On the Right Track

Crosscutting a beveled edge into tabletop with a track saw. The design of these saws make bringing the tool to the work easy, less dangerous and accurate.

Track saws are a favorite among on-site installers and carpenters, for breaking down sheet goods, trimming floors and other operations common on the job. Their portability and accuracy make them a godsend for contractors.

Many woodworkers have a circular saw in their shop and use it for crosscutting, kerfing out large joinery or cuts where the tool needs to be brought to the work. The addition of a track (made at home or with aftermarket accessories like this) makes the circular saw even more valuable in the shop, providing long, straight and accurate cuts.

For most, though, the track saw is seen as a tool outside of furniture making, but my experiences have shown me otherwise. I bought a Festool TS-75 years ago when I was working for Joel at Tools for Working Wood, and the saw makes its way into a ton of my projects. The Festool track saw is the tool I’ve worked with most, but there are many other brands to try and test out, each of which has its pros and cons. Maybe there’s a new tool shootout brewing here….

Here’s the surface left by the track saw. It’s really smooth, even when ripping and crosscutting at the same time. The saw also doesn’t care that the cut depth varied from the 1″ tabletop to the 2-1/4″ cut where the battens and tabletop are joined.

As a perfect example, I broke mine out yesterday to put the final dimensions in my staked worktable, a design from Christopher Schwarz’s Anarchist Design Book. I wanted to cut the tabletop down about 1″ on all sides and put in a bevel that extends from the tabletop and into the battens. This could be done with a large handsaw, but in a few minutes, I had consistent, near-finished surfaces that only needed a pass or two with a handplane.

Here, I’m ripping the long bevel into one side of the table. You can see the simplicity of the layout – I drew a straight line and laid the track on it. You might also see the mess…or lack thereof. With a good vacuum, the small pile of dust is all that’s left to clean up after using my track saw.

What I might like most about the track saw is the simplicity in execution. I drew a line where I wanted to cut, set the bevel angle on the track saw and affixed my track right on the line. After trimming one side, I just moved the track, left the saw set at the correct angle, and make the other three cuts. Unlike many power tools, it isn’t terribly messy (with a good vacuum attached) and can be transported easily, even to the local publisher’s shop around the corner from your house. It’s relatively fool-proof (a good feature for dopes like me) and feels safer and more accurate than trying to flip this assembled kitchen table onto a table saw or free-handing it with a jigsaw or circular saw.

I’m a fan of the “right tool for the right job” approach to woodworking. I have power tools and hand tools, each of which I use when they’re appropriate. The track saw has proven, to me at least, to be the right tool often enough to make it worth having one around. I use it to break down slabs, make accurate cuts on near-finished work, and in place of a table saw frequently – if you’ve got a need for accurate, clean cuts in a portable, hand-held tool, check one out.

A full write-up is coming on the staked worktable I’m building for my kitchen – I’m just putting the paint and finish down this weekend. Stay tuned for a full build post, coming sometime in the next few days.

— Brendan Gaffney

Read our 2009 comparison of track saws.

One thought on “On the Right Track

  1. Capoli

    I have owned a DeWalt track saw for over 10 years, and it is one of the best tool investments I ever made. As a remodeling contractor, is has proved to be the “Swiss Army Saw”. You can’t imagine what the saw has been used for. Whether it is on a jobsite or in the shop, it is the safest way to break down sheet goods, trim &straight-line large slabs, especially when working by yourself. Track saws are also a heck of a lot more portable than a table saw, and the router adapter adds even more versatility. I would encourage everyone to try a track saw.

    Joe

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