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Table-Saw Technology Aims to Save Fingers

Table saws are great at ripping through wood, but the power tools can also cause serious injuries, sending upwards of 40,000 people to emergency rooms each year. More than 3,000 of those people -- professional woodworkers, hobbyists, students in high school shop class -- suffer amputations.

For four years, inventor Stephen Gass has been trying to get power tool manufacturers to adopt a new technology called "SawStop," designed to stop a saw blade almost instantly after it hits human flesh -- before it can mangle or maim a person's hand.

Gass argues that power toolmakers have an ethical obligation to add the safety device to their saws before thousands more people are seriously injured or maimed. The industry counters that the technology is unproven and may not withstand heavy use, and notes that it would cost tens of millions of dollars to retool assembly lines to incorporate it.

Industry sources say the major manufacturers also worry that adding the safety brake to some table saw models but not others would make them vulnerable to lawsuits.

Frustrated with the industry, Gass is now selling his own line of table saws. NPR's Chris Arnold reports.

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NPR correspondent Chris Arnold is based in Boston. His reports are heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazines Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Weekend Edition. He joined NPR in 1996 and was based in San Francisco before moving to Boston in 2001.