Last Updated on August 28, 2022 by Barry Gray
Table saws and track saws have similar jobs to do in your shop, so you might not know why you need both. Although they can make many of the same kinds of cuts, they still have important differences that set them apart.
Track saws and table saws have important differences in cutting capacity, portability, cost, and accuracy. But another key factor to consider is the types of cuts you can make with each, and which saw makes it easy to set up for each kind.
Track saws and table saws can both make cross cuts, rip cuts, bevel cuts, and miter cuts without too much trouble, but table saws are generally not designed for plunge cuts. On the other hand, track saws can’t make dadoes and rabbets. But certain cuts are more comfortable, easy, and clean with one saw over the other.
Table saws’ fences and track saws’ tracks both limit their cutting capacities. But they limit the saws in different ways, by the cut’s width and length respectively. You should also consider the saws’ maximum depth of cut, which is especially important if you usually work with thick wood or multiple pieces layered on each other.
Depth of cut is a straightforward measurement of how far into the wood the saw’s blade can penetrate. Of course, it’ll vary according to the diameter of the blade you’re using, but usually, table saws have a maximum depth of cut of 4”. That’s significantly more than the 2” to 3” that’s typical for track saws.
If your table saws can handle projects twice as thick as your track saw, that’ll make a significant difference. For example, you could stack multiple pieces of wood you’d like to crosscut at the same length on your table saw, but that might take much longer with your track saw.
Most table saws have a rip capacity of about 30”. That rip capacity is the distance between the saw’s fence and its blade, which determines how wide of lumber it can cut. For example, if you have a board that’s 62” wide, you won’t be able to cut it exactly in half with a 30” rip capacity.
Track saws have unlimited rip capacity in width because they don’t have built-in fences like table saws. Instead, the length of their track limits the maximum length of cut they can make. Most tracks are 55″ to 80″ long, but you may easily tailor your track to be any length you like.
In general, track saws are better for cutting wider boards like plywood sheets. On the other hand, table saws are great when you need to cut a long, narrow 2×4, for example.
Portability is a significant differentiator between table saws and track saws. Of course, there are more or less portable versions of both, but in general, track saws are much easier to move from place to place than table saws.
There are different kinds of track saws, but in general, they use lightweight and portable tracks that won’t be difficult to load into your truck and take to a job site. The rails of a track saw don’t take up much space and can be used at any angle, so it’s easy to find a place to put it.
Table saws are much heavier and bulkier, making them more difficult to move. They’re also more difficult to adjust into different positions without disassembling them, which means that moving them within the shop isn’t much easier than moving them across a building.
That’s not to say that you can’t make compromises. Portable table saws aren’t hard to find, but you’ll need to consider what you’re sacrificing in exchange for portability. Usually, portable versions of table saws have less cutting capacity and often less power for the same price.
If you’re a contractor that needs to move your tools from place to place, it’s worth considering how valuable portability is to you. Of course, if you never move tools out from your shop it likely isn’t the most important factor, but if it matters to you, it’s hard to find options better than the track saw.
Track saws and table saws can vary significantly in price. Table saws are heavy, reliable, quality tools that have a high price to match their usefulness. Track saws are generally lighter and less expensive, but that depends on your needs. Of course, you can always build your own track saw for much less money, but you might prefer the professional build quality.
Track saws can range from $100 all the way up to $1,000. Table saws have the higher range, with the least expensive options just above $150 and the most pricey at $5,000. The budget side of these ranges doesn’t represent a professional-quality tool, of course, so you should expect to pay at least $200 or $300 for a saw of reasonable quality.
Because table saws and track saws have similar price ranges, you can just focus on what matters most: the features of the saws themselves. No matter what your budget is, you can find similar-quality table and track saws.
Beginners and hobbyists may find it easier to use a track saw, which means their cuts will be more accurate with track saws than with table saws. But skilled users of both tools may find that they can both be accurate, as long as you know what you’re doing.
A track saw moves along a very predictable and controlled path, controlled by its rails. As long as you’ve clamped the wood you’re cutting down, you should be able to cut exactly where you want to with enough care and planning. Track saws make it easy to cut precisely, even when you’re making more difficult cuts like bevels or plunge cuts.
A table saw depends more on your own skill to be precise. Although the table and fence setup make smooth, accurate cuts easier, it does ultimately depend on your ability to guide the wood through the sawblade. Overall, the track saw is more accurate than the table saw.
Types of Cuts
Track saws are designed to do only rip cuts, cross cuts, bevel cuts, and plunge cuts. Table saws aren’t built to make plunge cuts, although it is technically possible to do with them. However, they are one of the very few tools that can make dadoes, which sets them apart from track saws.
A crosscut is a cut made across the grain of the wood. It’s regarded as one of the most fundamental sorts of cuts, and it’s the first one that many beginner woodworkers master.
Crosscuts with a track saw are simple. The track ensures that your cuts are straight and level, and you’ll seldom need to make a crosscut as wide as the track of a track saw. As long as the crosscut is less than 3″ deep, the saw can handle it.
Table saw crosscuts are straightforward. They aren’t necessarily the cleanest crosscuts you’ll find, but they’re quick and straightforward, and table saws can often perform crosscuts with at least 3″ of depth. While the crosscut is not the table saw’s expertise, it performs admirably.
Rip splits wood along the grain, whereas a crosscut slices perpendicular to the grain. Most saws struggle to create rip cuts because the grain causes the saw to curl and generate inconsistent cuts.
Both track saws and table saws are built to make rip cuts simple. They’re the two best saws for making quality, smooth and accurate rip cuts confidently. Track saws use the blade’s stability and built-in guidance to reduce the possible error in your cuts. Table saws have the stability of their table, and plenty of people find them just as useful for making rip cuts.
The biggest difference between track saws and table saws when making rip cuts is cutting capacity. Depending on the size and dimensions of the wood you’re trying to cut, you may find that one is better-suited than the other.
A bevel cut is an angled cut that divides a vertical piece of wood. It’s used to make baseboards, boxes, and other woodworking projects that require a smooth, flat corner.
To make a bevel cut, tilt the blade at an angle so that it is no longer vertical. You can make this cut with either a track saw or a table saw, although many people find that adjusting the angle of a table saw is easier. Some track saws also have issues with the angled blade cutting into the guides on the saw, so you might have a greater range of angles available on your table saw.
Miter Cut and Compound Miter Cut
Miter cuts, like bevel cuts, are made by keeping the blade vertical and turning the saw to the left or right. A compound miter combines the two, tilting the blade while spinning the saw.
Many people find that it’s much easier to make miter cuts with track saws. That’s because table saws need a miter gauge in order to make effective, clean miter cuts. On the other hand, making a miter cut with a track saw is as simple as turning the track to your preferred angle.
Plunge cuts begin with the blade above the center of the wood and cut from the inside out, whilst other cuts begin with the blade near the edge of the wood and cut inwards. You spin the saw and cut into the board from above until you have a place to go outwards and finish the cut.
Track saws make plunge cuts simple by giving you a platform from which you can precisely cut down with the powerful spinning blade. These kinds of cuts are technically possible with table saws, but people usually only do them that way as a last resort.
Dados, like grooves and rabbets, are specialty cuts that can only be made with a table saw and not a track saw. They carve a channel of wood but do not cut all the way through to the opposite side.
While the names dado, groove, and rabbet may seem confusing at first, they all refer to the same style of shallow cut. They’re utilized for interlocking wood tasks like building shelves and cupboards.