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Thread: Homemade track versus buying a track saw

  1. #1
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    Homemade track versus buying a track saw

    I知 starting a large vanity and will be cutting a number of sheets of pre-finished plywood down for the interior.
    I知 okay with buying a track saw but I知 happy with my circular saw and I can easily and cheaply make a track for my circular saw to cut the panels square and fine tune (if needed) on my table saw.
    I知 just trying to understand what advantage buying a track saw would be. The saws that go with them appear to be lower powered saws (I知 sure they池e adequate for the purpose).

    I知 interested in those with experience either way what if any advantage the track saw has.

  2. #2
    Eric,

    My track saw is a DeWalt, my "good" circular saw is a Milwaukee (although my battery powered Skil is pretty nice too). I think the Milwaukee draws a couple more amps maximum than the DeWalt but the only time I found the DeWalt short on power was a deep rip with the stock 48 tooth blade. A ripping blade solved the issue entirely. But track saw amp ratings vary from about 9 amps to 12, which is what my DeWalt is rated. The maximum depth of cut is also less at 2 inches for my DeWalt. I think the motor is adequate to do that in hardwood but only with a ripping blade. I don't think I've used it in hardwood over 1 inch thick. But if you think you may need circular saw like power, you may want to stay away from the 9 amp saws (I think both the smaller Festool and the Wen are about 9 amps).

    I used a circular saw with a home made guide to make break down cuts on sheet goods for literally decades. Sometimes my saw wandered away from the guide messing up the "waste" side of the material. That doesn't happen with a track saw because the saw is trapped, it must follow the rib of the track unless you lift it off the track. A track saw is not nearly as dependant on the skill of the operator, it cuts where the track is put. I think that is it's main advantage.

    The other advantages are due to the way you can buy or make jigs for the track positioning. Parallel guides attach to the track so you can make repeated cuts without measuring. I use rail dogs in an outfeed/assembly table with holes to make extremely accurate crosscuts up to about 30 inches. I have a movable stop so I can also make duplicate pieces. Inherent in this usage is another advantage. Track saw cuts are smooth like a table saw and as accurate as a table saw so there is no need for finishing the cut there. I'm sitting in front of a 7 foot long base cabinet I made almost totally with cuts using my DeWalt track saw. Even the shallow dados were made with the track guiding a router. The deeper rabbets were made with repeated cuts of the track saw. I deliberately did not use my PCS except to rip strips of solid wood to cover the plywood edges. I did use the PCS to make the doors but I made the drawers using the track saw.

    I think the advantages boil down to accuracy and consistency. But I would also caution you that to get the most out of a track saw requires some different ways of working that I was used to. A very simple think I learned early is the width of my pencil lines was inhibiting my accuracy. I needed to switch to a 0.5mm pencil and be careful to use a square to draw a straight line. Even better is to use a jig to position the track so you can use a stop. That sort of thing. But even if you just cut to pencil marks you can make finished pieces. And if you choose to just break down the material you will do it quicker with less waste and less stress.

  3. #3
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    At the most basic level, there is no difference; it's a saw riding on a straight edge. Using a shopmade fence, you can make every cut a track saw can make. With that said, there are some differences that may or may not matter to you.

    -A track saw is typically faster to set up a cut, if for no other reason than clamping isn't always necessary.

    -The tracks are (usually) perfectly straight. Shop made fences are only as good as the person who made it.

    -The plunge cut allows the saw to sit on a flat surface when not in use, whether it's resting on the track or sitting on a bench, it's inherently more stable in its resting state. It's also somewhat safer in that the blade is never exposed unless it's being used.

    -A riving knife is nice to have when straight-lining hardwood

    -Plunging allows you to start your cut in the middle of a workpiece without being off the track. A circular saw starts off with its butt in the air for such a cut.

    -The tracks can be infinitely connected to make longer tracks. Shop made fences are usually a single length, so you need to make one for ripping sheets and another for cross cutting.

    -Running miters are easier with a Makita track saw because the base plate locks into the track

    Those are the differences that immediately come to mind. I'm sure there are others.

    I will also add that Tenryu is now making track saw blades. I put one on my Makita (48T) and I no longer feel like it's under-powered. It used to bog down cutting through 4/4 white oak, now it glides through like a 12T ripping blade, but still leaves a perfect edge. Highly recommended.

  4. #4
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    Adding to the previous list, dedicated track saws have the saw indexed to the track so you can't move it laterally during the cut. A home-made solution normally is just a guide that will allow you to come off the line if you are not very careful.
    --

    The most expensive tool is the one you buy "cheaply" and often...

  5. #5
    Homemade guides can work, the not ones the the base simply butts up to, not as well. As Jim mentioned it really has to capture the base with slot and runner or similar.

    There are many DIY track saw versions that employ a way to capture the base.

    Other than sheet goods, a track saw excels at ripping a straight edge in a board.

  6. #6
    All I'll add is that track saws with an anti chipout feature provide a much cleaner cut edge than that of a typical circular saw.

  7. #7
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    Straight approach

    Quote Originally Posted by Eric Arnsdorff View Post
    I’m starting a large vanity and will be cutting a number of sheets of pre-finished plywood down for the interior.
    I’m okay with buying a track saw but I’m happy with my circular saw and I can easily and cheaply make a track for my circular saw to cut the panels square and fine tune (if needed) on my table saw.
    I’m just trying to understand what advantage buying a track saw would be. The saws that go with them appear to be lower powered saws (I’m sure they’re adequate for the purpose).

    I’m interested in those with experience either way what if any advantage the track saw has.
    I have a heavy duty 2-inch L-shaped aluminum bar I use to guide my power saw. I have that guide for 30 years and it is yet plenty straight despite some abuse. I use it to saw panels as it is more convenient that my table saw. I use a couple of 2-in f-clamps to maintain it at place. It demand I offset the guide accordingly but I do not see it as an important inconvenience as I do not use it sufficiently to justify to make a dedicated guide to avoid a such offset. I used it with my previous Bosch and DeWalt power saws and currently I use it with my Makita one. Works great.

    The reason usually dedicated track saws are less powerful is their application: to cut panels, usually 3/4 inch thick, a few times slightly bigger than 1 inch. They do not require the same power than a regular power saw designed primary to work with 2-by-something (and sometimes thicker) wood.

    Even today track saws are common at an affordable price even where I live, I have no intention to go off from the way I had used to cut panels for all those years. Its higher convenience did not pay for me its demand of space to store as well price. Thanks, not for me at my current frequency of use.
    Last edited by Osvaldo Cristo; 09-26-2020 at 6:38 PM. Reason: Typo as usual
    All the best.

    Osvaldo.

  8. #8
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    Osvaldo I had the same offset problem with my guide rail. I took a piece of wood and ripped it to the exact offset, about 7cm for my saw, I made two pieces of wood. I lay them on the line then butt the guide to the wood which automatically sets the offset for me before I clamp it down. I admit I have forgotten and used the wood for other jobs and have had to make new ones from time to time. Thinner is better for visibility.
    Bil lD.

  9. #9
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    Should be easy enough to make a saw sled with runners on the bottom to straddle the guide rail. You lose a little bit of cutting depth. Basically a double runner tablesaw sled used upside down. I do not think they make a commercial track saw for a router. My idea could easily guide a router or jig saw.
    For track saw users how critical is alignment of the blade to the rail? tablesaws get kickback and burning real easy if it is off.
    Bill D

  10. #10
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    Actually I use rectangular wood blocks to setup the rail. One of their dimensions is the distance between the blade and the left side of the saw base plate and the other dimension is the same from right side. Just to speedup the guide setup. Works fine.

    Quote Originally Posted by Bill Dufour View Post
    Osvaldo I had the same offset problem with my guide rail. I took a piece of wood and ripped it to the exact offset, about 7cm for my saw, I made two pieces of wood. I lay them on the line then butt the guide to the wood which automatically sets the offset for me before I clamp it down. I admit I have forgotten and used the wood for other jobs and have had to make new ones from time to time. Thinner is better for visibility.
    Bil lD.
    All the best.

    Osvaldo.

  11. #11
    Before I'd ever heard of a tracksaw, I used a shop built masonite track and a cheap circular saw. I'd put my results with that setup up against my Festool saws any day. The only thing I really gained was a bit of convenience. Mind you, I had a Format saw to make the track. I wouldn't choose buying a tracksaw if my tool collection was wanting in other areas. $600 in clamps or finishing equipment has yielded me a greater ROI than that tracksaw ever could.

  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Becker View Post
    Adding to the previous list, dedicated track saws have the saw indexed to the track so you can't move it laterally during the cut. A home-made solution normally is just a guide that will allow you to come off the line if you are not very careful.
    +1 this is why I stuck with mine.

    The Eurekazone version is also modular, so I need 52" of shelf space but have 8 feet of capacity.

  13. #13
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    I have used both. Now that I have my Dewalt track saw, I am generally just use that unless I need a specialized track (for example, when I was cutting counter tops and I needed to navigate the large lip in the back).

    The things that you get with a dedicated track saw:


    1. Better dust collection off the saw
    2. Track usually has better grip between the track and the wood
    3. Replaceable rubber bit for when you change your blade and you need to re-establish where the line will be cut


    Stuff like that.

  14. #14
    Quote Originally Posted by johnny means View Post
    I wouldn't choose buying a tracksaw if my tool collection was wanting in other areas. $600 in clamps or finishing equipment has yielded me a greater ROI than that tracksaw ever could.
    If you already have a decent circular saw, the Eurekazone.com system can get you a 64" track with a conversion base, two anti-chip edges, and two clamps for $155 (plus shipping).

    You can get a similar package with both 64" and 54" tracks, plus connectors, for $273 (plus shipping).

    As mentioned elsewhere in this thread, the tracks are unique in that their dovetail-like channels are self-aligning (auto-straightening) when using the connectors.

    This YouTube video gives an overview of the tracks https://youtu.be/-i3df2FfDgw
    Last edited by Ken Kortge; 09-27-2020 at 6:09 PM.

  15. #15
    Quote Originally Posted by Bill Dufour View Post
    For track saw users how critical is alignment of the blade to the rail? tablesaws get kickback and burning real easy if it is off.
    Bill D
    I can only speak for the Eurekazone.com track system that I use. The so-called Smart Base is attached to the bottom of a circular saw by pressing the saw blade against a row of plastic blades, and then those plastic blades are snapped off and discarded. This method ensures perfect alignment between the blade and the base. I have three different saws attached to Smart Bases (Hitachi, Bosch, & Makita), and have used the tracks for well over 10 years, and I've never had a blade go out of alignment.

    Using the saw on the track ensures that the saw - and the blade - travel straight with no risk of kickback.

    When using the saw off track, an insert with a fin (think of a riving knife) is slide into the bottom of the Smart Base. This provides somewhat stunning ability to prevent kickback. This is well illustrated at about 1:55 in the attached YouTube video. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LJOUw-tZEDQ
    Last edited by Ken Kortge; 09-27-2020 at 7:32 PM.

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