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Festool TS 55 and TS 75 Plunge Cut Saws

When you first encounter Festool’s TS 55 and TS 75, you may stop immediately at the price. And we agree that a $400-plus price tag for a circular saw would raise a few questions - if what you got was nothing more than a high-end version of the usual design. But in this case, the problem is with the comparison. True, a typical circular saw and the Festool saws both spin a round blade, but for practical purposes, the similarity ends there. As part of Festool’s groundbreaking power tool system, the TS saws are designed to change the way people think about handheld tools. And with the speed and finish-quality results they bring to the table, there’s a good chance they will. In fact, the TS 55 and TS 75, used along with Festool’s acclaimed guide rail system, really belong in a category by themselves. A quick tour of the fundamental advancements the TS saws make over the circular saws you’re accustomed to should make that abundantly clear. Festool's “plunge cut” design is a good place to start. Unlike the usual fixed base and pendulum guard set-up, with the TS 55 and TS 75, the guard and base stay in place while the motor and blade plunge into the material. The result is a couple of appreciable advantages. First, it makes starting a cut in the middle of the material an accurate and safe procedure. If you’ve ever disobeyed the safety rules and tried to back a circular saw into a material while you manually held back the guard, you’ll savor the difference: with either of the Festool saws, you can start a partial cut with incredible accuracy and skip the uneasy feeling of having to disable the tool’s primary safety feature in the process. Similarly, the design makes starting angle and bevel cuts much more comfortable. There’s no need to dial back an uncooperative pendulum guard by hand until you have the cut established. The plunge cut design is an exceptionally safe arrangement in general. Kickback is the number one safety concern in circular saw operation, and just knowing that the blade will automatically retract into a full-coverage guard in the event of mishap is a significant comfort. But another feature makes kickback an unlikely event: the integrated riving knife. Typical of European saw design, a permanent riving knife is situated immediately behind the blade and matches the blade’s depth, making it impossible for the material to close in on the back end of the blade and cause kickback. The riving knife mechanism is spring loaded, so you can safely plunge into a cut into the middle of a piece of material – the riving knife will pop down into the kerf and start performing its function as soon as there’s room enough behind the blade. image of festool plunge saw with guide railBut the real magic lies with the guide rail. Festool plunge saws and routers are designed for use with Festool’s unique extruded aluminum guide rail system. The base of the TS 55 and TS 75 saws are grooved to match a corresponding ridge on the guide rail. In operation, the saw actually rides on the guide rail itself, guided by the ridge/groove interface, with only the saw blade teeth contacting the material. The saw base is equipped with a tensioning knob that can be adjusted to take out any slop between the base and the rail, and thereby a perfectly straight, wander-free cut path is ensured. Better still, the Festool guide rails are equipped with a zero-clearance strip on the blade side of the rail. The zero-clearance strips are made a little oversized, so that when you make your first cut, the saw trims the strip to a perfect match with the edge of the blade. It’s a slick arrangement: The strip prevents tear-out on the saw side of the material, and also makes it much easier to line up the saw and the cut line. Instead of having to factor in the distance from the edge of the blade to the edge of the saw base – as you would with a standard circular saw and a straightedge guide – you simply line the edge of the zero-clearance strip up with the cut line, and you’re ready to saw. Like other circular saws, Festool saws tilt 45 degrees to the right for bevel cuts, but with one major difference: The pivot point for bevel cuts is designed so that the inboard side of the cut will end up in exactly the same place no matter where the bevel angle is set. In other words, whether the bevel angle is set at 45 degrees, 90 degrees, or anywhere in between, the cut line will still line up perfectly with the edge of the guide rail’s zero-clearance strip.  You get splinter-free cutting throughout the bevel-angle range and none of the mind-numbing trial and error involved in trying to position a typical edge guide for various bevel settings. What about clamps for the guide rail? You don’t need them. That’s a big change from the old style circular saw / edge guide combination. The Festool guide rails have two no-slip strips on the bottom that grip the material while you cut. And because the saw rides on the rail, you don’t have to exert lateral force to keep it in contact with the guide, so there isn’t much reason for the guide to move during the cut in the first place. Festool does offer specially designed clamps for the guides as an option, however. They’d be worth considering for extra heavy-duty cuts, cuts where there might be a strong tendency for the blade to follow the grain of the material, or cuts made by people who like the added security of knowing that the guide absolutely will not budge under any circumstances. image of festool plunge saw fastfix blade change mechanismStill other design features add to the TS 55 and TS 75’s list of credentials, and further separate them from other circular saws on the market. Both have step-less speed variability, so you can dial in the ideal speed for a given cut. Both have amply powerful triple-bearing motors, which are equipped with additional high-tech electronic functionality, including soft start, constant speed under load, and temperature and current-triggered overload protection. The good design decisions and thoughtful touches are almost too numerous to name: a detachable cord that can be easily replace if damaged; a zero-clearance attachment for the outboard side of the blade; quick and easy depth stop adjustments; and a “FastFix” system for easy blade changes. And of course there’s a rotating dust port designed for use with the equally well-regarded Festool dust extractors. Did we leave anything out? Probably. The only thing we can find wrong with the entire picture is that it can be tough to pick between the two. The TS 55 and TS 75 are virtually the same saw when it comes to overall quality and the list of important features. They use the same guide rail, and come with the same set of accessories (including a 55’’ guide rail). The main difference is a matter of size: the TS 75 is bigger, cuts deeper, and has a more powerful motor. The TS 55 will supply cut-depth and power enough to suit the needs of many woodworkers. Even with a blade that’s only 6-1/4’’ across, you’ll get a maximum 90 degree cut depth of 2 – 1/8’’ using the saw solo, and a slight drop to 1- 15/16” when you use it with the guide rail. The 10 amp motor is more than adequate to the task cutting hardwoods in that depth range. If you’re looking primarily for a saw that will give you superb finish cuts in sheet materials, and don’t plan on sawing up really heavy timber, the TS 55 will do nicely. It comes equipped with a 48 tooth blade for extra-smooth panel sawing. You’ll be able to tackle reasonably thick hardwoods as well, and you’ll have no problem sawing up 2x construction lumber. On the other hand, if you want a saw the will laugh in the face of just about anything you can throw its way, think about the TS 75. With a whopping 2-15/16” cut depth and a husky 13 amp motor driving its 8-1/4” blade, the TS 75 is powerful enough to cut through a steel door, cuts deep enough to make fast work of timber framing and comes equipped with a slip-clutch for added kickback protection during heavy work. image of festool plunge saw and mft Either way, it’s important to get past the circular saw comparison. The TS 55 and TS 75 plunge cut saws represent nothing short of a shift in woodworking philosophy. The idea, in a nutshell, is that it’s possible to design handheld tools that perform as well as the stationary woodworking equipment we’ve come to associate with accuracy and production speed.  Festool takes the idea a step further by designing tools that work together as components of a system, from the inter-operability of their tools and accessories to the compact, stackable, portable “Systainer” storage system. The TS 55 and TS 75 are exemplary members of the Festool team, and live up to the underlying philosophy extremely well. At the same time, they offer a first-rate solution for one of the most burdensome tasks faced by woodworkers operating under space and equipment constraints. And for anyone working in the field who needs speed, accuracy and portability, they’re practically a miracle.