A few weeks ago I told you about the Festool Kapex Miter Saw, and my passion for woodworking. I didn’t know it at the time, but it would go on to become our most read Lifestyle story ever written. Clearly your love of German engineering extends to tools as well.
After I published the article, I was inundated with questions about the article and about woodworking in general, so we’ve decided to take a more in-depth look at the Festool range of tools, primarily in the sector of woodworking. If you enjoyed the Kapex article, then stay tuned over the coming months, because I have more looks at Festool tools that you’re going to love. First up: a look at Festool Track Saws.
Festool Track Saw Overview
Before I tell you about Festool Track Saws, let me give you a quick synopsis of woodworking for those of you new to the craft. Simply put, woodworking can be broken down into two key tasks: cutting wood, and joining wood. Almost everything you do in woodworking involves cutting and joining. That’s it. What you’ll discover, however, is that despite only needing to do two things, there’s a huge assortment of ways to cut and join wood. And there’s where the challenge comes in. While there are many ways to cut and join, what are the best ways to cut and join?
To arrive at the answer to this question, step one is identifying what exactly you’re going to be cutting. In my shop, I usually cut wood in two key areas: sheet goods (like plywood), and smaller boards. For cutting smaller boards, moldings and anything involving angle (or miter) cuts, the Kapex is superb, as I’ve already detailed. But when it comes to cutting larger sheet goods, a different tool is needed. Which brings me to my statement above. There are many ways to cut sheet goods, but what’s the best way? Conventionally, many people use a table saw. Table saws have more than enough power to cut plywood and they deliver a clean cut. The problem, however, is the actual act of cutting. Cutting plywood on a table saw involves lifting a massive piece of wood onto the table saw, and then having enough outfeed support to fully move the piece through the blade. It’s an exceptionally challenging task, as it requires a huge amount of space and strong arms to match.
The second main option is a circular saw. Circular saws are fine for situations where precision and cut quality aren’t vital. The problem, however, is that circular saws don’t cut in a straight line without some type of fence attached to the sheet good, and their cut quality isn’t on par with that of a table saw. To remedy this, many people break down sheet goods with a circular saw, then move the piece to a table saw for the final cut. This is what I did, and it works adequately from a quality standpoint. From a time standpoint, however, it’s very time consuming, and it still requires a table saw with large outfeed support.
Which brings us to the Festool Track Saw family. Festool Track Saws eliminate virtually all of the challenges that traditionally accompany cutting large sheet goods. They look and operate in many ways like a circular saw, but with two key differences. First, unlike free moving circular saws, Festool Track Saws ride smoothly on a guide rail, ensuring perfectly straight cuts with every pass. Secondly, Festool’s track saws offer plunge cutting functionality, meaning you can start and end a cut anywhere you want on your workpiece, still with perfect accuracy. And the best part? With the right blade, Festool’s Track Saws offer cut quality rivaling that of a conventional, much larger table saw. So not only is it easier to break down sheet goods with Festool Track Saws than any other method, the cut quality is on par or better than any other method as well.
So how exactly do Festool Track Saws work? In its simplest form, it’s simply a case of connecting the dots. Let’s say you have a 4′ x 8′ sheet of plywood, and you need to it be 3′ x 8′. Simply measure and mark 3′ on each side of the sheet, then place the rail so the edge is touching each mark. Plunge the track saw into the workpiece, run your Festool down the guide rail, and you have a perfectly straight 3′ x 8′ sheet of plywood with cut quality rivaling that of a table saw. That’s it. If you were expecting something more difficult, I’m sorry to disappoint.
There is another operating difference, however, and it’s something that once you’ve used, will be virtually impossible to accomplish any other way. How do you cut tapers? Let’s say you’re installing a cabinet, and you need to scribe a piece of wood to the wall. On top the piece needs to be 14 inches wide, but the bottom needs to be 15-1/4 inches wide? On a table saw, you’d either have to mark the line and attempt to free hand the cut without the fence in place, or make a time consuming jig to make the angled cut. With a Festool Track Saw, however, it’s still a case of connecting the dots. Mark the top width, mark the bottom width, place your guide rail touching both marks, and make the cut. You have a quick and accurate cut exactly on track with your scribe line. There’s simply no quicker way to do it. Want to make tapered legs for a table or chair? Same thing. From a ease of cut standpoint, it’s revolutionary.
In truth, the first time I used Festool’s Track Saw it was one of those “Eureka” moments, as in “why did it take me so long to buy this?” They say Festool Track Saws are most people’s first purchase into the Festool tool lineup, and when you use it for the first time, you’ll understand why.
I’ll talk more about the Festool Track Saws real world use in a minute, but let me first tell you about your two Festool track saw options. First up is the Festool TS 75 EQ track saw, a 1600W beast with 2-3/4″ cut capacity. Your second option is the Festool TS 55 REQ, the smaller sibling to the TS 75 with a 1200W motor and 1-15/16″ cut capacity. I own both, and I love both, so if you can’t decide, do what I did. Buy both. After owning the pair, however, I’ll share my thoughts about each with you, so if you only buy one, you’ll know which one to select.
Festool TS 75 EQ
It’s the age old adage – you can never have enough power. And for the power hungry among you, the Festool TS 75 EQ doesn’t disappoint. It’s the most powerful Festool Track Saw option, with a 1600W / 13 Amp motor, 2-15/16″ cutting depth, and 8-1/4″ blade. And with the power comes weight, with the TS 75 EQ weighing in at 13.6 lbs. I deliberated quite a bit when it came time to purchase my first Festool Track Saw, and when the dust settled, the TS 75 was my top pick. I didn’t want to worry about having enough power, or enough cut capacity, so the TS 75 made sense.
Now that I’ve used both saws extensively, however, I can tell you the the Festool TS 75 EQ is better suited to more specific situations, and if you don’t need it for those situations, the TS 55 REQ may be the better option. But for certain tasks, you simply can’t beat the TS 75.
From a functional standpoint, both Festool Track Saws are virtually identical. They both use the same family of guide rails, they both allow quick and precise tool-less depth of cut control, and they both offer bevel cutting functionality directly on the guide line. Furthermore, they both offer exceptional dust control, an integrated riving knife to prevent kickback, and variable speed MMC Electronics to let you control the saw’s speed depending on the material you’re cutting. Blade changes are quick and easy thanks to Festool’s FastFix blade change system, and they both include a removable splinter guard, ensuring glue-up ready cuts.
So when do I use the TS 75 EQ? Simple: when I need the highest possible cut capacity and power. If you’re in the habit of frequently cutting thick hardwood (like doors, for example), or you want to take a piece of raw material and convert it into a finely cut piece of lumber, the Festool TS 75 EQ is simply second to none. I’ve used it to trim my front entrance door, I’ve used to to make wood flooring from a larger piece of rough wood, and the TS 75 simply excels at anything you place in front of it.
There’s another key area in which the TS 75 EQ excels, and it’s in the area of volume. If you’re a cabinet builder, for example, the TS 75 EQ’s power and depth of cut lets you stack sheet goods and make perfect cuts in a single pass. It ensures perfectly sized cabinet boxes in half the time, which is a huge time saver if you’re building a large collection of cabinets. The same holds true for any other applications where you’re cutting a large volume of sheet goods. Stack them, and the TS75 has no problem powering through it all.
There is one caveat: when using the TS 75 EQ (and TS 55 REQ for that matter), always ensure you’re using the right blade for the type of work you’re doing. Because it is such a workhorse when cutting through rougher stock, the TS 75 ships with a 36-tooth blade, great for general purpose cutting but not the best option when cutting a finish sheet of plywood. When using a higher tooth blade on finish grade plywood, however, cut quality is virtually indistinguishable between the TS 75 and TS 55.
With all these positives, you may think I’m telling you to buy the Festool TS 75 EQ and be done with it. And I assure you that if you do, you’ll be happy. But after purchasing the TS 55 REQ, there’s a flip side to the TS 75, and it’s the size. I love the TS 75’s power and cut capacity, and if you plan on cutting thicker stock or do a high volume of cutting and want to cut multiple sheets in a single pass, you can’t beat it. But in situations where I have the choice of using either the TS 55 or the TS 75, I always opt for the TS 55. Why? Because it’s smaller and it weighs less (9.92 lbs vs. the TS 75’s 13.6 lbs, to be precise). That’s it. It’s not complicated, it’s just a little lighter to handle.
Which brings us to the Festool TS 55 REQ.
Festool TS 55 REQ
Now that I’ve familiarized you with the TS 75, let’s look at the Festool TS 55 REQ. Virtually everything about the TS 75 applies to the TS 55, except it has a 1200 W / 10 amp motor and a 1-15/16 inch cut capacity when on the rail. Other differences include a micro adjustment feature on the depth of cut setting, and a bevel range from -1 degree to 47 degrees (the TS 75 bevels from 0 – 45 degrees). I’ve never used the -1 degree bevel feature, so for me, it’s a wash – I typically stay with the 0 – 45 degree range anyways.
Accessory wise, both saws use the same Festool gadgetry, meaning dust collection hoses, the removable plug-it cord, and rails are interchangeable between the two saws.
Functionally, they operate and do exactly the same thing. Both saws begin with the blade elevated behind the base, and cuts begin with a plunging motion into the workpiece. This is a huge advantage over circular saws, as it allows you to accurately cut out areas in things you would never try with a circular saw. I recently installed a new wood floor, for example, and the TS55 REQ allowed me to cut out a perfectly straight area for a border after the floor had already been laid. It’s something that would have been impossible with any other saw, and it saved me a huge amount of time as opposed to trying to cut each piece of flooring to exactly the right length. Another strength of both saws is dust collection. When operated with Festool’s CT dust extractor, dust is virtually non-existent. You can easily operate both track saws in an occupied home with a Festool dust extractor with no complaints from your wife (or the homeowner). Compared to my table saw, the difference is night and day.
One thing I’ve found regarding the TS 55 and TS 75 is that the power difference is less of a factor than I originally thought, depending on your use. If you’re cutting a large amount of hardwood that relies on ample power, then yes, the TS 75 is a better bet. But if you’re remodeling your home and only need to cut one door and you’re worried about not having enough power, simply make the cut in multiple passes. As long as the guide rail stays in position (i.e., make sure you clamp it first), your cut will be exactly on the same cut line with each pass, so you can compensate for less power by simply making multiple cuts. It takes longer, but if you’re only cutting one or two doors, the time lost is inconsequential.
As for ease of use, the TS 55 REQ is easier to use, but only because of the smaller size and weight. Both saws use the same pair of screw locks to tighten to the guide rail, eliminating any play on the rail while still letting the saws glide smoothly down the track. Both saws offer glue-up ready cut quality with the right blade, and both saws let you cut incredibly close to walls, which is perfect if you need to trim wood flooring after installation.
When comparing both saws, what it really boils down to is cutting depth. If you need more cutting depth, then the TS 75 EQ is your saw. I hate having to flip a piece of wood over, repositioning the guide rail, and making a second pass. But if you don’t need to cut anything thicker than 1 15/16″, then I personally would opt for the TS 55 REQ, simply due to comfort and lighter weight. And if you still can’t decide, do as I did, and buy both. They’re incredibly great saws, and can you really ever have too many tools?
Whichever you choose, both saws come packed in one of Festool’s awesome new Systainers, which makes keeping your workshop neat and organized far easier than any other tool cases. Both saws also include a guide rail (55″ for the TS 55, and 75″ for the TS 75), and both are backed by Festool’s unique 3 year warranty, which includes free shipping to and from the repair center should you need to send them in. And if you do opt for either of Festool’s track saws, be sure to check out the Festool Owner’s Group and Festool’s YouTube channel, which are both really great resources to learn different tips and tricks when using these and other Festool tools for your next project. Lastly, Festool loves giving away new tools, so if you’re feeling lucky, be sure to check out their sweepstakes website, where you can sign up to win new tools each month (right now they’re giving away a new Festool TS 55 REQ Track Saw and a CT 26 HEPA Dust Extractor).