Track saws offer accurate cuts
New saws offer accurate cuts in a versatile, portable package
You may not have noticed yet, but there’s an up-and-coming tool category that I expect will improve DIY options across the board. Generically called track-guided saws, these light, simple power tools are changing the way sheet goods are cut. Whether you’re building furniture, completing home renovations, making a garden shed or sheeting a roof, you need to consider these tools.
The tool is really a simple concept: a metal track guides a handheld circular saw across stationary sheet goods. Currently, there are three brand names in the game–DeWalt, Festool and Makita–but other brands are likely to show up soon.
Instead of wrestling massive sheets of plywood and melamine across a tablesaw to make cuts, track-guided saws use a metal track to regulate the travel of a specially designed, plunge-style, circular saw. The wood stays still and the saw moves. It sounds like a recipe for crude results, but it isn’t. In fact, accuracy is phenomenal. The saws create very precise cuts that are also extraordinarily smooth on both the underside face of the sheet and the top. The clean cut is an accomplishment that even most high-end, single-blade cabinet saws struggle to match, although track-guided saws do it easily, thanks to a very simple detail.
Along the edges of all three brands of guide tracks, you’ll find a rigid rubber lip. This lip extends out beyond the saw blade when the track is new, and is trimmed flush with the blade on the first cut. This arrangement positions the edge of the rubber at precisely the right place to support the top edge of the cut, just where the saw blade breaks through the wood and where splintering normally happens. The rubber is stiff enough that it prevents damage to even the most fragile hardwood-veneered plywood and melamine. Results from the track-guided saws I’ve used are every bit as smooth as the best cuts produced with a fine blade on my stationary cabinet saw. The rubber lip design also offers another advantage too.
Since the lip aligns perfectly with the edge of the saw blade, the lip acts as a precise visual guide for aligning the cut. There’s no need to add or subtract some obscure allowance for the width of the saw’s baseplate (as you would when using a 2×4 as a saw guide), so setting up a track-guided rig is fast and accurate. Wherever the rubber lands is exactly where your cut occurs. The bottom face of each of the tracks I’ve been using also has high-friction surfaces that prevent it from sliding around.
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