SaltWire E-Edition

Portable, precise cutting for renovations, etc.

STEVE MAXWELL @Maxwells_Tips

If you’re interested in home remodelling, repairs and woodworking, there's a lesser known tool that combines the accuracy of a table saw with the flexibility of a handheld circular saw. Generically called track saws, this innovative game changer offers new possibilities. I’ve used track saws since they first came out, and for certain jobs you'll wonder how you managed without one.


While track saws can cut solid wood like 2x6s and 2x8s, their main advantage is when working with sheet materials like plywood, particleboard, melamine and OSB. Track saws are also ideal for trimming doors to length without splintered edges. Unparalleled precision and ability to produce splinter free cuts exactly where you need them on both top and bottom surfaces of a work piece at the same time is exactly where track saws shine. Here’s how they work:

Clamp the aluminum track saw guide rail to your work piece, place the special handheld circular saw on the track, then pull the trigger and make your cut as you push the saw forward. You’ll get a perfectly smooth cut every time, but there’s something else, too.

Let’s say you want to make an angled cut on a piece of 3/4" plywood? With a track saw on hand, it becomes easy. Just position the aluminum track precisely where you want to make the cut, clamp it in place at your desired angle and securely fasten it to the wood using clamps. All track saws have a replaceable rubberlike strip located on one edge of the track. It supports the wood surface right next to the blade on the top of the cut, and this is a big reason for the splinter-free edges. Even materials that are notoriously difficult to cut cleanly, such as melamine coated MDF, consistently yield flawless results, but there’s something else the rubber-like strip does, too.

One thing to understand about this strip is that it comes wider than it needs to be on all new tracks, and the first cut with a new track means this rubber gets trimmed by the blade. This seemingly insignificant fact is actually quite important. It means that the working edge of the rubber strip is exactly where the blade will cut when the track is placed on the wood again, eliminating possible errors. Simply plunk the track down on your work piece, line up the edge of the rubber with your cut mark, then clamp the track down and use the saw.

Track saws are not yet made by all tool companies, but choices include brands such as DEWALT, Festool, Milwaukee and others. As track saws become more popular and widely used, more affordable alternatives will probably appear for sale.

While it is true that table saws generally offer faster parallel cuts by setting the fence once for repeated cuts, track saws shine when portability and versatility are advantages.

Unlike traditional table saws (even small ones), track saws are more compact and lightweight. Being able to easily have precision cutting capabilities in a range of locations is a huge benefit.

Are there any drawbacks to track saws? Yes. They’re pretty expensive as tools like this go, and this is the main complaint about them. At about $1000 for the least expensive decent track saw with track, that’s about the same price as a good bench top table saw with stand. This leads to a common objection.

“Can’t I just clamp a straight edge to some plywood and run my regular hand-held circular saw alongside?”

While this will create a straight cut (or at least as straight as your straight edge), you’ll never get truly smooth and splinter-free results no matter what kind of blade you use.

That humble rubber strip is the reason why, as more and more people are discovering.





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