Tool review: Rail-Guided Saws
Rail details make the diff
A slot on the base of each saw fits over a raised guide rib on the 7"-ish-wide rail, and knobs let you dial in the base/rib fit precisely. As a practical matter, you can easily cut pieces as narrow as 4" to 5-1/2" (depending on the saw), as long as that rib remains over the workpiece. A little jury-rigging with spacers enables you to work narrower stock.
Pliable strips on the bottom of each rail provide enough bite on the workpiece so that, in most cases, the rail stays put without clamps (optional for all saws). Still, we almost always used the optional (and pricey) clamps on all of the rails: They mount on the underside of the rail so they never interfere, and we found that a little pressure goes a long way. One clamp was often all that was needed for a secure grip.
You can bevel-cut with these saws [Photo], but tilting the saws more than about 25° shifts the center of gravity enough to start lifting the base from the rail. One saw combats this with a sliding lock that hooks into a special channel on the guide rib to prevent tipping.
A rail-guided saw eliminates most of the danger of making a plunge cut: The base remains solidly on the rail throughout the plunge; and an antikickback stop, whether built-in or mounted on the track, prevents the saw from moving backward during the plunge cut. Index marks on all of the saws show where the back and front of the blade will cut at full plunge [Photo].
A rail-guided saw will never replace a tablesaw, but it sure outperforms any panel saw we've tried (at a much lower price, too), and doesn't limit you to perpendicular cuts--you'll get high-quality cuts at any angle. Our Top Tool, the hefty Festool TS75EQ, displayed ample power and precision in everything from sheet goods to thick hardwoods. If you'll work primarily in sheet goods, and make plunge-cuts at that, we call the lighter-weight DeWalt DWS520SK and Festool TS55EQ different but equal. Buy the DeWalt if you value a better depth-of-cut system more than easy blade changes.
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