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.