Choosing a track saw vs a circular saw, and vice versa, is a challenge that most entry-level carpenters face early on. Most trades people and hobbyists have limited resources, including space to store and transport saws. So, finding the right equipment and machinery is crucial to any business owner. Should I have to choose between a track saw and a circular saw, I would have a hard time making that decision. However, there are reasons and purposes for each of these common types of saws. Learn more about the differences between track and circular saws, and how to decide which one to buy.
Differences Between Track Saws and Circular Saws
Setting up a woodworking shop might include deciding whether to go with a track saw or a circular saw. A complete track saw system or kit can be purchased, making this process a lot easier. A track saw and a circular saw are very much alike in the shape of the blade and the way these tools work. In fact, when I think of these two types of saws, I see the circular saw blade and think; How are they different?
Check out this article covering all the blade options and compatibility for track saws
Track Saw Features
For starters, a track saw features a long rail system that allows you to cut long narrow pieces of wood, such as timber or lumber, into planks and boards. A track saw is also designed for thin wood, melamine, and other strips of material, including trim pieces for finishing work on walls. Here is a rail guided setup typically made using aluminum that has rubber pads inside. These are used to secure the material along its way to being cut by the circular blade within the track saw. This is primarily used to cut long, narrow pieces of material, which are most often made out of wood.
Circular Saw Features
A circular saw is a handheld saw that we started out with in the woodworking shop. Also called a Skilsaw or an electric handsaw, it is a foundational tool for learning how to handle basic woodworking techniques. Cabinetmakers and carpenters are typically hand-in-hand with a circular saw. The portability allows the circular saw to be easily hoisted onto any surface for cutting on the go. However, I find these are still heavy and bulky saws with weight.
Popular Saw Manufacturers
Both saws are made by the top brands, including Makita, Milwaukee, Festool, Mafell, DeWalt, Bosch, Kreg, Triton, Wen, and Shop Fox. In addition, with a track saw there’s the option of having a hybrid open stand table saw setup. This is more like a track saw system with a long flat rail surface for gliding materials for cutting. However, a table saw is an open table-top for materials to be cut down to size. There are no rail guides or rubber tracks to use for edging materials.
Makita’s SP6000 is a top choice for track saws – read more here
What Makes a Track Saw Unique
Here is where the track saw scores a bonus point. I can easily pick up and transport a track saw, as with a circular saw, but the track saw brings a level of precision not typical of a circular saw. Give me a pair of sawhorses or an X-shaped sawbuck and I can set up a track saw in no time. I can also make a track saw out of a circular saw with a kit that features an aluminum guide rail and base. The issue is I am not able to maintain the stability of retrofitting a circular saw into a track saw, compared to what I get from a standard track saw system. It’s a decent compromise in a pinch, but the cut quality and precision will not be the same.
So what makes a track saw so unique, and why would I choose a Track Saw vs Circular Saw? A track saw, also called a plunge cut saw or plunge saw, offers far more precision and cut quality for the final cuts compared to a circular saw. I just can’t get the same level of stability and accuracy when holding the circular saw by hand and cutting boards as I can with a stable track saw. Plunge-style track saws are built to be ultra-precise on a straight line. That means a track saw helps minimize loss in materials.
Also, I don’t have to clamp anything down like I do with a circular saw, which saves our crew time. However, here is where a track saw stands out. Just like a circular saw, the track saw system can easily be moved to a new worksite. These systems are portable and can withstand transportation without messing up the tracks or alignment.
Track Saw Reigns Supreme
If I were to be sent to a stranded island, and I could only take one type of saw with me to build a dwelling, which saw would I choose? By the way, track saws and circular saws are the only options here, since each is portable. Track saw wins every time.
Other reasons why I would choose a Track Saw vs Circular Saw include:
- Accuracy and no visible tear-out
- Fits into small spaces for working in close corners
- Maintain long cuts on wood, plastics, and other hard-to-cut materials
- Multi-purpose use as a circular saw, table saw, or panel saw
- No setup needed and minimal downtime
- Use for making flush cuts on adjacent walls
When using a circular saw, sure, I can also get into small spaces. However, I cannot get as accurate of cuts, including flush cuts with the accuracy of a circular saw. In terms of whether I wanted to choose a track saw or a circular saw for a job, if I wanted smooth straight lines, I would go with the track saw.
It’s just super difficult to cut a straight edge using a circular saw, no matter how much skill one has. This is where the track saw is superior to the circular saw. Here, the rubber guides in the tracks and under the system are key to stability. Along with the rail tracks for guidance, if the wood fits, the track saw will cut it like a champ.
Track Saw Final Notes
The best track saw will be durable enough to withstand any woodworking project. One of the first features I look for when shopping for a new track saw is the rubber strips to hold materials in place while cutting. Here is where the track saw outshines the circular saw, hands down, no pun intended. Unlike the circular saw that requires hand holding throughout the job, a track saw provides stability and support.
A track saw is made to encase a circular saw blade. Here is where I find the track saw does a much better job at making clean cuts. This is why. By keeping the saw blade stationary throughout the cutting process, a track saw resists jagged edges and splintering. I’m able to rip through a load of lumber and come out with a clean pile ready for installation in a residential home or commercial building. That’s important to my bottom line as a business owner.
Where a Circular Saw Excels
The circular saw dates back to the 18th century when rip-saws were invented to tackle logs and lumber processing. Sawmills used horses and tractors to operate circular saws, also called buzz-saws. However, there are several claims to fame over who actually invented the circular saw. The original circular saws were large and attached to a table using clamps, which makes them similar to a table saw. However, the portable circular saw we use today is far more efficient.
I am a lefty, and they make circular saws for left-handed users. This is very important for maintaining safety in the woodworking space. I can reach across the materials and hold them in place using my dominant hand, while the saw is managed with my right hand. In terms of Track Saw vs Circular Saw though, track saws are only built one way, however they are easy to use for both lefty’s and righty’s.
At the same time, there are situations where a circular saw far exceeds the limits of a track saw. We often start out with the circular saw when learning how to get around a piece of wood. Therefore, it is easier to manage and maintain this type of handheld saw for most woodworkers and carpenters. If I am not working with lumber or timber that needs finishing, then chances are I’ll grab a circular saw. I have been working with this machinery for quite some time now, though, so I am confident in my abilities.
Circular Saw Final Notes
Sawing with simple efficiency is key here. I can use a circular saw to make cuts wherever the moving blade can fit. Of course, maintaining control of the cutting blade is completely up to me, as there are no rails to follow or support the cuts. A portable circular saw is used to cut lumber, as is a track saw. I have several circular blade size options ranging from 6 1/2 inches to 8 1/4 inches.
A circular saw weighs nine to 12 pounds on average, and this is an important feature for most owners. I prefer to have lightweight machinery when possible to reduce the bulk weight of our trucks. Additionally, handling the heavier circular saw can be a hassle for everyday use. Added features like steel soles and insulated plastic casings also add weight but can be beneficial to the end use of these saws. However, if you choose a circular saw that is too lightweight, it will not hold up to commercial use over time.
learn more, check this article covering tips, add-ons and new products to boost your saws capabilities.