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O/Tool discovery: the track saw

Straightedge

Hot Rolled
Joined
Mar 17, 2009
Location
Germany/California
Woodworking isn't a passion for me and I assume it's a chore for a lot of other gents around PM, too. A couple years ago, a retired machinist friend of mine had been doing a big home-renovation project involving lots of plywood and brought my attention to his track saw. It seemed like a good idea, but I wasn't in the mood to spend the better part of $1k buying a tool that essentially did the same task as the table saw I already had.

Fast forward to this week. I needed to cut about 100 sheets of plywood and since this was an extra-curricular project for SWMBO, I didn't have help. Moving 100 sheets to the table saw would have been a PITA I didn't need, so I decided to spring for the Makita SP6000J, some lengths of track, and track clamps.

Bottom line: If you're working with sheet goods, you can cut wood to metalworking tolerances with the track saw. It's absolutely amazing. The cut quality is better than my Unisaw with a new finish blade, the cuts are straight and square, you can easily make tiny adjustments, there is zero tear-out, and the whole kit takes up zero floor space when you're not using it. You're taking the saw to the wood instead of vice versa, so there's way less heavy lifting when you're working alone. Yes, there are things you can do with a table saw you can't easily do with this tool, but if I had to choose, I'd keep the track saw and sell the table saw.

No, I don't work for Makita or Festool or have any interest in either. Just saying, if you've made some money this year and need another little write-off, this tool did what I thought impossible: making working with sheet kinda fun.
 

mike44

Aluminum
Joined
Mar 21, 2020
I was asked to build a number of display boxes on casters from oak plywood. I needed to crosscut 63 sheets to various widths. A panel saw would be the tool I need for this. I went to the local box store and looked at their Milwaukee track saw.
I then bought Stanley sliding door hardware and 10 1-1/2" casters.
I made a frame from wood, bolted the door slides to the frame and the casters to the frame bottom for plywood to roll on.
I installed a Porter cable circular saw on a piece of plywood that slides vertically on the door hardware.
I set up the saw and a vacuum on a switch that operated both together.
In use the plywood slides on the casters and a spring clamp keeps the plywood at the intended saw cut.
This took about 8 hours to complete and it saved me many days of work. I did not turn the saw for rip cuts because i have a cabinet saw for that.
I kept the panel saw for 10+ years. I sold it without the saw and vacuum for $150.00 to a cabinet shop.
mike
 

steve-l

Titanium
Joined
Mar 2, 2012
Location
Geilenkirchen, Germany
I looked this tool up on the Makita website and the track is only 1400 mm long. Very often cuts are required in excess of 2500 mm. Can these tracks be plugged to together or do you buy longer tracks. This was not clear on the website. Makita also showed a track clamp that allows setting the track at a relative angle, but it appears to NOT be included in the kit nor it it identified by separate part number. Please clarify.
 

Trboatworks

Diamond
Joined
Oct 23, 2010
Location
Maryland- USA
I have been reluctant to pick up a track saw but curious- is there a system in the track rails to get square panels cut?
Some sort of T square arrangement or the like?
I was just at a cabinet shop closing sale and am currently more interested in a slider like the Martin this shop had.
It is just a big footprint saw.
 

kb0thn

Stainless
Joined
May 15, 2008
Location
Winona, MN, USA
I have a panel saw. But moving the sheets to the saw or the saw to the sheet location wasn't going to work out. I wasn't in the mood to spend $1k for a good track saw, either. So I bought one of these:
https://www.menards.com/main/tools/...277164163.htm?tid=-7678147972466907372&ipos=8

It's wholly adequate. No doubt, it is junk compared to the Fein. But the wife and I have used it a bunch and it does as good of job or better than the panel saw. Slower to setup for a cut, but easier to cut to a line.

Just a data point.
 

Piek

Cast Iron
Joined
Dec 27, 2006
Location
the Netherlands
I have had my festool track saw for years. Makita and festool tracks are interchangeable. Various lengths exist and can be coupled. The festool is often sold here in a set with two tracks of 1400 mm.(usually around the 500€ mark) 2,5 and 3 meter versions exist as well. Festool does make a both a square and parallel cutting arrangement. I have no experience with them.
 

Straightedge

Hot Rolled
Joined
Mar 17, 2009
Location
Germany/California
I looked this tool up on the Makita website and the track is only 1400 mm long. Very often cuts are required in excess of 2500 mm. Can these tracks be plugged to together or do you buy longer tracks. This was not clear on the website. Makita also showed a track clamp that allows setting the track at a relative angle, but it appears to NOT be included in the kit nor it it identified by separate part number. Please clarify.

While you can find some kits with the saw and various lengths of track online, I ended up buying the pieces separately. The most common track length is 1400 mm (55"), but they also offer a rail (Makita p/n 194367-7) that's 3000 mm (118"). By the nature of the saw, the track needs to be somewhat longer than the piece you're cutting in order to keep everything aligned. If you're cutting 1250 mm x 2500 mm or 4' x 8' plywood the long way, you'll want the 3000 mm/118" track.

You can buy shorter pieces of track and connect them with "connector kits," but the design does not inherently guarantee that the rails will be aligned when you connect them. Any machine shop, however, has a piece of dead-straight material that can be used to align the rails before tightening the connectors, and then the connection will be straight.
 

Straightedge

Hot Rolled
Joined
Mar 17, 2009
Location
Germany/California
I have been reluctant to pick up a track saw but curious- is there a system in the track rails to get square panels cut?
Some sort of T square arrangement or the like?
I was just at a cabinet shop closing sale and am currently more interested in a slider like the Martin this shop had.
It is just a big footprint saw.

There's no system built into the track that makes things square. I just used a big accurate square, made two thin pencil marks, and then placed the track's rubber edge to split the lines. That rubber edge, btw, is the trick: you cut the edge with the saw, so that edge demarks the exact location the saw will cut. Also, that rubber edge is what keeps the top fibers from tearing out. This is what makes the tool so congenial to machinists who often have had that dissatisfied feeling when working with plywood: With the track saw, the cut ends up right where the rubber edge was, it's as straight as the track, and you get nice surface finish.

When you're done, the saw is in its case on a shelf, the tracks are hanging on the wall, and nothing is taking up any floor space. If you're not working with wood often, this is a big plus. A table saw outfitted with a proper outfeed and enough room nearby to use it comfortably eats a lot of square footage in a shop. For guys who work with wood professionally, that's a non-concern and I suppose there are better tools out there than this for them. This is a tool that was off my radar and after my experience of using it for a week, I thought it'd be good to bring it to the attention of other PMers.
 

steve-l

Titanium
Joined
Mar 2, 2012
Location
Geilenkirchen, Germany
There's no system built into the track that makes things square. I just used a big accurate square, made two thin pencil marks, and then placed the track's rubber edge to split the lines. That rubber edge, btw, is the trick: you cut the edge with the saw, so that edge demarks the exact location the saw will cut. Also, that rubber edge is what keeps the top fibers from tearing out. This is what makes the tool so congenial to machinists who often have had that dissatisfied feeling when working with plywood: With the track saw, the cut ends up right where the rubber edge was, it's as straight as the track, and you get nice surface finish.

When you're done, the saw is in its case on a shelf, the tracks are hanging on the wall, and nothing is taking up any floor space. If you're not working with wood often, this is a big plus. A table saw outfitted with a proper outfeed and enough room nearby to use it comfortably eats a lot of square footage in a shop. For guys who work with wood professionally, that's a non-concern and I suppose there are better tools out there than this for them. This is a tool that was off my radar and after my experience of using it for a week, I thought it'd be good to bring it to the attention of other PMers.

My interests are similar to yours and I, like you, have no space to waste. I cut all my wood outside, as I don't want the saw dust in the machine shop. I also like the idea it has adjustable speed so I can cot aluminum sheet, which I occasionally have to do. What blade would be the best for alu sheet?
 

Pete Deal

Stainless
Joined
Apr 10, 2007
Location
Morgantown, WV
There is a pretty simple way to get much of the advantage of the track saw concept for cheap. Start with a 12” or so wide strip of plywood. However long you want your guide to be. Fasten a piece of thin material to one side. I used some thin edge jointed maple. 1/4” thick alu would work well. This strip becomes a guide for the edge of a standard circular saw. Then run the circular saw down the guide to trim the plywood base. Now to use it just lay the assembly on the sheet to be cut. Line the jig up with your cut marks and cut. Been using it for years.
 

GregSY

Diamond
Joined
Jan 1, 2005
Location
Houston
Well, OK....but your discovery is hardly that tough to believe.

Why? Because you had 100 sheets to cut. That's a shitload of wood.

The real question is "Is a track saw worth it for the guy who cuts 5 sheet, or less, per year?" Because that's where most people on this site will fall.
 

Scruffy887

Titanium
Joined
Dec 17, 2012
Location
Se Ma USA
The Festool system also has their own work tables, and parts to extend those tables. The track gets connected to a hinge on a squaring fence and flips up out of the way to put stock under it. When flipped down a pin across from the squaring fence holds the un hinged end square. I used this system to install my laminate flooring. Lot of simple square cuts, lot of complex cuts.

For 100 sheets of plywood I go to my Holzma beam saw and cut full book if needed. Full book is 5 sheets at a time in a stack. 18" blade just cuts them all at once. Load the sheets on the rear loader with a forklift, push the button and things happen pretty quickly. Two of my guys once did a trailer load in a morning.
 

boslab

Titanium
Joined
Jan 6, 2007
Location
wales.uk
I tried diy but found too much end float on a conventional circular saw, there isn’t on a festool, so I bought one, haven’t regretted it, thier router is good also, but pricey
Mark
 

PeteM

Diamond
Joined
Jan 15, 2002
Location
West Coast, USA
. . .

The real question is "Is a track saw worth it for the guy who cuts 5 sheet, or less, per year?" Because that's where most people on this site will fall.

I've had a dedicated track-mounted saw, plus a router, for near 20 years. Cost $100+ for the two, not counting the spare saw & spare router which I already had. Tracks (one over 8' and the other over 4') are sturdy "L" aluminum angles. For the saw, the track is mounted on a bit of phenolic-faced plywood so it can be aligned right on the cut line.

The saw and router mounts have bearings to keep them sliding smoothly but accurately along the track. Previously had a panel saw, but couldn't justify the space for the relatively little I used it. This approach is even easier, 20 years later, to take a sheet of plywood off a car or truck rack, put it on a saw horse, clamp the track, and make whatever cuts are needed.
 

henrya

Titanium
Joined
Jun 25, 2008
Location
TN
Lots of folks, myself included, have had a long straightedge to use as a saw guide for decades. I can see how this is a vast improvement. Probably going to buy one.

I’ve wondered about these since they came out. Maybe now is the time.
 
Last edited:

Straightedge

Hot Rolled
Joined
Mar 17, 2009
Location
Germany/California
Well, OK....but your discovery is hardly that tough to believe.

Why? Because you had 100 sheets to cut. That's a shitload of wood.

The real question is "Is a track saw worth it for the guy who cuts 5 sheet, or less, per year?" Because that's where most people on this site will fall.

Is it OK to say, "It depends..."??

If you have back problems, or can't pick up a sheet of 1" Baltic birch yourself, it's worth it. If you're concerned about cut quality, are making things out of sheet that people will see and judge, it could be. This is particularly true if you're using architectural plywood with a high-quality top veneer surface like I was in this project for swmbo. If you have sheets butting up against each other, they fit line-to-line and the visual effect is pretty impressive. On the other hand, if you're just using sheet to build shipping crates, I wouldn't spend the money. Now that I have this tool, though, the next time I build a crate, I'm going to use it :) It's easier to set up different cut widths than adjusting the fence on the table saw and you never have to worry about the fence being parallel with the blade.

Like most of you, I spend a lot of money on nice tools as part of the business. Usually, they do just what's advertised and I'm basically satisfied. This tool has surprised me by outperforming my expectations drastically, hence my gushing over it. It feels like a machinist's tool and delivers the kind of cut quality that you'd be happy seeing off your vmc. Maybe I'm easily impressed, but I've never had a project involving plywood turn out this nicely before. Get one, and if you're not impressed, let 'em know it didn't meet your expectations and return it. Easy.
 

mike44

Aluminum
Joined
Mar 21, 2020
I have used the same straight edge as you since 1962. Inthe field this is the best way to rip sheets of plywood. Another carpenter said i am too slow, he snapped a chalk line and claimed he was faster.
We both had to make rips for cloumn form work. We bet on who was faster. We had 4 columns each of the same dimensions. This meant 12 sheets had to be ripped. The bet was paycheck for paycheck.
When I was done, and the sheets were straight , he was on his seventh sheet that was [email protected]#$%^ up , not one edge was straight.
Pay day comes, he cashes his check and hands me an envelope. I took $50.00 out and handed him the rest back. Just wanted to teach him a lesson not take his whole paycheck. Best thing was he made an used a straight edge after that.
mike
 

car2

Stainless
Joined
Sep 19, 2009
Location
Apex, NC
Track saws are great if you don't have a panel saw, or a cramped shop. I've built whole cabinet carcases with them, and even when cutting plywood on the tablesaw, I always break down the panels with the track saw. Cuts are about as good and accurate as the tablesaw (unless you have a fancy high-end huge panel-saw). I have two outdoor "picnic bench" type workbenches, pickup tailgate height, and when I buy plywood, I pick a non-rainy day, preplan the cuts, and pull the sheets directly off the truck onto the tables and break them down with the track saw (the edges don't need re-cutting). I have an older festool, but also home-made ones that works fine also (a 9' long, and 4' with t-square edge): take a piece of 1/4 tempered masonite, about 12" wide, screw and glue it to a straight piece of 3/4 plywood about 4-6" wide (this is the "guide" edge), take a dedicated regular circular saw with your favorite plywood blade, and run it against the plywood guide edge, cutting the masonite shoe, and you have an effective "track". Use the same saw on the guide all the time, the blade is always flush with the masonite.
 

country_boy

Aluminum
Joined
Nov 22, 2004
Location
Alabama/Georgia
Well, OK....but your discovery is hardly that tough to believe.

Why? Because you had 100 sheets to cut. That's a shitload of wood.

The real question is "Is a track saw worth it for the guy who cuts 5 sheet, or less, per year?" Because that's where most people on this site will fall.

Let me try to answer that. I bought the track saw for a hundred sheet job also. After the project was over I could have recouped part of the cost ( festool saw plus the 9’ guide). Not only did I choose not to, when my guide rail was lost ( I let some guys use to to cut FRP), I spent $300 on a new one.

My only regret is buying the smaller saw which was overloaded when cutting 2 sheets of 3/4 birch at the same time. Overload means rpms drop and cut speed is 80% less until saw cools off.

Track is 90% of it, but the anti splinter edge and zero clearance insert can improve edge quality when this is important.

Certainly a homemade guide works, and I’ve cut probally a hundred sheets with one, but thefestoolis fast, the guide doesn’t need to be clamped, it makes great plunge cuts, and the depth is easy to set ( I often break down plywood on top of a sheet of XPS)

The festool, at least, does not replace a conventional skillsaw for conventional skilsaw work.
 

EPAIII

Diamond
Joined
Nov 23, 2003
Location
Beaumont, TX, USA
I wouldn't be surprised if someone made a square for track saws, but I just made my own. I used an inexpensive steel square - one of those 18" x 24" jobs. Screwed some oak 1x2s to the two arms, one on each side. And adjusted for best square as I tightened them. The accuracy is in the assembly, not in the inexpensive steel square.

It works perfectly against the rear edge of the track.

As for footprint, the track saw takes up very little space. And on a nice day I can easily take it outside and enjoy the weather as I work. I have a pair of folding saw horses that are easy to set up in the drive.



I have been reluctant to pick up a track saw but curious- is there a system in the track rails to get square panels cut?
Some sort of T square arrangement or the like?
I was just at a cabinet shop closing sale and am currently more interested in a slider like the Martin this shop had.
It is just a big footprint saw.
 








 
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