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Serious question. I know of a child who at eight years old was instructed to help the operator of a table saw guide large (8 X 4 foot) plywood sheets through it. Neither operator nor child were wearing any safety equipment, such as eye protection. Child has no previous experience operating power equipment and very limited experience with woodworking. Table saw is over 20 years old, and it is unclear what safety features it has, if any. Operator believes this was safe and appropriate, because child was holding edge of plywood furthest from the blade.

What does the community here think? Is there ever an occasion in which a young child should be allowed to help with a table saw in such a manner? What could go wrong?

Edit: Operator has provided the below diagram and photo to support the idea that this was safe and appropriate. Could you also provide specific feedback based on this? It's not certain the representation is accurate, but let's assume it is.

Edit 2: Operator has stated that he enlisted child because he could not perform the job alone, specifically because he needed someone to hold the plywood "so that it would not bind the table saw blade." Also that child did not want to help, because he was scared, but operator made him help anyway.

Edit 3: It sounds like context is pretty important here, specifically how much one can trust the operator to do the right thing. I've tried to avoid biasing the question by mentioning for example that the child is my own, or that the operator had also recently poured gasoline on an open fire (which resulted in the can itself catching fire as well as a secondary fire), or that the operator keeps insisting these are both perfectly safe and appropriate. But it sounds like it's not possible to separate the judgment of the operator from this question.

diagram

photo

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    I voted to close because this is primarily a question about parenting, not woodworking. It would better be rephrased as "is this technique safe with an inexperienced assistant". The question of if a child of a certain age should be involved in a potentially dangerous activity is NOT a woodworking question. I would suggest moving this to the parenting stackexchange site. – SaSSafraS1232 Feb 22 '18 at 23:40
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    You make a good point about rephrasing, though there are some things I might not think about (i.e. height) that make it hard for me to do that myself. Regardless, it seems like it is still a good question for this site because, to assess risk and appropriateness for all participants, one needs expertise specific to table saws. – concern08 Feb 23 '18 at 0:35
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TL/DR: child should not have been used as an operator.

Other answers go into more detail, but the thing that jumped out at me was that the child could unwittingly twist the ply off the fence, which could throw the entire piece at the operator and possibly slice the child on the way by.

As shown, this setup could be managed competently by one person.

If the individual wasn't comfortable solo cutting, they should have considered alternatives like crosscutting the sheet with a circular saw and edge guide and then finishing for width on the table saw.

I would have also liked for hearing protection to be used, but that's just a grumpy half-deaf carpenter talking.

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    I'd say hearing protection is probably the most important part of this. – WhatEvil Feb 27 '18 at 13:51
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Is there ever an occasion in which a young child should be allowed to help with a table saw in such a manner?

If there is a situation where an 8-yo could help with cutting on a table saw, this is probably it.

From your diagram, it appears that the child must have been about 7 feet from the blade. I don't think there's much risk of the child being injured by the blade at that distance. The child is also standing well to the side of the saw.

What could go wrong?

The real risk, as far as the blade is concerned, is to the operator: if the child were to push laterally on the plywood, then it's possible that the back of the blade could grab the plywood and hurl it at the operator.

Another blade-related risk is that the child might somehow distract the operator, who would understandably want to keep a close eye on the kid for the kid's own safety, and an accident could somehow result.

Lack of eye protection is something of a concern. Again, with the child standing 7' to the side of the saw, it's unlikely that any chips would be thrown at the kid. The operator is a bit more at risk. Mainly, though, I'd want to have both operator and kid wear safety glasses just to teach the lesson that one should always wear safety glasses when operating woodworking machines.

Dust could also be a concern. The shop looks well ventilated, and again, the kid is well away from the action, but wood dust isn't great for lungs of any age.

Bottom line: It sounds to me as though the adult was doing all the real work, and the kid was "helping" in a way that seems pretty safe and would satisfy a child's natural desire to help a favorite adult with a project. If that project was accompanied by a safety lesson in which the kid learned that machines can be safe if used safely, but that a kid must never try to operate a saw without help from an adult, then the right thing probably was happening. Ultimately, final decisions about what is or isn't safe for a kid should be up to the parents, but wise parents will let kids do some slightly dangerous-seeming things with good supervision.

  • Thanks for your input! It sounds like you're saying this is safe as long as the adult is doing all the real work. I've added an additional edit above regarding this aspect. Does it make any difference that the operator could not accomplish the job by himself? Also, what do you think of the other answerer's concerns, such as that there should be in-feed / out-feed support and the child might unwittingly twist the ply off the fence? – concern08 Feb 18 '18 at 23:45
  • I think a lot depends on the relationship between the operator, the child, and you. Are you one of the parents? Is the operator? Your concern seems to be for the kid's safety, and again, it doesn't sound like there was a lot of real risk there. It does sound like the operator is somewhat lax with respect to his own safety... outfeed support would be a big help, and eye and ear protection are important. – Caleb Feb 19 '18 at 0:06
  • Thanks, this is helpful. I am one of the parents, as was the operator. My concern is primarily for the child's physical safety, but also for the other parent's safety, as well as the child's emotional safety (i.e. if the child should be involved in an accident that hurt his parent). FWIW, I'm all for the child learning woodworking, just want to make sure it's done as safely as possible. – concern08 Feb 19 '18 at 0:10
  • I think an 8 year old can absolutely help in this way, but a lot depends on the child in question. It would be the parent's job to assess whether this can be done safely. There are some adults whom I wouldn't trust to assist me with a table saw operation; and there are some kids around this age whom I would trust. (I have difficulty imagining myself feeling comfortable with a kid any younger, though.) – Charlie Kilian Feb 21 '18 at 19:58
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    Re: eye protection, I don't think it's actually unsafe being so far away from the saw. But I do think wearing proper eye and ear protection is important in terms of demonstrating proper safety technique when using a saw. If part of your goal is to teach them how a saw is used, which it should be. In the very least, if I were having such a young person help me, I'd be wearing eye and ear protection myself. And I'd want them to have ear protection, even if I gave them the option of skipping the eye protection. – Charlie Kilian Feb 21 '18 at 20:00
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No. Tables saws are notorious for removing fingers and throwing back the wood being cut at dangerous speeds. Both can be minimized as risks but the constant and full attention of the operator needs to be on the work at hand. Eye protection is essential. Kickback is more likely if the equipment isn't well maintained or correctly set for the operation at hand. Kickback is more likely if the wood is hard to manage (like poorly-supported large sheets of plywood).

Assuming the child is responsible and not a distraction to the operator (which may be yet another risk factor), the mere coordination of work by multiple people at the saw table is risky. Add to this, the child isn't tall enough to have the same field of vision as the operator, and the child is mostly like a bad height to be hit by anything coming off the table saw.

All this being said, having the child wait a few minutes somewhere safe and help collect and move the offcuts works well. If they are used, setting up the off-feed rollers for smooth flow can be done by a child (and then double checked by the operator). A child can help with the measuring and marking and even the setup of rails and jigs (assuming all is double-checked by the operator). If the shop has dust filtration, having a child 'man' the dust filtration on/off switches may be engaging as well, else there always sweeping and vacuuming.

A little creativity will go long way to keep a child engaged and safe, protecting both the child and the child's interest in woodworking.

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Other answers for this question all make excellent points, but I see one overriding issue here and that is that the setup shown for cutting large panels is inadequate. If cutting a panel requires two people to handle the material, then the setup used is probably inadequate. Cutting large panels safely requires support at the infeed, side and outfeed faces of the table saw. The single support frame at the side of the table will not allow the panel to slide correctly, nor support it throughout its travel past the blade. There appears to be plenty of room to setup correctly in this shop. There are other questions and answers on this site that discuss ways to do so.

Depending upon the child's temperament, in my opinion, eight years of age is not too early to introduce him or her to the shop, but safety should be a key primary lesson and this is not a very safe setup.

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