Whirlwind as a Potential SawStop Competitor

Look out SawStop, you've got some competition on the way! A woodworker and inventor by the name of David Butler recently launched a website to demonstrate his new table saw safety device, the Whirlwind, in order to convince one or more manufacturers to incorporate the device into their saws. The Whirlwind is a flesh-sensing technology built into the blade guard which shuts off the saw within one-eighth of a second, well before the your hand can come in contact with the blade.

The technology is still patent-pending (though they expect the patent to be issued soon) and there is not a product available to buy yet. Therefore, details are still somewhat sketchy about how the Whirlwind works. However, after watching the various videos on the Whirlwind website, it appears that the idea is to incorporate sensors into the blade guard. If your hand strays too close to the blade, the system shuts down the saw and stops the blade before you have a chance to contact the blade.

The Whirlwind website points out a few benefits of this new technology:

  • The blade is not damaged when the safety mechanism is triggered, allowing you to continue working right away.
  • Supports saws with a standard American splitter as well as those with a European-style riving knife.
  • Integrated dust collection.

However, there appear to be a few downsides to this technology that I can see:

  • Because the technology is built into the blade guard, there will be times when you aren't protected by the system. Some examples include: using a tenoning jig, cutting box joints, or any operation involving a non-through cut on a large or tall item (Though there is a solution for things like dados).
  • The blade doesn't stop immediately. The high speed video shows the blade rotate about 4 times before coming to a stop. If someone were pushing something through the saw quickly, it seems to me that there is still the potential (albeit a much smaller chance) for injury.

Some have grumbled about the tactics SawStop has used to try and get its technology adopted my other manufacturers. Having a competing technology emerge, such as the Whirlwind, should be welcome news to SawStop's critics. Even if you are not interested in the politics surrounding the SawStop, having an alternative should help bring the price down for everyone.

It will be interesting to see if any manufacturers pick up this technology and incorporate it into their saws. I'm looking forward to what other ideas will appear in the future to improve the safety of table saws.

So what do you think of the Whirlwind? Do you think it's a viable alternative to the SawStop?