SawStop to release patented technology to public

TUALATIN, Ore. —  SawStop, manufacturers of one of the wood industry’s most widely used safety technologies, announced that one of its key patents will, in the future, be made open to the public.

The action, announced on Feb. 28, was taken in response to a proposed rule by the Consumer Product Safety Commission that would require all table saws sold in the U.S. to have active injury mitigation (AIM) technology to make them significantly safer.

In a Feb. 29 press conference, Matt Howard, CEO of SawStop said that the company has committed to dedicate its U.S. Patent 9,724,840 to the public upon the rule’s effective date. The rule is meant to prevent the thousands of amputations and hospitalizations that can occur during the cutting process without industry-wide action.

“We work to protect and inspire all woodworkers, from novice hobbyists to professional craftspeople. Opponents of the proposed rulemaking have identified this patent as their key obstacle to offering safer saws,” said Howard. “We invest heavily in safety innovation, and our patents have real value. Even so, we will not allow this patent to be an obstacle to a safer future. To that end, SawStop is prepared to dedicate this ‘840 patent to the public upon the effective date of a rule requiring active injury mitigation technology on all table saws. Although such a rule is likely many years away from an effective date, we at SawStop are determined to seek a win-win balance between our mission and our business responsibilities.”

According to the company's website, the SawStop works in four broad steps: detect, stop, drop, and reset.

The SawStop detects a small electrical signal that the blade carries. When skin contacts the blade, the signal changes because the human body is conductive. The change to the signal activates the safety system.

An aluminum brake springs into the path of the blade. The blade comes to a complete stop and power to the motor is shut off. After the blade comes to a stop, the blade’s angular momentum drives it beneath the table, removing the risk of subsequent contact. All of this happens in less than 5 milliseconds.

Resetting the saw is easy, according to the website. Simply inspect the blade (and change if damaged) and replace the brake cartridge, and the saw is operational. The entire process takes 90 seconds and the user is back to work, according to the company.

Safety standards 

On Nov. 1, 2023, the CPSC published a supplemental notice of proposed rulemaking under the Consumer Product Safety Act proposing to issue a safety standard addressing blade-contact injuries on table saws. The proposed rule would require all table saws to “limit the depth of cut to no more than 3.5 mm” when a test probe, acting as a surrogate for a human finger or other body part, contacts the spinning blade at a rate of 1 meter per second.

As the pioneer in safety technology for table saws, SawStop believes such a standard will radically improve the overall safety of all table saws sold in the United States. It will help prevent the tens of thousands of severe injuries annually that result in billions of dollars in corresponding healthcare, pain, and suffering costs for victims and society, the company said in a statement.

In the past, SawStop has vigorously defended its patents. Bosch was prevented from selling its REAXX saws in the United States after SawStop filed objections with the International Trade Commission. The Bosch saw used similar contact-sensing technology to SawStop, but used a gas cartridge system similar to an automotive airbag to move the blade out of the way.

More recently, major European manufacturers such as Altendorf and Felder have developed proximity sensing technology that does not rely on any blade contact to stop the blade before an injury can occur. Those systems also have the advantage of not damaging the saw blade when triggered or having to replace a cartridge or triggering mechanism, thus allowing for instant reset.

The SawStop company was purchased by TTS Tooltechnic Systems, which also owns Festool, in 2017.

William Sampson contributed to this report.


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Larry Adams | Editor

Larry Adams is a Chicago-based writer and editor who writes about how things get done. A former wire service and community newspaper reporter, Larry is an award-winning writer with more than three decades of experience. In addition to writing about woodworking, he has covered science, metrology, metalworking, industrial design, quality control, imaging, Swiss and micromanufacturing . He was previously a Tabbie Award winner for his coverage of nano-based coatings technology for the automotive industry. Larry volunteers for the historic preservation group, the Kalo Foundation/Ianelli Studios, and the science-based group, Chicago Council on Science and Technology (C2ST).