Tool review: Rail-Guided Saws
On cut quality and power
If you've ever crosscut oak-veneered plywood, you know that the porous grain makes it difficult for nearly any saw and blade to cut cleanly. And the brittle surface of melamine-coated particleboard chips if you look at it wrong, much less cut it with a power saw.
All of the saws delivered impressive cuts [photo] on the "keeper" workpiece in both materials, thanks to the zero-clearance edge--a sacrificial plastic strip on the track that you cut the first time you use it. Like a zero-clearance throat insert in your tablesaw, it virtually eliminates tear-out and fuzzing.
These machines excel at cutting sheet goods; but could one replace your tablesaw? In 4/4 poplar, ripcuts required some sanding or a light jointer pass before gluing. But in thick, dense stock (we tried 8/4 hard maple), ripcuts tested the limits of some saws. Although some displayed ample power to slab off strips of 2"-thick hard maple, others required slower feed speeds, which sometimes resulted in burning on the cut edges.
Because of the spring-loaded plunge system, setting cutting depth on these saws isn't as simple as on an ordinary circ saw. Instead of pivoting the base, you must set a depth stop. All operate easily, but we prefer a scale that shows cutting depth by the thickness of material you're cutting--the 1/2" setting, for example, actually projects the blade 3/4" below the saw base to account for the rail thickness. On the metric-marked scales on the some saws, you need to set the stop to at least 16mm for the blade to cut completely through 12mm (1/2") stock.
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