December 29, 2022

Can SawStop be retrofitted? | Or Are You Stuck with What you have?

SawStop is a brand of table saws with a patented safety system that detects when a person’s hand or finger comes into contact with the saw blade and automatically stops the blade within milliseconds. This innovative technology has made SawStop table saws popular with woodworkers, carpenters and do-it-yourselfers who want to reduce the risk of injury when working with power tools. Many ask whether SawStop can be retrofitted to an existing table saw. In other words, can the SawStop safety system be retrofitted to a table saw that was not originally manufactured with this system? In this article, we will explore the possibilities for retrofitting a SawStop system to an existing table saw and discuss the possible advantages and disadvantages of such a retrofit.

Is it possible to retrofit a SawStop?

No, it is impossible to retrofit a SawStop. The structural changes to incorporate the safety system into another saw and the cost to have it installed exceed that of a new saw. 

What is SawStop

SawStop is an American table saw manufacturer in Tualatin, Oregon. The company started in 2000. It sells table saws featuring a patented automatic braking system that stops the blade upon contact with skin or flesh. 

Sawstop has a system based on monitor and detection. The blade carries a small electrical signal which stops the saw tool from functioning if it poses any risk to your body.  The signal changes when the skin contacts the saw blade because the human body is conductive. That activates the safety system.

It also features brake activation. An aluminium brake springs into the spinning blade, stopping it in less than five milliseconds. The blade’s angular momentum drives it beneath the table, removing the risk of subsequent contact. Power to the motor is shut off.

When it comes to resetting the saw, it is easy. Replace the saw blade, and an affordable brake cartridge and your saw starts working. The reset process takes less than five minutes.

Can you use any blade with SawStop?

No, you cannot use any blade with SawStop. However, any standard steel blade with steel or carbide teeth can be used. Do not use non-conductive blades or blades with non-conductive hubs or teeth. They will prevent the SawStop safety system from applying the electrical signal on the saw blade required to sense skin contact.

Avoid non-conductive blades and do not leave those with non-conductive blade teeth, such as diamond blades. These blade types will interfere with sensing contact with human skin, and the electrical signal that triggers the safety response will not be applied.

You are not limited to standard 10-inch blades with your Sawstop.  If you follow instructions, Dado blades will also work within the Sawstop safety feature. Do not coat the teeth of saw blades, so they remain safe to use with Sawstop saws. Saw blades are accurate to their stated diameter and are safe to use with these saws.

Does SawStop ruin the blade?

When the safety system activates, it may damage one or more teeth on the blade. Avoid using non-conductive blades or blades with non-conductive hubs or teeth such as diamond blades. They will prevent the SawStop safety system from applying the electrical signal on the saw blade required to sense skin contact. 

Steel blades and dado sets with a lacquer finish or other coating on the teeth should not be used, as it may inhibit or slow the speed at which the safety system detects skin contact. Most coated blades do not cover the blade teeth (Nortonabrasives.com). Those saw blades may be used on SawStop saws. 

Blades with depth-limiting shoulders may take longer to stop in case of an accident than standard blades, and you may have an injury. SawStop uses blades without depth-limiting shoulders.

SawStop performs better using 8-inch stacked dado sets, with a maximum thickness of 29/32 inches. Wobble dado sets should be avoided, since they may not engage correctly with the dado brake cartridge. Do not use dado sets with solid-plate interior chippers or blades with molding heads, as neither brake cartridge stops those blade types.

If your blade is larger or smaller than the advertised size, SawStop cast-iron saws allow for the adjustability of the brake gap to accommodate. The Jobsite Saw blade is not adjustable, meaning you should not operate blades more than 1/16th inch in diameter over the specified blade size. Never use a saw blade that does not clear the aluminium brake pawl.

Sawstop failure rate

The failure rate is more accidental than anything. It is minimal. If you break it, a new blade and break system probably cost a third of the saw. Sawstop has its safety feature, but the system has restrictions and limitations. 

The braking system must be deactivated when cutting very green or wet timber because SawStop saws cut most wet wood without a problem. If the wood is wet enough to spray a mist when cutting or if the wood is both wet, and pressure treated, then the wood may be conducive to activating the brake.

If you are unsure whether the material you need to cut is conductive, you can make test cuts using Bypass Mode to determine if it will activate the safety system’s brake. The red light on the control box will flash to indicate conductivity. The saw can be set into bypass mode to cut conductive materials or to test the conductivity of a material you may be suspicious of. In bypass mode, there is no saw blade brake protection.

The SawStop bypass mode is a temporary operation mode during which the braking system will be disabled. The saw will cut conductive materials without stopping or activating the safety cartridge. 

The Bypass mode starts with the start/stop paddle in the off position. Turn on the main power, and wait for the red LED to turn off, and a solid green LED light to stay on, indicating that the safety system is on and ready. Turn the bypass key and hold it in the turned position until the green LED is on and off.

Flip the start/stop paddle to the on position. The saw blade will start spinning, holding the key until the green LED remains on and steady. Release the key. The green LED will begin blinking slowly again while the blade continues spinning. 

To end bypass mode, turn off the start/stop paddle and wait for the blade to stop. The saw will now exit bypass mode and go into standby mode. The next time you turn it on, the safety brake system will automatically re-engage, and you will no longer be in bypass mode. 

Non-conductive blade saw blades with non-conductive hubs or teeth cannot be used. The braking system work with kerfs from 3/32″ to 3/16″; using thinner or thicker kerfs limits the saw’s ability to stop the blade after accidental contact. The chances are very high that it results in more injury. It is impractical to retrofit into the existing table saw, and activating the braking system damages the blade.

The SawStop safety system performs many self-checks to ensure the components of the safety system are working. The safety system will not allow the motor to start or to remain running unless every component of the safety system is working.

David D. Hughes
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