There has been a lot of talk about Track Saw Vs Circular Saw. One sector believes track saws are just a marketing gimmick while the other sector says circular saws are the real deal. This post dives deep into this debate by comparing circular saws against track saws to see whether a track saw can replace a circular saw.
But before getting into that let’s first address the first question, how did we get here?
While the first circular saw was invented back in the 17th century, the first handheld circular saw as we know them today was invented in 1923 by Edmond Michel. 60 years later in 1983, the first saw was released by Festool, the German power tool brand. Over the years, other power tool brands started making track saws.
Today, Festool is now working on the first track saw that will be used without a track. The saw will maintain a perfectly straight line without needing a track guide.
Because track saws work the same way as circular saws except for a few differences, there has always been a debate on whether they are really worth it, since they are a bit more expensive than track saws.
Track Saw Vs Circular Saw – What’s the Difference
|Circular Saw||Track Saw|
|Ease of set up||4.5*||4*|
|Cost||Cheaper than track saws||More expensive|
|Powering||Corded and Cordless||Corded and Cordless|
|Safety||Less safety features||More safety features|
|Best for||Rough and quick jobs||Most accurate cuts|
Let’s start with the basics, what is a circular saw?
A circular saw is a type of electric power saw that is primarily used to cut wood, plastic, and metal using different blades.
This type of saw has a circular blade or disc that spins around an arbor. The blade is covered using a blade guard cover to protect the user when the saw is in operation. Most circular saws are either battery-powered or corded.
While there are other power saws that have a circular saw, for instance, table saws and chop saw, the term circular saw refers to the handheld circular saw.
When Using a Circular Saw
The work-piece is held stationary and the saw is moved across for the rotating circular blade to cut the material. (Except for table-mounted circular saws)
Handheld circular saws are very popular with professional woodworkers and home DIYers.
Circular saws are majorly categorized according to the size of the circular blade. The size of the blade on most models ranges between 4-1/2 inches to 7-1/4 inches in diameter.
There are Four Popular Types of Circular Saw Blades
- Ripping blades for cutting along the grain of the work piece. These blades have fewer teeth (14 and 24) and a deeper gullet. Because of the larger teeth, dust is removed faster.
- Crosscut blades. These blades are used when cutting across the grain of the work-piece. They have a shallower gullet and more teeth. They produce smooth and clean cuts.
- Combination saw blades. These are multipurpose blades that can be used for crosscutting and ripping cuts.
- Specialty blades
Most wood cutting circular saw blades are mostly carbide-tipped steel blades. These blades stay sharp longer.
Common Features of Circular Saw
- The diameter of most circular saw blades ranges between 4.5 and 7.5 inches
- Depth adjustment to set how deep you want the saw to cut.
- Bevel adjustment to adjust the bevel angle when cutting.
- Upper and lower blade guard to cover the blade
- Corded or cordless operation
- Brush-type universal motor
- Two handles
- A foot plate
- A trigger switch
Types of Circular Saws
There are two common types of circular saws. Sidewinders and worm driver. While these two do the same job they are built and look different so its easy to differentiate them.
Worm Drive Circular Saw
Worm drive circular saws have the same design as the first circular saw. The motor is positioned behind the blade.
Because of this design, worm drive circular saws are longer and narrower, which makes them ideal for use in tight and confined places.
Most worm drivers have the blade on the left side, making it easier for right-hand users to see the sight line when cutting.
Apart from the design difference, worm drives have a lower RPM, but a higher torque than sidewinders. They are heavier and tougher to use making them ideal for cutting hardwoods
Sidewinder (Direct drive)
Unlike the worm drive, sidewinder circular saws have a motor next to the blade, which makes the saw shorter and wider. This design makes these models lighter, compact, and easier to hold. The blade is located on the right side.
Sidewinders produce a lower torque but higher RPM compared to worm drivers. These models are the best for softwoods and cross cuts.
There are also the hypoid circular saws that basically worm drive circular saws but are bigger and more powerful. They are ideal for busy professionals or DIYers handling large projects.
Circular Saws are used to cut
- Sheet goods
- Ceramic tiles
- Acrylic and polycarbonate plastic
How Much Does a Circular Saw Cost
The cost of a circular saw ranges from $50 to $500 depending on the features, power, and brand. On the higher end are premium and more powerful models from top brands. These models are ideal for professionals and busy workshops.
Circular saw brands include
Pros of circular saws
- Cheaper than track saws
- There are many models to choose from.
- Portable, versatile, and very fast
Cons of circular saws
- Circular saws have the risk of kickback
- Messy since most models don’t have a dust collection mechanism
- Less accurate and higher chances of making a mistake
- Not the best for plunge cuts
- Less safe and loud
- The cable in corded models are a tripping hazard
About Track Saws
Track saws were developed to address the common issues with circular saws. Despite the popularity, circular saws have some glaring issues.
The first issue with using a circular saw is that it is hard to cut straight and precise cuts every single time. Yes, there are pros who can cut with circular saws and produce immaculate cuts, but the majority of people struggle with this.
The earlier solution to this was the emergence of circular saw guides. These third-party tools are designed to make it easier to make perfect cuts. However, they are harder to set up and use. Also, you will have to buy several, one for crosscut, rip-cut, and angle cutting. One of the most popular circular saws tracks is the KREG Circular Saw Track
The other solution was to make a DIY circular guide. While this is something a pro can easily do, a wooden guide isn’t easy to build, and it’s not neat.
Another issue with circular saws is the lack of a dust disposal mechanism. While there are now circular saws with a dust collection mechanism, most models don’t have this feature. The only way around this is to get a dust collection system or dust collection adapter from third parties.
Track saws are designed to address these downsides.
- Dust collection
- Ease of setting up
- Better plunge cuts
Unique Features of Track Saws
A No-slip track
Track saws derive their name from the track that looks like a rail. Unlike circular saws, track saws are designed to run on the track when cutting. The track guides the saw when cutting to produce accurate cuts every single time.
With a track saw you can cut any length depending on the length of the track. The best thing is that there is no need to clamp the track. The track usually has a sticky base and does not leave marks on the surface.
After marking the ends on where you are cutting, just place the track on the marking and you are good to go. It’s advisable to check if the guide is fully stuck, if it’s not you can use normal clamps.
With a track, you are able to cut splinter-free edges, something that is hard to achieve even with a table saw, when cutting cross grain. The rubber edge on the track saw rail holds the material you are cutting, producing very clean edges. This is something cabinetmakers will appreciate.
Another great deal about this design is that you can cut wider plywood cuts and extra long cuts with a long track.
Dust Collection System
On most track saws you will find a dust collection port where you connect either a dust collection bag or a shop vac for easy collection and disposal of dirt. This helps to keep your workstation cleaner and minimizes the amount of cleaning required after finishing the task.
Instant Setup Without Clamps
One of the biggest deals with track saws is the ease of setting up and cutting. Since there is no clamping most of the time, setting up a track saw is a breeze. The aluminum track has rubber on the bottom that holds against the work-piece so that the track does not move as you cut.
Unlike circular saws that have an exposed blade, the blade on a track saw is fully covered by a guard. The blade only goes out of the casing when cutting.
Most track saws also have anti-kickback protection. This is either anti-kickback sensors or a riving knife that is located behind the blade. The purpose of this technology is to secure the tool if it encounters a hard material like a nail or screw when cutting. Most track saws go off if it leaves the track.
Track Saw Standard Features
- Track –The length of the track differs from one model to another. Most tracks are made of aluminum. The saw securely fits on the rail. There are a few knobs on the saw that you use to secure the tool to the rail.
- Bevel adjustment. This feature comes in handy when you want to make angled cuts.
- Depth control feature. You set how deep you want the blade to cut. This feature also lets you set the blade depth depending on the size of the material. Letting the blade go past the material reduces the efficiency and speed of the tool. Most track saws can cut up to 2 inches deep.
- Variable speed control. This feature allows you to adjust the speed of the blade. There are some models that adjust the speed automatically depending on what you are working on.
- Circular blade. Most circular blades have a circular blade with a diameter of between 6-1/4 to 8-1/2 inches.
- Cordless or corded operation
- 1000 to 9000 RPM
- 10-13 amps motor
- Vacuum port
How to use a Track Saw
- Wear ear, eyes, and nose protection.
- Start by choosing the right blade, depending on the material and type of cut.
- Set up the material you are working on, on a flat surface
- Mark where you are cutting on the work piece
- Secure the track on the work-piece following the marks you just made. Test the track if it’s stable. If it’s not, clamp it.
- Set the right angle or depth on the saw
- Connect the tool to a power source, if its corded
- Press the plunger trigger and then press the power trigger
- Before starting to cut, let the blade run to achieve the ideal rpm depending on the speed setting
- Start cutting
How Much Do Track Saws Cost
Depending on the brand, track saws cost anywhere from $100 to $900 for a track saw and rail system. On the lower end are cheap generic models, while on the upper end are premium models from the leading brands. On average you should expect to pay around $500 for a high-quality track saw that can meet the demands of a busy workshop.
Top brands include:
Track Saws Pros
- Most models have a dust collection system
- Track saws are easier and faster to set up
- They produce precise, accurate, and clean cuts every single time
- Great for long metered and angled cuts
- They can be used without the track
- Most models have anti-kickback protection
- It’s faster to cut using a track saw
- Hassle free plunge cuts
- The blade is fully covered for added safety
Track Saws Cons
- Pricier than circular saws
- There are not as many models as circular saws
- Not the best when cutting narrow boards when there is not enough space to place the track
- Repeat cuts are harder
Track Saw Vs Circular Saw-FAQ’s
Can any circular saw be used as a track saw?
Circular saws and track saws are very similar. A track saw is designed to address the most common challenges with circular saws. A circular saw can only work as a track saw if you buy a third party rail.
Can a plunge saw replace a circular saw?
Yes, since they handle the same tasks. A track saw is a perfect replacement for a circular saw. You can have both for added convenience.
How do I convert a circular saw to a track saw?
You can convert your circular saw by buying a third-party track. The other thing you can do is buy a dust collection adapter that you will connect to a vacuum cleaner. The only thing you can’t change is the anti-kickback protection and the covering of the blade.
Is a track saw safer than a circular saw?
Yes, a track saw is safer than a circular saw. Unlike with a circular saw, the blade is fully covered in a track saw. There is also the anti-kickback protection feature in most models that protects the user in case of a kickback. The saw also automatically turns off if it slides out of the rail.
Can a track saw do everything a table saw can?
No. There are certain types of cuts that are best suited to a table saw. For instance, narrow rip cuts and deeper cuts. A table saw is the best option when dealing with small pieces and it’s also very accurate and precise. So, a track saw cannot fully replace a table saw, but it’s a perfect complement, especially when working alone and it’s hard to put sheet goods and MDFs on the table saw.
Now to the big question.
What is better between a track saw vs circular saw? Without a doubt, if you are comparing a premium track saw and a premium circular saw from the top brands, a track saw is better.
You see, a track saw is designed to address the challenges with a circular saw. Anyone who deals with sheet goods will appreciate a track saw. With a track saw you are guaranteed of making straight and neat cuts every single time without messing.
If you already own a circular saw and you don’t have the budget, then stick with a circular saw. Instead, buy a third-party track. While they won’t be as seamless as those found on track saws they will get the job done.
Also, you can introduce a dust collection mechanism for your circular saw by buying an adapter. If you are stuck between buying a Track Saw Vs Circular Saw, I‘d recommend renting a track saw and testing it. I can guarantee you that you will love it. The moment you experience the convenience and efficiency of a track saw you will never turn back.
Wrapping up – Track Saw Vs Circular Saw
Track saws are designed to solve the main challenge with circular saws, accuracy. Cutting with a track saw is easier and faster than with a circular saw. Most track saws have a dust collection mechanism where you connect a shop vac when vacuuming. It’s worth noting that not every track saw is better than a circular saw, especially the generic models.
I’m Thomas Steven with more than 12 years of experience in woodworking. It has always been my passion to become a successful woodworker. I have completed hundreds of successful projects. This blog is a way of sharing my woodworking experiences and what tools get the best results. I write about woodworking while being an associate with Amazon and I earn a little commission from every qualifying purchase.