All You Need Is a Track Saw
Learn how to break down plywood and other sheet goods efficiently and accurately without a tablesaw.
Synopsis: Accurate cuts on a track saw require a thoughtful sequence. This article shows an efficient method, including tips for setup, squaring up the plywood, and making rip cuts and crosscuts.
When I got my first track saw years ago, it was an absolute game changer for my trim carpentry work. No more trying to shove full sheets of plywood through a small job-site tablesaw. But for those first few years, I was really only using the tracksaw to break down sheets of plywood into their rough parts, which I would then run through the tablesaw for final sizing. I didn’t have confidence in my ability to get consistently sized parts, say for building a bank of cabinets, without the aid of a fence. But as I’ve refined my techniques, I now feel comfortable processing a stack of plywood into a variety of consistently sized parts and pieces, all without a tablesaw.
Track-saw setups are available from Festool, Makita, and DeWalt, among others. But keep in mind that many parts of these systems are cross-compatible. My saw and tracks are both made by Festool, but the zero-clearance strip on the track, and the clamps I use to secure it to sheet goods, are both made by DeWalt. Similarly, my dust hose is made by Bosch, and I often connect it to a Ridgid vac.
Whichever tools you use, accurate cuts require a thoughtful sequence. I’ve tried lots of different workflows for processing sheet goods—laying out the full sheet while trying to account for sawkerfs, cutting each piece out one at a time, and more. I find the method shown here to be the most efficient, and it’s become my standard practice. After establishing two edges that are square to each other, work from one side of the sheet to the other. Group parts by their width, which allows you to focus first on the long rip cuts. Then those rip cuts can be crosscut to their final length, either individually or as a group.
Get set up
Clean-edged, accurate track-saw cuts require a well-tuned saw, sawblade, and track. Here’s my prework checklist for clean, accurate cuts.
The saw and track
• The saw should engage snugly with the grooves in the track, and the blade should align perfectly with the outer edge of the zero-clearance strip on the track. If it doesn’t, readjust the saw on the track and take a fresh cut to zero out the strip.
• Make sure the zero-clearance strip is adhered to the track completely. If the adhesive has started to let go, buy and install a replacement.
• The saw should always be hooked to a vac. Most importantly, it’s healthy. But it also keeps sawdust from interfering with layout and solid contact between the track and sheet, and extends the life of the sawblade.
The work site
• Ample light, ideally slightly raking, is crucial for layout. If possible, locate the work so the light source is on the cutting side of the track rather than straight above or behind it. Even a small shadow cast by the zero-clearance strip can lead to misaligned cuts.
• To fully support the workpiece in every direction, make all cuts atop a sacrificial 4×8 sheet of rigid foam set on a stable worktable, not spanning sawhorses. If storing the foam is an issue, cut the sheet into thirds, then tape the pieces back together to create a fanfold arrangement.
• When it comes to accurate layout and cuts, don’t underestimate the value of a tape measure that’s in good condition, and a super sharp pencil. For the latter, use a high-quality pencil with a fairly hard lead of at least H or 2H, and keep it sharp.
For photos, diagrams, and info, please click the View PDF button below.