Wednesday, April 21, 2010

smart tools assist idiots.

In a lawsuit described in the Boston Globe, table saw manufacturer Ryobi was successfully sued for 1.5 million dollars because they made and sold a table saw without the saw-stop technology. The man using the tablesaw was an untrained idiot, doing all kinds of things on the saw that an experienced woodworker would never do... cutting free hand, without a fence, with the blade raised full height to cut stock only 3/4" thick, and cutting wood while kneeling on the floor. He began the operation with no prior experience or training. The injury he received left his hand disfigured and slightly impaired.

The jury decided that because the manufacturer did not supply flesh-sensing saw-stop technology, which became available in November 2004 they were negligent in that they had sold a "defective" product. The complete idiocy and inexperience of the operator doing all the very wrong things, and the failure of the employer to provide oversight or training were not considered significant to the case.

As I have mentioned in the past, the purpose of various iterations in the development of tools is the transference of intelligence and cognitive function from the brain and hand to the tool, thus allowing greater numbers of inexperienced, untrained, inattentive and less intelligent people effective use (or misuse). This could be described as a shifting of cognitive function to tool to enable fool.

While expression of skill is the foundation of human culture, we are rapidly shifting from a skilled culture to one in which no individual is to be considered at fault for lack of skill and/or experience, or to be blamed when things go wrong. The saw-stop company, owned and operated by a product safety attorney is reportedly thrilled by the successful law suit. I should state that the saw-stop is a marvelous invention, that is saving hands and fingers of American woodworkers that would have been lost to stupid mistakes. But I question a law suit in which an operator and employer are not also held at least partially accountable for their own negligence.

Today in the Clear Spring Wood Shop, 1st, 2nd and 3rd grade students made owls.


  1. Hey Doug, the same old story I'm afraid, an inexperienced user being maimed. In the UK one can purchase all sorts of really dangerous tools-a chainsaw for instance and,without any safety training whatsoever, start cutting down trees. A surefire recipe for disaster!. In the Usa, I've noticed on the OWWM website a preponderance of saw users cutting without the top guard & riving knife on the machine, a real situation for material being ejected at great speed back on the operator OR cutting off the finger(S)! Everyone thinks- it shall never happen to me! -but saws continue to be used this way.Lastly great to see the kids with the owls,keep up the good work. All the best John W.

  2. Are your students "untrained idiots" before they take your class? Your anger would be better directed at the real problem: frivolous, market-manipulating lawsuits. Training is great, but not everyone has access. Those who don't aren't "less intelligent" or "inattentive" by default. They're simply inexperienced, as we all once were.

  3. No, my students are not untrained idiots, and I'm not angry as you suggest but sad. Sad that we don't offer greater opportunity for training and access to tools that foster creativity and confidence.

    Everything I read about the injury that led to the lawsuit, suggested that there was plenty of blame to go around, and you're are right in describing the lawsuit as being "market-manipulating" as it was intended to force saw makers to adopt a particular technology in place of other solutions, like that of making a greater investment in training and development of skill.

  4. Anonymous4:33 AM

    I was once one of those untrained idiots, full of enthusiasm but with lacking in the experience that gives us a sense of caution. It wasn't the tool maker's fault that I lost a piece of one finger. Litigious is much too polite a word to describe the situation.