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Thread: Convince me I need a track saw.

  1. #1

    Question Convince me I need a track saw.

    Out side of general carpentry, the only use I have for use a circular saw is to brake down sheet goods to a manageable size. And price verses amount of time spent using it determines the cost value ratio. I broke down the two sheets of plywood in about 15 minutes, actual cutting time less than 1 minutes for both pieces. only two 8 foot rips. Having read that a lot of people like track saws to brake down sheet goods. One of my question is how many sheets of plywood do you actually brake down in a year for your hobby? I know I have been woodworking for over 40 years and new things have hit the market I have researched a track saw somewhat and don't see the value to me

    One of the reason I am writing this is to maybe help to put out some information that may help a newbie get a different perspective on what is needed to advance in the craft. I feel that we are being heavily influenced by marketing. Rockler has a small parts tapering sled for sale for $79 and some change and the sled I do straight line ripping is the same sled or principle.

    DSC03054.JPG DSC03055.JPG DSC03056.JPG

    I built a little clamp on table to help hold and support long boards when cutting at the table saw. Take the four pieces of plywood cut in the pictures above, I ran each through the table saw with the factory edge against the fence. Then the cut edge against the fence to get rid of the factory cut. ( I had a little extra to cut off) Now if I wish to brake them down farther I just adjust the rip fence. Cross cutting is a different animal and can be a later topic.
    The next pictures just happen to be a sled and a straight line rip on a piece of hard wood. The saw mill I get my lumber from doesn't straight line rip. For me it is a safety issue, I like a straight side against the fence for any other cuts in the board.

    DSC03773.JPG DSC03774.JPG DSC03662.jpg

    Other uses of the infeed table

    DSC03212.JPG DSC03214.JPG

    On lumber that I straight line rip I prefer to cut them into shorter lengths with a battery saber saw.
    Also I can flip the sled with the board over and use a router with a pattern bit to finish the edge on boards that are to lone to straighten effectively on a jointer.

    I showed here my solution to the things I struggled with for years. A torsion box cutting table with fold up legs. No longer do I have to get on my hands and knees to cut plywood. I can put a sheet of OSB on it and I have an assembly table. My wife just used it for a garage sale. I have a couple of small block that are the distance from the edge of the circular saw to the fence to I can accurately position the fence to my cut line.

    I thought I would also mention that I can do plunge cut with a circular saw so it is not a good reason to go to Menards and buy a cheap $100 track saw.

    And lastly Blue Spruce has a 4 inch sliding bevel gauge on sale for $119.99. Can throwing money at a hobby elevate your skill level? I some what view a track saw along those lines but I think very handy is space is limited.

  2. #2
    I agree with most of what you said.
    To me, a track saw is just a tool, nothing more nothing less. If you need it, buy, use it, don't use it, what ever.
    In some situations, a track may be the best choice for the job but it's not the only choice or the best choice for every job.
    A track saw is not a cure all for anything. All a track saw does is make sure your cuts are straight. A straight cut in the wrong place is no better than a poor quality cut.
    I do think that too many, as you eluded to, simply go out and buy things without knowing that there are other ways of achieving the same end results, often at a much cheaper price point.
    It seems many get caught up in the nonsense of it all.

  3. #3
    I couldn't agree more. And you said it very well thank you.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    May 2018
    Lancaster, Ohio
    Tom, I like how you straight line rip with your jig. I am too lazy to build one even though it probably would save me time and money. I have for over 40 years now used extension tables for my jointer starting out with a 4" jointer with 8' extensions on infeed and outfeed. Moved up to a 6" and made "new" 8' infeed outfeed tables out of bowling alley lane. Now have a 8" segmented head jointer with long beds, not certain what if anything I will do. Probably will make a set of infeed outfeed tables for it as I am way to used to it.
    Seriously considering your straight line rip instead

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Mar 2003
    SE PA - Central Bucks County
    I sure can't convince you that you "need" one. There are advantages there if you're willing to or interested in doing some things differently. Based on your OP, I'll give you one example. You indicate that much of your current use for a circular saw is to break down sheet goods to more manageable panels, I assume for further processing. The key to my example is "for further processing." Consider if in the process of breaking down the big sheets into manageable sizes if breaking them down into finished sizes that don't require a lot of further processing could benefit the kind of work you enjoy doing. A good track saw can be as accurate in that respect as you personally can measure and mark the cut line. So here, it can mean saving steps which in turn saves time with less need to continually move the material around...which in turn reduces opportunity for damage.

    Another example from my own work...there have been various times that I've found it necessary, either due to human error or just plain circumstance, that I've had to trim, resize or do other modifications to assemblies that were already, um...assembled. A cabinet box that's fitted slight off, for example. I have a short track that lets me fix what needs fixed with the track saw, rather than slinging the thing up on a larger tool with an uncomfortable working position, etc. I can use a router with the track, too, if that's what's needed for the task. At one point, I took two inches off the height off a built and finished armoire that needed to move into a position that had a shorter ceiling and couldn't be stood up without getting a little shorter. That cut was done inside our home quickly, accurately and with little debris. So in that role, it was also a problem solver.

    Only you can convince you that you want or need a particular tool.

    But's just a tool. Not everyone wants or needs it because they like other tools or methods. However, However, it's a tool that I respect enough that I've pretty much committed to using it a lot more for the immediate future in my "temporary shop" until I can get a building built and have a sliding table saw back in my bag. The track saw, the bandsaw and the miter saw (which hasn't been a part of my general woodworking for along time) are going to get most of the load and I'm confident that what I do with the track saw will be as accurate as the user allows it to be. Of course, I'll be even happier when I have a slider to use again, too.

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

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Mar 2003
    Upland CA
    Nah, you don't need one. You only NEED a new tool when your expertise exceeds the quality of work your tools produce.

    I suggest taking a bit of time to see how good your results can be using necessary tools like a table saw, band saw, jointer, etc. Build jigs to help you build the projects, and practice your ingenuity for a while. THEN decide if you need any of the more esoteric tools you see on videos and magazines.

    I used to know a guy who knew nothing about woodworking, who went out and bought a shop full of Felder tools. Beautiful shop, but he wasn't very well versed on what they could do. He lost interest after a few years and moved on to other hobbies.

    My dad did some very nice stuff, like mantles and bookcases, with a ShopSmith. Nothing fancy, but well done. He was very happy figuring out how to do special projects, and having them come out nicely.

    On the other hand WANTING something is another story. No answer for that one. I could say though that I have found that 'Anticipation always exceeds Realization', in most cases.
    Last edited by Rick Potter; 07-06-2021 at 1:49 AM.
    Rick Potter

    DIY journeyman,
    FWW wannabe.
    AKA Village Idiot.

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Oct 2004
    Tom, if you want to spend money for superior tools then look at the tools made by Chris Vesper who is, like you, a machinist par excellence.

    Track saws make a class of operations easier. They are not a replacement for neither circular saws nor table saws.

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Jul 2003
    Winterville, NC (eastern NC)
    Sometimes it is easier to take the tool to the work: wrestle a sheet of ply, MDF or Melamine onto a table saw and you see what I mean. I have 2 table saws in my shop and I still use the track saw, especially for ripping a full sheet.
    Small shops are especially suited for a track saw.

  9. #9
    Quote Originally Posted by Mike Wilkins View Post
    Sometimes it is easier to take the tool to the work: wrestle a sheet of ply, MDF or Melamine onto a table saw and you see what I mean. I have 2 table saws in my shop and I still use the track saw, especially for ripping a full sheet.
    Small shops are especially suited for a track saw.

    Aside from sparing my back, I like the dust collection, more accurate cuts, and the ability to straight line rip on a bowed board, and the occasional straightening, trimming or the odd long taper.

    That said, I do view it as a luxury, but I can't really justify a floor mortiser or second bandsaw either.

  10. #10
    In my place back east I had severe space constraints and the TS helped me a great deal. In my larger space now I still use the TS on sheet goods when I have them. As a straight hobbyist that is not really that often and until prices soften that will continue. When I was cutting Hardi-panel sheets with my old circ saw the guides helped a great deal too. The TS paid for itself in just the accuracy of the cuts in the new floor. That had to be right and clean and the 55 did an excellent job. I picked this thing up year ago and almost at the beginning of woodworking, so it became a go-to tool for me. Tom, I enjoy reading your posts as they are always educational and I need all of that I can get. Thanks!
    Attached Images Attached Images

  11. #11
    I find this thread much less contentious and much more informative than the other one going on. Thanks for starting it Tom
    It's always a risk when asking for or providing tool recommendations (which I rarely do) too many people take it as some sort of personal attack that you don't agree with them 100%.
    Everyone has a different opinion (and background skill/experience) when it comes to tools and some it seems, have a bit of an unhealthy attachment to some of there tools. I've seen people get less upset when someone stole there girlfriend than some of these guys do when you disagree about tools.
    I also see that Festool has an electronic anti-kickback feature on there newest tracksaw.

  12. #12
    Join Date
    Feb 2017
    Northern Illinois
    I use my track saw for almost all crosscuts and have found my crosscuts to be the squarest, most accurate I've made since I started woodworking over 40 years ago. I don't need the track saw, but the Festool TS5 in combination with the Festool MFT3 table allows me to get essentially perfect 90 degree crosscuts. It gives me satisfaction and I have less assembly problems with the track saw/MFT table combination than at any other point since I started woodworking. Plus, there are other advantages for me given the way I now work. Buying a tracksaw just to break down sheet goods is probably not worth it. I rarely buy full sheets of plywood so my main use of the track saw isn't for that purpose.

  13. #13
    Join Date
    Sep 2003
    Gold Coast, Australia
    Years ago I left woodworking to concentrate on my actual hobby, which was machine restoration. Sold my Felder combination, my hand plane collection etc. Maybe a year later I bought the TS55 and MFT for some pop-up projects, and it saw occasional use until we decided to build a new house largely by ourselves. Since then I have processed 50 sheets of ply and 115 of MDF, 3000 lb ft of western red cedar, lots of gyprock, pine and other materials. I couldn’t have even started this project without the track saw, and the router, and the vacuum, which is now supporting the Kapex and the paint prep sanding (yuck).

    I have a really pathetic table saw with an aluminium top (but an oddly accurate and stiff rip fence) It lives outside. It does rips only as the Festool system does the bulk of my machining on this massive project. So thinking about it, my reply isn’t just about the track saw but about the entire system. I used to think that it was just overpriced frou-frou. Now I couldn’t be without it.

    Before I purchased another stationary machine I would buy a 3 metre track to avoid joiners etc. I do have a large torsion box bench with the MFT hole layout which, as already mentioned, gets you off the floor. It is also a massive horizontal router table when required. I often cut grooves all over it without care as I can do an annual session with a bit of bondo and a cabinet scraper to refresh it. Having the hole layout accessible for use with dogs is worth the maintenance effort.

  14. #14
    Join Date
    Apr 2007
    Columbus, Ohio, USA
    Simple answer: You do not need a track saw. In an "emergency", you can always just clamp a straight edge to what you want to cut and run your circular saw along it.

    Why I have a track saw:

    1. They usually have better dust collection (significantly so) than a standard circular saw
    2. The track generally marks where the cut will be (you can build your own, but it won't be as nice)
    3. With a track it is easier to use with narrower things such as when I want to edge rough lumber and I need a straight edge (as opposed to lots of room with plywood that is wider).
    4. Usually have a blade that produces a cleaner cut
    5. Usually has "plunge" capability that can be useful.

    There are more, but (1) and (2) above are the primary reasons.

  15. #15
    I built a lot of things over about 4 decades without a track saw. But I am very happy I bought one about 10 years ago. I also convinced my church to get one for us "volunteers" that help out with maintenance. The church bought an evolution track saw and two 50 inch pieces of Wen track for about $250. I have a DeWalt with the three lengths of track they sell for it, I think they are 109, 59, and 40 inches long. I get a lot better cut quality with my DeWalt than I get with the Evolution but I think a lot of that is the blade. But I don't know if it is all the blade. For what we do there, it works fine but I do not know if it would work for me at home.

    At home I make "nicer things" than I make volunteering at church. Furniture and cabinets. I made a 10 foot long dining room table earlier this year that has a 42 inch wide cherry top made of 6 boards. I joined my two longer tracks and used the track saw to make the glue ready edges of the boards. Resulting glue joints are good. I don't think I could done this with my other tools. Maybe if I could find a straight edge long enough with a router against it. But with the track saw it was simple.

    As a break down tool, I don't know that it would be worth it to me either. The rib forces you to follow the rail so you avoid the mis-cuts that are possible with a circular saw and straight edge but you've probably learned to minimize those issues. The real value is when you accept that there is no reason to recut things on the table saw. That meant for me that I needed to make some jigs to position my track right and consistently because my measuring and marking were sometimes an issue. But at this point, I do not wrestle big pieces of anything over my table saw. It is far easier to just use the track saw.

    I still use a little battery powered circular saw to break down log hardwood boards and do other relatively crude cuts. No sense dulling the track saw blade with that sort of work.

    Dust collection is very much a secondary consideration for me but if you work in finished spaces it can be important.

    You would find yourself using it for other things if you had one. I have thrown an old blade on mine and cut sheet rock with it, for instance. Very easy and accurate. In that case the dust collection was important, however.

    I don't think you need it if you are happy with your other methods. But I think you would find a lot of uses for it if you had one. I need to use an inexpensive one like the Evolution or Wen more to be confident they can be trusted with finish cuts like rips for glueup. With the right blade I think they can be I don't have direct experience. But a saw on the order of the DeWalt or Makita definitely can.

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