Saw stops

Industrial technology teacher Michael Sunblad with a Saw Stop, which is a table saw that halts immediately upon contact with a finger. Since he started working as an industrial tech teacher in 1991, none of his students have experienced table saw injuries in his classrooms.

Michael Sunblad isn’t like many wood shop teachers. All 10 of his fingers are still attached to his hands.

Sunblad started working as an industrial tech teacher in 1991, back when they called it “wood shop” and when it wasn’t uncommon for students to take an emergency room visit when their fingers got too close to the blades. Sunblad said the saying back then was “10 fingers are cut off every day.”

Sunblad was lucky enough to never have a single student’s finger cut by a saw, but that doesn’t mean his students were never close.

Sunblad started using Saw Stops, a patented saw that halts immediately upon contact with a finger, preventing and even eliminating injuries from saws, in 2012. Although Saw Stops was founded in 1999, he said most shop teachers were proponents of normal saws because they didn’t want their students to get used to having a safety net when working with equipment as dangerous as a table saw.

But then one day, Sunblad said a Saw Stops proponent told him by not advocating for the safer saws, “you’re teaching your students a $10,000 lesson that could cost them a finger.”

Since then, he has advocated for Saw Stops to be purchased and used in all his classrooms, and that didn’t change when he arrived at Shakopee West Middle School in 2017.

“When I came here, all the shops had one Saw Stop and an older saw,” Sunblad said. He called a facilities manager and the school district found money in a safety maintenance fund to purchase the Saw Stops. Now there are two at West, and East Middle School is slated to get one next year. The older saws at the high school still need to be replaced.

The saws cost about $4,000, which is about $1,000 more than traditional saws.

“These tools will save some kids,” Sunblad said. Or, at least their fingers.

Before teaching at Shakopee, Sunblad taught at Glencoe-Silver Lake and Albert Lea. He said when his former schools instituted Saw Stops, three of his students accidentally touched a saw’s blade and didn’t have more to show for it than a scratch.

“One student touched a blade with his thumb that would have turned it into hamburger,” Sunblad said, if it weren’t for the Saw Stop.

When a finger comes in contact with the saws, they are as sensitive as touch lamps and quicker than air bags, Sunblad said. They stop so quickly that the blade essentially breaks. Students who touch the blade and cause it to stop are responsible for paying around $125 to replace the blade, Sunblad said.

“And that’s a whole lot cheaper than a $10,000 surgery,” he said.

“I know a lot of parents who are worried about having their kids work with saws at school,” Sunblad said. “Your kids are safe here.”

Industrial tech is required for all middle school students at Shakopee, meaning every student will have used a table saw before high school.

Maddie DeBilzan graduated with a journalism degree from Bethel University. She’s interned at Salon Media and the St. Paul Pioneer Press. Outside of work, she sifts through Goodwill clothing racks, listens to Ben Rector's music and goes on long runs.

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