Build the Ultimate DIY Track Saw Sled for Your Circular Saw: Clean Rips and…
Make This Circular Saw Track Saw Guide….With a Circular Saw
Breaking down plywood is an issue for most hobbyist woodworkers. I’ve done it on my table saw, but it’s a 2 person job and even then it’s a pain. The best way I’ve found is to use a circular saw and some sort of straight-edge. So, I’m showing you how to build one yourself, as I build mine. I’ll also explain the other options out there and their problems.
There are straight-edges available that clamp, and they work great, but you have to account for not only the measurement of the piece you’re cutting, but also the distance on your saw from the blade to the edge of the base. I’ve used one quite a bit, but you introduce an extra measurement and that’s another opportunity for error.
There are retro-fit products available that turn your circular saw into a track saw. They also work pretty well, but they don’t fit perfectly and have some slop (move side to side enough to change the cut a bit) in them. Over time the edge becomes uneven and it’s hard to line the track up.
Things to Think About
There are a couple of considerations to think through before you build this jig.
(1) The saw motor and any other parts should clear the fence at your desired depth. Lower the saw until it touches the saw and then raise it up just a bit to give plenty of clearance. That’s your lowest depth. Now, place some stock under the fence and confirm the blade will cut all the way through.
(2) It is possible to make the fence extremely straight without a straight edge. You could purchase your plywood at the home center and then have them cut it down on their panel saw. The other option, and what I do in the video above, is to utilize the factory edge on the plywood. Examine each edge and pick the one that is the straightest.
(3) The cutting side of the jig should start out wider than the saw base. This is to give enough room to make a nice zero clearance cut as the last step.
(4) The other side of the jig should be wide enough to accommodate clamps since you won’t be able to clamp on the fence or cutting side. I measured 6” from the fence to the right side of the jig.
Building the Jig
From the best factory edge measure 3” in and make a free-hand cut.
With the saw in place flip the fence over with the factory edge facing right and, up against the saw and then strike a line on each side to mark its basic location. Measure 6” from the right side of the fence to the right side of the jig and make a mark at each end.
Use your saw to cutout the jig, free-hand, at those marks. Glue the fence down and either drive screws, brad nails, or use clamps to keep it tight against the jig until the glue dries. It’s not really important that the fence is parallel to the edge as long as there is room for the saw to make a cut.
Run your saw along the fence and make a zero clearance cut keeping even and consistent pressure against the fence.
Make a Test Cut
Now that your jig is built it’s time to make a test cut. Measure and mark the piece to be cut and set the jig right at the marks. Clamp the jig down and run the saw along the saw guide again keeping even and consistent pressure against the fence.
You likely won’t need to build an 8ft guide like the one in this video, but a 4ft guide is much more useful. It allows you to make crosscuts and shorter rip cuts.
Build the Ultimate DIY Track Saw Sled for Your Circular Saw: Clean Rips and Crosscuts from 90° to 45°
Does this sound familiar? You see a piece of furniture for 500 and think, “I could build that for less.” Next thing you know, you’re a couple thousand dollars into tools. Woodworking’s a blast, but it ain’t cheap. Here’s the thing. While some tools are essential, there are other “nice to have” tools you can get by without. All it takes is a little creativity — and this all-in-one DIY track saw is a perfect example. I’m going walk you through how to build and use this sled… So you can keep woodworking without breaking the bank.
WHY BUILD THIS SLED?
Track saws are amazing for getting straight cuts with a handheld saw. But if you’re reading this, you know they cost a pretty (ugly) penny.
So I got to thinking. What’s one of the first tools most hobbyists or DIYers buy?
So I set out to build a sled that not only gave me straighter cuts with a circular saw — but had even more functionality than traditional track saws.
Through trial and error (heavy on the error), I came up with a circular saw sled capable of accurate ripping and crosscutting from 45° to 90°.
It can even help you put off buying a table saw for a while (to an extent).
And best of all, you can adapt it to your exact needs.
HOW TO USE THE SLED
The sled consists of a base, a top and bottom fence, and hold down clamps.
They’re used in different ways depending on the type of cut.
RIPPING OR CUTTING PANELS
Say you need to cut a panel of plywood into a 2 foot wide piece.
First, lock down the bottom fence so it’s square to the zero-clearance ripping edge (the picture below is setting up for a 45° cut, but it’s the same idea).
Mark 2 feet on the plywood sheet, and set your sled on top.
With the bottom fence flush against the reference edge of the plywood, line up the zero-clearance edge with the line you marked.
The bottom fence makes sure the zero-clearance edge is square to the reference edge of the panel — so you only need to measure at one end (instead of both ends like you would with a straight edge).
Lock the hold down clamps onto the panel so it’s steady. You can also use the clamping block or other clamps to further tighten it down.
Set your circular saw on the sled with the base against the top fence. Put light lateral pressure into the fence as you make the cut, and you’ll get a straight, square edge.
Want to make a cut that isn’t 90°? Just adjust the bottom fence to the appropriate angle and follow the same steps.
Lay the board you’re crosscutting on the base so it’s flush against the top fence.
3 Must-Have Track Saw Accessories #shorts
Line up your marking knife or pencil line with the 90° crosscut zero-clearance edge, and lock the board in place with the hold down clamps on the top fence.
Flip the sled upside down and set the bottom fence to the 90° position.
Clamp the sled to something stable, then make your cut with the edge of your circular saw riding along the bottom fence.
To make 45° crosscuts (say for mitered picture frames), set the bottom fence to the 45° position and follow the same steps.
It’s dead simple to use. And you can build it in less than an afternoon.
Besides plywood, we carry all the necessary materials for this sled in our store.
CUT THE BASE AND TOP FENCE
Start by breaking down plywood for the base and top fence.
The dimensions depend on your circular saw and how you plan to use the sled.
For reference, I made the base 7 inches wide and 50 ½ inches long, and the fence 3 inches wide and 45 ½ inches long.
Note: Cut the base a little wider than the final dimensions you’re after. You need to leave some extra meat for cutting the zero-clearance edge later on.
You can make it longer if you like — say for breaking down 8 foot sheets of plywood (just be careful to not knock off any heads when you swing it around).
The important thing is that the top fence be shorter than the base. This lets you to flip the sled over and cut zero clearance sides for 90° and 45° crosscuts.
NO TABLE SAW TIP: No table saw? No problem.
The only edge that needs to be straight is the side of the top fence your circular saw rides against.
If you don’t trust yourself to cut a straight line, use one of the pre-cut edges of your plywood for this reference edge (just double check to make sure it’s straight).
Even if the base comes out wonky, it’ll work perfectly once you cut the zero-clearance edge.
You’re going to cut two grooves in the bottom of the base, and one in the top fence for t-track.
If you’re using the t-track we carry, cut the grooves ¾ inch wide and a hair deeper than ⅜ inch.
I use a dado stack. but a router with an edge guide works too.
The placement of the groove in the top fence isn’t critical. Just make sure the hold down clamps will be able to reach the base.
Cut the grooves in the base so your circular saw blade won’t hit any t-track when you cut the zero clearance edge. I offset these grooves from the edges by 1 ½ inches.
Once the grooves are cut, lay in the t-track and secure it with screws. For the bottom base, insert t-track to match the length of the fence (leaving none at one end for zero-clearance edges).
ATTACH TOP FENCE TO BASE
The top fence doesn’t need to be square to the base — but try to get it close.
Make sure to offset the fence forward on the base. The side where it doesn’t reach is where you’ll later cut zero-clearance edges for crosscuts.
Spread a layer of glue over the bottom of the fence and lay it in position. Make sure wherever you place it, your circular saw blade won’t hit t-track when you cut the zero clearance edge.
I use a few pin nails to secure the fence while the glue dries. You can just clamp it and wait — but the pin nails let you keep going.
CUT THE ZERO-CLEARANCE REFERENCE EDGE
Once the fence is securely attached to the base, you can cut the zero-clearance edge.
Check to make sure your circular saw blade is actually at 90° to its base.
Secure the sled to your workbench or a couple sawhorses with some clamps. Be careful not to cut into anything you don’t want to.
Then with the side of your circular saw resting against the fence, make a cut along the full length of the base.
Make sure to keep the saw against the fence for the entire cut.
You’ve now got a reference edge that’s perfectly parallel to your fence. I recommend labeling it with a sharpie or pencil so you don’t get confused later on.
MAKE THE BOTTOM FENCE AND CLAMP BLOCK
The bottom fence serves two functions: It rests against stock to keep the sled square during rips, and works as the fence for your saw to ride along during crosscuts.
I made mine out of maple for its strength and stability — but you could use plywood as well.
Mill it so it’s straight and square on all sides. Mine came out to 14 inches long and 1 ½ inch wide.
You’ll then drill a ¼ inch hole and cut a ¼ inch slot for t-bolts to fit through. You can figure out the length and spacing with a combo square.
Lay the bottom fence across the base, using the square to keep it at 90° (make sure the combo square fence is referencing your freshly cut zero-clearance edge).
Mark the points where it crosses the t-track.
Then do the same for a 45° angle. Lay the square against it so one point you marked is still over the t-track, then mark where it crosses on the other side.
Drill a ¼ inch hole through the fence at the single point you marked. Then use a router to cut a slot between the other two points (you can also just do two slots — up to you).
I recommend using a spiral upcut bit for cutting slots.
It clears out material quickly so you don’t overburden your router.
Also, cut the slot in multiple passes, taking about ¼ inch at a time. Trying to cut the full depth in one pass won’t be good for the bit or your router.
And if you want to get your hands on the 3×3 Custom 6-in-1 Universal Trim Router Jig in the pic above, sign up for our second release here.
Slide some t-bolts through the bottom fence and insert them in the two rows of t-track. Double check that the fence can be locked down from 90° to 45°, and adjust the slot as necessary.
If you want a bigger range of angles, just make the slot longer.
The clamp block is just a piece of wood with a ¼ inch hole drilled through. You can use it to better secure the sled to a workpiece during rips.
SET UP THE BOTTOM FENCE FOR CROSSCUTS
To use the bottom fence as a saw guide for crosscuts, we need to drill a couple more holes.
(I didn’t realize this until halfway through the build, but the t-bolts and locking knobs can get in the way of the saw motor if you’re trying to make crosscuts with the sled upside down.)
Drill a ¼ inch hole through the top fence and base (at the end where the base extends further).
Flip the sled upside down, then put a t-bolt through the hole in the bottom fence and the hole you just drilled.
Use a combo square to get the bottom fence 90° to the reference edge, then lock it down with the knob and a clamp.
Drill a hole through the slot that again passes through the top fence and base (you could just go through the base, but then you’d need to countersink the end of the t-bolt).
Insert another t-bolt and locking knob to secure the fence. Now you can make a pass with your circular saw to get a zero-clearance edge for 90° crosscuts.
Do the same with the bottom fence at 45°. Position the bottom fence with a square, drill a new hole, lock it down, then cut a 45° zero-clearance edge.
FINISH AND ASSEMBLE
Time to slather this sucker down with your favorite finish.
Shellac or cutting board conditioner are both good options for protecting the plywood and keeping your saw riding smoothly over the base.
Once the finish dries, put it all together — and you’re ready to get cutting.
This design is fully modifiable to your needs.
For example, you can make a version for cutting 45° bevels for miter joints.
Follow all the same steps, but have your circular saw set to cut at 45° when you trim the zero-clearance edges.
You could also put another line of t-track in the top of the base next to the fence for an adjustable stop block (like the Katz-Moses No Deflection Stop Block ).
Lock down the stop block, and you can butt stock against it to make multiple equal length cuts.
Depending on the make of your circular saw, you might even be able to come up with a way to get the saw to attach to a track so there’s no risk of going off your line (like a real track saw).
I didn’t want to mangle my saw’s base plate, and the fence works just fine when used correctly. But if you have an idea, I’d love to hear it.
BUILD WITH THE TOOLS YOU ALREADY HAVE
Track saws are no doubt useful. But with a little creativity, you can get by just fine without one.
Hopefully, this DIY track saw inspires you to find solutions to your tool limitations — and helps you get cuts as square as the Minecraft universe.
Can You Turn a Circular Saw Into a Track Saw?
We love our track saw. It’s an expensive tool to have in a home woodworking shop, but it’s worth the money. We’ve written about track saws in the past, and you’ll find the article here.
In that piece, we compared a track saw to the model train sets of our youth. Oh, my, how much fun we had setting up the tracks, creating a train station, trees, mountains, tunnels. Trains stayed on the tracks because the wheels were concave and sat upon rails that kept them in line. Great fun.
In addition to the track saw, we also have a circular saw in the shop, along with a table saw. While there may be some overlapping of talent and skill among these power tools, each plays its part in our woodworking projects.
Today we’ll dig a little deeper into two of them – the track saw and the circular saw. Perhaps budget constraints require a choice be made, and we’ll help shed a little light on these two for you.
What Is A Track Saw?
Just like model trains run on tracks, so does a track saw. A blade is encased in a housing not dissimilar to a circular saw in concept. The housing has a base that includes runners that fit inside the grooves of a track. Those grooves hold the saw in place as it is moved along the track to make its cut.
The blade of the saw protrudes right at the edge of the track to maintain the line you have measured carefully and laid the track along. The track sits on the plywood, for instance, and is held in place by the sticky base to make the cut true and straight. All you have to do is move the saw along the track.
You can see how it would be used to rip that plywood, then. It is also a very able plunge saw – it has an easily adjustable depth gauge, and the track will help maintain that depth with great accuracy.
The advantages of a track saw over a table saw or circular saw makes them a very versatile tool. They are lightweight, easy to set up, and don’t require clamps. The rails come in varying sizes and extensions that can be assembled into whatever length you need them to be for your cuts.
Standard rail sizes are 102” and 118”, long enough to handle an 8’ sheet of plywood. Supported on saw horses, that plywood sheet can be ripped into any width easily and quickly, much more so than with a table saw. In the case of a track saw, it is brought to the material to be cut, whereas with a table saw the material must be brought to the tool.
What Is A Circular Saw?
Circular saws are ubiquitous on job sites. They’re very portable, easy to carry, and can handle both rip cuts and cross cuts with ease. They are the perfect tool for the job site carpenter, a real workhorse for many utilitarian tasks.
Circular saws are power tools that turn a round, flat blade to cut wood, metal, or plastic, depending on the blade and the need. The blade turns in a circular motion spinning around an arbor, and the blade is guarded as it moves along the material being cut.
While the blade rotation is powered, the movement of the saw through the material being cut is supplied by you. The saw’s grip is held and the saw is pushed through the wood to make the cut. They power up immediately, and power down almost as quickly, with the blade guard protecting you and the material while the blade stops turning.
The circular blades come in different tooth configurations and sizes, and are easily interchanged depending on what is being cut. Fewer, larger teeth cut quickly but roughly, while smaller, more numerous teeth cut more finely and slower.
Circular saws weigh between 7 – 10 lbs, and blades come in sizes ranging from 7 to 10 inches as the most commonly used. The blade guard covers the blade when it isn’t running (those carbide teeth can be very sharp). When you are ready to cut, the guard is lifted so you can see the marked line. The base of the saw, called the shoe, sits flat on the material being cut.
Easy and quick to use, it is one of the starter tools that made our list of power tools for the beginner in a previous article here.
What Are The Differences Between a Track Saw and a Circular Saw?
Track saws look like an upgraded, more mature, and sophisticated circular saw. While they both are power tools that cut wood well, they differ in performance and degree of accuracy.
- Structure. Track saws are fully enclosed and housed, whereas the circular saw is more open with an exposed blade. The blade guard is necessary on a circular saw, while the housing of a track saw provides the protection entirely. Track saws are lighter in weight than a circular saw, making them easier to carry from cut to cut.
- Manner of performance. While you power both saws through the material being cut, the track saw moves along tracks, whereas cutting with a circular saw is freehand. This can and does affect the pure accuracy of the cut, and with the circular saw requires much more attention to what you are doing.
- The cuts. A circular saw makes two cuts well: rip cuts and cross cuts. A track saw can handle both rip cuts and cross cuts well, also, but beyond them can also make miter and bevel cuts natively.
- Accuracy. Once the tracks are set to your measured line, the track saw is held in place and line by them, resulting in a much more consistent and accurate cut every time. The circular saw is a freehand cut, and the accuracy will be determined more by your ability and experience. Even then, circular saw cuts will not match a track saw cut in consistently accurate cuts.
- Dust. With a circular saw, the dust will fly freely. This doesn’t matter at a job site, as cleanup is a regular part of new construction. But in a shop, freely flying dust might be an annoyance. It’s different with a track saw, though. The saw housing includes a fitting to which you can connect your dust collection hose. The cut material is the only sign of a cut having been made, as your dust collection system removes the saw dust as the cut is being made.
- Usage. A track saw can be used without the track, and in doing so, you have a rather expensive circular saw. Of course, why would you buy a track saw only to use it without the track? Its attractiveness as an investment for your shop is that the track will always guide a consistently accurate cut.
But, all is not lost. If a track saw is well outside your shop budget, with some adjustment and imagination your circular saw can be turned into a track saw.
The answer is to make your own “track” with some scrap plywood. A jig for your circular saw that will enable you to reap the benefits of a track saw without all of the expense is not difficult or complex.
It will not have the convenience of the track a track saw uses, of course. Those tracks have straight and square edges, so extending the tracks with another piece of track, just like you did when you were young, is easy.
Making a 108” jig might present something of a challenge, but it would need to be made only once. And if you have enough scrap pieces of plywood handy, you can make varying sizes of jigs to help you handle smaller cuts.
A circular saw is heavier than a track saw, and not as convenient to carry around to make cuts. But, a budget is a budget, and a little lugging around won’t kill you.
And, you’ll want to have a variety of clamps available, too. The track of a track saw has a sticky base that holds the track in place when cutting. Your homemade DIY jig won’t, unless you add something to the plywood. Clamps will be needed to hold the jig securely while cutting. Still, your shop is likely to have plenty of clamps handy, so that should be no problem.
You can leave it up to This Old House to show you how, even. The concept is simple and straightforward, and even a beginner can follow along.
How about miter cuts with a circular saw? Sure, with a little imagination you can make a miter saw jig for your circular saw, too. Again, some scrap pieces can be turned into that jig for you at minimal cost. Here’s another video that will show you how. You’ll see some other possible straight edges to supplant the tracks in this video, including a speed square held in place with a clamp.
With some imagination and ingenuity, you can turn your circular saw into a track saw inexpensively and well. Jigs will do the trick for you at far less than the cost of a track saw.
We do love our track saw and are happy to have it in our shop. But it’s not the end of the world if you can’t afford 500 for one. Use the circular saw you already have in your shop, make the jigs, and enjoy most of the same benefits for far less.
Matt is an experienced woodworker and a devoted family man. Matt’s passion for woodworking began at a young age when he would watch his grandfather in his woodworking shop. He has spent over 20 years honing his skills, learning new techniques, and perfecting his designs. When he’s not in his workshop, Matt loves spending time with his family.
The Best Track Saw for Smooth and Precise Cuts
If you are in the woodworking trade, power saws are the companion you need to cut through various materials. Saws consist of different kinds of blades or chains that are sharp enough to cut through numerous materials, and the motor inside them allows for a much faster operation, as well as greater precision and less chance for error.
There are so many types of saws to choose from, such as a table saw, circular saw, miter saw, chop saw, chainsaw, and many others. Each one of them has been designed for specific purposes, and if you are looking for a saw that cuts through sheets of wood or longer pieces of lumber, a track saw is a perfect choice for you. A circular saw, miter saw, or some other saw just can’t compete with a track saw for this purpose.
Track saws have become largely popular in the past decade, mainly due to the DIY movement. They are fast, easy to operate, and are suitable for a wide range of materials, such as plywood, fiberboard, and lumber. If you are also looking for the best track saw in 2023 for your woodworking or DIY projects, then we have the best options for you to choose from
Best Track Saws Buying Guide
How To Choose the Best Track Saw
By now, you have a clear picture of which track saw you should be considering for your woodworking and DIY projects at home or at the job site. But how did we handpick these options? There are a number of factors that come into play when you are considering a track saw for yourself. Let’s have a look at these features.
Naturally, the blade is the most useful part of the saw, and its size determines how thick of a material you can cut easily. Most of the track saws feature 6 ½” blades that can cut through materials that are up to 2” thick. A track saw with a larger blade enables you to cut through thicker materials.
The blade is only as good as the speed with which it is rotated. Most of the track saws offer speed control options, which enable you to prevent dulling the blade or cutting more than you need to. A track saw that has variable speeds between 2000 RPM and 5000 RPM is generally favorable for your requirements.
Having a track saw that can make bevel cuts is quite useful, as they can enhance your woodworking experience and allow you to work on numerous projects. A track saw that offers a bevel capacity between 0° and 45° is good enough for you.
The power rating is another important aspect that you need to consider. When it comes to corded track saws, you can find a track saw with a 10A to 20A output. On the other hand, when you have a cordless track saw, having a 20V battery provides you with sufficient power to operate the blade efficiently.
Corded or cordless
This is another major factor that comes into play when you are considering the best track saw. While corded track saws provide you with more power, cordless track saws are more portable and easy to operate. Goodell David, Founder of WoodWorking Clarity, says, “ If you do a lot of quick jobs or work mainly from your shop, you don’t need a cord.” However, you will have to change the batteries from time to time, which can be cumbersome, especially if the track saw dies down in between a cutting job.
Among the best track saws that we have mentioned above, our topmost pick would be the DeWALT FLEXVOLT Cordless TrackSaw Kit. Not only does it have a powerful motor, a sharp blade, and a cordless feature, but it also provides the best value for money. Plus, it also offers you maximum versatility and a smooth cutting experience.
If you want to learn why a track saw can be so beneficial, watch this video from WoodWorker’s Guild Of America:
And that is all we have for you regarding the best track saws of 2023. By reading the product reviews we have gathered, you will be able to take the right pick easily. Plus, if you have any other options insight, you can make use of our buying guide to make the right decision.
Track vs Circular Saw. Is Plunge Saw Better?
A common pondering echoed in forums and lumber aisles is whether one should buy a circular saw or a track saw. A question for the ages, both are versatile, powerful additions to any woodworker’s or DIYer’s arsenal. So if your significant other asks you to choose, you have my permission to tell them that you need both.
However, if you are intent on only choosing one, this article may help you decide.
What is a Plunge Saw (Track Saw)?
A track saw, also known as a plunge saw or plunge-cut saw, is a type of circular saw that cuts along a dedicated guide. As its name suggests, it does so by plunging into the working surface from above and moving on a precision guide track. The blade of a track saw is fully enclosed – a characteristic that provides an added layer of safety and increased dust control.
Advantages of a Track Saw
A plunge cut saw has several advantages over a handheld circular saw. Following are the major pros of a track saw.
Perfect Straight Cuts
The track saw “shoe” is designed with runners that smoothly slide along corresponding grooves of a matching track guide, creating precise, straight lines and allowing for smooth cuts with exceptional performance in terms of minimizing splintering along the cut-line.
No Clamps Required
The tracks, themselves, typically come equipped with rubber footings that keep the track in place without requiring clamps to secure the track. This small but important detail helps reduce the cut-line setup time that is typically required of circular saw edge guides.
Quick and Easy Set-up
Apart from doing away with clamps, measuring is simply easier and faster with plunge saws because you merely have to mark your line, place the guide, and cut. The track will set your track saw blade exactly on your marked cut-line. This is a much different experience than using a circular saw because you don’t need to take into consideration the difference between the shoe edge and the saw blade/cut-line, which can sometimes be a frustrating aspect when using circular saws with edge guides. This is especially helpful when you have to make multiple, identical cuts.
Ability to Plunge Cut
Also, unlike a circular saw, a plunge saw is not designed to only cut from the edge of a board, but it can also cut to precise depths from any point along the cut-line by making a plunge cut. This makes this type of saw a great option for projects like cutting out an area on a countertop in order to place a sink or even creating a dado effect.
Many track saws are equipped with anti-kickback systems. The simplest anti-kickback mechanism is a riving knife that follows the blade. This works much like a riving knife on a table saw, preventing the cut edges from closing together and pinching the blade.
Depending on the model of your saw, it could also be an anti-kickback sensor that stops the blade motor as soon as a kickback is detected.
Most plunge saws are designed with enclosed covers and dust collection ports. The enclosed design facilitates better dust control. All you need to do is to hook the saw to your shop vac and you have a much cleaner working environment.
Disadvantages of a Track Saw (Plunge Saw)
When choosing a track saw over a circular saw, there really aren’t many disadvantages. However, a few clear disadvantages do exist, and the most important to note is that the cost of these machines can be quite prohibitive.
- Circular saws are about 3 times more affordable, and that’s a conservative estimate that considers only the most affordable track saw packages (that include the track) that are currently on the market.
- On a similar note, your cut length is limited by the amount of track you have. You can typically connect multiple tracks together for a longer cut-line, but this means buying additional accessories, thereby making this purchase even more expensive.
- The additional track requirement also adds to the space required to store the saw while reducing the portability of the saw further.
A circular saw is a versatile handheld saw that allows for quick, straight or beveled cuts. These tools can make cross-cuts (across the grain) or rip-cuts (with the grain) with or without an optional dedicated track, though cutting guides can generally be made from a variety of spare material or tools that you might have laying around, like a leftover piece of plywood or a box level and a couple of clamps.
In addition to wood products and depending on the blade, circular saws can be used on a variety of other materials as well, including metal and tile. Related Read: How to Cut Tile with a Circular Saw They can also be used to cut material in various positions and locations and are not limited to use on a flat, horizontal surface. They also do not require the item being cut to be moveable. In other words, you aren’t limited to what you can move and fit onto your workbench and you can cut things to size even if they are stationary or vertical, like a fence post or a framing stud, without ever having to set up much of a work area unless more accuracy is important for the job.
This versatility and portability are what tool-lovers tend to appreciate most about circular saws. Simply put, they are a tool dedicated to user autonomy. You can easily take a circular saw from job site to job site and switch tasks quite easily, from cutting a piece of trim down to size to demoing through a layer of drywall. Additionally, you aren’t limited to the length of a track when using a circular saw. You’re only limited to how long your cutting guide is, and only if you choose to use one.
Theoretically, you could make a mile-long cut without any additional supplies and without having to reset anything along the way if you had a large enough battery or long enough power cord.
Better for Quick Cuts
When you need to quickly trim a 2×4 or 4×4 lumber, a circular saw is the better option. Setting the track on a small piece of wood for crosscutting is more of a hassle.
Disadvantages of a Circular Saw
Inability to cut perfectly straight cuts especially when it comes to ripping, unless you take the time to set up a straight edge guide or invest in guide tracks.
When using a circular saw, some might view the required cut-line starting point to be a disadvantage, as you must start from the very edge of your piece in order to disengage the safety cover mechanism. This, of course, could be seen as an advantage for safety reasons, but it has the potential to limit functionality. This differs from the plunge saw, which is aptly named for its ability to start a cut from any position along its track rather than the edge as the saw plunges into the working surface from above.
Additionally, many circular saw brands are not designed to have a dust collection system, meaning you are more limited, in some ways, in terms of your work location and will need to stick with where making a dusty woody mess is safe and acceptable.
A more serious drawback to using a circular saw is that cuts will inevitably experience more splintering than a table saw or a plunge saw. It’s also not meant for precision and accuracy, and though guides can help improve these, it’s not the best option for finish-work.
Track Saw vs Circular Saw With a Guide Track
When viewed on their own, the differences between a track saw and a circular saw are pretty clear.
But what if you were to add a dedicated track to your circular saw so that it behaved like a track saw? This is where things get a little squirrely in terms of which is the obvious choice for a particular job.
So, let’s analyze the job where this would be most beneficial: ripping plywood.
Guides very quickly improve the performance of circular saws in terms of ensuring straight, accurate cuts and minimizing splintering along your cut-line, and many modifications can be made to double down on this effort. In this way, you get much closer to the type of effortlessly smooth cuts possible with a track saw, as a dedicated guide or track greatly reduces the side-to-side motion of your saw as you cut while also adding support to the wood fibers along the cut-line.
Additionally, using a track comes closer to eliminating the tedious tasks of measuring, calculating your cut-line distance from your shoe edge, setting your straight edge guide, cutting, then doing it all over again for additional cuts. When using a track, your setup time is much quicker and more comparable to the setup of a track saw cut.
Though you can come close to the performance of a track saw with a modified circular saw setup, you still won’t quite meet the precision and clean cuts that a track saw affords its users, simply because a track saw was designed for that exact application.
- The guide track of a track saw is precisely machined to match the saw base. On the other hand, your circular saw may not fit and/or move perfectly in a generic guide track.
- You also can’t beat the dust collection system that comes with most track saws.
So, Which is Better? A Track Saw or a Circular Saw?
As with most tool comparisons, this almost completely depends on you, your budget, and the task at hand!
Many woodworkers feel that their track saw has completely eliminated the need for their circular saw, as most of their circular saw needs had previously revolved around ripping and cross-cutting sheets of plywood in a controlled environment, like a shop. The track saw provides exceptionally precise, accurate cuts with very little splintering or tearout for this exact purpose.
If you are mainly cutting sheet goods or 3/4 plywood, a track saw would definitely be the better choice for you over a circular saw.
However, when utility is the goal and absolute precision isn’t the most important component of a project or task, circular saws really shine in their versatility, portability, and affordability when compared to a track saw.
If you are someone who moves from location to location often while working on projects (backyard to garage, house to house, home to work, etc.), if you aren’t only cutting moveable material, or if you make a lot of quick, short cuts rather than longer cuts (like cutting many 2×4’s down to size), or if you simply already have a circular saw but not a track saw and you aren’t convinced that a new tool is really worth the investment based on what you’ve learned in this article, sticking with a circular saw may be the better choice for you.