If you struggle to cut bulky sheet goods on your tablesaw—or lack the necessary infeed and outfeed space to do so—then consider getting a tracksaw. These saws work much like a sidewinder-style circular saw, but use a plunge-cutting action that allows you to more easily and safely create cutouts with no entry or exit points. Riding on aluminum tracks, they make precise, straight, furniture-quality cuts, even at an angle. Try that on a tablesaw!
These saws will never completely replace your tablesaw—although you can make one work that way—because it's difficult to rip boards narrower than 8–10" without additional support.
To find out the true capabilities of these saws, we tested nine models, including three battery-powered versions, head-to-head in the WOOD® shop. All of them performed well, but a few stood out.
First: corded or cordless?
With advancements in lithium-ion battery technology, you can go cordless with few concessions. Although battery-powered saws can't currently equal the power of the best corded models, the difference in most models is negligible. And if you already own cordless tools of a brand and voltage of those in our test, you can save money by buying the saw bare (without batteries). And the obvious benefit of cordless: no cord to catch on the track or workpiece.
In testing, we cut all types of sheet goods, as well as 4/4 and 8/4 red oak. Each saw sailed through sheet goods with ease, and only the Festool 36-volt saw had difficulty with the hardwood.
To gauge the runtime of the three cordless saws, we measured how far each could cut per charge. (See the chart below ) The Makita 36-volt saw (above) doubled the output of the other battery saws. But if you'll only make a few cuts at a time, any of the saws will do the job.
Now, get your saw on track
Whenever possible, buy your tracks at a store, or have them shipped to a store, rather than having them shipped to you. Many of the tracks we received for testing, including several over 8' long, shipped in simple cardboard packaging. These aluminum tracks can be easily damaged, so limit the chances.
All of the saws can be used without a track, just like a regular circ saw. But guiding them with a track guarantees dead-straight cuts. All the tracks work similarly: The saw straddles a raised rib that maintains a straight cutting line, and rubber grip strips on the bottom prevent the track from scooting during a cut. These grip strips held well enough that we didn't need to clamp the track to the workpiece in most cases, even on slick melamine-coated particleboard. The DeWalt tracks, shown below, worked better when we clamped them to the workpiece. We recommend always clamping your track in place, regardless of the brand, to avoid potential miscuts, especially as dust builds up on the strips and lessens the grip.
You can buy each saw by itself, and then buy the lengths of track you want separately, or in saw/track kits. To help you make a fair price comparison, the chart below shows the minimum investment needed to crosscut and rip 4×8' sheet goods (the most common use for tracksaws). You can buy single tracks that span these dimensions, or shorter tracks that link end to end.
Maximizing the cut
All the saws use "snuggers" on the footplate to eliminate a sloppy fit on the track's rib. The Grizzly, both Makitas, and the Triton have slotted guides and stabilizers on the saw's footplate—similar to the T-shaped slots and bars (or washers) on a tablesaw miter gauge—that keep the plate flat on the track when making beveled cuts, shown below.
The track itself provides kickback protection by virtually eliminating the risk of veering off course and binding the blade in a cut, making these saws safer than a standard circular saw. In addition, most of the saws incorporate either a riving knife (Grizzly, shown below), a rib-riding antikickback/backslide mechanism (Triton), or both (DeWalt and Festool). Only the Makitas lack any secondary antikickback protection.
Each of the tracks has a flexible plastic edging that—after you trim it to fit your saw's blade—helps prevent chip-out of surface fibers when cutting. DeWalt's track, with a centered rib, has this edging on both sides, the only one like this in our test. This lets you run the saw in either direction, or dedicate one side of the track to 90° cuts and the other to beveled cuts. (With some tracks, bevel-cutting reduces this edging's effectiveness on 90° cuts.) Each of the saws created less chip-out in maple-veneered plywood than in melamine-coated particleboard (below), so we give credit to those saws that cut melamine cleanly.
The Festool, Makita, and Triton saws earned the highest marks for clean cuts. Also, Festool's saw-mounted chip guard (below) prevents chip-out along the offcut side of the blade.
More tracksaw tidbits
■ Dust collection. The Festool and Makita saws earned the highest marks here when used in conjunction with a shop vacuum. Only the cordless Festool comes with a dust bag; Triton offers one as an accessory.
■ Variable speed. All but one of the saws (Grizzly) have variable-speed motors. (See the chart.) But we don't see this as a significant advantage for cutting wood and sheet goods.
■ Depth scale. Each saw's cutting-depth scale is calibrated for using the saw on wood without a track. So when you use the track, you have to also account for its thickness. Other than being able to set a depth stop to avoid overexposing the blade beneath the workpiece—not an act that requires great precision—we don't see the scale as a big deal.
■ Noise. All these saws measured loud enough that you should always wear hearing protection when using them.
Tracking down a winner
After running all of the saws through rigorous testing, the powerful Festool TS 75 EQ-F-PLUS emerged as the Top Tool overall.
If you prefer a cordless model, go for the Makita XPS01Z, our Top Tool in that subcategory. Not only did it outperform the other battery-powered saws, but we also prefer it to some of the corded models.
Is your tool budget more limited? Then consider the Makita SP6000J, a great corded saw for about half the price of the Festool TS 75. It's our Top Value.
Festool TS 75 EQ-F-PLUS
▲ With the largest motor in the group, this saw demonstrated the most power in testing, yet still feels nimble.
▲ Its 81⁄4 " blade provides the deepest cut capacity at just over 23⁄4 ".
▲ Like the Festool TS 55, this model has excellent chip-out prevention, antikickback protection, easy blade changes, excellent dust collection, detachable cord, excellent tracks, and 3-year warranty.
▲ A built-in depth stop lets you make a shallow scoring pass that eliminates chip-out before making the full-depth parting cut. However, the blade cut so well (when new and sharp), we didn't need to do this, even with delicate veneers and melamine.
▲ A stabilizer holds the saw base flat on the track when tilting the blade to make beveled cuts.
▲ Makita's tracks tie with the Festool tracks as our favorites.
▼ No antikickback protection.
▲ The DeWalt tracks, with a centered rib, allow you to run the saw on either side with equal effectiveness.
▲ An antikickback device on the saw prevents the tool from backsliding if the blade binds.
▲ 3-year warranty.
▼ The aluminum tracks were slightly crowned, reducing the grip on workpiece surfaces enough to require clamping the track in place.
▼ It takes just one connector to join tracks, but often required fussing with the fit to get the saw to glide smoothly over the transition.
▼ Dust collection was only fair when connected to a vacuum.
■ Changing blades was cumbersome, but once you get used to the process, it's okay.
Festool TS 55 REQ-F-PLUS
▲ A splinter guard prevents chip-out on the side of the cut not covered by the track's antisplinter edging.
▲ A slip-clutch and riving knife prevent kickback should the blade bind.
▲ Easiest blade changes among the test group.
▲ Dust collection was excellent when connected to a shop vacuum.
▲ Festool's tracks tie with Makita's as our favorites.
▲ 3-year warranty.
■ This saw tripped a thermal overload switch when ripping 8/4 red oak—a function meant to protect the motor. To avoid this, use a blade better suited for ripping hardwood than the provided 48-tooth blade.
■ The power cord detaches from the saw for easier storage in the stackable plastic case.
▲ A stabilizer holds the saw securely to the track when tilting the saw for beveled cuts.
▲ A detachable stop provides a reliable endpoint for stopped cuts.
▲ Its low price provides a great entry point for a tracksaw.
▼ This saw demonstrated the most chip-out, especially in melamine-coated particleboard.
▼ Although it never stalled, this saw labored when ripping 8/4 oak.
▼ You can't lock the saw in the plunge position, making blade changes more difficult.
▼ This saw does not come with a storage case or bag.
■ Grizzly offers only 28" and 55" tracks. So to make 8' cuts, you must join together a combination of tracks. The good news: It's the lowest-priced unit when doing this.
▲ Antikickback protection is built into the saw.
▲ A stabilizer prevents the saw from tipping off the track when making beveled cuts.
▲ 3-year warranty.
▼ The soft-start motor can be annoyingly slow to get up to speed.
▼ The saw's footplate required some filing to remove metal burrs in order to make it glide smoothly on the tracks.
■ Dust collection was good when using a vacuum, but the dust port points inward rather than outward, putting the hose in the way of the operator's hand.
■ Triton offers only 28" and 59" tracks. So to make 8' cuts, you must join together a combination of tracks. The good news: It's the second-lowest-priced unit when doing this.
▲ Using two 18-volt battery packs, this saw dominated the other cordless saws by cutting more than twice as much material per charge.
▲ It proved well-balanced and easy to hold and use—best among the cordless models.
▲ This saw has the same scoring-pass capability as the corded Makita, and it also made excellent cuts without using this feature. It also has the same effective tilt-lock system, and the same excellent tracks.
▼ Like its sibling, this saw lacks antikickback devices and a riving knife.
▼ The battery packs take just over an hour to charge. So if you don't have extras, you'll have to wait on these.
▼ This saw does not come with a storage case or bag. However, if you buy a kit including batteries and charger, you also get a storage case.
■ Although the saw never stalled during demanding 8/4-oak ripcuts, it did get hot to the touch.
■ Makita offers a version of this saw (no. XPS01PTJ, $500) with wireless Bluetooth connectivity to a similarly equipped 36-volt vacuum (no. XCV08Z, $460 without batteries). This combination worked well and required no power cords.
▲ The most powerful saw of the three cordless models.
▲ It shares the same advantages of dual-edge tracks as the corded DeWalt.
▲ 3-year warranty.
▼ This saw's tracks share the same crowning and connection problems as the corded DeWalt.
▼ The antikickback device requires you to slide the saw onto the track from the end, rather than setting it down onto the track—a fussy task.
■ Plunging this saw requires more of a forward-and-down push than the primarily downward push with other saws. It's not bad, but takes getting used to.
■ The battery pack creates a pinch-point when operating the saw left-handed. That's not the case with the right hand.
Festool TSC 55 REB
▲ Like the other Festool saws, it has an effective splinter guard, antikickback measures, easy blade changes, excellent tracks, and 3-year warranty.
▲ Its battery packs charged fastest (30 minutes).
▲ Excellent dust collection when using either the included dust bag or a vacuum.
▲ A fine-adjustment knob on the plunge-depth stop lets you easily calibrate the depth of cut.
▼ This saw struggled to cut 4/4 oak, and stalled after cutting just a few inches of 8/4 oak. Its runtime was half that of the Makita cordless saw.
▼ Poor ergonomics make this saw uncomfortable to hold and use, primarily because the battery packs crowd into the handle area.
■ You can run this saw on just one 18-volt battery, but it cuts faster and longer with two.
Download PDF of Tracksaw Comparison Chart