Contractors and woodworkers settle the track saw vs. table saw debate once and for all!
Does the choice between a table saw and a track saw keep you up at night? You are not alone. If you're ready to sit back and relax, see our guide to one of the toughest decisions in woodworking and construction. In the track saw vs table saw debate, application matters!
Editor's note: Check out our best portable construction site table saws article for more great recommendations. If you're just starting out, don't miss our guide to using a table saw.
Track saws and table saws for thin sheet goods
Have you ever dropped a piece of 4×8 3/4″ plywood through a contractor’s table saw?
It's not very fun, especially when you're working alone. Track saws are an attractive option for many makers, DIYers, and professionals. It is gaining popularity for its ability to break down boards efficiently and safely. But are there other tradeoffs you might not have thought of? Should you switch to that table saw?
Verdict: Use a Track Saw
Track and Table Saws for Repeatable Rip Cuts
If you plan to make repeatable rip cuts, a table saw can speed up the process. Unlike a track saw that needs to be reset for every cut, your table saw fence stays in place. This allows you to immediately continue ripping the material to the exact same width. It can turn a very difficult job of a circular saw into one that is fast, accurate and easy.
Of course, the assumptions here involve ripping that doesn't necessarily start with the entire material. However, if you need to cut multiple pieces of material of the same width starting from a full sheet, this method can still save time by not having to reset the saw.
Verdict: Table Saw
Table and track saws for long miter or bevel cuts
Anytime you need to make a long angled cut in a large piece of material, a track saw will help. This can be helpful when cutting panels for built-in or custom-made tables or shelves. In either case, trying to line up long angles on a table saw blade is the wrong way to do this type of cut.
The track saw rail is easy to place and adjust, making setting up and cutting a line at an angle on a piece of plywood or MDF a breeze. Using your track saw in this way, you'll save a lot of time and possibly material in the process.
Verdict: Track Saw
Using Table Saws vs. Track Saws in the Shop
Unfortunately, apps play a big role in this decision. We prefer a large 15-inch sliding table saw for furniture workshops. Track saws work wonders, but nothing beats a sliding table! When you're working in a shop, you don't have to worry about carrying your table saw. This means you also have the option of larger infeed and outfeed areas and more powerful motors. This helps with larger and/or heavier materials. Even better, you can often see larger and more stable cabinet saws rather than smaller contractors' table saws.
Still, smaller shops more focused on DIY projects may find that a track saw saves valuable space. It also allows for most cuts that you might have previously only considered using a table saw.
In that case, a track saw might prove valuable. However, anyone who has worked at a production level will quickly agree that it is difficult to completely eliminate table saws from shops.
Conclusion: it depends on the store
when space is limited
Yes, available space is a concern when choosing between a track saw and a table saw. Even if you have enough storage space, table saws can take up a lot of space. This is true even for models that fold up for storage. Ultimately, the usefulness of the tool must justify its size.
If you only cut lumber occasionally, a track saw can save a lot of shop space. You can use the center area that a table saw would normally occupy as a central workbench that can be used for a variety of purposes.
In terms of sheer portability, track saws are divided into circular saws and track saws. Also, most long tracks can be broken down into two or more pieces for easy movement. Likewise, track saw components take up much less storage space than table saws.
Verdict: It Tracks the Saw
Editor's note: One area where table saws have made significant progress involves special cases. A table saw can make deeper cuts, narrower cuts, dadoes and notches. With standard settings or the usual dado stack, table saws excel at these particular types of cuts. Track saws really can't make these cuts — at least not in practice.
Track saws excel at…
- …long tearing and cross-cutting of heavy and/or large sheet goods. Using a sawhorse and sacrificial foam board, available at any home improvement store, you can easily control rips and crosscuts. The track saw's rail (which you can extend) is the only limit to how long you can cut.
- …solo. It is much easier for a person working alone to accurately and safely cut heavy and/or large workpieces with a track saw.
- …any cut that is not 90°. You can easily arrange the rails along any straight path through the material. This makes (deliberately) non-square cuts easier and more precise than using a table saw.
- …smooth, clean cuts. The cutting action and blade of a track saw is cleaner than all but the best, smallest kerf table saw blades.
- … collect dust. The collection point for track saws is closer to where the dust is generated than it is for table saws—and contains a bit more.
- …keep your fingers close to your hand. I was only half joking, really. The covering blade and cutting action of track saws have a better record on injuries.
Ending the Track Saw vs. Table Saw Debate
In many cases, one saw can replace the other. But as you can see, sometimes depending on space, manpower, material, and type of cut, one person has the upper hand.
A quality track saw can cost as much (or more) as a job site table saw. Therefore, price is not necessarily the highest priority between the two. Look at the work you've done and see which one makes the most sense. As a DIY enthusiast, you might choose one of these.
Professionals who are used to doing all their cutting on a table saw can add a track saw to the mix to boost your productivity. It pays for itself quickly, and it doesn't take long to figure out where each saw works best for you.
We hope you enjoy these ideas. If you're a pro and have your own track saw vs table saw ideas, be sure to leave them in the comments below!