Canadian Woodworking
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Reasons to choose a track saw

Author: Steven Der-Garabedian
Photos: Steven Der-Garabedian
Published: June 2024
track saws
track saws

Track saws offer some fantastic advantages over many other saws. Whether they’re worth the expense depends on the style of work you do and the type of workshop you have.

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More and more woodworkers are opting for a track saw over a tra­ditional table saw. I have both and use them for different reasons, but they can be used somewhat interchangeably. It’s what you get used to in your workflow. I tend to use my track saw almost exclusively for veneer work, but it can be much more versa­tile than that.

Pros & cons

Just like with any tool, there are pros and cons to a track saw. It’s obviously far more portable and doesn’t take up as much space as a table saw does in a small shop. For beginners they’re less intimidating to use than a table saw. Its design means straight and accurate cuts are easy. The up-cutting action of the blade against a splinter guard gets you clean cuts almost every time. With the right blade you can join veneers seamlessly right off from the cut using a veneer joint­ing jig. There are also many other jigs and fixtures that can be used to further increase a track saw’s functionality, though this is also true of a table saw. As with jigs for any tool or machine, your creativity, knowledge and resourcefulness will go a long way.

Jigs Increase Functionality
Jigs Increase Functionality – A jig will go a long way to making any tool or machine more functional, and track saws are no different. Here, Editor Rob Brown uses a simple jig to guide his track saw across veneer he’s jointing.

When working with large sheet goods, it’s often easier (and in some cases, the only way) to break that sheet down is to use a track saw to make the initial cuts. Cutting in the driveway in order to get parts of that sheet into your basement shop is just one good example. There’s sometimes not enough room around your table saw to cut a full sheet of material.

Splinter-Free Cuts
Splinter-Free Cuts – The splinter guard on the track goes a long way to keeping the cut edge on the track side of the cut splinter-free. Replacing it when it’s worn out is important.

One of the tasks a track saw excels at is making cuts that aren’t parallel to any edge. For example, if you want to cut one edge of a live edge slab straight, the track saw can be quickly and easily positioned at any angle. This is much harder to do on a table saw, especially if you don’t have a large, dedicated sled. This advantage extends well beyond working with live edge material.

No Straight Edges
No Straight Edges – A track saw will create a straight edge on a workpiece, even if it has no straight edge to reference off of. This is helpful when working with live edge slabs.

Dust collection is relatively better on a track saw, however, cabi­net table saws do an excellent job of this, as well. It’s the portable and contractor-style table saws that leave something to be desired in this respect.

Cost is another factor when making your choice. A good cabinet table saw runs in excess of $3,000 and while you can get cheaper portable versions, they suffer in capabilities and quality. Track saws have come down in price since they were first introduced. A num­ber of manufacturers have jumped on board to make their own versions which can run from $250 to well over $1,000, although some may question the quality of lower-cost versions.

To balance the scales a bit, table saws are the workhorses of many wood shops. They can be more versatile in a number of ways, including accomplishing tasks that need to be repeated with great accuracy. A good fence and lots of accessories make it a good choice. A good table saw provides a stable base where vari­ous cuts, including crosscuts, rips, bevels and mitres, can be easily and accurately accomplished. Table saws are also typically more powerful and therefore can handle thicker woods and tougher cuts. Generally speaking, table saws excel at making right angle cuts and working with parts that already have at least one square edge to ref­erence other cuts from.

Making a choice

Because both machines have pros and cons, the key is to learn how get the most out of each machine. If space and portability are factors, then take a hard look at the available track saws. What saw to choose, or whether having both in your shop, depends on the work you do and your workshop’s setup.

Usage Tips

  • Use the right blade for the job. If I’m cutting sheet goods, I’ll use the blade that came with the track saw. However, for veneer work I will switch to a blade made specifically for veneer. This typically means a negative rake and more teeth.
  • Use jigs to extend the usefulness of a track saw.
  • Return the depth of cut back to zero when you’re done. This ensures you don’t cut past the thickness of your sacrificial base. I should pay more attention to this tip in my own shop.
  • Always use a sharp blade, which also goes for other tools in the shop.
  • Replace worn out splinter guards.
  • Use rail connectors for those long cuts. Shorter lengths are eas­ier to store when they’re not being used.
  • Wax the base of the saw and the top of the track for friction-free slides.
  • Use track clamps for even more stability, especially on short tracks.

 

Blade Type

Blade Type – As with any machine or tool with a blade, using the right blade for the job is critical. 

Back to Zero
Back to Zero – Der-Garabedian likes to get into the habit of returning the depth of cut on his track saw to zero so he doesn’t cut through any of his jigs.


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