DeWalt Track Saw - Canadian Woodworking Magazine

A good choice for processing sheet goods easily, safely, and with optimal precision

dewalt_tracksaw

DeWalt Track Saw



If you regularly work with sheet goods you have several choices for processing the material, including a conventional circular saw, a vertical panel saw, a table saw, or a plunge cut saw. If you only use sheet goods occasionally, one of the most economical and safest ways to cut sheet goods is with a circ saw and some kind of edge guide, either commercially made or shop made. Using a circ saw equipped with a good quality finish blade and an accurate edge guide will give you reasonably good quality cuts though you'll likely still get chip out on both the top and bottom of the sheet stock. As well, plunge cutting with a circ saw can be somewhat risky, and anyone who has used a circ saw for any length of time will have experienced kickback, caused when the blade binds in the cut.



Vertical panel saws don't take up much floor space, and they require less working area to process sheet goods, as the saw head rides on a moving carriage. They're quite expensive, but on all but the top end commercial grade saws you can expect rough cuts with a fair amount of chip out - the saw is suspended above the sheet stock rather than sitting directly on the stock. If you've ever had sheet goods cut at a Home Depot store you'll be familiar with the quality of cut from a vertical panel saw.

 
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Saw Trax vertical panel saw
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Felder sliding panel saw
For my money, you get the best chip-free cuts on a table saw equipped with a finish blade and a zero clearance insert. You can do this most efficiently and safely on a sliding panel saw. However most of us don't have the good fortune of owning one of these expensive, space consuming saws; we use the ubiquitous cabinet saw or the increasingly popular hybrid saw in the workshop. On the job site you might use a portable benchtop (or work site) saw, or a somewhat larger contractor style saw. With any of these saws, manipulating a seventy-five pound, eight foot long sheet of plywood over a spinning blade is generally awkward, often nerve racking, and potentially dangerous. If your work space is large enough you can place a table or roller stand on the outfeed end of the saw when ripping long stock and on the side of the saw when crosscutting wide stock. And of course, having a helper can always make the job easier. 



An increasingly popular alternative for processing large, unwieldy sheet goods is the plunge cut or track saw. The circular saw is designed to aggressively and quickly cut dimensional lumber and sheet stock used on construction projects. While similar in many respects to a circ saw, a plunge cut saw is specifically designed to cut sheet goods and thin solid stock perfectly straight (whether square or beveled), cleanly, chip free, and safely (with minimal risk of kickback). And it's meant to do this quickly, whether on a job site or in the workshop. Currently only three manufacturers produce these saws: Festool, Makita and DeWALT. Over the past three months I've had an opportunity of using a DeWALT TrackSaw (DWS520) on a shop renovation.



There are several versions of the TrackSaw:

Models:

Saw aloneDWS520K
Saw with a 59" trackDWS520SK
Saw with a 102" trackDWS520LK
Saw with both a 59" and a 102" trackDWS520CK
The 28V Lithium-ion cordless model (DC351KL), which was introduced only two years ago, has been discontinued. Just about every tool supplier sells only the saw with a track (or rail); to purchase the saw alone you will need to special order it. The only reason you would want to do this is if you already have a track. Fortunately, the DWS520 will work on either a Festool or Makita track. The tracks (46", 59" or 102") can be purchased separately, and you can connect them together to form a track as long as you need. Of course, you could use the saw with a shop built track, but that would somewhat defeat the functionality of the saw.
 

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Dual handles
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Pivoting hinge
The DWS520 is a well made saw, and comes with a 3 year warranty. At just under 12 pounds it's quite heavy, but I didn't find that to be much of an issue, as in use the saw is typically gliding along the track. A heavier saw also gives more stability in use. The plunging action on the DWS520 is quite different than on a circular saw. A pivoting hinge at the back of the saw moves the motor forward, and then downward. Throughout this action, the motor remains parallel to the shoe and your grip on the handle doesn't change.

There are two handles on the saw, though I found the plunging action to be very smooth using the back handle alone. However, several people who tried the saw found it best to use both hands - one on the front handle and the other on the back handle. Regardless of whether you use one or two hands, you'll find that the articulating action of the saw keeps it from creeping forward as you start the saw and lower the head. Once the saw head is fully lowered you then begin to move (glide) the saw along the track. I found that after a few tries this rather unconventional plunging action felt quite surprisingly easy.

To plunge the saw downward you depress the plunge trigger located at the top of the back handle. Just below this trigger is the on/off switch. It takes the motor a few seconds to get up to speed, and it's best to wait until the motor reaches its maximum RPM before beginning a cut. Just to the right of the handle is the locking lever and lock button that enable you to lock the saw head in the down position for blade changes, or for that rare occasion where you might need to adjust the riving blade. I found the sequence of steps to do this initially confusing, but after doing it a few times, easy enough to remember - press the lock button, lower the saw, turn the locking lever until it clicks into position, press the locking lever down, and then rotate the blade until it locks into position.
 

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Plunge trigger (top), On/off switch (bottom)
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Locking lever (left), Lock button (right)
The 12 Amp motor spins the blade at between 1,750 and 4,000 RPM. I found the motor powerful enough to slice through 2" oak with ease. You can adjust the blade speed (to one of 5 settings) for the type of material you're cutting (solid lumber, sheet stock, melamine, plastic, solid surface countertop materials or aluminum) by means of a dial located at the top of the motor casing. Soft-start is always a nice feature on a power tool, along with a long power cord; the 12' cord on this saw means I don't always have to peck around searching for an extension cord.

I found that the DWS520 was reasonably quite for a power saw, when initially powered up. However, there was a noticeable resonance as the saw began to cut. The noise was more apparent when making bevel cuts. Thankfully, there wasn't any corresponding vibration. I attribute this to the enclosed blade and the close fit of the anti-splinter strips on the track (which you'll read about below).
 

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Cutting depth scale and lock nut
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Bevel adjustment scale and locking knob
Ease and accuracy of cut depth are important features on any saw, and the DWS520 does a good job here. Changing blade height or bevel angle is very quick, and the saw locks securely in place. The saw has a maximum depth-of-cut of 2-1/8" at 90° and 1-1/2" at 45° while on a track. The bevel angle goes from 0° to 47°, and when you change the bevel angle the saw locks at both the front and rear, making it super rigid. A great feature on this saw is that when setting blade depth the scale takes into account the thickness of the track. The imperial markings on both the height and bevel scales are quite legible, but there aren't any preset detents; I would have liked to see detents at the common sheet good thicknesses (1/4", 3/8", 1/2" and 3/4"). Also, the adjustment knobs could have been a tad bigger to accommodate people with large fingers.
 

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The bevel locking knob at the rear of the saw with the 360-degree dust extraction port just above
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Anti-kickback knob (left), Track adjustment knob (right)

At the back of the handle is a 1-1/4" dust port that swivels a full 360°. Hooked up to a dust extractor I estimate that between 80% and 90% of the dust was sucked away.

The saw has a 20mm arbor, and comes with a 6-1/2" 48 carbide toothed ATB finishing blade. I have no complaints with this blade; it delivered excellent cuts in sheet stock and solid wood. The plate is laser cut rather than punched or stamped; this enables the manufacturer to use a harder steel that's more resistant to warping. Anti-vibration slots help stabilize the blade and reduce blade chatter, which contributes to a longer cutting life. Expansion slots allow the blade to expand and contract as it heats up during use, and they serve to reduce noise levels. Plus, I like the large teeth as I'll be able to have it re-sharpened several times, which makes the blade even more economical in the long run.

My only complaint is the odd combination (20mm arbor and 6-1/2" blade). I wasn't able to locate any compatible blades for the DWS520; which means I'm limited to using DeWALT blades for the foreseeable future. Fortunately, at $44 I don't find it overly expensive for the quality of cut it provides.
 

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Anti-kickback feature
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Riving knife moves in tandem with the blade
The blade change system works quite well; I was able to remove and re-install the blade in about four minutes. You move the saw head down, lock it in place, and then hold the arbor lock while removing the blade clamping screw. The wrench for replacing the saw blade stores conveniently in the front handle.



Circular saws have the potential to cause serious injury, particularly if there is any kickback. The DWS520 however, has to be one of the safest power saws on the market, thanks to a spring loaded riving knife and a unique anti-kickback feature. The riving knife moves in tandem with the blade, and drops down into the saw kerf, keeping the stock from pinching the blade. The anti-kickback feature is a small spring-loaded wheel located in the center groove of the saw’s shoe. When activated by rotating a knob, a roller clamps down on the track, preventing the saw from moving backwards. It's a fairly simple design but works very well; once engaged, only the Hulk would be able to pull the saw backwards on the track.
 

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Dual sided track with centre raised ridge that guides the saw; two glide strips on either side
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Bottom of the track showing friction strips
The key to the cutting efficiency of the DWS520 is the aluminum track that the saw rides on. The tracks are dual sided, so you can run the saw in either direction on the tracks. There is a raised ridge on the top of the track that fits into the saw shoe; this is what guides the saw along the track. Two tool-less track adjusters enable you to fine tune the fit so that there is no sideways slippage as the saw glides over the track. On the top of the track are replaceable glide strips that keep the saw moving smoothly.
 

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Bottom of track showing anti-splinter strip
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The anti-splinter strip before being cut - once its cut it ensures a zero clearance to the blade
On the bottom of the tracks are rubber friction strips and, at both edges, anti-splinter strips. The friction strips, working in tandem with the weight of the saw, hold the track in place. I felt that they did a commendable job on plywood and solid wood; for glossy surfaces, such as plastic, aluminum or solid surface countertops, you'll want to clamp the track in place. DeWALT has track clamps that attach to the channel in the bottom of the track (and won't get in the way when you start or end a cut), or you can use quick acting clamps. For the strips to work best, you need to keep the work surface dust free; either a blast of compressed air, a shop vacuum, or a dust brush will do the job.



There are also two friction strips inlaid on the side of the saw. Which means you can place the saw on its side to cut parallel to the floor, enabling you to trim door bottoms without removing them from their hinges. Pretty clever.



The anti-splinter strips have to be cut before you use the track to ensure that they are exactly aligned with the cutting edge of the saw blade. The process is straightforward, and clearly laid out in the instruction manual that comes with the saw. Take your time cutting the strips, as they're crucial to the optimal performance of the saw; they work just like a zero-clearance insert plate on a table saw, ensuring that your cuts will be chip free on the good side, and almost chip free on the other side.

As with a conventional circular saw, place your stock good side down, bad side up. As long as your stock is level, you can lay it on just about anything. I typically cut sheet goods right on the floor, with a scrap or two of ply underneath. I've also used left over pieces of rigid foam, which works well with thin stock.
 

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No chipping on good side
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Minimal chipping on bad side
There are a range of accessories that extend the flexibility of the saw. I've listed below those that I feel are most useful. By far my favourite is the Router Adapter, which enables you to use almost any plunge router with any of the tracks. It's a fabulous accessory to have if you rout a lot of large panels or sheet goods. For other accessories check out the DeWALT website (see the sidebar to the right).



The wear items on the saw tracks (friction strips, glide strips, anti-splinter strips) can be easily replaced for about $20 each.
 

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Cut stock right on the floor over a scrap of ply
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Or lay stock on a sheet of rigid foam
The DWS520 isn't meant to replace a circ saw on the job site - the circ saw is still the tool to use for cutting dimensional stock and rough cutting sheet goods. And for ripping narrow stock (anything less than about 6") of any length you're much better to use a table saw, or baring that, a jig saw. However, when you want to make precise, straight cuts on sheet stock, particularly when processing expensive prefinished sheet stock for cabinetry or furniture, the DWS520 is a great tool. There are lots of other applications where the DWS520 will become the tool of choice - cutting grooves for inlays on hardwood flooring, making plunge cuts for sinks, edge trimming sheet stock, leveling pre-installed entrance and passage doors in situ.

Accessories:

102" trackDWS5023
Router adapterDWS5031
Track connectorsDWS5033
TrackSaw track clampsDWS5026
TrackSaw miter gaugeDWS5028
T-square attachmentDWS5027
KEY FEATURES:

  • 12 amp motor generating 1,200 max watts out
  • 1,750 - 4,000 RPM
  • 6 1/2" 48T ATB blade
  • 20mm arbor
  • 2 1/8" max depth of cut at 90-degrees (saw on the track)
  • 1 5/8" max depth of cut at 45-degrees (saw on the track)
  • 0 to 47-degree bevel
  • Soft start
  • Riving knife
  • Anti-kickback feature
  • Zeroclearance cutting system
  • 1 1/4" dust port
  • 12' power cord
  • 11.5 lbs (saw and blade)
  • Includes: storage box, wrench, 6 1/2" 48T blade, instruction manual
  • 3 year limited warranty, 1 year free service, 90 day money back guarantee
MANUFACTURERDeWalt
AVAILABLE FROMTool and equipment suppliers nationwide
RETAIL PRICE$599.00
MODEL #See chart in the article
MADE INMexico
Carl Duguay, August 2010
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