Olly Writes

Woodwork, writing, walks, DIY and more!

Pondering the Plunge

Whether you know them as ‘track saws’ or simply as ‘plunge saws’ that fit on to a compatible guide track, these circular saws  have been around for a few years now. I could be wrong but, I think it all started with a predecessor to Festool’s hugely-popular TS55. In the last three years alone, we’ve seen rival competitors release their own plunge saw/guide rail systems. Some might say that it’s never been a better time to be in the market for one of these power tools… To others, perhaps there is too much to choose from with not an awful lot to separate one saw from the next…

Yes, I’ve been thinking about investing in a plunge saw and at least one guide rail for the last year or so. They appear to make life so much easier, when it comes to cutting sheet materials. Just lay the track on the sheet, start the saw and cut. Clamps aren’t even necessary!

Until now, I’ve been using a combination of a portable circular saw that doesn’t plunge (first, the Makita 5704RK and, more recently, Hitachi’s C9U2) and a home-made MDF saw guide. This was used most recently to cut up the plywood for my table saw/router table station. It works reasonably well but, with a pair of clamps required to hold the guide in position, it’s not the most efficient way of surviving without a reasonably-sized table saw. My Hitachi saw has an impressive depth of cut capacity (just over 3in) but, at the same time, I find it to be very bulky and almost difficult to control, even when following the edge of my MDF guide rail. It’s also very noisy, with a 2,200w (3HP) brush motor. As great as it is at ripping thicker sections of hardwood (the sole reason I bought it – for lumps of wood that I wouldn’t be able to manage alone on the bandsaw), I now regret selling my faithful old Makita saw, which was also quite the trade favourite, before the invention of Festool’s TS55.

Rather than to replace like-for-like, I’m looking at plunge saws, for the added versatility and increase of accuracy.

This first saw I’d like to look at is (no surprise!), the Makita SP6000K1:

I make no secret of the fact that I’m a big fan of Makita tools generally. One router, a belt sander, biscuit jointer, sliding mitre saw and formerly, that circular saw I mentioned earlier… Well, that’s nearly half the contents of my workshop covered in one sentence! 😉 My understanding, from various forum posts across the internet, is that Makita’s saw is compatible with the Festool guide rails and vice-versa. It has a good specification and also features a similar ‘plunge’ mechanism to the green, German-made machine. However, it is oddly missing the riving knife, with no apparent option to retro-fit as an add-on accessory. Festool’s saw comes with a self-retracting riving knife and I think all the other brands are catered for in some way. It may not cause many problems if using the track correctly to cut an adequately supported sheet. But, on the odd occasion, I may also want to use this saw to rip long lengths of waney-edged hardwoods (up to, say 2in thick). What’s to stop the kerf from pinching the rising teeth at the back of the blade and causing kickback?

Last night, I sent an e-mail off to Makita UK, questioning why they had omitted the riving knife from their saw (Health & Safety legislation in the UK generally states that riving knives must be used with all circular saws). This was their reply, which arrived in my inbox earlier today:

This is classed as a ‘Plunge Saw’ and as such a riving knife fitted to this machine would then render the Plunge facility useless!

Yet, as I briefly mentioned a little earlier; Festool and others have found a convenient way of fitting these safety devices to their plunge saws…

One feature that does attract a lot of interest is the ‘scoring’ function of this saw, where by a quick flick of a switch (or small lever) limits the depth of cut to only 2mm; allowing you to make a scoring cut that’ll sever the fibres of fragile veneered surfaces. This is particularly important when cross-cutting plywood or veneered MDF, to reduce breakout and splintering. It should be less of an issue when cutting along the grain, provided your using the correct blade and that the splinter guard is in place, with the rail’s edge also in tact. I’m not sure that any of the other models have a similar function?

(Alan Holtham recently produced an excellent video review of this saw – click here to see it.)

Next on my comparison list is the DeWalt DWS520KR-GB:

While it’s hardly the most important criteria on anyone’s list, I am put off by the aesthetics of this model. It looks very ‘bulky’, to me, which only reminds of that 9in Hitachi saw I currently struggle with… On a positive note though, this saw will cut closer to the floor than the Makita when used on its side, to cut a rebate in skirting boards to allow for wooden or laminate flooring or, simply for trimming the bottom edge of a fitted door without touching the hinges. It’s not much more expensive than the Makita saw, either.

Bosch’s GKT55 GCE was released only a few weeks ago:

Oddly enough, they appeared to release the guide rail (compatible with some of their ‘standard’ circular saws) shortly before introducing their new plunge saws. Immediately, the price is a turn-off as you wouldn’t have to pay a lot more to get yourself your first Festool power tool. From the video I’ve seen on YouTube, the rail connectors appear to work superbly. This is something for which guide rail manufacturers are often criticised (even Festool, in some circles of the internet). Bosch state that their saw blades has ‘sound dampening‘ properties but, we’re only talking about the blade then, what’s to stop a user from equipping their own saw (whoever made it) with the same feature? I do like the mention of the electronic brake that brings the blade to a stop within five-seconds. There’s a similar feature on my Makita 3612CX router and I’ve always loved that.

Although I do not know of its availability at this time, Metabo have their own plunge saw on the way, according to their web site. I’m also quite the fan of Metabo tools, as you may recall when I purchased those 10.8v drills, almost a year ago. Whether this saw will be available in time for me to consider it though, I do not know. It is strange though that, like Makita, Metabo also appear to have disregarded the riving knife, if you look closely…

Festool’s TS55EBQ then, if I’m honest, is too far above my budget. I don’t doubt the quality of this along with much of their power tool range. I even know a couple of people personally (in real life!!) who bought this saw a few years ago and haven’t regretted it. They were a bit cheaper then, though… I do question how much (how often) I’m actually going to use one of these saws. I don’t do much in the way of ‘fitted’ furniture, for which a plunge saw would be invaluable, for use on site. Neither do I work with sheets of ply or MDF, compared to the amount of timber I spent cutting solid timber. I do know of someone who’s considering a fiitted wardrobe in the new year, though…

That brings me on to the Woodster Divar55 model (they’re regarded as the ‘budget brand’ of Scheppach):

This one is very new to the market and, as far as I’m aware, it is by far the cheapest saw of its class available in the UK today. Perhaps more ‘affordable’ plunge saws are to follow, after this one? Generally, you get what you pay for with power tools. If you can afford to pay double the price then, you’ll surely reap the rewards and benefits later on. Power tools made to fit within a certain price point or budget will generally have a short lifespan. If you’re not going to use it very often at all (perhaps only occasional hobby use) then, it may be worth considering.

You have to wonder where they may have “cut corners” though, to produce it for retail at such a low price…  (With one guide rail, it’s about equal in price to my Hitachi C9U2!). How long would the motor last? Are the aluminium rails truly flat and/or straight? Is blade run-out an issue? At the time of writing, there are no credible reviews that I know of. It simply hasn’t been available for long enough.

At the end of all this and, despite currently lacking the spare funds to purchase even the cheapest option mentioned above, I still feel myself leaning towards the faithful blue Japanese Makita. I should mention that Mafell also have a couple of interesting options (some believe they’re superior to Festool…) but, again, it’s too far and high above my budget. I’m really looking to spend a maximum of around £300 and, as far as deals go, currently, you can get the SP6000K1 for only £329.99 with two 1.6m guide rails!

All of this is simply theoretical, of course. I mean, I’m also thinking of upgrading my sliding mitre saw to an LS1016L model with DXT technology but, I certainly cannot budget for both saws, at the moment. I’ll save that discussion for another time!! 😉

Thanks for reading.

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9 responses to “Pondering the Plunge

  1. IWT-Tom 13/12/2011 at 20:34

    There is no doubt that the Woodster is cheap. But I do wonder how they can manage to get the price down that low and still maintain the things you get with a Festool TS55 Plunge Saw. 3yr Warranty, Fast UK Based Repair Service, Theft Cover and of course the superior engineering for daily use. Festool tools are built to last. Obviously you really get the benefit from Festool tools when you use them in a system. I can’t tell you how good it is to never worry if you’ve got the right sized hose attachment or have to buy a special doodad to make your router fit your rail. It all just WORKS! But then I am biased! 😀

  2. woodshopcowboy 14/12/2011 at 04:12

    I can’t say that I’ve ever used any of these saws, but I do use a guide and circ for almost all cuts on plywood and such. Do to my kids, I don’t think I’ll ever try a table saw until the fourth or fifth iteration of my workshop. I just don’t do enough work which “requires” it. These tracksaws look like a similar solution but with about five to ten times the price.
    I’d love to have a riving knife on the end of my circ though. Do you know which brands other than festool carry that feature?

    • Olly Parry-Jones 14/12/2011 at 18:30

      Thanks for your comment. I can understand where you’re coming from as I only purchased my first (half-decent!!) table saw a year ago. It’s only a small model, designed to semi-portable but, I’m beginning to regret buying it, as it still consumes an awful lot of valuable workshop space (see posts on my Table Saw/Router Table Station build) …Yep, I think maybe I should’ve saved my money and just built a bigger router table instead!

      As far as I’m aware, the Makita SP6000K1 is currently the only saw which does not have a riving knife. All others currently available (including the DeWalt and Mafell saws) appear to have something similar to Festool’s which retracts and plunges with the saw blade.

      I wonder whether there’s a “budget” tracksaw/plunge saw available in the US? I don’t think the Woodster model is available (under that name) outside of Europe. If there’s not already something out there, it cannot surely be too long be for one or more are released…

  3. Patrick Anderson 15/12/2011 at 22:19

    No cheap track saw available in the US mate 😦

    The woodstar looks like it’s a makita clone, even down to the anti tip over mechanism.

  4. Patrick Anderson 17/12/2011 at 01:56

    Looking at more I wish it was available over here……bargain:(

  5. joeabbott 21/12/2011 at 14:38

    I don’t do nearly enough work to justify the cost, but due to an unexpected largesse, I was able to get the Festool without robbing a bank. It’s amazing how good a circular saw can cut! I was astonished as I’d previously just used my circular saw (a Craftsman model from Sears) for “rough cuts”.

    I don’t believe my tool has the “scoring cut” feature that you mention, but it’s easy enough to set quickly with the sliding depth gauge. I’ll check the manual, though, as that sounds like a neat feature.

    The two things that always throw me with the saw is having to “do the math” to figure out how deep to set the depth gauge (I’m in the US and the depth markers appear to be in metric) and that using the compatible rails adds another offset and I can never remember what that is! Hence, the scrap of paper in the carrying case with a bunch of numbers scribbled on it!

    Nice post, Olly!

  6. Graham Blackburn 03/01/2012 at 20:35

    I suppose it depends why you do all this in the first place. I make furniture for a living so I am to a certain extent constrained to practices that are economically viable. At various times I have had shops larger than my present one, and they were equipped with a variety of machines to die for. But the older I get the more important it is to do what I enjoy. Enjoyment was the reason for my involvement with woodworking in the first place. And a very specific enjoyment at that. It was the process that I liked almost more than the result. Not than I am a huge fan of MDF or other sheet goods, but I actually like ripping lumber with a (good) handsaw. I have never been in love with my tablesaw and expensive smaller circular saws seem to defeat the object of what I am doing in the first place: noisy, dusty, and potentially dangerous. Yes, it took a while to acquire the minimum skill to be able to saw perfectly straight and square by hand, but boy, it’s worth it — on many levels.
    Of course I can only indulge this pleasure making one-offs, I would be forced to use the tablesaw if I were concerned with production, but it doesn’t take that much longer by hand if you’re only making one table or one cabinet at a time.
    Good review though.

  7. john f 25/01/2013 at 20:02

    Did you ever buy one? Grizzly now has one about half the price of the others, looking forward to someone reviewing that.

    • Olly Parry-Jones 25/01/2013 at 20:03

      Hi John and thanks for following.

      No, in the end I decided that I didn’t ‘need’ one. I ended up buying another 7¼in skilsaw and have plans to build a new plywood guide track for that soon, with integrated clamps… 😉

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