and into the blade path. You can prevent this and other forms of kickback by using proper safety equipment and technique. The first piece of equipment is a riving knife.
If you purchased your table saw recently, it came with a slender piece of metal installed just behind the blade. Generally, unless you have a specific reason (like installing Dado blades), you shouldn’t remove it. The riving knife acts as a physical barrier to prevent your wood piece from drifting onto the back teeth of your spinning saw blade.
The second piece of equipment is a push block, or push stick, combined with a technique that applies three points of pressure. In addition to protecting you, that same technique will also give you better-cut results.
Use Three Points of Pressure for Better, Safer Cuts
Performing a rip cut entails sliding a board across the table saw face while touching the rip fence for guidance to the blade. If your board drifts away from the rip fence, your cut will be crooked (and you may experience kickback).
So when you run the wood through the table saw, you want to apply three points of pressure, as seen in the picture above. (Note: I raised the blade after the cut to help clarify the image.) The first pressure is forward moving. Naturally, to cut wood on a table saw, you need to move the material toward the blade.
The second is downward pressure. That is, pressure coming from above the board towards the table saw top. Pushing downward against the board helps prevent the table saw blade from lifting your board and throwing it at you.
The third is inward pressure. To prevent kickback and maintain straight cuts, you need to apply pressure to the board towards the rip cut fence. You must apply this pressure before the table saw blade, not after. If you try to push inward towards the fence after the blade, you will cause the freshly cut wood to bend in, pinch, which can then lead to kickback.
Maintaining these three points of contact ensures you not only get a straight cut (because you are riding the straight of your rip fence) but will also minimize kickback risk. The general idea is to keep your material moving smoothly through the cut path without allowing drift onto the blade.
You can achieve those three points of pressure by using a push stick and a push block. Your table saw likely came with a push stick, and so long as you use the correct technique, it will work well. You should use the push stick for your inward point of contact towards the fence.
Next, lay your push block on the board you intend to cut and apply even pressure down and forward to move the board through the blade. Keep your eyes on the fence to ensure your board isn’t drifting away from it.
While you could, in theory, use two push sticks, you may not get enough downward pressure to prevent kickback. With a push stick, you’re focusing downward force the board’s back corner instead of across the surface.
Alternately, instead of a push stick and push block, you can use a GRR-RIPPER push block. It’s capable of safely providing all three points of pressure in a single tool.
No matter what you use, the most important thing is keeping your fingers far away from the spinning blade. Destroying a push block is much better than the alternative.
The Push Blocks You Should Buy
Now that you know why you need a push block, it’s time to buy one. There are plenty of options to choose from, and anything is better than nothing. But here are a few good picks:
A Good Push Block: Big Horn 10230 Push Stick
You’ll sometimes see the terms push blocks and push sticks used interchangeably, and that’s the case with Big Horn 10230 Push stick. The critical part is the safety features it provides. That includes a spring-loaded tip at the back that extends out for maximum grip on the end of your board. And a rubber-tipped texture along the bottom to increase grip as you push and forward. The closed-construction that surrounds your hand should mean if something goes wrong, it’s likely the stick will hit your blade before your hands do, giving you an extra layer of protection.
A Nice Multi-pack: Safety Woodworking Package
If you want plenty of options, this safety package has you covered. It not only has table saw friendly push sticks and push blocks, but it also has push blocks that will work with your router table and jointer. Some of the push blocks feature a thick matter rubber for extra grippy texture. The bright orange color is also pretty helpful when you’re trying to find where in the shop the safety equipment ended up…again.
A Premium Experience: GRR-RIPPER 3D Pushblock
If you want the best, safest, most comfortable experience, it’s hard to beat the GRR-RIPPER 3D Pushblock. It’s incredibly adjustable so you can easily work with both thick board and thin boards, wide and narrow cuts. Micro Jug even offers additional accessories for even smaller cuts or advanced techniques like tapered cuts. It may cost more, but you get a premium experience for your money. This single push block is capable of applying all three pressure points, and the rubber textured grips keep the block locked to your wood.