Author Topic: track saws - really that great?  (Read 822 times)

nereo

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track saws - really that great?
« on: May 20, 2019, 09:27:51 AM »
Would like to hear some feedback from MMMers who have used track saws - both in general and on particular models. I've read some wonderful things, but usually from sources that are more spendy-pants and hobbiest/makers that don't think twice about dropping $500 on a tool.  Sadly no place around me even has models on display (rural area) let alone try, so I'd have to order online and hope.

My anticipated uses: Breaking down sheet goods, hopefully to finished size (which I hear track saws are accurate and reliable enough to do?).  Ripping wider boards from rough-cut lumber. My first project will building a bunch of cabinets for my shop. I also like to build my own furniture when time allows. 

Why consider a track saw?  I don't have enough room (currently) for a decent table saw, and ripping sheets on my portable jobsite saw isn't particularly accurate or safe, particularly without an outfeed table.  I've never gotten truly straight cuts with a circular saw and a straight edge, so I currently rough-cut with the circular saw before using the TS to get a finished edge (and I still have difficulty if it's > 3ft on any side).  I also lack a jointer and at least one person has said he can get clean edge on his track saw from rough-sawn lumber as good as a jointer - not sure if that's true or not. Since upgrading my table-saw isn't an option at this point a track saw seems like it might allow me to do most of what I need in a very portable/storable tool.

any experience? They are still new enough that they rarely show up on CL.

Uturn

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Re: track saws - really that great?
« Reply #1 on: May 20, 2019, 09:39:19 AM »
I have the Makita track saw and love it.  Straight cuts and don't have to measure for blade offset. 

J Boogie

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Re: track saws - really that great?
« Reply #2 on: May 20, 2019, 10:48:23 AM »
I also have a Makita tracksaw. It complements my router table and bandsaw setup quite well. I don't have a tablesaw. I also have an instasquare for lightning fast setup.

It doesn't replace a jointer as tracksaws can only cut totally straight when removing a good chunk of material - if you try to nibble it straight as you would do on a jointer it'll just deflect and give you nowhere near a gluable edge. So it's either wasteful (if you have enough material to burn) or unsuccessful (if you don't) as a jointer.

It's also good for letting you store your miter saw to regain some workbench space. Instead of using your miter saw for everything, you can just pull it out when it's either the only tool that can do the job or you have some batch work.

Works on the festool track as well, I got a 75" that I can attach to my smaller track if I want to rip an 8' sheet. Otherwise my 75" is good for baltic birch and just about every other sheet good cut.

My basement is my main shop and my unheated garage is where usually keep sheet goods and break them down.




nereo

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Re: track saws - really that great?
« Reply #3 on: May 20, 2019, 01:37:06 PM »
Any reason you chose the Makita over the DeWalt?

Also a bit curious what you meant by this:
Works on the festool track as well, I got a 75" that I can attach to my smaller track if I want to rip an 8' sheet. Otherwise my 75" is good for baltic birch and just about every other sheet good cut.
Can you use two tracks together to make one longer track?  I was under the impression that you're need a ~55" track ofr cross-cuts across a 4'x8' sheet, and one that was ~105' to rip the full length of the stock.  But .... you can line two tracks up together (e.g. 2 x 55" = 1 x 110")?

NorCal

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Re: track saws - really that great?
« Reply #4 on: May 20, 2019, 01:48:19 PM »
I don't have any experience with them, but I've recently considered getting one for the same reason.

I imagine it comes down to how much you actually break down sheet goods?  For me, I would get one if I was doing it more than a few times a month.  I can't justify it for the few times a year I work with plywood.

There's also some new tracks on the market that work with existing circular saws.  You might check this out as an alternative.  I think Kreg makes one, and there's probably others.

Alternatepriorities

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Re: track saws - really that great?
« Reply #5 on: May 20, 2019, 02:01:05 PM »
I've never gotten truly straight cuts with a circular saw and a straight edge, so I currently rough-cut with the circular saw before using the TS to get a finished edge (and I still have difficulty if it's > 3ft on any side).

My father is a carpenter. Growing up "Skil" the circular saw brand of choice on job sites and my father is still using the same worm drive saw 30 years later... For years I thought it was called a Skil saw because it took a lot of skill to use the thing. I can almost always make a clean 4' cut on a chalk line, but even now if I want a nice edge ripping an 8' sheet of plywood I need a guide.

I haven't used track saw before, but after looking them up I'd buy one for a major project like building a bunch of cabinets. Smaller than a table saw and more versatile. Probably a slow when making lots of pieces the same width. I have a DeWalt circular saw that I've been very happy with and it did look like you could combine multiple sections of track to on the DeWalt version I looked up.

J Boogie

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Re: track saws - really that great?
« Reply #6 on: May 20, 2019, 02:29:17 PM »
Any reason you chose the Makita over the DeWalt?

Also a bit curious what you meant by this:
Works on the festool track as well, I got a 75" that I can attach to my smaller track if I want to rip an 8' sheet. Otherwise my 75" is good for baltic birch and just about every other sheet good cut.
Can you use two tracks together to make one longer track?  I was under the impression that you're need a ~55" track ofr cross-cuts across a 4'x8' sheet, and one that was ~105' to rip the full length of the stock.  But .... you can line two tracks up together (e.g. 2 x 55" = 1 x 110")?

I was able to get the Makita for cheap. The DeWalt has a riving knife, which is a plus. The Makita doesn't. But it does have a locking feature which keeps it from tipping when you cut a bevel. But I prefer Makita over DeWalt for just about everything. Fit and finish. Probably mostly branding but I find DeWalt's aesthetics to be clumsy and lacking attention to detail when compared to Festool, Bosch, and Makita which are my faves.

Makita tracks are near identical to festool as well which is nice as I found that 75" track at a pawn shop for $50. I connect my makita track to my festool track to cut a full 8' rip.




J Boogie

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Re: track saws - really that great?
« Reply #7 on: May 20, 2019, 02:32:06 PM »
I don't have any experience with them, but I've recently considered getting one for the same reason.

I imagine it comes down to how much you actually break down sheet goods?  For me, I would get one if I was doing it more than a few times a month.  I can't justify it for the few times a year I work with plywood.

There's also some new tracks on the market that work with existing circular saws.  You might check this out as an alternative.  I think Kreg makes one, and there's probably others.

Also depends if you have a tablesaw. If you do, it's not a big deal to break down sheets with a chalk line cut on your circ saw and then use the opposite edge to perfect them on the tablesaw. No need for it if you're not breaking down sheet goods much, just like you say.

But I don't have room for a tablesaw so the tracksaw is very handy for me. It's also my only circ saw.

lthenderson

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Re: track saws - really that great?
« Reply #8 on: May 21, 2019, 07:45:34 AM »
I've never seen the need for buying a track saw. I just made a jig out of scraps for my circular saw that does the same thing. See this video for instructions on how to build the jig.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HdR8I5--WfY

For a single person operation, I would much rather break down sheet goods using my circular saw and jig than a table saw. I get a lot more accurate cuts, it is less stress on the body and back and I think much safer. I don't keep foam around like this guy does. Instead, I set up a couple sawhorses and position two full length 2x4's between them. Then I lay 3 or 4 scrap pieces of wood sideways across the 2x4's and then lay my sheet good on top of that with the finished side facing down. (This is important.) I set my circular saw depth so that it cuts the full thickness of my plywood and slightly into the scrap pieces underneath but not deep enough to spoil the 2x4's. Using two clamps, position the jig on your cut line keeping in mind which side of the line you want to cut on and go to town. By putting the finish face down, the circular saw cuts on the up stroke and it results in a nice clean edge. I keep a special blade for my circular saw that I only use for breaking down cabinet grade plywood and by keeping it sharp, it gives me nice cuts on both sides though the finish side (facing down) still comes out the best.

Best of all, I made it from scraps so it cost me zero dollars.

J Boogie

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Re: track saws - really that great?
« Reply #9 on: May 21, 2019, 08:47:14 AM »
There are a few advantages to a track saw vs a jig.

First being the guided plunge action, which allows you to start and/or finish your cut smoothly on the inside of your workpiece. Extremely advantageous for any hardwood flooring repairs, sink cutouts in wood/other countertops, etc.

Second would be ease of layout, setup and clamping. If you have a square or protractor attachment you can square up without having to mark front and back of the workpiece or without a framing square. The clamps allow you to clamp from beneath which keeps them out of the way. You could probably route a t-slot on the bottom if you wanted, and put on some grip strips just like a saw track as well though.

But overall if you already have a tablesaw and a circ saw then a jig like this is probably fine for most occasional carpentry.

To the OP, I wouldn't buy a tracksaw just for shop cabinets. Kitchen cabinets probably. I'd just clamp a straightedge.

TBH, I don't think a picture perfect edge is all that vital for shop cabinets. You are probably using fasteners, dados, biscuits etc. If you need to perfect your plywood cut with a hand plane to get a better glue joint that's probably your best route.

However, if you see yourself going down a long road of lean'n'mean carpentry/woodworking with a small footprint, a tracksaw can cover many bases. I would still get a bandsaw for skinny ripping and a small router table if you don't have one already. This is my setup and along with hand tools, I can do anything. I also have a lunchbox planer.

nereo

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Re: track saws - really that great?
« Reply #10 on: May 21, 2019, 09:52:39 AM »
Good input from all. 
As I said, my table-saw is insufficient for these sorts of tasks, and I lack the space currently for something better.  That said, I could probably do much better on straight cuts with my existing circular saw by making a better straight-edge jig like lthenderson suggested in the interim.  That ought to tide me over for at least a little while, though even with a good blade I get more tear-out than I'd like.
J Boogie and others - you've certainly confirmed to me that track saws are very useful tools, and it'll go on my list 'for the future'.  There's a definite possibility that I could be doing a whole-home reno project in a year or two, at which point I could justify the ~$400 price-tag.

cheers and thanks to all
~n~

Fishindude

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Re: track saws - really that great?
« Reply #11 on: May 21, 2019, 09:59:56 AM »
Nice tool, but in my opinion the primary use of a track saw is for cutting sheet goods to size.   
For cabinets, furniture and ripping boards, I think you will also need a good table saw.

kandj

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Re: track saws - really that great?
« Reply #12 on: May 21, 2019, 02:36:42 PM »
Track Saw, Yes! We co-bought a Makita Tracksaw with my dad a couple years ago (and he gets way more use out of it than we do) but we LOVE it. We don't have room for a table saw so it's been amazing for remodeling and building cabinets, and my dad is an office systems builder so he is constantly getting great use from it. You can also extend the track as long as you want.

Miss Tash

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Re: track saws - really that great?
« Reply #13 on: May 22, 2019, 09:44:53 AM »
I'm a furniture maker and have a great cabinet saw but sometimes you need the portability of a track saw.  That being said, I made a jig like lthenderson shows.  It is super accurate, easy to use and cheap.  Each time I buy a new circ saw I make a new jig.

BudgetSlasher

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Re: track saws - really that great?
« Reply #14 on: May 27, 2019, 07:23:10 AM »
I've used a couple and they are nice tools. If I didn't already have an old 18v dewalt circular saw and and maktia hypoid saw, I would probably buy one instead of a circular saw (most of my sawing is done with the miter saw or the table saw, the circular saws are almost exclusively for breaking down sheet goods).

That being said if you already own a good circular, as I do, it is relatively simple to make a zero clearance fence for an existing saw (it will only be good for one saw and blade combination). Its not as great as a track saw or as easy, but you get most of the functionality for a fraction of the added cost (my 4 foot fence was made out scrap pieces of 1/4" and 3/4" plywood.

J Boogie

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Re: track saws - really that great?
« Reply #15 on: May 28, 2019, 12:27:28 PM »
Figured I'd add if you're going to rip hardwood, you'll have to do it gradually or 3+ passes, otherwise you can burn out the motor. That is, unless you have a ripping blade on it - it comes with a 40+ tooth cross cut blade for minimal veneer tearout.

Just burned out my Makita motor this morning. I ordered replacement armature + brushes for 87 bucks total so I'll consider that a lesson learned. I have put this saw through the ringer over the past 4 years so I'm planning on using it more strategically going forward now that I know its limits.


nereo

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Re: track saws - really that great?
« Reply #16 on: May 28, 2019, 12:35:47 PM »
Figured I'd add if you're going to rip hardwood, you'll have to do it gradually or 3+ passes, otherwise you can burn out the motor. That is, unless you have a ripping blade on it - it comes with a 40+ tooth cross cut blade for minimal veneer tearout.

Just burned out my Makita motor this morning. I ordered replacement armature + brushes for 87 bucks total so I'll consider that a lesson learned. I have put this saw through the ringer over the past 4 years so I'm planning on using it more strategically going forward now that I know its limits.

How thick was the hardwood you were ripping?

Also, did you find that the factory blade was as craptastic as it is on most saws for your Makita?  I always plan on replacing the blade of any saw I buy immediately and keeping the factory blade just for when I might want to cut something that could have hidden nails or wire in it.


J Boogie

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Re: track saws - really that great?
« Reply #17 on: May 28, 2019, 02:06:44 PM »
Figured I'd add if you're going to rip hardwood, you'll have to do it gradually or 3+ passes, otherwise you can burn out the motor. That is, unless you have a ripping blade on it - it comes with a 40+ tooth cross cut blade for minimal veneer tearout.

Just burned out my Makita motor this morning. I ordered replacement armature + brushes for 87 bucks total so I'll consider that a lesson learned. I have put this saw through the ringer over the past 4 years so I'm planning on using it more strategically going forward now that I know its limits.

How thick was the hardwood you were ripping?

Also, did you find that the factory blade was as craptastic as it is on most saws for your Makita?  I always plan on replacing the blade of any saw I buy immediately and keeping the factory blade just for when I might want to cut something that could have hidden nails or wire in it.

Factory blade is great actually, works awesome for cutting veneered sheet goods with no tearout. Even when I didn't use the scoring function I don't think I had tearout, but I pretty much always used the  scoring function when crosscutting veneered surfaces.

It was 6/4 hard maple. Most tablesaws will complain if you try to rip hard maple using a crosscut blade. Ripping blades make a HUGE difference.