Old Article, But An Excellent Read

(also note the royalty percentage and on what it is based)

Good read, thanks for posting that. I’ve seen the saw before, and even considered buying one (and probably will at some point). If you haven’t seen the video of it in action- it’s amazing.

I remember this when it first made the news. Very cool invention. Now I know why I’ve not seen it at the hardware store.

Good lesson in how great ideas get put down.

csven, thanks for posting up the link. I read the Inc. article when it first appeared and it still is one of the best business lessons around for budding designer/engineer entrepreneurs mortgaging away everything they have for a single genial idea. Not everyone is James Dyson and this is not the 19th century Industrial Revolution. There is already an enormous amount of stuff and product solutions out there, and everywhere. Granted, all can be improved upon, but one inventor should not fight off the establishment in any given field, especially one as lucrative as power tools.

Product revolutions today take tremendous amounts of time and money. Look at the builders and architects trying to sell the general public on prefab housing. Or, for that matter, the many personal sacrifices Dyson had to make going up against the vacuum bag and filter peddlers.

Gass’s concept also has a major liability problem in that his approach cannot guarantee a 0% chance of injury, given that so much depends on your fingers’ exact positions as they approach the blade, the speed and force you are pushing the work piece at, and so on. By his own admission, you will still cut yourself before the blade fully stops. This is the equivalent of saying I designed a much safer car, in which if I get hit by a truck I will only suffer broken limbs, but not die. Sure, I’ll take the castings for a few months instead of a permanent residence six feet under, but that’s not the point. If you promise me safety, I don’t just want “safer”, I want consistently zero chance of injury. Safety is one of those binary things, you either have the full thing or you might as well live with the natural risk that utilizing that object entails.

Lots of people know Volvo’s reputation as a generally safer car than most, but do you really buy a car because you hope to walk out of it after a head-on crash and just call your wife to say you’ll be late for dinner? Accidents are not on one’s mind when you purchase a vehicle because you assume you’ll never be involved in one. The same with power tools.

In my mind, this invention’s basic safety premise is fundamentally flawed. So is its technological approach to the problem. It implies your skin must necessarily touch the blade for it to stop. This is why Gass is using wieners for demos at trade shows. Bleeding cuts, minor as they may be, are still painful and can get infected. People using power tools on a daily basis do not count on getting injured, period. There’s no such thing as buying a tool that will injure me “less”.

This is why established manufacturerers wouldn’t touch this idea with a ten-foot pole. Not because tool manufacturers don’t care about users’ safety, that’s preposterous. It has potential lawsuits written all over because you cannot sell people a tool that will only cut their fingers, and not severe them. The exact level of injury (and its consistence in all circumstances) cannot be guaranteed in writing, yet the box says you are buying this new safer, high-tech tool, so you have to claim something experience cannot substantiate.

Hand and finger sizes and shapes vary enough that the extent of injuries before the machine stops cannot be precisely determined. Then, some people are - pardon the pun - more thick-skinned than others and will be able to push their finger, who knows, a good 1/16" into that blade before they see any blood.

Years ago I worked on a similar technology in another product line with similar issues. It was dropped by management when costs spiralled out of control and the retail price increase no longer justified the perceived and factual benefits. Gass’s product has these issues, as high-volume manufacturers are extremely cost sensitive in the savagely disputed tool market. To accept the higher product cost added by the electromagnetic brake system and other electronics, this had to be a truly foolproof system to be called revolutionary. There are at least two or three other simpler methods of stopping a blade in time when fingers approach it, and that do yield perfect results. But taking ideas on this level to market is a lifetime project in and of itself.

Inc. is a great magazine for entrepreneurs but it has the obvious tendency to preach strictly for its own church and suffers slightly from a one-track mind by sometimes demonizing large corporations beyond reason. Gass’s story is not necessarily a David-vs-Goliath epic, it just so happens the man overinvested in a half-baked idea that the big players saw as a major legal liability issue that could practically ruin them. This is one business where “partial safety” cannot be translated into either a marketing campaign or a money-making proposal.

Reading the story, I actually empathize a lot with the inventor and somehow feel sad for what was a well-meant initiative, but it is just so common with people shooting too quickly for the stars. And I don’t think his own manufactured line will change this industry, it’s just more money down the pit, but at least he’s got something to fall back on.

“Gass’s concept also has a major liability problem in that his approach cannot guarantee a 0% chance of injury,…”

Which is a legal issue, not a design issue. And last I checked, airbags do not guarantee 0% chance of injury; in fact there were quite a number of problems early on iirc (esp wrt children). This doesn’t negate the validity of the effort and I’d hardly call this solution half-baked (and given all the positive press when it was first announced, I don’t hesitate to say I’m not alone in my opinion).

What’s important to note afaic is that his solution did not take extraordinary effort to figure out. It did however take a willingness to try. The question is whether or not big manufacturers care to even try in a litigation-happy world. This doesn’t have to be the final solution to the problem. As has been touted recently in discussions regarding innovation, this could simply have been a step toward a final solution.

When non-design issues trump progress because taking steps to a final solution is fraught with liability, something is wrong imo.

i’ve been cut by a power hand plane, luckily it only took my nail off my point finger which has been replaced since and a second not so deep cut on my index finger. all i have to say is you gotto be careful, keep your workshop safe and well lit all the time and don’t drink too much tea/coffee/coke!! until better technologies develop.

routers have an instant clutch but only after you switch them off. electronic eyes are probably the best combined with a router type clutch.

I would rather have a SawStop than one without, but Gass’ single biggest problem is product failure and the ensuing liability. It that were to happen, the entire company would probably be lost in the damages.


maybe safety is binary, but there are varying degrees of injury, and I would much rather get a bad cut then suffer loss of digit(s).

egg - you come off sounding defensive on this one

i do agree about inc.'s angle on the story

Even if technology like saw stop only worked effectively half of the time the benefits would far outway any cost or potential lawsuit both in schools and industry.

I know in parts of Australia they are contemplating banning power tools in schools due to the expensive cost of injuries

It seems that the companies involved are more worried about increasing potential legal problems than actually reducing current physical harm (which would reduce current legal problems). It seems like a purely money focussed stance and makes me want to avoid all ryobi products.

As cool as the product is (and I think it’s very cool), it’s true that the legal issues aren’t trivial for a major manufacturer. It’s a sad fact of American society that someone injuried by a Saw Stop equipped saw, regardless of fault, would probably win a major liability suit. However, these guys have obviously managed to get product liability insurance in spite of that. (I wonder what their limit is?) Liability insurance isn’t as expensive as you might think, even in a relatively high-risk field. And if you structure your company correctly (have minimal assets, outsource production), you just walk away in the event of an award that exceeds your coverage. Or more likely, your lawyers make the plaintiffs aware of the situation, and you settle for an amount covered by insurance. Anyway, walking away is not something Ryobi or Delta can do. So I’m really not surprised that nobody has licensed the idea. He really didn’t have much of a chance of doing anything other than starting his own saw company.

I’ve known a few guys with missing digits, and I use the table saw enough that I want one of these. There is definitely a market there- there are a lot of amateur woodworkers who really, really don’t want to lose a finger.

I think it could be successful if they were to make alternate claims. Similar to the airbag concept csven was referring to. If they marketed the saw stop as only “Supplemental” safety, they wouldn’t get backed into a corner with lawsuits when some jackass high school shop student decides to play roulette with the saw blade and it doesn’t stop cutting his finger off.

Its all in how you word it. The way Gass came out and claimed that it would always work, might have caused him some trouble in the long run.

However, these guys have obviously managed to get product liability insurance in spite of that. (I wonder what their limit is?) Liability insurance isn’t as expensive as you might think, even in a relatively high-risk field.

How could such a statement be uttered? Wow. Insurance is not cheap, it is a major overhead item in the cost of doing business. You would be surprised how little companies insure themselves for that type of issue. Most companies go for the bare minimum because they simply can’t afford to add more insurance to the bottom line.

Gass is making a product that has a safety feature, but the point is he has stuggled to get it to market because of very typical business concerns (insurance+ lawsuits)

Easy. I am part owner of a business in a relatively high risk field (not rotating saw blades, but not fluffy pillows either), and I know what we pay for our product liability insurance. It’s not pocket change, but it’s not a terribly significant percentage of our total overhead either. Of course, because we don’t have a bunch of vulnerable assets sitting in the business, we don’t need to carry a $500 million policy either.

One thing we forgot was to give some credit to Gass for being a lawyer, and a lawyer that use to work injury and liability. I’m sure he and his colleagues have written their “guarantee” in such a way as to minimize the number of claims.

In addition, it seems that with an electronic system it would be easy to create a safety interlock that prevent blade operation if a fault were detected anywhere in the system.

At this point, I’m more interested in how I could get an upgrade kit for my Skilsaw or my portable bench saw.


OK, Insurance - It is a necessity, yet the purchaser of business insurance usually regards it as a four letter word.

My heart is tugged since Gass represents the little guy.

When I put myself in his shoes, The first thing I think of is the constant catch-22 situations he probably faced.

note to PurplePeople: The stop saw website states that the saws do constant safety checks to make sure the sensors and everything are functioning.

btw: http://www.sawstop.com/