Table Saws, Patent Law and Industrial Neglect

There’s really no easy way to sum up this Oregonian article about Tualatin-based saw company SawStop, other than to say it’s a fascinating read — touching upon industrial safety measures, class action law suits, patent law, business practices, inventions and a real gritty David vs. Goliath battle. 

[Stephen] Gass, an avid woodworker who holds a doctorate in physics [and former patent lawyer], built a prototype for his device in 1999 out of a $200 saw and electronic parts he had around his home.

When the Oregon native showed his invention to his colleagues, David Fanning and David Fulmer, the patent lawyers were floored: An electrical current in the blade triggers a brake when it comes into contact with a body part.

“It seemed, for this industry, a fundamental discovery,” Fanning said. “I’d never seen anything like it.”

The trio unveiled the device at the 2000 International Woodworking Fair in Atlanta, wowing industry leaders with their demonstration on a hot dog. When they returned, they quit their jobs.

Over the next few months, they met with several large power tool manufacturers, hoping to license their patented product. They won Popular Science’s 100 Best New Innovations award. The Consumer Product Safety Commission awarded them the Chairman’s Commendation.

Below is their invention at work on a hot-dog.  The device detects the difference in electrical signals between a piece of wood and flesh and stops a blade, spinning at 4,000 rpms, instantly. 

SawStop halts a table saw blade

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