Who had a model train set when they were young? It was a great joy of youth to have a model train set, setting up the tracks, the station, trees, bridges. The trains stayed on the tracks because the wheels were concave, and they ran along the tracks, whether straight-a-ways or curves. It was great fun.
Track saws are the woodworking shop equivalent of those model train sets. An enclosed blade on the saw has a base with runners that fit inside the grooves of a track; the grooves of the track hold the saw as it is moved along the track to cut whatever material the track is set upon.
The saw blade sits right at the edge of the track, and your accurate measurement along the span of the wood you are cutting, coupled with the track edge, will maintain that line. The track lays flat on whatever you are cutting, and its sticky base holds it in place to guide it along the lines you’ve measured. All you have to do is move the saw along the track.
It’s a great tool for ripping boards or a sheet of plywood for cutting trim, panels, flooring, or subflooring. It’s also an excellent tool when it’s used as a plunge saw because you can set its precise cutting depth, and the track will maintain that depth accurately. Depth settings are adjustable and, when locked in, are reliable and consistent.
What’s The Point of A Track Saw?
Track saws are a terrific addition to any woodworking shop, as well as to any carpenter’s tool inventory.
They make long and very precise cuts faster and easier than a table saw or a circular saw. They are:
- Light in weight
- Travel easily and well
- Are easy to set up – measure, make your marks, lay the track, cut
- Don’t require clamps – sticky base holds the rail in place
- Set up quickly
- Set up exactly
- Cut cleanly and smoothly
- Can make miter cuts
- Can make bevel cuts (more on that later)
- Rails of various sizes and extensions. The ends of the rails are square, so extensions can be added to whatever length your cuts require. In researching this piece, we came upon a story of a gymnasium floor installer who lays out track up to 100 feet.
Rails for up to a 4’ cut will run you about $100; rails long enough for an 8” cut will cost you about $200.
Unlike table saws, where you bring the material to the tool, with a track saw, you bring the tool to the material. Although the rails of a track saw come in various lengths, a 102” rail or a 118” rail, common sizes, are long enough for an 8” sheet of plywood. Well-placed saw horses support the plywood, and your track saw makes ripping it into any width an easy task, easier even than on a table saw.
Consider that benefit alone – being able to bring the tool to the material, rather than the other way around.
Another great benefit of a track saw is in dust collection. You’ve likely used a circular saw before and know the cleanup necessary after its use. The blade of a track saw, though, is encased, and most models come with an outlet to which you can attach your dust collection hose or shop vac hose.
Can You Use A Track Saw Without a Track?
Yes, the track is not essential to cutting with a track saw. The track guiding, though, guarantees perfectly straight cuts:
- The raised ribs on the track maintain that straight cutting line;
- The rubber grips on the bottom of the track holds it in place and prevents movement during the cut;
- And if you want a belt and suspenders guarantee, you can always use a clamp on either end of the track.
The better question to consider, though, is why would you buy a track saw if you weren’t going to use the track?
Can Any Circular Saw Be Used As a Track Saw?
Yes, it can. But you will need modifications and jigs. A straight edge guide can help you turn a circular saw into a track saw of sorts. We say of sorts because it would require the mods and jigs, and you can set your circular saw’s depth of cut as you can with a track saw.
You can use your circular saw for making long rip cuts, beveled cuts, plunge cuts, cross cuts, and quick cuts of 2 x 4s to length. The latter comes in handy on construction sites, which is where circular saws can excel. But, they do not suit furniture projects, for instance, whereas a track saw does.
Circular saws are less expensive than track saws – a good circular saw can run you between $60 and $150, while a track saw will be $500 or more, depending on the brand. We understand woodworking shop budgets.
But, track saws can theoretically replace your table saw, your circular saw, and your miter saw.
Angled cuts are no problem for a track saw; measure the angle accurately, lay the track, cut.
Bevel cuts are also possible with a track saw. The Festool track saw, for instance, can bevel and edge to 45 degrees and even includes an anti-kickback wedge.
Here’s a video that walks you through a bevel cut with a track saw. While it may seem a bit more complicated than a miter saw bevel cut, it makes a clear case for the occasional bevel cut using a track saw.
If you are pressed for space in your shop or pressed for money in your budget, investing in a track saw can eliminate the need for a table saw, a circular saw, and a miter saw.
How Deep Can You Cut With a Track Saw?
Most track saws can cut as deep as 2 inches. The cut depth is adjustable and well marked on the saw cases. The larger track saws can cut even deeper, some of them as deep as 2 ½ inches.
Can You Join With a Track Saw?
Yes, you can, and in fact, it is another strength of a track saw.
The purpose of a joiner is to provide a straight and uniform edge to two pieces of wood that are going to be joined. Joiners are common power tools in a woodworking shop, used especially in making furniture – table tops, for instance, where several boards will be joined to create the top.
Straight and uniform edges are a strong point of track saws. We’ve discussed this above, but it’s worth mentioning again. The cuts from a track saw are clean, smooth, exact, and uniformly straight. Boards for a 10’ table top for your large family are an easy task to cut cleanly, smoothly, exactly, and uniformly straight, ready for gluing and clamping in no time with your track saw.
Brands and Prices for Track Saws
Among the brand names for track saws, names common in the power tool business, include:
Festool. In 1980, Festool made the first plunge-cut tool that rode on an aluminum track. Its reputation in the industry for quality control and craftsmanship is of the highest standards. You’d expect its track saws to be expensive, then, just as is its Festool Domino, which we wrote about recently. Its track saw models run between $800 and $1000.
Makita. Makita’s track saw options run between $475 and $625, depending on the model chosen.
DEWALT. Another well-known name in the power tool industry, a DEWALT track saw, is in the same price range as the Makita, with several models to choose from between $525 and $625.
Kreg. Perhaps lesser-known but nonetheless worth considering is the Kreg, which you will find in the Obsessed Woodworking Shop. Their models run in the $300 to $400 range.
Are Track Saws Worth It?
We’ve described so many benefits of track saw ownership for your woodworking shop already, but perhaps we should mention them again.
Long, clean, precise cuts you can make quickly; easier and better than a table saw or circular saw; bringing the tool to the material; miter cuts, and even bevel cuts; can do all of this for miles, if necessary; you get the picture, we’re sure.
If you are a serious woodworker or a semi-serious hobbyist, if you don’t have a track saw yet, you eventually will. We’re quite sure of that. We do, and we enjoy all of those benefits and more. Start saving up for yours.
Here’s a video we like for several reasons:
The videographer is a woodworking hobbyist; he’s demonstrating a Kreg Track Saw, the brand we use, demonstrating the Adaptive Cutting System (ACS).
If you’ve never seen or used a track saw, this is a good starting point for your decision on whether to buy one and the criteria for your choice. As we said, start saving up for yours.