Before you get too infuriated we are certainly not saying this is always the case but we want to highlight a few specific tasks where a track saw really is our personal choice over other more common tools such as a table saw. We also want to try and understand a little better why the track saw is not that popular in the USA when it is one of the most common tools used in Europe and other countries.
Large Sheet Materials
When it comes to ripping large 4’x8’ sheet material and working as a one man wolf pack it is really our preference to use a track saw over the table saw, call us crazy. When placed on the floor with some thick panel insulation under it is very easy for an individual to handle and setup for an extremely high level of precision with almost zero margin for error. More so than even with a large table saw and rollers on each side from our experience. With a track saw there is much more freedom to make angled cuts or plunge cut into a sheet with a very high level of accuracy, that would be much harder to tackle with any other method we’ve found. If you have a good panel saw in your shop and you are making perfectly strait cuts this would obviously be a good option as well but a large investment in money and space with no jobsite application.
On the Jobsite
Even in the shop we prefer this method of using the track saw on a large piece of thick insulation for making long precision cuts, the great news is this technique works exactly the same anywhere you can find a level 4’x8’ slab of concrete to work on. Jobsite tables saws like Bosch’s 4100-09 ($599, Ohio Power Tool) or compact GTS1031 ($369, Ohio Power Tool) and excellent options and ideal for jobsite durability with incredible accuracy. We have no issues with these saws in any way but for handling large sheet material it should be a 2 man operation (according to the safety director & common sense) and both of these units will eat up considerable space in the jobsite trailer. Most track saws come in a case no larger than a standard circular saw case and while the traces can be over 8’ long they are have a very small profile and can hide easily out of site in a well organized trailer.
Circular Saw vs Plunge Track Saw
Certainly we’ve all clamped a 2”x4” to a piece of plywood and it makes fairly strait cuts which works ok for plywood in many applications. For a precision cut however that’s like comparing a shotgun to a rifle and after using a track saw for a little while it’s pretty hard going back, if you care at all about the precision of the cut. Even when fitted with high performance circular saw blades like we recently tested a circular saw is not a finishing tool. For framing lumber circular saws work great but even used without the track in many cases we still prefer to use the plunge cutting track saw over our circular saw. While the 6.5” track saw blade is slightly smaller than the standard 7.25” circular saw blade because of the design it is really hard to see any loss in cutting depth.
ShopBot vs Plunge Track Saw
Ok here is where we blew it. We had previously designed a pedestal bar height table measuring 54” square which could seat 8 if needed. During conception it was always intended as an excellent project to use the ShotBot, a CNC router, which we have access to at the Columbus Idea Foundry for an extremely reasonable $25/hour. For the design of the table top we wanted to cut tons of 1.5” strips of oak plywood, then biscuit joint and glue them together. This may seem completely absurd but at the Idea Foundry there are tons of production jobs continuously going on with lots of large panel scraps from that ShopBot left over. The thought here was if this worked as a building method it would be easy to collect others scraps and salvage an endless supply of these 1.5” strips in various lengths for zero cost that would otherwise go to waste.
While it would have been very simple to cut these strips on fresh new plywood with the ShopBot, if we were going to use others scraps it would not be practical to layout CNC cutting paths around others already cut out shapes (at least not with our limited knowledge of the machine). It would be pretty easy however to cut them down with the track saw simply going right over empty space but definitely not safe to try on a table saw. Then we could stock pile these pieces until we were ready to make something. You probably still think it’s a crazy idea, which after all the time it took to make this table we might not disagree.
After spending several hours cutting these strips and the shapes for the pedestal we’d be happy to go back and scrap that proof of concept for a few minutes of laying out a cut path on the computer and letting the machine do all the work. The time cutting did payoff however as all the strips were more precise than we had really thought 8’ pieces could be with this method. We attribute this to the saw much more than our novice skills and have no doubt in the future we could build this table top mostly with others scraps.
The strips alone of course were not sturdy enough to support such a large surface on top of a smaller pedestal so we used another 4’x4’x1/2” sheet of oak plywood under and trimmed the top with solid oak which made for a very sturdy surface. Apparently enough wood glue will do make anything as hard as Mt Everest.
Some simple work with the Makita compact plunge router, a fair amount of sanding, stain, matte finish poly and it’s ready to take all the beer we can spill on it. We are very happy with the finished product, which has a great distressed yet finished feel we were going for. While it seemed to work out we are not foaming at the mouth to jump into another project using this technique any time soon. See more in this Facebook Album.
So Why Don’t We See More of the Track Saw in the US
We haven’t found a great answer to this question yet, Festool, Makita and Dewalt do all have nice units here in the US market. Bosch has a very nice unit (from the looks of it) in the rest of the world but has yet to bring it the US market, perhaps for a simple lack of demand. We would also like to encourage them to bring it state side please, if you bring it they will come! In Europe space constraints are a much larger concern for storage and transportation in work vehicles. Perhaps the larger jobsite table saws are just too big and folks have been force to find other ways to get the job done.
Whatever the reason we still think these are very nice tools that belong in anyone’s arsenal if they can afford the investment. While it is a great tool we still would not recommend getting a track saw before investing in a table saw, we are not completely crazy, a table saw is the most used piece of equipment in many shops. We just wanted to highlight some of the features/benefits of the track saw as compared to other more common methods.
For more information on any shop or jobsite saws give the pros at Ohio Power Tool a call 800-242-4424.