SawStop grew from a new venture to one of the top-selling cabinet saw companies in the United States in a few years. If you've seen the manufacturer's hot dog demonstration it's not hard to understand why it has sold more than 10,000 saws and counting.
The company's hands-on demonstrations always draw large crowds, and at a recent woodworking trade show it stopped Doug Ramsay, owner of Douglas Ramsay Custom Cabinetry, dead in his tracks.
"I had planned to purchase an edgebander at the show, but after seeing the demonstration I knew this was an investment we had to make," says Ramsay.
Because the shop occasionally trains apprentices, Ramsay decided the edgebander would just have to wait. "When you have someone on the saw who doesn't have years of experience, there's a quiet peace knowing the blade will drop immediately, if it comes in contact with flesh," says Ramsay. "It's the most important piece of equipment in the shop."
Each saw is equipped with a safety system that detects when someone accidently contacts the spinning saw blade, which stops the blade in milliseconds. In most cases, such an accident would result in a nick instead of losing fingers or a hand with a traditional saw blade. The SawStop has logged more than 300 finger saves and counting.
How does it work? The system induces a low-voltage electrical signal onto the blade and then monitors the signal for changes. The human body has a relatively large inherent electrical capacitance and conductivity, which cause the signal to drop when a person contacts the blade. Wood has a relatively small inherent capacitance and conductivity and does not cause the signal to drop.
The technology has been embraced by small shops and schools to large woodworking companies, the company's largest market. "We've had pretty uniform spread across the industrial spectrum," says Dr. Stephen F. Gass, founder, inventor and president of SawStop. "Large furniture manufacturers can have 50 or more saws and when you have that many it's not a matter of if, but when, an accident will happen," says Gass. "They know the costs of injuries to their employees and the bottom line in terms of worker compensation costs."
"Individual users are the smallest segment for us because of the cost of the saw," he says. "It's expensive unless you're a serious woodworker. Approximately 20 percent of our business comes from individual woodworkers."
More than 1,000 educators have purchased a SawStop and 50 schools have contacted the company to report that students' have been spared serious injuries.
New saw, future products
SawStop recently introduced a smaller and lighter 10-inch contractor saw in June. The lighter-duty saw weights 250 to 300 pounds compared to 600 to 700 lbs. for the cabinet saw.
"This is the kind of saw you would find in a hobbyist woodworkers garage," says Gass. "It's small enough that you can store it in your garage, and it can be easily moved by two people."
The contractor saw doesn't require a special power source and can be plugged into a regular 110-volt power source.
In the near term, the company is planning to add additional models of table saws to fill in the gap between the contractor saw and the cabinet saw.
Because any type of woodworking equipment can benefit from SawStop technology, the company is working on designing a bandsaw, jointer, hand-held circular saw and miter saw.
"Some people argue you don't need this kind of safety technology, you just need to be careful," says Gass. "I think it's a lot better to have some forgiveness of imperfection than to expect perfection."
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