Shop Testing Plunge-Cut Rail Saws for Different Types of Lumber
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Stacked and marked rail saw test cuts Chris Marshall put his shop's rail saws to extreme tests, cutting stacks of 4' long boards of several different materials, preferring DeWalt's cutting capacity.

Plunge-cut rail saws are designed to do anything a circular saw can do — and more. Breaking down sheet goods, cutting flooring, trimming door bottoms, installing countertops, ripping or crosscutting solid lumber ... most straight-cutting applications are fair game. But, for woodworking, these saws will probably see more action on sheet stock than anything else, so that was my primary focus for the cutting test. To that end, I picked some really tough challenges.

First up, I put the saws to work on black melamine-covered particleboard. Nothing’s more abrasive to sharp teeth or prone to chip-out. I crosscut 50 thin strips with each saw, and numbered them sequentially. Festool and Makita (with its scoring feature in use) showed almost no chip-out — just super-clean cuts. DeWalt cut much better on the sheet side than the offcut side, but the chips were tiny and sporadic.

Next came crossgrain cuts on splintery oak-veneer plywood and three more rounds of 50 cuts. Despite the melamine test, Festool led the pack again, neatly slicing up that gnarly veneer. Makita’s saw really benefitted from its scoring feature this time, too — cuts were nice and tidy with it engaged. Without that scoring cut, though, the saw left a pattern of little splinters. DeWalt, again, cut the panel edge well but lifted some little splinters on the offcut side.

MDF was third up on my chopping block, to see how efficiently the saws managed fine dust (all three cut MDF like butter). The air didn’t cloud up during cutting, and my work area stayed quite clean when each saw was connected to a dust extractor. In fact, dust extraction was exceptional on all test materials.

I even cut a plastic-laminate countertop to ribbons. There was no chipping worth speaking of with any of these saws; on a real jobsite, the cuts would have been “install” ready.

Lumber cut with a plunge-cut rail saw In all, the author found that no matter what brand of saw he used, the plunge cut rail saw cut much smoother than a stander circular saw.

Finally came the torture test: a series of rip cuts on 1-1⁄2"-thick ash. DeWalt was the champ this time, powering right through ash without bogging down. The TS 55 EQ, equipped with its standard 48-tooth blade, struggled to keep up. But, when I switched to Festool’s 24-tooth ripping blade, it rallied right back on thick lumber. I did not test Makita’s saw on ash, due to the lack of a riving knife ... it’s just too dicey.

(Note: Cutting results are based on top-face evaluations; oddly, the bottom edges of the cuts were slightly rougher for all three tools.)

posted on June 1, 2009 by Chris Marshall
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