Everything You Need to Know About Table Saw Kickback

Updated 3/10/2023

A table saw is arguably the most versatile tool to own if your projects involve woodworking.

But it does come with its fair share of safety hazards that must be considered before you make each cut. 

Your typical woodwork routine involves gently pushing the lumber forward into the downward spinning teeth at the front of the blade.

As the piece of lumber reaches the rising rear teeth of the saw, its knots get caught up in the blade and hurled forwards at breakneck speeds.

Most blades move at roughly 3000 rpm and create enormous kinetic energy that could harm you. 

Worse still is when your hand gets pulled into the spinning blades, causing grave injuries.

Yet, for every horror story out there, one or more safety mechanism was left ignored.

It pays to understand what causes kickback on a table saw in times like these. 

What Causes Table Saw Kickback?

When you cut into the board, you create tension. The higher the tension, the greater your chances of kickback.

As the lumber goes halfway through the blades, the resulting kerf starts to pinch the rear teeth of the saw.

Most saws may end up slowing down or stop moving entirely, which is significant from a safety point of view.

However, if your table saw is relatively powerful, it can flip the board and send it hurling right in your face instead.

1) Not Enough Pressure Against the Fence 

As the lumber gets pushed into the blade, it begins to lose pressure against the rip fence and starts to veer off sideways. 

When this happens, the rising teeth catch the wood before getting thrown off at frightening speeds.

Sometimes, the fence gets “toed-in” towards the blade, which means that the distance from the blade to the fence is less at the rear of the saw than at the front.

This presses the lumber against the rising rear teeth causing kickback. 

2) No Riving Knife or Splitters 

A riving knife is one of the best safety devices that can be installed on the table saw.

It is mounted behind the saw to prevent the woodwork from pinching inward into the blades.

Riving knives also firmly keep the woodwork against the fence to prevent it from rising up against the rear of the saw. 

The second best tool is a splitter that works precisely like a riving knife with the exception that it does not rise, fall, or tilt along with the table saw.

Another difference is the arched shape of the knife, designed to mimic the blade’s curvature; this is a great safety mechanism.  

Since a splitter does not rise and fall with the blade, lowering the blade to cut thinner stock increases the gap between the splitter and the blade.

This increases the potential for the blade to catch the board before the kerf reaches the splitter.

Make sure to remove the splitter to make non-through cuts and grooves.  

3) The Riving Knife Isn’t Properly Mounted 

One of the primary functions of the riving knife is to act as a form of rearguard to the lumber.

However, for the rear guard to properly work, it must be properly aligned with the blade kerf to prevent off-cuts.

If the riving knife isn’t correctly mounted or aligned with the kerf, the knots in your woodwork may get pinched at the back of the blade and violently thrown towards you.  

4) Using an Older Table Saw

Not all table saws are equipped with safety accessories like a riving knife or cutter.

Retrofitting one without substantially modifying the table saw isn’t advisable, especially when working with an older model.

This is an accident just waiting to happen because your woodwork will eventually catch you by surprise with a table saw kickbacks. 

One effective solution is to buy anti-kickback safety rollers. These are mounted on your fence with a track instead of being mounted on the rail.

Not only do anti-kickback safety rollers hold the lumber against the table, but they also keep them snug against the fence. 

5) You Don’t Have a Plan for Your Cuts 

Before you make any cut, you should always have a plan for where your hands and body will be positioned throughout the cut.

You never want to be halfway through the cut only to realize that you don’t have a plan for getting the board all the way through.

Don’t ever stop midway, because this will definitely result in a major kickback. 

6) Making Freehand Cuts 

Freehand cuts with a spinning blade are one of the biggest mistakes that a beginner can make.

Always use a fence to support the piece and keep it square against the blade.

You should always never stand directly behind the woodwork when making a cut, even if you’ve implemented all the possible safety measures. 

All these safety measures will only minimize the chances of a kickback, never completely eliminating it.

Instead, you should stand off to the side. In this case, if kickback does occur, you’re always out of the way of a vengeful block of lumber.  

7. Using the Wrong Dimensions

The distance from the blade to the fence should never exceed the length of the wood that is against the fence.

This is because when you start making a cut, the table saw blade would create tremendous forward torque compared to the small amount of wood held up against the fence, it will create a turn.

If the board starts to spin, it will climb up against the back of the plate. At this point, the board gets caught up by the plate and spins into you.  

Tools to Prevent Table Saw Kickback

1. Snap-in Splitter

MICROJIG GRR-RIPPER SP-0100TK Mj Splitter Table Saw Safety Splitter And Riving Knife Alternative For Zero Clearance Insert
  • Popular aftermarket table saw splitter for preventing kickback on table saws (for Thin Kerf Saw Blades Only)
  • Voted Best Tool by Popular Woodworking (2004) for Table Saw Safety!
  • Installs directly to wood or plastic Zero Clearance Inserts (Throatplates)
  • Mini-featherboard technology keeps the workpiece against the fence and prevents burning
  • Simple instructions and installation drill guide included

Snap-in splitters are specifically designed to reduce dangerous table saw kickback.

They instantly snap on any DEWALT table saw and are easy to remove.

Snap-in splitters will slip into a bracket that can be easily mounted to the rear of the table saw. 

2. Zero Clearance Throat Plate

DEWALT DWE7402DI Dado Throatplate for 10-Inch Portable Table Saw
  • For woodworking and building
  • Allows for use of stacked dado cutters
  • Can be used with DWE7490 and DWE7491 versions
  • Package Weight: 0.372 kilograms

This relatively simple upgrade minimizes the size of the blade’s kerf as it is being cut into by the table saw.

They make your woodwork projects safer and yield better cutting results with little hassle.

Most people use a dedicated zero clearance throat plate for each operation – including regular cuts, dado cuts, thin kerf cuts, and even angled cuts. 

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