We know track saws, and we love track saws. We have written about track saws in the past, and you’ll find one of those articles here. We have a track saw in our woodworking shop. Ours is a Kreg track saw, but there are many other brands, including Festool and Makita. The latter two will be the subject of today’s article as we answer the question whether the tracks are interchangeable.
Historically, the plunge-cut tool was first introduced by Festool in 1980. It rode on an aluminum plunge saw rail guide, and resulted in a perfectly straight cut. The saw relied upon the track on which it rode, rather than the questionable steadiness of a free-hand cut, to maintain a carefully measured line when breaking down large workpieces like plywood sheets.
Its tracks had non-stick strips on the bottom that held the track in place while cutting, although clamps could also be used if you wanted to be absolutely sure. The saw itself has an enclosed blade and has runners on its base that fit inside grooves on the track. Those grooves hold the saw in place as you move it along the track.
The blade of the saw sits at the edge of the track which has been aligned with the measurement mark on the workpiece. The track edge runs along the measured line, and the cut is made by the saw that runs along that edge.
Ripping boards, cutting trim, and floorboards or subfloors, are well within the track saw’s wheelhouse. It’s also a plunge saw with the ability to set the depth with accuracy that is maintained throughout the cut.
Track saws make long and very precise cuts much faster, easier, and with great accuracy than a circular saw or table saw. They are light and easy to move, the tracks are easy to set up, don’t necessarily require clamps, and can even make miter and bevel cuts.
The rails come in a variety of lengths with easy to assemble track connectors to extend to whatever length you need your cut to be. It is possible, for instance, to make cuts as long as 100’ if you have enough rail sections.
Yes, track saws have much to offer the woodworking enthusiast, and we like them very much. Our Kreg serves us well, easily, and quickly in our home shop. As we wrote in our previous piece, the track saw is the equivalent of the model trains we played with in our youth. The trains ran straight on the tracks, as does the saw in this grownup version.
Now, let’s consider whether Festool and Makita tracks can mix and match with the track saw.
Are Festool and Makita Tracks The Same?
In most respects, the answer is yes. The guide rails are very similar:
- Both are high-quality tracks
- Both are made of aluminum
- They come in similar lengths, to a point
- Their cross sections are virtually identical, to a point
- Their plastic/polymer additions are functionally similar, to a point
They are virtually equivalent in functionality. They both guide the saw; the tracks stick to the surface in each case; and, they each result in a straight cut.
Similar, yes, but to a point. Mutually compatible in virtually all respects, but with some differences. That is the message in this list.
How Do Makita Tracks Differ From Festool Tracks?
While differences do exist, and the differences might seem slight, those differences do present some minor limitations. The devil is in the details, so to speak.
Guide Ridge. This is the main ridge that guides the saw along the track. It prevents lateral movement as the saw moves along the track and holds it true to the edge and the measurement mark on the workpiece. It matches with a slot in the saw’s base and keeps the saw moving true forward.
In the Makita tracks, this guide ridge is slightly narrower than the ridge on the Festool track by about 0.01”. If you have mixed and matched tracks, Makita and Festool, it will become necessary to adjust the Festool saw fit on a Makita track. It’s easily done, and takes less than a half-minute. Both the Makita saw and the Festool saw have adjustment knobs for this task, but it can be a nuisance in the middle of a cut.
It’s not a fatal difference, but it is a difference that you might want to avoid by simply using all Makita tracks or all Festool tracks, rather than mix and match.
The Splinter Guard Strip. Each track brand has a narrow polymer strip on the far right of the track (the saw guide ridge is on the left side). This strip is cut to fit the saw when the saw makes its first pass along the track and serves to eliminate tear out.
The Festool guard strip is a harder plastic, while the Makita is a softer rubber. Many find the Festool guard strip provides a more precise cut, holds its position better, and allows you easier aiming.
Again, not a fatal difference, but one worth noting, and tips in favor of Festool tracks for a Festool saw.
The Non-Slip Strips. One of the compelling features of the tracks is its steadfast holding in place without clamps. That grip comes from two strips of foam rubber on the underside of each brand’s tracks.
While they each have these foam rubber strips, the Festool track’s strips are narrower by a quarter inch but thicker. Each, though, does the job well, and there is very little difference in gripping strength between the two, if any.
Once again, a non-fatal difference and one simply noted as mostly a wash.
The Glide Strips. Both track brands have glide strips on the top side. Each brand’s strips are plastic and slippery. They come in contact with the base of the saw and facilitate a smooth flow, or glide, along the track while the saw is cutting.
The differences between the two are the width of the strip and the texture on top. The Festool glide strips are narrow and smooth; the Makita glide strips are wider and textured. Both work well and reduce friction to allow the saw to move along the track smoothly.
But, the textured top of the Makita strips has been found to wear on the base of the saw. In our research for this piece, we found instances where users complained of this, finding wear over time with use.
A difference this time that tips in favor of Festool tracks over Makita tracks.
The Anti-Tipping Features. We mentioned earlier that track saws can make miter and bevel cuts. While these are not the track saw’s strengths, they are doable. The vast majority of track saw use will be in long, straight cuts.
In this instance, the Makita track is not compatible with the Festool saw. The detail of the anti-tipping features doesn’t make for a comfortable fit. Since bevel cuts require great accuracy, if you have a Festool saw, it’s best to have Festool tracks if you will be making bevel cuts.
Size Might Matter. When it comes to the availability of track lengths, Festool offers much more than Makita. Festool tracks come in 8 different lengths between 32” and 197”; Makita, though, offers only 3 lengths between 39” and 118”.
The many different lengths offered by Festool give you more flexibility in the lengths you can cut when the tracks are set up and connected. This may be important in your shop, and if it is, Festool tracks have more to offer.
Each brand offers connection pieces that make assembly of lengths easy. But assembling them in many length options is facilitated by Festool’s many different track length offerings.
While this is not a fatal difference and does not impact on performance, we did think it worth noting.
What Is The Price Difference Between Makita and Festool Tracks?
Festool saws are expensive, and we noted this in our earlier piece on track saws, and much more expensive than Makita saws. The tracks are no different, running nearly double the cost of Makita tracks of similar length.
Price plays an important part in outfitting a woodworking shop. At about half the cost of Festool tracks, Makita tracks do make sense for use with a Festool saw. If the budget is tight, it’s at least worth considering.
When a Festool 4’ track runs you $100, and you decide you need 4 of them, Makita tracks could save you $200. The savings only go up as you lengthen the track inventory your shop will need.
We watched a number of videos on Makita tracks and Festool saws but did not find any we especially liked to recommend to you. Instead, here’s a video that compares Makita track saws and tracks with Festool track saws and tracks. It’s worth a watch.
We’ve pointed out the differences between the tracks, and yes, we’ve noted a couple that run in favor of Festool tracks – – glide strips, anti-tipping features for making bevel cuts. They are differences that could be important to you and are worth considering.
We also suggest you choose one or the other brand of track for your Festool saw to avoid the nuisance of having to adjust the saw fit from track to track.
If your budget is large enough to afford a Festool track saw, $800 – $1000 today, you can probably afford a few spans of 4’ Festool track. Then, the differences, large or small, don’t matter.
One final word, though, in support of Kreg. Ours is among our favorite tools, and we get good use from it. At a price point of $300 – $400, and track lengths reasonably priced, we do quite well without a Festool saw.