Since DeWalt and Makita entered the United States plunge-cut saw market with Festool, the three have received immense interest and discussion. How are the saws different? Are the results of a crosscut or rip cut any cleaner than those made at a table saw? What features are common or unique on plunge-cut saws? I scrutinized a DeWalt DWS520, a Festool TS55 and a Makita SP6000 to see which, if any, of the saws stand out.
If you’re looking for vast differences in the cuts produced by the various plunge-cut saws, I’m afraid you’re going to be disappointed. I used each saw to cut plywood and hardwood, both with and across the grain, and for slicing samples of melamine. There is a small amount of tear-out (mostly across the grain as you might expect), but nothing significant. In fact, I compared those cuts with cuts made in the same materials at a table saw and again, the differences are minimal.
A Smooth Ride
A quick look at the guide rail or track designs is of interest. The Festool and Makita guide rails look very similar in profile – so much so, that they fasten together and align. The DeWalt track has a different profile. DeWalt’s track is symmetrical and center-justified, which means you can operate the saw in both directions. With the others, you have to flip the rails to cut in a second direction. That could be an issue depending on the task.
But here’s what is attention grabbing: All three plunge-cut saws ride and operate on a Festool guide rail. However, Festool’s saw rides on a Makita track, but not on a DeWalt track. And a DeWalt saw doesn’t work with a Makita track just as a Makita saw is not functional on a DeWalt track. Need a scorecard?
How Plunge-cut Saws Work
The Festool and Makita saws’ plunge operation is like moving your wrist in a hammering motion. The DeWalt saw moves a bit differently. It rocks forward to make a plunge cut with an action similar to moving something from one spot to another – lift, move, then set back down. Switching between the two different motions causes one to think, but individually, their use is intuitive.
What makes these saws operate as they do is the blade set with a “toe-in” design. This allows the saw to cut at the front of the blade with the back of the blade held away from the freshly cut edge. Minimal burn and little tear-out on the money side of the cut is the result. This is also the major difference between the finished cuts from these saws and those of a circular saw when used in combination with a straightedge guide.
There are other features common to these saws, such as track adjusters to dial in the exact fit for a smooth slide, a lockable arbor for quick blade changes as well as blade depth-of-cut adjustments. And each saw is set up for dust extraction via an external vacuum. (See page 53 for more comparisons.)
A significant feature found on the DeWalt and Festool saws, but not on Makita’s saw, is a riving knife. At first, you may question a riving knife’s importance because the blade retracts into the saw if the tool is lifted from the track. But even with that action, there is still an opportunity for kickback and a riving knife defends against that action.
Features – Makita SP6000
Makita’s plunge-cut saw rivals DeWalt when talking power. At 9.1 pounds, the SP6000 is the lightest of the three saws. Its maximum depth of cut is 2 3/16″ when set at 90º and 1 9/16″ at 45º. This saw is the only tool that has positive stops at both 22 1/2º and at 45º. The maximum angle setting (48º) is the highest of all three saws. The SP6000 is also the only saw that allows a -1º cut.
Another unique feature of the SP6000 is a slide lever that, when engaged, hooks into an undercut groove in a Makita guide rail to keep the saw from tumbling off the rail when set to cut an angle, but only on the Makita track.
Features – DeWalt DWS520
DeWalt’s plunge-cut saw has maximum depth-of-cut potentials of 2 1/8″ at 90º and 1 1/2″ at 45º while on a track, and is the heaviest of the three plunge-cuts saws at 11.2 pounds. This saw’s imperial markings for depth and angle adjustment are easy to read and account for the thickness of the track.
A unique feature found on the DeWalt saw is an anti-kickback catch. Release a knob and a small spring-loaded wheel, located in the center groove of the saw’s base, is thrust against the track preventing backward movement. But this feature only works on the DeWalt track. (On a Festool guide rail, the DeWalt saw’s center groove is not utilized.)
Features – Festool TS55
The TS55 has slightly less power than the other two saws and has maximum on-a-track cut of 11 5/16″ at 90º and 1 7/16″ at 45º. The Festool saw’s depth-stop gauge is adjusted with a simple push, then move and release. However, the company continues to use metric measurements. The TS55 is the easiest of the saws for blade change – lift the FastFix lever (shown in the bottom right photo), plunge the saw until you here a click and you’re set. The arbor locks as you turn the blade to loosen the bolt. Other saws require the use of a second hand to lock the shaft.
Also, the Festool saw is part of a woodworking system and there is an extensive number of accessories available for this tool.
A Total Toss-up
If breaking down sheet goods is a primary function in your shop, a setup with one of these saws is helpful. We found that all three tools made excellent cuts, their features were similar and the prices were in the same ballpark. We think a lot of purchasing decisions will be made based on brand loyalty (all three brands have intense loyalists). However, no matter which brand you choose, we don’t think you’ll be making a bad decision. PW
For a detailed description of each saw, download the attached PDF.
Glen is a former managing editor of this magazine.