SawStop is a pioneering new technology designed to prevent serious injuries when operating table saws.
Since 2004, SawStop has recorded over 6,000 recorded finger saves. Events that could have been life-changing injuries were reduced to small scratches by a safety system that stops a spinning table saw blade on contact with skin. Dr. Steve Gass, one of the company‘s four founders, invented this game-changing technology, which has been implemented into table saws since 2004. We met Dr. Gass in Portland, Oregon, at the company’s headquarters, and asked him six pivotal questions.
SawStop was founded by you and three other founders. How did you first meet and how was the idea born?
The four founders were all working together as patent attorneys in a patent law firm in Portland, Oregon. I have done woodworking as a hobby since I was a small child and I was out in my shop one day when the idea came to me: I wonder if you could stop a table saw blade fast enough to prevent serious injury? I also have a doctorate in physics and after a few calculations of the energy and forces involved, I concluded that it should be possible. It took me about a month of my spare time evenings and weekends to build the first prototype.
Why did you start to develop a safety technology for table saws?
At the time I came up with the idea I knew other woodworkers who had suffered injuries on table saws and I was aware of the hazard that using table saws presents. I have not been injured by the blade on a table saw myself, but given my sometimes imperfect technique, I probably need SawStop technology more than the average user!
How many saw blades did it take until the technology was working reliably? …and how many fingers?
I did the first tests on my prototype by touching the side of the blade – so no fingers were sacrificed! When I started testing contact with the teeth, I switched to hot dogs and we went though many packages during our testing. But, from the very beginning the technology was very reliable, so usually the hot dogs only got a few nicks before being offered as treats to my Great Danes.
What was the most significant finger save story in your company’s history?
We have had finger saves where users slapped their hand down onto the blade, where their glove was caught and jerked their hand into the blade and many others. In each case, the system has worked as intended and the user came away with a relatively minor injury.
Do you get fan mail from people whose fingers were saved?
I remember two in particular, one from a mum in Chicago whose 15-year-old son came home with both thumbs from a school shop class because of our saw, and another very early on from a man who lost two fingers as a young man on a saw that didn’t have our technology. He sent a simple sketch where he had drawn the outline of his hand missing fingers and he described the lifelong consequences. It was one of the most moving things I have ever received.