Makita 36V Track Saw
Cordless Power With Smooth Cutting
While professional woodworkers know what jobs a track saw vs. table saw are best for the simple answer is it depends. For example, a track saw can replace your table saw for cutting down plywood sheets. But for ripping hardwood a table saw can’t be beat.
Which means my Makita cordless track saw sees a lot of use sizing plywood, but so does my Sawstop table saw on piles of cherry lumber.
So which saw is best for what job? Well, there are dozens of ways to cut wood, but when it comes to using a table saw or track saw they generally break down into the following:
- Ripping softwood or hardwood lengthwise
- Cutting softwood or hardwood against the grain
- Specialty cuts like dadoes, half laps, angled cuts or box joints
- Cutting plywood sheet goods
- Sizing large, thick wood tabletops
So how do you decide which saw you need? Well, based on these types of wood cuts and (importantly) the space available in your shop we’ll take a look at how each saw cuts.
What is a Track Saw?
In the world of woodworking, a track saw is fairly new saw to many woodworkers.
And, as you can guess, most woodworkers first reaction is that it is simply a circular saw on a rail. While partially true, a track saw offers many advantages:
- Precise cuts are made with a perfectly straight aluminum rail
- Reduced chips are accomplished through rubber flanges on the cutting rail
- Dust collection is optimized with a closed blade
- Better safety as the saw blade isn’t released from the body of the saw until the safety release is activated
- Finished cut quality is almost always better on a track saw unless your table saw has a sliding bed.
Lastly, a track saw requires less lifting: instead of hauling a 75-pound sheet of MDF to your table saw you can simply lay it flat on a styrofoam covered Bora Centipede table and start cutting.
Related Article: Best Track Saws for Woodworking
What is a Table Saw?
While a track saw is a lightweight power hand tool, a table saw is just the opposite as they range from just under one hundred pounds up to a thousand pounds.
So what does a table saw do different? Well, key features of a table saw include:
- Smooth tops designed to support wood during cuts
- Fences that accurately set the distance between the blade to allow for repeated cuts
- Adjustable blade height and angles for miter cuts
- Portable table saws for jobsites
- Workshop table saws for garages and shops
- Dust collection ports
Related Article: The Complete Guide to Table Saws
The Differences: Table Saw or Track Saw
Now that you know the critical features of each saw, the real question is what is best for your workshop.
We’ll cover these topics in detail, but the main uses for each saw come down to the following.
Use a table saw for:
- Ripping hardwoods or softwoods lengthwise
- Angled cuts
- Dadoes or grooves
- Repeated cuts of the same size
- Materials over 2-1/2″ thick
However, use a track saw for:
- Cutting plywood sheets
- Trimming table tops or doors
- Portable tasks on a job-site
While you can make a track saw do much of what a table saw can do, the simple answer is that the two are designed differently enough to complement each other. Understanding these differences is why my workshop has both.
Differences in Design and Operation
Track Saw: A track saw, also known as a plunge-cut or rail saw, consists of a circular saw mounted on a guide rail (track). The saw can be positioned anywhere along the length of the track, and it’s designed to make precise straight cuts by guiding the saw along the track. It’s beneficial for breaking down large sheet goods like plywood.
Table Saw: A table saw features a circular saw blade mounted on an arbor beneath a flat table-like surface. The workpiece is pushed through the spinning blade, allowing for accurate crosscuts, rip cuts, bevel cuts, and more. The table supports the cut material, which helps maintain stability and precision.
Track Saw: Track saws are relatively portable, especially compared to traditional table saws. They are more suitable for job sites or workshops with limited space and can be easily transported due to their compact design.
Table Saw: Table saws are generally larger and heavier than track saws. While portable or job site table saw models are available, they are less compact and mobile than track saws.
Track Saw: Track saws are designed for making long, straight cuts in large sheet materials like plywood, MDF, and panels. They excel at breaking down large sheets into more manageable sizes with precision.
Table Saw: Table saws offer a wider range of cutting capabilities. They can handle long straight cuts and crosscuts, rip cuts, bevel cuts, and more complex angled cuts. Table saws are versatile and can accommodate various cuts with the appropriate accessories.
Track Saw: Track saws are known for their high accuracy, especially with guide rails. The rail provides a straight reference for the saw, resulting in clean and precise cuts.
Table Saw: These saws can also produce accurate cuts when properly set up and adjusted. However, they may require more attention to alignment and setup, especially for complex cuts.
Track Saw: Track saws are generally considered safer when it comes to kickback (sudden and forceful backward movement of the workpiece) due to the design of the saw and the ability to plunge-cut into the material.
Table Saw: Table saws can be prone to kickback if not used properly, and they often require additional safety precautions like using a riving knife, blade guards, and anti-kickback pawls.
Track Saw vs Table Saw for Ripping Boards
When it comes to cutting hardwood lengthwise (e.g., ripping) then, the default tool to use is a table saw, as it has the following advantages:
- Larger motor for continuous duty cuts
- The table saw fence offers a way to set repeatable cuts that are difficult with a track saw
- Speed, as a table saw, can cut boards faster
However, if your shop doesn’t have a jointer, some woodworkers will use a full-length track and track saw to make a straight-line cut to start the board outright.
Track Saw vs Table Saw for Cross Cuts
Most woodworkers will head to their sliding miter saw for any cross-cuts in hardwoods and even narrower sheet goods.
But sometimes, a track or table saw is the go-to tool. In general:
- Use a miter saw for standard cuts on hardwood less than 6″ wide
- A track saw for crosscutting large boards over 12″ that are too long or heavy to fit on a miter saw
- Lastly, a table saw can be used with a sliding fence for cutting smaller wood or to make multiple thin cuts
Table Saw vs Track Saw for Cutting Plywood
Woodworkers strongly dislike lifting heavy sheets of plywood.
And when it comes to lifting it and cutting on a table saw, the dislike grows as the cut quality diminishes with the reduced control over a heavy piece of wood.
This is why the track saw is so popular for woodworkers: instead of lifting the plywood to the saw, you bring the saw to the plywood.
But there are other advantages to a track saw:
- Safety as a track saw eliminates the risk of kickback common to cutting smaller pieces of plywood
- Cut quality as the track saw blade has less tear-out and chipping
- Dust control when your track saw is paired with a dust extractor
Track Saw vs Table Saw for Heavy Wood Cuts
Cutting a live edge board, tabletop, or even door using a table, miter, or circular saw can be challenging.
Because the wood’s weight, shape, or size makes for difficult cutting conditions, the other widespread use of a track saw is in these exact conditions.
Combined with superior cut quality, a track can be squared up, the track saw inserted, and a cordless way saw is even used “off the grid.”
However, in thick woods, the track saw has a limitation of a maximum depth of cut of 2-1/2 inches. But you can double that by simply flipping the wood (as shown above). While that might seem complicated to do this task, the rail lets you set a precise path for the blade. And a high-quality finished result.
How Does a Track Saw Track Work?
The first time a woodworker sees a track for a track saw, the reaction is always: why didn’t I own this before?
Have you fought your saws ripping chips out of plywood and used tape, knives, and other means?
Well, a track saw was designed to fix all that using a high-quality blade, rubber track, and (on the best track saws) a chip guard.
Here are the basics of using these tracks:
- The first time you use a track, you’ll need to run your saw the length of the path to cut the rubber (as shown above). This pairs your saw to the way for zero clearance chip protection.
- Second, use specialty track saw clamps that clamp from below.
- Then, lastly, place your track saw on the way and use the saws adjustment features to let it ride smoothly but not jam
Frequently Asked Questions
Which is better a track saw or a table saw?
Each saw has features that make it better for their cuts. A table saw is better at ripping wood, but a track saw is more precise and has a better cut quality for sizing plywood and sheet goods.
Is a track saw worth it?
While a circular saw with a track kit, some tape, and a bit more time is a worthy alternative, a track saw is a must for any woodworker that regularly cuts large slabs of wood or plywood. Because you are reducing the lifting and twisting on your back, familiar with a table saw, a track saw is an excellent investment in your health.
Can I use my circular saw as a track saw?
While a circular saw has some of the features of a track saw and thus can be used with some aftermarket tracks, it doesn’t come close to the track saw’s precision, cut quality, or reduced tear-out.
Is a track saw safer than a table saw?
Appropriately used, a track saw is generally safer than a table saw. Since the track saw blade is only exposed when “plunged” into the wood, it is less likely to make unintentional cuts. And, for plywood cuts, most table saws have a dangerous kick-back risk that is all but eliminated with a track saw. However, following the manufacturer’s instructions, both saws can cause serious injury.
Summary: Table Saw or Track Saw
While you can make do with just one, saw over the other, having both saws for any serious woodworker is usually the answer.
However, if you have the budget and some space, starting with a table saw makes the most sense, as it can do rips in hardwoods and softwoods that a track saw can’t keep up with.
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Last update on 2024-02-17 at 07:12 / Images from Amazon
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Eric has been a professional woodworker for over thirty years and has worked in small cabinet shops making everything from kitchen cabinets to hand-made furniture. Now working from a home woodworking shop Eric is sharing his passion for woodworking, tool advice and how-to knowledge from his Minnesota-based woodshop.