Last Updated on August 28, 2022 by Barry Gray
Track saws are great tools. They let you make long, perfectly straight cuts with your trusty circular saw. But buying a track for your saw can be prohibitively expensive, especially given how easy it is to build one yourself.
Without a track saw, you’d need to make your long rip cuts with your circular saw freehand. That’s a lot more difficult, so it’s no wonder that people are willing to pay serious money for a tool that makes those cuts much easier. Fortunately, there are other ways to get a track saw that aren’t nearly as expensive.
The best thing about building your own track saw is that you actually get a custom tool for your workshop. You can build the saw to the exact specifications you want, and you have the ability to keep customizing it as you use it.
Materials and Equipment
There are just a few things you need to get started making your track saw:
- Tape measure
- Circular saw
- Combination square
- Drill with countersink bit
- Flathead crews
- Aluminum tubing or other straightedge
- Two Aluminum flat bars, at least 1/8th inch
- Flat, high-quality plywood
- Finishing wax (optional)
Step-by-Step Guide: How to Build a Track Saw
Once you have your materials and equipment together, you’re ready to get started building your track saw.
Step 1: Mark the First Track
First, put your circular saw on the plywood with the blade just over the edge. Mark the wood on the far side opposite the blade–this will be the edge for the fence supporting the saw on the track.
Then use your tape measure to measure the exact distance between the mark you just made and the edge of the plywood the blade was on. Keep making that measurement at regular intervals, going all the way down to the end of the plywood.
You can then use a straightedge, such as a straight-sided piece of aluminum tubing, to make sure your marks are even. Once you have the exact measurements, you can use that same straightedge to mark a single, straight line all the way down the plywood.
Next, measure your router from the outermost edge of the bit to the edge of its guide. Place your aluminum tubing that distance away from the line you just made.
Step 2: Route the First Track
Now you have the line you want to route into the plywood and an aluminum tubing guide for the router. You can go ahead and get started routing.
You should only take about 1/8th of an inch off the plywood on your first pass. Then, you can keep making more passes until the channel is at the depth you’d like it to be. Make a note of how many passes you made.
You may notice a buildup of sawdust from the routing as you make your passes. You should make sure you have clear vision of where you’re working
Step 3: Mark the Second Track
Next, find a place where you’d like to put your second track. That should be about two inches closer to the plywood’s edge than the first track you made.
Measure out the proper distance, and use a straight edge again to make sure your line is perfectly straight.
Just as you did with the first track, place aluminum tubing as a guide an appropriate distance away from the line you’ve made for the second track.
Step 4: Route the Second Track
With your next route marked out, you’re ready to start routing it. Make sure that your work area is clear of sawdust and other obstructions from the work you’ve already done.
Taking 1/8th of an inch of plywood at a time, you can cut a second channel to the same depth as the first one, referring back to your note on exactly how many passes you made on the first channel.
Sand the two tracks you’ve cut until they are both smooth and free of obstructions. You may want to use compressed air to clear out any remaining sawdust.
Slide the bars into the tracks you’ve cut, ensuring that they lie flat and can slide in smoothly. If the rails don’t slide in smoothly or lie flat, look for obstructions. Using compressed air and sandpaper, blow out any sawdust and sand down areas that appear uneven.
At this stage, you can also use your finishing wax to lay a thin layer of lubricating wax onto the tracks. This step is optional, but it will help your saw slide more smoothly.
Step 5: Prepare the Saw
Now you need to attach rails to your saw. Clamp the bars directly onto the saw’s baseplate and drill at least two holes through the bars and baseplate. Make sure the width of your drill bit matches the width of the screws you plan on using!
Finish your drill holes with a countersink bit. That will create the wide, conical opening that flathead screws require, letting you screw the bars into the saw while keeping a completely flat plane.
When you follow this step with your second, inner bar, make sure to measure the distance between it and the first bar carefully. It should perfectly match the distance between the two tracks you’ve cut already.
You should also make sure that the two bars are perfectly parallel. You can do this with both measurements and by using a piece of scrap wood to slide between the two bars.
Finally, you can finish getting the saw ready by removing the extra metal sticking out from the new rails you’ve attached. Simply use your hacksaw to cut off any extra pieces of metal you don’t want to be attached to your saw. You should also file the corners down from the bars to make sure you don’t have sharp edges you could cut yourself on.
Step 6: Cut off the Track
With your saw all ready to go, you’re ready to finish your track. You can go ahead and cut it off from the plywood board you’ve been working with, making sure that it stays supported underneath to avoid any tearout.
It’s also a good idea to attach a small piece of wood at the bottom of the end of the track. That can help line the track up with your working surface, the same way the metal tip of a tape measure helps you line up measurements.
If you do attach wood at the bottom of your track, you should make sure it’s securely attached with screws, the same way you attached the tracks to your saw. As with the tracks, you should also make sure to cut off any overhanging pieces.
Step 7: Make the First Cut
Finally, you should place your saw into the tracks and try using your new track saw. As you make this cut, make sure it feels like it can glide smoothly to help you make smooth, even cuts.
If you do find issues with this cut, you can take this opportunity to address them right away. For example, if the track feels rough or uneven, or if the saw doesn’t glide smoothly, then you can find and sand down the rough patches.
But if it seems like the saw tracks or the tracks you cut into the wood are not parallel, or have other, more basic problems, you may need to restart this process. While that can certainly be discouraging, it’s a lot better to find out now rather than if you’re trying to complete a time-sensitive project.