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Thread: Table Saw vs Track Saw vs Miter Saw for (mostly) hand-tool woodworker

  1. #1

    Table Saw vs Track Saw vs Miter Saw for (mostly) hand-tool woodworker

    Hey folks, I'm looking for advice on a potential machine purchase for my workshop. I'm a hobbyist, mostly a hand-tool woodworker with limited space. My current machinery consists of a bandsaw, jointer, planer, and drill press. I use the machines for milling, long rips, and accurate drilling. I everything else by hand: all cross-cutting, joinery, smoothing, detailing, etc. I have no interest in employing a machine for any of this "fun stuff", with the exception of possibly big crosscuts / breakdown. I'm a pretty good sawyer and currently do all of my crosscuts with a hand saw, but it's been getting tiresome. The time it takes to accurately mark and knife-wall the piece and the effort of executing the cut. It's fine for small pieces, but I recently finished my workbench and crosscut ~200 board feet to length by hand and I was constantly thinking "this would be a hell of a lot easier with a machine". Correcting small endgrain inaccuracies is also tedious so there's the appeal of the perfectly straight edge that the circular blade leaves.

    My other constraint is space: my workshop must fit in a 10x20 space that already contains the above machines, workbench, dust collector, and storage.

    I'm considering adding a circular saw of some kind: either a table saw, a track saw + MFT, or miter saw. Mostly for straight (non-angled) crosscuts and rips where the bandsaw would be inappropriate/ Again I don't intend to use this machine for joinery cuts or miters, which seems to eliminate most of the advantages of a table saw.

    I also care very much about end-to-end speed: a machine is not much use to me if its setup time is so long that I can execute the cut faster by hand.

    Given my situation, what would you suggest? I have zero experience with any of these machines. I'm leaning towards a track saw for the versatility, space, and price. Also the ability to bring the tool to the piece. A table saw seems overkill, but perhaps I'm missing some applications for my situation. A miter saw seems much less versatile than a track saw: I couldn't, for example, cut the ends of my workbench's slab top to length on a miter saw. I'm also open to the "suck it up" suggestion: that none of these are going to be as fast as a competent hand-sawyer for one-off pieces.

    Thanks,
    Jordan

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Jun 2019
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    Unless you need to crosscut sheet goods, based on everything you’ve said and the machines you already have, you’ve convinced me that a miter saw is what you want.

  3. #3
    Join Date
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    Tracksaw would allow you to more effectively deal with sheet goods. If you're already cutting stock by hand, breaking it down is already something you do, and to be honest when I don't use a handsaw to break stock down I use a jig saw. I gave away two miter saws last year, and don't miss them.

    If you want ready to join type cuts, tablesaw wins by a mile at the cut alone. That will also let you deal with sheet goods. Unless you had something like an MFT, the tracksaw is awkward IMO for cross cuts.

    Mostly hand tool woodworker, when using solid stock, who has (or had) all of these in his work flow.
    Last edited by mike stenson; 01-29-2024 at 10:39 PM.
    ~mike

    happy in my mud hut

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Nov 2019
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    Big Bend/Panhandle, FL
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    Hi Jordan,

    Iíll weigh in as much as I can. I too am mostly a hand tool creature when it comes furniture building. I have everything you have plus the Makita track saw and a table saw. Both have a place in my workflow. I bought the track saw when I built cabinets for our kitchen. (I am not comfortable with full sheets on table saw.) It really excels at breaking down sheet goods accurately. Once I was comfortable with the saw, I didnít bother running the pieces through table saw to ensure parallel edges or dimensions. The Makita can be dead on accurate when properly set up. The track saw is also great for straight line cuts on rough stock. Making cabinets with a track saw is slower than on a large table saw but that was not a factor to me because I was building cabs in my ďspareĒ time for my kitchen.

    I still use the table saw with a cross cut sled for repeatable cuts on small stock like face frame parts, etc. The track saw has real limitations (on its own) for stock that is less than 6-7Ē wide. Since I have a table saw, I have not felt the need for an MFT. I like my track saw so much that I got rid of my cabinet saw and replaced it with a SawStop JSS to save space. TBH, I could probably get by without it as I use the bandsaw for a lot of tasks that others use the table saw for.

    My miter saw rarely sees any use. I donít even use it to break down rough stock any more. I normally break out the handsaws for that. The Miter saw, in my usage and work flow, really isnít much good for anything furniture/cabinet related. I can get mine to cut square but it rarely stays square, itís loud, and dust collection is woeful unless it is built into miter station with a hood. That kind of set up takes up too much space in my opinion. To be fair to the miter saw, I did use it to build a fence this past summer but I was not going for dead nuts accuracy on a Kentucky four board style fence.

    The sidewinder curricular saw has not seen the light of day in years. I think I only keep it around because it was the first power tool that I owned.

    Also, in my opinion, I would argue that none of the machines/tools are as enjoyable to use as a sharp handsaw - resawing by hand excepted of course because that is just drudgery!

    Tim

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Oct 2005
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    Camas, Wa
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    3,856
    Track saw - this is pretty much a one trick pony for me due to having other tools that are faster for me. I usually only use mine for breaking down plywood and then make final cuts on the tablesaw. I have used it to put a straight on some boards but a jointer is quicker. I have also used to size up a large glued up bench top that was just too big to take to the tablesaw.

    Miter saw- Used mostly for rough cutting solid wood to length and then final cuts on the tablesaw which is more accurate. I could use my jigsaw for most of what I do. I keep it around for building fences, decks and interior trim.

    Tablesaw - use it for everything and on everything. 99.99999999999% of my cuts are on the Tablesaw. All other tools would go before my table saw but I am a powertool guy.

    It probably didn't answer your question directly but it sounds like you want a miter saw.

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Nov 2022
    Location
    Northern Colorado
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    1,116
    First, Iím not a hand tool only guy. That said I mainly build furniture and home accessories almost exclusively using hardwoods of all kinds. IMHO, the table saw is the most versatile of the bunch being able to cross, rip, dado, groove and even make tenons and some other joinery.

    Track saw would be second, followed by the rarely used miter saw. I own the Festool Kapex and Iím considering selling given how rarely I use it, preferring my table saw.

  7. #7
    Considering your focus on hand-tool woodworking and the need for efficient crosscuts, a track saw appears to be a sensible addition. It complements your existing toolset well without taking up excessive space.

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Feb 2004
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    Perth, Australia
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    Hi Jordan

    I view myself as a blended woodworker because I use all tools as relevant. Each type has strengths to be utilised. Having stated this, I get the biggest bang from hand tools, especially joinery and finishing with hand planes. For many years I was purely a hand tool woodworker. I also only build in solid wood, generally hardwood, which is relevant here. No sheet goods. The wood stock may start off as a 50mm thick x 3m long rough sawn board, anything up to 300mm wide.

    I do have a track saw, which I purchased out of curiosity, but it is only used to cut up rough stock into shorter length for processing. I do not own a chop saw, and take the view that one would need dedicated wall space, which I do not have in my workshop. So forget the chop saw. You could get away with a circular saw here, just as easily. The strength of a track saw is for cutting up sheet goods, and if you also do not do use sheet goods much, then forget the tracksaw.

    My go-to is a short stroke slider, the Hammer K3. This excels for a furniture maker who works with solid woods, especially building medium size pieces. The footprint of the K3 is on the smaller side, much smaller than the contractor table saw that preceeded it. The slider excels in crosscutting, and ripping is equally good. Mine also has a router table built into the outfeed. This is the machine that I would recommend for you.

    Regards from Perth

    Derek
    Last edited by Derek Cohen; 01-30-2024 at 11:46 AM.

  9. #9
    It's up to you. They each have their pros and cons.

    The track saw is the most versatile. It's basically just a circular saw with custom fence. Which means you can do anything with a circular saw and a nice fence (and maybe some clamps) that you could do with a track saw. Just the track saw will save you some time and be easier to use, because you don't have to focus on keeping it flush to the fence and adjust the fence is easier. While a track saw is the most versatile in your list, it's also the least specialized, which means it doesn't do anything great, other than cutting long sheets.

    The table saw is the second most versatile. It's made for ripping long boards, but can crosscut and handle sheet goods. It's probably the best overall if you want to do a little bit of everything, as it's easier to set up than a track saw. It's a woodworking standard for a reason. You can cut angles with it, but it's not the best tool for that. However, with the proper jig, it can made to do just about anything. You just need to make the jig.

    The miter saw sounds like what you want. However, it's really only good at crosscuts. But man is it good at crosscuts! Especially repeated, identical crosscuts. It is purpose built for what you're describing, unlike the other two which just do that also. And with a folding miter saw table they sell these days (which aren't great, but good for saving space), they're a good compromise between space and functionality.

    Personally, I just use a circular saw and a speed square for what you described. It's the fastest, cheapest, and most space saving option. Though it does take a bit more skill to use than any of the others.

    However, to be honest, none of these power tools leave a finish ready surface, in my opinion. Others will disagree, as we each have a different definition of what finish ready is. But if I'm building something nice, as opposed to just something functional, I'm going to cut a bit fat and plane it back to size, which means they may or may not be saving me much time.

  10. #10
    I do not use many hand tools. My final surface is established by sandpaper, not a plane. I have hand tools and use chisels pretty regularly, a block plane fairly often and a shoulder plane if I need to. I have a bench plane but haven't used it in years. So I do woodworking differently than the OP.

    I also have a Table saw, a PCS with 36 inch rip capacity, a miter saw (Hitachi 12 inch double bevel non slider) and a track saw (DeWalt with all the track they offer). I also have a 14 inch bandsaw with 13 inch depth of cut capability. I've used all these saws within the last week and would not want to be without any of them. I am building a cherry bed for my oldest grandson. All solid wood, no plywood. But the track saw is by far my easiest way to get a straight edge on large pieces of solid wood. I'll build the dresser next and will use all these tools again. For the dresser, the bandsaw is the least necessary. But my supplier only had 4/4 and 8/4 cherry and I needed 5/4 and 6/4 so the bandsaw was pretty necessary for the bed. For the bed, I guess the least necessary tool is the table saw.

    A track saw can replace a jointer for joining long boards. I put the glue ready edges on all the boards in my 10 foot dining room table with my tracksaw. No way I can manage a 10 foot board on my jointer. They are great for rips or larger crosscuts on solid wood or sheet goods. They are not great at making little pieces. I needed 30 1.5 inch long by 3/8 thick by 1/2 inch wide pieces, for instance to hold the slats apart on the footboard and headboard of the bed I am making. No way I am cutting those pieces to length with a track saw. I could have cut the 3/8 or 1/2 inch dimension with it but not both. I used my planner to get the wood 3/8 thick and the table saw to cut it to 1/2 inch wide and then the compound miter to cut it to length. A handsaw in a miter box would have worked just as well to cut the pieces to length and been safer, however. My bandsaw + planner could have done the 1/2 inch dimension just fine.

    Track saws and table saws complement each other. But if you work with large pieces of wood I would get the track saw first. I'm not sure about a MFT. I have a workbench with holes in it like a MFT but I don't use them for cutting very often. It could be handy if you don't have a table saw since it would permit easier cuts on fairly small pieces. But it's also something you can make. Festool stuff is awfully pricey. A Makita track saw is pretty good and can use many Festool accessories. Even the low priced ones are probably nice to have but I think the mid priced are the way to go (like my DeWalt). There is a youtube channel called the new brit workshop where he uses a home made cutting station with his track saw. I'd make that before buying a MFT. Another youtuber that likes track saws is the "10 minute workshop". He has a pretty neat crosscutting setup as part of his workbench.

  11. #11
    Join Date
    Mar 2003
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    SE PA - Central Bucks County
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    65,854
    I agree with Derek...a whole bunch.
    --

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

  12. #12
    Join Date
    Jun 2016
    Location
    Houston
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    I started with a track saw and MFT, then added a band saw and jointer/planer. Then switched to mostly hand tools for a number of years and recently bought a Kapex and table saw. The track saw, MFT and band saw combination, along with hand tools, worked well for me for many years for ripping, sheet goods, panels, etc. I would not want a track saw without an MFT unless I had a table saw. I don’t have much experience with a table saw but can already see that it is going to replace the track saw, MFT and Kapex for most things. Given your space constraints and enjoyment of hand tools, though, I think a track saw and MFT combo would be ideal, especially if you intend to cut panels for furniture or cabinets that exceed the capability of a miter saw. I built a DIY base for the MFT and put the legs in the attic. Much more stable and better use of space for a small shop.

  13. #13
    Join Date
    Dec 2008
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    Northern Michigan
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    Track saws are a pain for small pieces IMO.

    I agree that a small slider would fit, but a cabinet saw with a crosscut jig would work too for a lot less.

    Where are you located?

  14. #14
    Join Date
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    I use more power tools than hand tools in my woodworking. With that said, I'll wade in to the discussion.

    I use a table saw for 95% of the cross cuts and rips I need to make. It is safe, accurate and gives really nicely finished cuts.

    I do not own a Miter saw. They are good for crosscuts only and you would still do rips by hand.

    I do not own a track saw, but I do have a clamp on guide for my circular saw that gives good results IF I do a really good job of getting it aligned parallel or perpendicular to make the needed cut. I can do these cuts more quickly on my table saw and get a smoother cut surface.

    With a 10 x 20 space, a sliding table type saw would eat up a lot of space, so it would appear to be a poor choice for you.
    Lee Schierer
    USNA '71
    Go Navy!

    My advice, comments and suggestions are free, but it costs money to run the site. If you found something of value here please give a little something back by becoming a contributor! Please Contribute

  15. #15
    Join Date
    Feb 2004
    Location
    Perth, Australia
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    Quote Originally Posted by Lee Schierer View Post
    With a 10 x 20 space, a sliding table type saw would eat up a lot of space, so it would appear to be a poor choice for you.

    My Hammer K3 slider with a 48" wagon reaches 103" full extension (forward and back together). There is a model with a shorter wagon (37"). Total width is 48".

    Regards from Perth

    Derek

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