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What is a Track Saw

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Common saws sporting a rotary blade are the table saw and circular saw, but have you ever used a track saw? This specialty saw bridges the gap between the two and in many cases even surpasses them. You could say a track saw is a portable table saw.

The track saw is also called a plunge saw or a plunge-cut saw. This is due to one of its main benefits, the ability to start a cut in the middle of a sheet, also known as a plunge-cut.

In our track saw reviews, we’ve identified that they are an essential tool for a woodworker.

A track saw can cut:

  • Wood
  • Plywood
  • Particle board
  • Hardboard
  • MDF
  • OSB
  • Other flat medium-hardness materials

Basic Structure of a Track Saw

The construction of a track saw looks very similar to a high powered circular saw. There is a rotary blade attached by a bolt or clamp to the motor housing, a handle, and a plate to keep it level on the cutting surface.

A close up image of a track saw

The main difference is that a long aluminum guide track (or rail) is attached as well, giving you a straight guide to cut precisely across long sheets of material.

Other differences between the construction of a track saw and a circular saw:

  • Track saws generally use smaller blades.
  • The blade of a track saw is less exposed.
  • Track saws have a hood that encloses most of the blade, acting as a dust shield. With certain models, you can connect this directly to a shop vac, preventing any dust from escaping into the workspace.
  • A track saw is normally lighter than a circular saw

How to Use a Track Saw

Similar to a circular saw, a track saw should be used on flat materials. Whatever you are cutting should be at least 1/8″ and properly braced so it is not flexing.

Lay the rail across the material you are cutting, lined up in exactly the path where you want the cut to be. Test to make sure the rail will not slip. The base of the rail should have a tacky enough finish that it will not slip on the material you are cutting, but if it does, clamp it down.

When the track saw is engaged, it will ride on the rail. Be sure not to cut so quickly that it burns the wood or moves the rail out of position.

Benefits of a Track Saw

Is it worth it to purchase a track saw when you already have a circular saw and/or table saw? Here are benefits of a track saw over either, or both, a circular saw or a table saw.

A table saw

Accuracy

One of the most impressive features of the track saw is the accuracy of the cuts it can produce. The inclusion of a guide rail takes away any guesswork. The straightness of a cut from a circular saw, on the other hand, is dependent on the skill of the person doing the cutting.

A table saw can create very accurate cuts, but they are often too bulky to carry between job sites. In addition, carrying large sheets of wood into your workspace can be difficult and annoying.

Versatility

Track saws can duplicate, or even improve on, the actions of multiple tools. As discussed, it can perform many of the jobs that a table or circular saw can do. If it includes a bevel angle setting it is an excellent portable replacement for a miter saw on large sheets.

Accurate vertical cuts can be performed by a track saw. This is often difficult with a circular saw because of the angle, and is impossible with a table saw.

It is easy to cut down large sheets of material that can then be moved into the workspace for finer detail from a table saw.

Portability

The light weight of a track saw, and the fact that the guide is removable, makes it an excellent candidate to move from site to site in situations where a table saw would normally be used. In addition, the blade guards have a lower profile that the standard circular saw, which allows a track saw to cut closer to a wall.

Track Saw Drawbacks

While the track saw is useful in many situations, there are some drawbacks.

  • A track saw shouldn’t be used to cut pieces of wood that are less than 1/8” in thickness.
  • The surface of the material to be cut needs to be flat with no irregular bends or warping.
  • The material needs to be stiff and strong enough to support the saw.
  • The length of the track can get in the way in a tight workspace.
A circular saw emitting saw dust after cutting wood

Differences in Use Between a Track Saw and a Circular Saw

Cutting Method

A circular saw provides a much better view of the material being cut. There are times when an experienced craftsman will feel more comfortable cutting along the line of site than following a guided rail.

Some times where this might be important are when following specific marking patterns or when cutting materials with flaws.

Circular saws tend to send a lot more dust in the air. Track saws generally have a hooded blade with a built-in dust collector.

In special circumstances, a circular saw is more portable than a track saw. A circular saw is only one piece of equipment that you might have to carry up a ladder, whereas a track saw also has a rail to account for. While the rails are lightweight, the length can be cumbersome.

Differences in Use Between a Track Saw and a Table Saw

  • A track saw is more portable.
  • Table saws are more powerful.
  • Table saws are better when cutting a large amount of material at once.
  • A track saw takes longer to set up since you need to position the track.
  • A table saw can be better when making repetitive cuts since you only need to set it once.
  • Table saws require more space.
  • Special jigs and mounts can be set up with a table saw.

Features to Look For When Buying a Track Saw

Not all track saws are created equal. There are some basic features to check for, and others that may benefit your personal use.

Strong Motor

Generally, the lower priced track saws have motors that do not generate enough power to properly cut harder materials. This will also make your blades wear out faster. 9-10 amps seems to be the sweet spot for price to performance ratio.

A track saw on a workbench

High Speed

The strength of the motor generally gives you an indication of how fast the blade can turn, but different models may be able to use the motor power more efficiently. Most quality track saws run around 2,000 RPM, much less than that will create catches and tearing in harder wood.

Also look for models with variable speeds, they can come in handy when cutting softer materials.

Rail Length

Something important to consider is the length of the rail that comes with the track saw. Consider what you will be cutting, as well as the size of your workspace and storage areas.

Bevel Angles

A handy addition to a track saw is the addition of a bevel track. This will give you the ability to cut materials on an angle like a miter saw or table saw, handy for moulding or compound cuts.

Depth Settings

Since the track saw is primarily a plunge saw, the possibility to cut at a certain depth may come in handy. Different settings will allow you to perform shallow cuts for inserts. Check to see that the track saw the depth settings are specific enough for your project.

Conclusion

A track saw is not only a handy addition to a woodworker or carpenter’s arsenal of tools, but can also be a “do it all” tool for someone who doesn’t have the space or budget to buy a table saw or a circular saw.

While specific jobs may be better performed by these other saws, a track saw’s versatility and portability might put it at the top of recommended tools for a lot of people.

An expert at home repair, remodel, and DIY projects for nearly 40 years. His first experience came in completely restoring an antique home. Completely redone from the inside out, and restored to its original form, the home is a featured design by renowned Southern California Architect Cliff May, considered to be the father of the California Ranch Home. Now Dennis spends his time on fine woodworking projects and tool comparisons.