Tracksaw vs. Circular Saw
Q: I hear a lot of talk about tracksaws and how useful they are. For years, I've gotten by just fine using a circular saw with a straightedge guide. Am I missing something? Is there a big advantage to a tracksaw vs. a circular saw with a guide?
A: Most circular saws live their lives as construction tools; they're great for quickly crosscutting framing lumber or breaking down sheet goods. But upgrade the stock blade and pair it with either a shop-made guide, below, or aftermarket straightedge and you can get cuts that rival those of most tracksaws (or tablesaws).
Tracksaws take this concept a step further. Instead of riding alongside a straightedge guide, a tracksaw rides on top of a track with the blade tight against one edge. The track aids precision by preventing the saw from drifting off the layout line while making the cut.
The base of a tracksaw features a zero-clearance opening, which eliminates tear-out, especially in fragile plywood veneers. Better tracksaws are furnished with high-quality blades for smooth, finished cuts. Lighter-weight materials and integrated clamps make attaching the track to your workpiece easier than with a shop-made guide. And some tracksaws offer stops, track extensions, or other accessories that increase both the accuracy and versatility of the tool.
The blade on most tracksaws is almost fully enclosed, making the saw safer to use and also greatly improving dust collection capability. Most tracksaws have a riving knife to prevent kickback (something most circular saws lack).
Tracksaws—also known as plunge saws—feature a hinged or pivoting design that allows you to place the saw where you'd like to start the cut, turn it on, and plunge the blade into the workpiece. This makes them ideal for interior cutouts. The geometry of tracksaws also allows them to follow the track guide strip even with the blade tilted for a beveled cut.
Tracksaws cost several times more than a comparable circular saw and shop-made guide, so the choice really comes down to your budget and your intended use. If you anticipate this being your only saw, or one you'll use often, you're better off investing in a tracksaw. But for less frequent use, a circular saw with a guide should prove more than adequate.
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