Wrestling a large piece of thick plywood through a table saw is not much fun, especially when you must do the work alone. Although a table saw excels in places when you need quickly repeatable cuts, ripping wide panels on this saw is not an easy task unless you have a large contractor table saw or cabinet saw.
This is where a track saw can be a lifesaver. You also have portability issues to manage when looking at the table saw vs. track saw debate.
Table Saw vs. Track Saw Comparison
Although contractors and DIYers can usually substitute one saw for the other when working on projects, there are times when one tool is superior to the other. It all depends on the materials, spacing, cut type, and help you have for the project.
The main difference between a table saw and a track saw is that on a table saw you are moving the workpiece against a rotating blade at a fixed location whereas with a track saw, you are moving the saw across the workpiece along the guided tracks. The primary purpose of the track saw is to cut sheet goods such as large plywood panels into manageable sizes. For all other types of woodworking, a table saw is always the preferred choice.
|Table Saw||Track Saw|
|Main Purpose||All types of woodworking||Primary for cutting sheet goods.|
|Accuracy||Excellent for all sorts of straight cuts, bevels.||Very Good for straight cutes|
|Repeatability||Excellent repeatability.||Depends on track setting|
|Portability||Poor mobility except for small jobsite saws||Excellent portability|
|Power||Very powerful motor||Less power.|
|Size||Require large floor and storage space.||Takes up very little space.|
|Uses||Cutting softwood and hardwood |
Rip cuts, cross cuts, bevels, miter cuts, dadoes, rabbets, slots etc.
|Mainly used for breaking down large panels into manageable pieces.|
|Recommended Saw|| |
|Safety||One of the most accident prone power tools.||Relatively safe to use.|
Since a track saw can cost more than a portable table saw but less than a cabinet saw when quality is your priority, the primary comparison point isn’t pricing. Understanding when and where to use a table saw vs. a track saw ensures that you have the right tool available.
A table saw uses the fence (a flat, straight surface) to slide the materials across the blade surface to create a clean result. By applying pressure to the boards, lumber, or panels as it moves, consistency becomes possible.
With a track saw, you have a straight edge that functions within a framework to create the cuts you need. The user experience is closer to a portable circular saw, while the accuracy is closer to what a table saw delivers.
Why Choose a Table Saw?
Go for a table saw if you need a versatile power tool where power, accuracy, and repeatability are your main goals. Table saws do an excellent job of making exact, repeatable cuts. You can use stop blocks, crosscut sleds, or fences to create the same results safely until the blade becomes dull.
When you work in a shop, you’ll have larger infeed and outfeed regions to use. Tough and thick materials are manageable with a more powerful motor.
You should have enough storage space for the equipment. Even if a table saw folds up, it can be surprisingly large.
Pros and Cons of a Table Saw
- Accuracy and Repeatability: Table saws offer an accurate and precise cut of virtually any length. It gives you a permanent structure that lets you work with most materials quickly and safely.
- Versatile: You can equip this saw with a rip fence or a miter gauge to turn out accurate pieces with relatively little effort.
- Easy to Use: Since table saws operate in one cutting direction, you have a predictable sawing mechanism to use.
- Dust Collection: Some models come with in-built dust collection system, although this feature might come at an added expense.
- Less Portability: Unless you purchase a portable table saw, this equipment stays at the shop. That means your cutting work may need to happen off-site, which could be problematic if you’re working alone. It doesn’t do a great job of making long, clean rips or crosscuts with large sheets or bulky materials.
- Safety: A table saw can also be more dangerous to use than a track saw. The blade is exposed in this tool design, which means you need to keep your hands away from the surface. It isn’t always easy to accomplish that feat since the saw naturally draws the materials toward it with its cutting mechanism.
- Not Novice Friendly: While the basic working principle is simple, there are so many that can go wrong on this saw. For example, if you don’t provide proper support and the right pressure on the materials getting cut, the boards can fly away from the saw blade at high speeds. If the lumber is light enough, the velocity can be enough to cause a significant injury. Many woodworkers have had to repair damage to walls and windows because of this disadvantage.
Table saws come with numerous safety measures such as a riving knife, blade guards, and a braking system to prevent most problems. If you’re unfamiliar with the tool, it might take some practice before you’re ready to start working on your project.
Why Choose a Track Saw?
Track saws perform well when you need long crosscuts or rips across a wide board. You’ll need to use sawhorses or a foam board secured underneath to create the result. The guide rail is the only constraint on how long your cuts can be.
If you work alone, it is much easier to create a safe and accurate cut with a track saw on large items or heavy workpieces. Imagine pushing a large-sized plywood panel across a table saw. Even if you have a cabinet saw with in-feed and out-feed support, it is risky and not ideal to work alone. On the other hand, a track saw makes it much easier to breakdown the panels without any significant risk.
Get a track saw if you need to make precise cuts that are not 90 degrees on wide panels. Although a miter saw or a table saw with a miter gauge produces much accurate angle cuts, they are not suitable for slicing wide sheet goods at an angle. With a track saw all you need to do is set the tracks at the desired angle and push the saw along it.
Unless you use a think kerf blade on a table saw, the track saw produces a cleaner cut.
A track saw is also a safer option since the design of this tool covers the cutting action and saw blade to prevent many common woodworking injuries.
Pros and Cons of a Track Saw
- Portability: The advantages of using a track saw involve portability and the overall cut quality you receive. This tool excels in virtually any environment by creating an excellent result without jagged edges, even on engineered products.
- Dust Collection: When using a track saw, most tools come with a dust collection feature that keeps your working environment clean. This benefit reduces the risk of slipping or fire hazards while reducing particulates in the air you breathe.
- Plunge-Cut: The design of the circular saw allows it to do plunge-cut easily. You get to set the cut depth for each piece with only a couple of changes.
Slow Process: The disadvantages of using track saws involve the time it takes for setup and the lack of cut variety. Although the track does give you a cleaner cut, you must measure the angle correctly when bolting the board or panel to the cutting surface.
You’ll also need to have foam boards or sawhorses available to make a long rip, which negates many of the advantages received over a table saw.
Less Power: The drive motor on a track saw is significantly less powerful than a contractor-grade table saw. While it works excellent on sheets and thin panels, the tool struggles when it is forced to cut thick hardwood.
Not Versatile: Track saws offer plenty of cutting capacity with added portability, but you don’t have much cut variety to use for your project.
Track Saw vs Straight Edge
Do I really need a track saw? Why can’t I use a straight edge or a homemade guide rail instead of buying an expensive track saw?
This is a question I often hear from people who are against the tool. Of course, if you are an experienced carpenter, cutting a straight edge or building a track by yourself makes sense. Besides, if are working inside a shop with a large cabinet saw or a panel saw, you won’t need this tool.
However, a good quality track saw from Festool or Makita is a piece of well-machined equipment that is much precise and will last longer.
Who Should Use Table Saws or Track Saws?
There’s a lot of work that a track saw cannot do unless you spend time building jigs and frames to manage your tasks. It struggles to create repeated cutoffs, handle joinery needs, and similar tasks. A table saw provides significantly more consistency in these areas.
When you work on sheet goods, it is even possible to use a circular saw to create a rough cut before doing the finishing work on a table saw. If you need finish-grade goods while working at a remote job site, that’s where a track saw shines. It is much more versatile than most woodworkers imagine, and you’ll get a guaranteed straight edge. Track saws require you to focus on the correct angle, but it will deliver a clean cut each time.
You should get a track saw if you primarily working on sheet goods and large panels with think sections. Go for table saw for repeated work, cutting thick stock, and working on hardwood.
Although you can get the work done with either saw, the best results occur when you have both available for a project. A table saw gives you strength and power, while a track saw offers more portability.