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Thread: Track saw or table saw?

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Feb 2005
    Texas Hill Country

    Track saw or table saw?

    In another thread this week, I mentioned my son does hand painted signs. He's had a very good last couple of years. He is in the process of moving from his 1-1/2 car garage/shop to some leased space which he shares with a friend who has an upholstery business. So he is talking about wanting a table saw that he can cut panels (8' x 4') of MDO for signs. He wants the capability to cut 4' rips of sheet stock. He has never been around woodworking equipment. Just recently cut some sheet stock on one of my table saws a Delta contractor's saw. I'm trying to suggest that he'd be better off going with a track saw. I have several reasons for trying to push him in this direction - 1) cost, 2) not permanently taking up shop floor space and 3) SAFETY! This son of mine has grown into a wonderful person. He made a lot of the same mistakes I made growing up with one difference - LUCK! I was always incredibly lucky and his experience has been almost the opposite. So the thought of him buying and using a very serious piece of equipment like a table saw has me petrified. His reasons for wanting a table saw is that he could easily and quickly cut sheet goods down with repeatable and accurate results (eg, boards are square, sides parallel, etc). He doesn't think he wants to spend the time constantly setting up to cut with a track saw.

    I went to his shop today for the first time and having a cabinet saw in there is going to be a problem real quick for them I believe. I also think he may understand that as well. He had some questions about how track saws work and their capabilities and limitations. I have no experience using a track saw. I told him I'd ask you guys and get back to him.

    What I'm suggesting to him is he could use saw horses with a cutting platform on top to cut his sheet goods but then be able to break that down fairly quickly and get it out of the way. He asked if you can use them to cut small pieces like 4" x 12" or smaller? Maybe it would be easier and better if anyone is aware of any good discussions or websites that talk about how a track saw works and it's limitations. ??? I also told him that the track saws are contained and most have dust collection built-in. This really appealed to him as the other person sharing his shop is concerned about sawdust on her upholstery fabric.

    Arguments for and against are appreciated as well as links to other worthwhile and useful sites. Also, how would you guys rate the various manufacturer's track saws?


    PS My son will be 32 this month but as parents do we ever stop worrying about our children?

  2. #2
    I'm sure he will get lots of good advice from tracksaw users (I'm not as I don't work much with sheet goods but if I was I would definitely have one) but suggest you check out Peter Millard's Youtube channel, he uses a tracksaw almost exclusively and has done several videos comparing different brands and showing various jigs and tricks to get repeatable results. He works mainly in sheet goods and works in a small shop. Here's one of his videos
    Last edited by Doug Garson; 12-13-2018 at 12:33 AM.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Jan 2014
    New Jersey
    I would definitely have him get a track saw, especially with him cutting 4x8 sheets.

  4. #4
    Quote Originally Posted by Mike Manning View Post
    ...He asked if you can use them to cut small pieces like 4" x 12" or smaller?...
    No. As good as the track saws are (Festool, anyway) making repeatable cuts that size is the bread & butter of table and radial arm saws. Track and vertical [anel saws are great for breaking down 4' x 8' sheets.
    "Anything seems possible when you don't know what you're doing."

  5. #5
    Ive given up on breaking down full sheet goods on my cabinet saw. Between the hassle of getting 4x8 sheets home in my SUV, into the shop (with basically a single wide door) and onto the saw - the track saw has been a revelation. However, once I get sheets to rough size, I usually finish everything up on the table saw.

    I think with a MFT (or copy cat version) and table mounted track, you can safely cut 4x12 pieces, but youd have to be diligent with your jigs. I think the track saw is no safer than the table saw at this point.

    I have the cordless Makita track saw. I really enjoy using it.

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Apr 2013
    Cedar Park, TX (NW Austin)
    I wonder if a track saw and small bench top table saw would be a great combination. The Makita and Dewalt are great track saws at reasonable price and there are many small table saws to choose that can handle the job. The two save space, are portable and seem to meet his needs. If it is not out of reach financially it solves his dilemma of which tool to get.

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Feb 2004
    Perth, Australia
    Mike, I would suggest a vertical panel saw. This is placed against a wall, where it takes little space. It can do repeated cuts.

    Here is a shop made version:

    Regards from Perth


  8. #8
    Join Date
    Feb 2003
    Griswold Connecticut
    I'm with Derek
    If it's going to be the norm for him to breakdown sheet goods, a panel saw is the way to go.
    I have a Festool TS75 and I also have a set of EZ rails. They're nice for the occasional breakdown of sheet goods, but I wouldn't want to use them to do it on a permanent basis, as my sole method.
    Panel saw, or slider, would get my nod.
    "The first thing you need to know, will likely be the last thing you learn." (Unknown)

  9. #9
    track saw to break down big sheets and a tablesaw to cut smaller pieces. I believe he will have to have both to be efficient
    Be the kind of woman that when your feet hit the ground each morning, the devil says, "oh crap she's up!"

    Tolerance is giving every other human being every right that you claim for yourself.

    "What is man without the beasts? If all the beasts are gone, men would die from great loneliness of spirit. For whatever happens to the beasts will happen to man. All things are connected. " Chief Seattle Duwamish Tribe

  10. #10
    Join Date
    May 2008
    I was in a sign shop recently. They were working with a lot of acrylic, which started as 4x8 sheets. They had a cabinet (table) saw with extensions all around where a 4x8 sheet could lay for pretty much any size of cut and be supported. Looked like it doubled as a work surface.

    Once pieces are broken down, I cannot imagine using a track saw for every little cut.

    But having said that, it sounds like part of your concern is safety - thinking the track saw may be safer. Could be - as long as you dont try doing something with it that it is not well suited for (this is usually what gets me in trouble). This is where surrounding support tables help a lot from a safety standpoint on the table saw. (he simply laid out a 4x8 sheet of 1/2" thk acrylic, set it against the fence, and pushed it through. Very controlled, effortless and pretty safe imo. If he doesnt have the space for the supporting tables all around, I would suggest a table saw then becomes the least safe method.

    And cost - by all means buy one of each (panel, track, table saw), but it sounds like this might not be the most practical in this case and staying within a budget could make some sense. A miter saw, combined with a panel saw, might make a good combo. Saves space and the miter saw can be used on smaller pieces. But not an inexpensive solution.

    What is the priority?

    Quality of cut?

    Probably some tradeoffs here, which you will have to judge.
    Last edited by Carl Beckett; 12-13-2018 at 8:28 AM.

  11. #11
    Join Date
    Jul 2016
    Lebanon, TN
    If space is limited, my choices would be a table top tablesaw and a track saw.

    With sheet goods, my first cut is nearly always using a track saw with my sheet lying on top of a sheet of 2" solid foam insulation board. There are several aftermarket attachments for track saw tracks that help you make repeatable and 90 degree cuts.

    I built a 20' store counter out of cherry veneered plywood and trimmed it with Walnut, using these two tools, in the store onsite.

  12. #12
    Sounds to me like a track saw will do the job. I looked hard at DeWalt and Festool and went with the Festool, partly because of their dust extractor. Festool also has options for crosscutting with the multipurpose table.

    A table saw gives you other capabilities like dados, ripping solid wood, accurate xcutting with a sled, making repeatable, accurate cuts, etc. This may not be a priority with the work he is doing.

    So my advice is get a tracksaw first, a table saw later if the need arises, and get a SawStop since you're concerned about safety..

  13. #13
    Join Date
    Sep 2006
    Deep South
    I carve small signs in wood and sheet PVC on my CNC router pretty often. I have and use both a track saw and a table saw. I would not want to do without either one but if I had to, I would give up the track saw first.

  14. #14
    Join Date
    Feb 2005
    Texas Hill Country
    Thanks guys. A lot of good comments. I will talk to him about it and share the collective thoughts. I am not sure he really has enough space to have a TS in there with the supporting tables around it to handle sheet goods considering that it's shared space. Ultimately though, it is his decision, his money, his safety.

  15. #15
    One more thing to think about - Dust collection. He's a sign painter. The last thing he needs is a room full of dust fouling his finishes. If he goes with a table saw, he needs to either close off the cutting section from the painting section or install a top shelf dust collection system on it. Barring a real panel saw, a track saw with a proper dust collector (I can only speak to my Festool vac, and it's GOOD), would solve a lot of these problems and really keep the space issue to a minimum. For the small pieces, a decent jobsite saw that could be wheeled outside to keep the dust down would be good too.

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