how to use a chop saw with five-year-olds

Sean, our energetic, enthusiastic project specialist, writes, “As someone who used to look at the pictures of the kids on the chop saw and wonder, ‘How, exactly, do you get kids to use big tools confidently and safely?’, I want to share some best practices in a blog post.” His work with kids during summer camp, weekend and break workshops, and the day program has greatly increased the quality of projects and the kids’ experiences at the school.

A chop saw spins 80 sharpened steel teeth at 135mph. It slices through redwood in seconds. It is one of the most elemental and articulate tools used in construction.

And five-year-olds love it.

Real, “grown-up” tools empower kids, and expand their boundaries of what’s possible. At the heart of our shop are power drills–an “additive” tool–and our chop saw–a “subtractive” tool. It’s a simple, powerful combination that will allow your kids to build bigger, bolder, better projects.

If you give them the chance, kids will amaze you. We’ve seen hundreds of people as young as five safely, accurately and efficiently use our chop saw. Here’s how we get them started.

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Before Chop Saw Safety Training

  • Make sure everyone has properly-sized safety glasses and noise-reducing headphones.

  • Keep the group small. Every kid should be able to see safe operation of the saw.

Chop Saw Safety Training

  • Start with a one-cut demo of safe use, without commentary or narration. (The chop saw commands a lot more attention than talking!)

  • Draw attention to the basic safety risks posed by the tool, and challenge kids to propose answers.

      • Eye injury: The saw can send tiny bits of wood flying. How can you protect your eyeballs? Wear safety goggles.

      • Hearing damage: The noise of the motor is loud enough to kill cells integral to hearing, which cannot regenerate. How can you prevent hearing damage? Wear noise-reducing headphones.

      • Unpleasant surprises (caused by moving wood): If the wood moves while the blade is cutting, the piece can be thrown, or the blade can become “pinched”, causing a sudden and startling kickback. How can you prevent the wood from moving while cutting? Make sure the wood is held firmly against the fence.

      • Spinning blades can grab things: If sleeves, loose clothing, jewelry or long hair touch the spinning blade, they’ll be spun around at 3600 rpm! What can you do to prevent hair and clothing from getting caught in the blade? Tuck all loose objects, pull back long hair.

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    • The obvious: The chop saw is, of course, capable of cutting the user. Point out “the blood bubble”–the only area where the blade is actually capable of traveling. Given that the blade is only capable of traveling through the blood bubble, how can you keep the blade from touching you? Never put your body or clothing in the blood bubble. Ever.

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  • Then demonstrate best practices, including:.

    • checking to make sure everyone nearby is wearing safety glasses and noise-reducing headphones;

    • starting the motor with the blade well outside the wood;

    • cutting slowly, never forcing the saw through the wood (we tell our kids that a 2×4 should take about 5 seconds);

    • after the cut, release the trigger and keep the blade down until it’s stopped spinning completely (the spinning blade can send off-cut flying).

With our smallest kids, we co-operate the saw. Both adult and kid hold the wood and pull the saw, the kid squeezes the trigger. This has been a great experience for our youngest – getting to operate such a serious machine brings out their most focused selves.

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After Chop Saw Safety Training

  • Make sure kids know that an adult is required safety equipment–an adult should supervise every cut, no matter how experienced the user.

  • Don’t hesitate to correct unsafe use, even by conscientious, well-intention-ed users. Safety is amoral.

  • Praise safe use.

That’s it! This saw has been a workhorse for us, and these glasses and headphones fit kids of most shapes and sizes.

Feel free to get in touch (info@sfbrightworks.org) with questions, and keep us updated on your projects!