In this track saw buying guide, I will tell you everything you have to know about track saws, including what they are used for and what look for when buying one.
Typically, if you want to make accurate cuts on a large piece of wood (or really any piece of wood for that matter), you have to follow a two-step process. Firstly, you cut the larger wood with your circular saw. Then, you cut the smaller pieces of wood with your table saw, which is a lot more accurate than your average circular saw. This process is cumbersome and unnecessarily long. Thankfully, you can shorten the process considerably by using a track saw (also often referred to as plunge saws).
- 1 What is a track saw and what its uses?
- 2 Advantages of Track Saw
- 3 Buyers Guide – What to look for when buying track saw?
What is a track saw and what its uses?
A track saw is a useful power tool that allows for ultra-accurate cuts along a straight line, to be made on all sizes of wooden boards. In simple terms, it is a circular saw that is attached on to a precision metal track. It is also known as plunge saw or plunge-cut saw.
The above shows a Festool track saw cutting a wooden board.
How does it work?
The circular saw moves in the metal track along a straight line. When you want to cut, simply attach the metal track on to the workpiece, then plunge the circular saw into the work-piece and move it forward along the guide-ways (or the track).
The track stabilizes the saw, so you don’t have to worry about the saw slipping or moving away from the marked line by accident. Because it has the metal track, track saws have a wide variety of uses.
Here is a video from Festool explaining how to set up a track saw to cut wood.
Uses of a track saw
- A track saw can be used for long rip cuts, cross cut, and angular cuts accurately.
- It is mainly used in woodworking to slice down large boards into smaller rectangular sections.
- One of the main uses of a track saw is to provide mobility and ease of use coupled with accurate cutting.
- You can cut wood, plywood, MDF, OSB, particle boards, hardboard etc.
Advantages of Track Saw
The primary benefit of a track saw is that you do not need a large machine like a table saw to make accurate straight cuts. Moreover, compared to other portable saws like circular saw or jigsaw, the track saws have a couple of distinct advantages.
Pros: Benefits of Track Saw
Let’s take a look at the 4 major advantages of using a track saw over other types of saw.
Ease of Use
A track saw, as the name implies, has a metal track attached to it. With most portable saws, you have to mark on the wood where you want to start cutting, and then either guide the wood into the blade or bring the blade to the marked part of the wood. With a track saw, you simply have to put the metal track on the marked spot and start cutting.
Making accurate cuts
One of the main uses of a track saw is to make accurate cuts. As I mentioned earlier, with regular circular saws, making truly accurate cuts is a difficult, multi-step process. With a track saw, you can make accurate cuts extremely easily. In terms of making smooth, precise cuts, a track saw isn’t your only option (there are other saws meant for making precise cuts), but it is your best option. Simply put, a track saw is one of the best and easiest ways to make accurate cuts, which is why it such a valuable tool.
Cutting large boards
Another thing that track saws excel at is cutting large wooden boards. Cutting large pieces of wood with any sort of accuracy can be difficult with a regular circular saw. This is because with bigger wooden boards, keeping the circular saw straight for that long is difficult.
With something like a table saw, cutting a large wooden board is difficult because most table saws simply aren’t big enough to accommodate larger pieces of wood. With a track saw, cutting larger pieces of wood with accuracy is simple. The track enables the saw to remain stable and accurate while cutting through very long pieces of wood.
Finally, track saws are highly portable when compared to a table saw or a panel saw. Unlike a lot of other saws that are designed to make accurate cuts, the track saw can be moved from place to place with ease.
Now let’s see some of the disadvantages of a track saw.
- The workpiece surface should be relatively flat and not much irregular. To make precise cuts, you should be able to keep the metal track properly attached to the wooden board.
- The workpiece should be stiff enough to support the track saw.
- If you are cutting very thin sheets additional support may be needed.
- When working in tight space the length of the track may cause hindrance.
Track Saw vs Table Saw vs Circular Saw
Do I need a track saw if I own a table saw or a circular saw? This is a question I often hear from people when they learn about the benefits of a track saw. My answer is always, No. You don’t need it unless you want an easy solution to cut large wooden or plywood boards.
Table Saw vs Track Saw
Table saw is not easily portable. In comparison, a track saw can be easily moved around in a job site.
You can use a track saw to cut large boards that cannot be loaded on to a table saw. It can also be very handy in situations where you cannot move the work-piece. For example heavy or extra-large workpieces. Carpenters would appreciate its ability to cut vertically on doors, drywall etc.
On the other hand, the table saw offers higher dimensional accuracy by making use of the fence. Table saw can be used to do milling operations such as rabbets and dados which a track saw cannot do accurately. The fence system on a table saw also provides higher repeatability.
Track Saw vs Circular Saw
The primary advantage of a track saw compared to a circular saw is its ability to cut accurately along a straight line. It is relatively easy to use. You can set-up a straight edge to provide more accuracy for a circular saw. However, the track system eliminates any chance of errors that can arise from the sideways movement.
Another advantage of track saw is the dust collection system that helps you to keep your work area clean.
Conversely, circular saw offers higher portability and requires very less storage space. Furthermore, you can load different circular saw wheels to cut tougher materials whereas a track saw is mainly for cutting wood or other softer materials.
Below is a comparison table between the 3 types of saws, for quick reference.
|Track Saw||Table Saw||Circular Saw|
|Storage||Less storage space||Require lots of floor space.||Very less space needed.|
|Safety||Relatively safe||Can be dangerous||Use with caution|
Buyers Guide – What to look for when buying track saw?
If you have decided to get a track saw, you may be curious as to what features you should look for when buying one. In this section, I am going to go over what features every professional and DIYer should look for.
Like with any saw, the first thing you want to look for when buying a track saw is to look for a powerful motor. A more powerful motor means that the saw can cut through the wood at a quicker rate. You want to be careful buying a track saw with a low power motor; it may save you money, but it will lead to the saw not cutting all that well. Make sure that any track saw that you buy has a motor strength of at least 9 amps, any less and the saw won’t give you decent cutting power.
Another important factor that determines how powerful a track saw will be is the maximum speed that it can achieve. Speed is measured in RPMs (revolutions per minute) and you ideally want a track saw with a speed of around 2,000 RPMs. This is the speed of most commercial track saws. If possible, you also want a track saw that can change speeds. Different speeds let you cut through different materials and different kinds of woods with even more accuracy and speed.
Another very important thing to look for is the bevel capacity. Obviously, as the name suggests, this refers to a saw’s ability to perform bevel cuts. Check the maximum angle to which the base can be tilted with respect to the axis of the blade.
For those who are unaware, a bevel cut is a cut at any angle besides 90-degrees that is performed along the thickness of the wood. This is different from a miter cut, which is a cut any angle besides 90-degrees along the width or length of the wood. Bevel cuts are important for a wide variety of woodworking and carpentry jobs, including the making of furniture, cabinets, etc. Usually, the bevel and miter cuts require the use of a miter saw or a table saw; both these saws are not very portable. Not anymore. Now you can use a track saw to do accurate bevel, miter, and compound cuts.
Length of track
Depending on the manufacturer the tracks come in different lengths. For example, Makita offers 55” and 118” tracks, while Dewalt sells 49”, 56” and 102-inch tracks. Festool who is a leader in the plunge cut track saw market offers guide rails from 32-inches (800mm) to 197-inches (5000mm) in length.
You could get a shorter track and use extensions to lengthen the track when needed. However, it is important that the extension tracks are connecting precisely. Otherwise, it will affect the accuracy of your cut. Hence it is always better to have a long single track. But keep in mind that a longer track may be an obstruction when you have to work on tight spaces.
This is yet another feature you may want to look for. Depth setting refers to the amount of depth that the circular saw blade plunges into the work-piece. Are you planning use the track saw to slice down the wood? For parting off large boards into smaller sections the depth settings need not be very accurate.
However, for shallow cuts, you need precise depth control. A good track saw will have fine depth control with a readout that specifies the exact depth of cut accounting for the thickness of the track.
Amateur DIYers may disregard safety features, but professionals realize that extra safety features are extremely important. There are certain safety features that in my opinion are must-haves. For starters, an electric brake is essential. Track saws with electric brakes stop a lot quicker than regular saws. If you are ever in a jam and need the saw blade to stop rapidly, an electric bake can be really helpful. Likewise, some sort of anti-kickback feature is a must-have. An anti-kickback feature helps prevent you from accidentally losing control of the saw and it can help improve accuracy.
There are other safety features and quality of life features that are useful (such as a mechanism to prevent dust from flying out of the saw while you are using it), but those are less essential in my opinion.
It is hard to overstate how useful a track saw can be. If you need accurate cuts made on nearly any size of wood, then a track saw is the best option. If you don’t already own a track saw, go and get one ASAP, it will make your life a lot easier.