Festool Plunge Cut Circular Saw - Canadian Woodworking Magazine

The Festool TS55EQ provides an easy-to-use, precise, chip-free, and safe way to process sheet goods and solid lumber. 

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Festool Plunge Cut Circular Saw



Processing sheet goods can be problematic if you don't have a sliding table saw or vertical panel saw. A 3/4" sheet of MDF core ply can weight as much as 90 pounds, and a sheet of veneer core can top out at 75 pounds. Manhandling full sheets around the shop can be a literal pain in the back, particularly if you have a lot of stock to process. I've always found cutting sheet goods on a cabinet saw to be awkward and unnerving. The problem is compounded when cutting sheet stock at the work site using a contractor saw with it's small table surface.



Like many woodworkers my approach to processing sheet goods is to cut the stock slightly oversized with a circular saw and edge guide, and then, cut the individual pieces to finish size on the table saw. Because of the very wide throat on circ saws, there is always some chipping and tearout. Placing a sacrificial sheet of ply underneath the stock does help to reduce tearout somewhat.

Plunge cut, or track saws, provide an alternative way to process sheet goods. These saws are specifically designed for making precise, splinter-free, crosscuts and rip cuts, and for cutting accurate angles and bevels. And, because of their ability to plunge the blade down at any place on a surface, they are ideal for making inside cuts.



There are only three brands of plunge cut saws on the market — the DeWALT DWS520, the Makita SP6000, and the Festool TS 55 EQ, which I review here. There is also a larger version of the TS55EQ, the TS 75 EQ.

An Integrated System

Festool plunge saws consists of two components that work together to provide you with exceptional precision cutting - the plunge saw, and the guide rails. The saw comes as as kit that includes a 55" (1400mm) guide rail, a 48-tooth ATB carbide tipped blade, a 'Plug-it' power cord, a limit stop, a splinterguard, and a 'Systainer' box to store everything in (expect the rail). 


 
In order to benefit from precision, splinter-free cutting you'll typically use the saw and guide rail together. However, you can use the saw without the rail, for example when you want to make quick, rough cuts on dimensional lumber.
 
There are additional accessories you can purchase for use with the TS55EQ, including:
 

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Specialty blades for cutting laminates, plastic, aluminum, steel, and solid surface materials
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Guide rails, from 32"/800mm to 197"/5000mm long
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Quick clamps to securely hold the guide rail to stock
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A guide connector to join two rails together
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A guide rail deflector to keep the hose and power cord from snagging on the end of the rail
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A mitre gauge for making precise mitre cuts
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A parallel guide for ripping stock up to 11 13/16" wide without using the guide rail
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A cover plate (dust shoe) to improve dust collection by covering the outside of the blade cover
You don't have to use a dust extractor with the TS55EQ. There is a rotating chip diverter at the back of the saw that diverts debris away from the work area. However, if you'll be using the TS55EQ on a consistent basis, it much more convenient to connect it to an extractor. 


If you have an extractor you'll need a hose (or hose adapter) that can connect to the 1-9/16"/39.7mm o.d. dust port on the TS55EQ. 



If you don't have an extractor, then you might want to consider purchasing one of the Festool plunge cut saw packages, that bundles the TS55EQ with a Festool dust extractor at a discounted price. There are six extractor models to choose from, ranging from 2 to 12 gallon capacity. According to Festool, when the TS55EQ is connected to a Festool dust extractor, over 96% of fine sawdust is contained.

The Systainer


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T-Loc Systainer
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Ample storage for saw and accessories
Premium tools deserve premium storage, and the Festool T-Loc Systainer is just about the best that you'll find. Virtually all their tools come in a 'system container' that provides convenient tool and accessory storage, as well as protection from dust and moisture. 



There is enough room in the Systainer to store the TS55EQ along with it's power cord, several blades, the limit stop, splinter guard, along with a couple of quick clamps (not included).


 
The Systainers are made of an impact resistant ABS plastic, making them strong, rigid, and impervious to water - the optimal investment protection.
 

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Systainers can be stacked together for easy storage or transportation
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Open the bottom Systainer without removing it from the rack
One of their great features is that they can be stacked one on top of another, and you can carry the stack with the oversized handle on the top mounted Systainer. The handle, which folds flat into the top of the Systainer, is rated at 400 lbs/200kg. This stackable feature makes it very convenient for storing the Systainers, or moving them from shop to work site. Changing the position of a Systainer in the stack takes no more than a few seconds.

If you have a couple of Systainers stacked together you can open the bottom one without removing it from the stack. You need to exercise a bit of caution though, as the weight of the top Systainer might cause the stack to fall backwards.
 
The Guide Rail
 

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The guide rail works in tandem with the plunge saw
 
It's the guide rail that enables the plunge saw to make perfectly straight, splinter free cuts. Made of anodized aluminum, the rails have high strength and are both wear and corrosion resistant. The TS55EQ comes with a 55"/1500mm rail, long enough to crosscut sheet goods. If you regularly rip ply full-length, then you'll want to pick up the 42" rail and a connector so that you can link the two guides together.
 

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Saw guide strips
 
On the top of the rail are two PET (polyethylene terephthalate) plastic low-friction glide strips. The strips are slightly raised above the surface of the rail, which enables the saw to glide smoothly across its surface. While the strips should last quite a long time, they can be easily replaced if they become worn through extended use.
 

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(A) Splinter guard, (B) friction strips
 
On the bottom side of the rail is a splinter guard strip and two friction strips. The splinter guard extends past the side of the rail, and the first time you use the saw it cuts the strip to match the saw blade. The splinter guard acts just like a zero-clearance insert on a table saw, helping to eliminate chipping and tearout. The guard holds the top edge of your stock down as the saw blade moves up against it.


 
The two anti-slip friction strips help keep the rail stable when cutting, and they prevent damage to the work surface. For most surfaces you don't need any additional clamping to hold the rail securely in place. However, when needed, you can use cam or spring clamps  placed on either end of the rail, or Festool quick clamps (#491594), to hold the guide rail to the stock. 



Both the splinter guard and friction strips are easily replaced should they become worn.
 

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Guide rail thumbwheels
 

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Guide rail cams
 
The saw needs to move along the guide rail smoothly. If there is any wobble, or side-play,  the cut line won't be perfectly straight. To ensure that the saw and rail work seamlessly there are two cam adjustment wheels on the top side of the saw. By turning these wheels you minimize side-play. The aim is to have the saw glide freely along the rails without binding or without your having to exert any undue force on the saw, so don't apply the cams too tightly — a tiny bit of side-ply is acceptable.
 

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Removable splinterguard
 
The TS55EQ comes with a removable splinterguard that attaches to the blade side of the saw. It isn't part of the guide rail system, but it helps to prevent chipping on the offcut side of the saw blade. 


 
Before using it, you will need to trim the splinterguard so that it is aligned flush against the blade. To do this you simply install the splinterguard, raise it up as high as it goes, and then, with the saw set at its lowest speed, plunge the blade to it's full depth.


 
If you use a different blade that has a wider or narrower kerf you'll need to purchase and install another splinterguard. Fortunately they're relatively inexpensive, at around $4 each.
 
Innovative Technical Features
 

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The 10-amp, 1,200 watt motor on the TS55EQ is equipped with Festool's MMC — multi material control electronics. This electronic circuitry provides several functions that helps to protect the motor and make it easier for you to use the saw:
 
Soft start applies torque gradually when you start the saw so there is less strain on the motor bearings, shaft, and brushes, and you won't experience that sudden jerking motion that can throw the saw off its cut line.
 
Constant power is delivered under load so that the saw maintains a consistent operating speed in relation to your feed rate and the density of the stock being cut - you get smoother, faster cuts without burning.

Temperature and overload protection automatically turn the saw off in the off-chance that strain on the motor become excessive - for example if the blade should bind when cutting stock that has a lot of internal stress or that isn't properly dried.
 

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Slip clutch reduces the risk of kickback
 
Additional protection for the motor (and the user) is provided by the slip clutch, which enables the blade to disengage from the arbor if it begins to binds in the stock, preventing  damage to the motor and reducing the potential for saw kickback.
 

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Removable Plug-it power cord
 
I like the convenience of removing the Plug-it power cord when storing the saw — it makes it easier to roll up the cord. Removing the plug takes no more than three seconds. It's also nice to have an extra long, flexible cord — in this case 13' 4"/14m — so that I don't have to hunt around for an extension cord.
 
In the photo above you'll notice a green dial, just above the plug. This is the variable speed dial that enables you to select the appropriate cutting speed for the type of material you're processing. There are six levels, ranging from 2,000 to 5,200 RPM. I leave the setting at the maximum level (#6), which is fine for cutting softwood, plywood and most hardwood. For very dense hardwood I'll turn the dial down to #5. For plastics, composite siding and aluminum siding choose a lower speed setting, from #3 to #5.
 
Precisely Aligned Cuts
 

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Precise alignment to the cut line
 
There is absolutely no guesswork involved when cutting with the TS55EQ. Once you lay out a cut line, you don't need to make any additional measurements. You simply line up the edge of the splinter guard with the cut line, and then cut away. That's it. I find that this makes cutting not only precise, but incredibly fast.


 
You can make compound cuts of any length by simply angling the rail and beveling the blade. Try doing that on your table saw or miter saw.
 

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The blade always enters the cut at the same position
 
An interesting feature is that, when the saw is mounted on the guide rail, the blade always enters the cut at exactly the same position, regardless of the angle of the cut - the inside edge of the blade will always be right along the splinter guard. 


 
There is a small notch at the front of the base plate that indicates the cut position when the saw is used without the rail.
 
Kickback Control
 

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Riving knife prevents kickback
 
The TS55EQ is one of the few circular saws with a retractable spring-loaded riving knife. Just like on a table saw, the riving knife prevents kickback by keeping wood separated as it passes through the blade. 


 
The knife is factory set, but you can easily adjust it by inserting the supplied wrench into the opening above the knife and releasing a captive screw. The recommended distance between the knife and the blade is from 3/32"/2mm to 5/32"/4 mm.
 

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The limit stop prevents kickback during a plunge cut
 
Often you'll need to make plunge cuts - such as when installing kitchen sinks, or repairing damaged flooring. The FS55EQ is the plunge cut king. To prevent kickback when starting a plunge cut there is a limit stop that installs on the guide rail behind the saw. A lip at the front of the limit stop covers a tab projecting from the tail end of the saw. This prevents the back of the saw from lifting up as you begin the plunge cut. 


 
The limit stop also serves as a positive stop. You can place the stop at a specific location on the rail at the front of the saw to limit it's forward movement. You can also place a second stop on the rail at the back of the saw for making repeat cuts of exactly the same length.
 
Depth of Cut Adjustment
 

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Integrated trigger and plunge release
 

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Left: plunge release locked; 
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Right: plunge release activated
The TS55EQ has an integrated trigger and plunge release, which acts as a safety feature so that you can't inadvertently power the saw. In order to start the saw you have to push the plunge release slide upwards with your thumb, and then depress the trigger with your forefinger. As you press the plunge release a small metal tab lifts up, enabling the saw blade to descend.
 

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Large, easy to read cutting depth scale
 
The depth cutting scale is very easy to read and to set. You simply depress the depth knob and move the saw body upward or downward. There is no knob to tighten. Each tick on the scale represents a .039"/1mm increment. Unfortunately for those who are only familiar with the imperial measurement system, the scale is laid out in metric units.


 
You'll need to constantly remember to add 5mm to your desired cutting depth in order to account for the thickness of the guide rail.


 
I find that the TS55EQ provides sufficient cutting depth for almost all the work I undertake.  When using the rail I can cut up to 1-15/16"/49mm deep; without the rail the cutting depth increases to 2-1/8"/54mm.
 

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Large spring makes for smooth movement
 
The saw body rises up and down smoothly on a large steel spring.
 
Bevel Adjustment
 

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(A) Bevel lock knob, (B) scale (C) scale pointer
 
Configuring the saw to cut a bevel is just as easy as setting the depth of cut. The bevel scale, which can be set from 0° to 45° in 1° increments, is clear and easy to read. You loosen the bevel lock knobs (one at the front, another at the rear of the saw), tilt the saw until the green scale pointer is as the desired angle, and then, re-tighten the lock knobs. 


 
Cutting depth is 1-7/16"/36.5mm  at 45° with the rail; without the rail the cutting depth increases to 1-11/16"/42.9mm.
 

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90° stop screws
 
Festool sets the blade so that it cuts square to the base. If for some reason the blade cuts out of alignment - for example you inadvertently drop the saw onto the shop floor - you can easily re-adjust the saw body so that it cuts exactly 90° to the base by manipulating two stop screws. Remember that both screws need to be rotated by the same amount.
 
Blade Changing
 

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(A) FastFix latch, (B) locking pin , (C) wrench
 

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Arbor bolt exposed for easy removal
 
Festool's FastFix blade changing system is one of the easiest that I've used on a circular saw. To use the system you lift up the FastFix latch, and then press the saw head down to expose the blade. You'll hear a clicking sound as the locking pin snaps into place. The power switch is now locked out to prevent the saw from inadvertently starting; the arbor is locked in place so that it won't rotate; and the blade is now accessible through an opening located on the side of the saw. Pull the wrench out from the handle, remove the arbor bolt, and then switch out the blade.


 
The TS55EQ has a .787"/20mm arbor and takes a 6-1/4"/160mm saw blade. It comes with a 48-tooth ATB blade, which I've found provides excellent rip cuts and very good crosscuts on hardwood and plywood. There are 12 other Festool blades to choose from, including specialty blades for cutting laminates, plastic, aluminum, steel, and solid surface materials like Corian®.
 
Dust Extraction
 

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Rotating chip diverter
 
The TS55EQ is equipped with a rotating chip diverter that directs debris away from the saw. I find it does a good job of diverting a lot of debris away from the saw. For optimal dust extraction however, it's best to connect the saw to a dust extractor. I use the saw connected to a Festool CT26E extractor, and find that it does an excellent job — there is very little dust left on the stock or around the saw or guide rail.


 
Festool has six models to choose from, and you can purchase the TS55EQ with a Festool extractor at a discounted price. If you plan to use a different brand of dust extractor you'll need an adapter that can connect to the TS55EQ's 1-1/16"/27mm chip diverter.
 
An Efficient Way to Process Sheet Goods and Solid Stock
 

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Quick, accurate straight cuts 
 

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Easy, precise plunge cuts
 

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Chip-free cuts in solid wood and sheet stock
 
The Festool TS55EQ provides an easy-to-use, precise, chip-free, and safe way to process sheet goods and solid lumber. It's an ideal saw for anyone who has a small workshop and needs to process sheet stock or large panels. For on-site work it enables contractors to achieve the same quality of cuts that they would get from a table saw, but in a convenient, easy-to-transport format.
 
The saw and track work together seamlessly to make perfectly straight and beveled cuts just as easy and almost as fast as on a table saw. If you make and install cabinetry, countertops or flooring you'll love how quickly you can make cut-outs with the TS55EQ.
 
This efficiency does come at a premium price. The TS55EQ is priced at $640CA/$550US. However, the increase in productivity can well offset your initial investment.



festool_TS55EQ_slider
 
KEY FEATURES:

  • 10-Amp, 1,200 watt motor 
  • 2,000 – 5,200 RPM
  • Triple motor bearings for long life 
  • MMC Electronics for soft start, constant power under load, and temperature and overload protection 
  • .787”/20 mm arbor 
  • 6 ¼”/160 mm saw blade 
  • 2 1/8”/54 mm cutting depth at 90° without rail 
  • 1-15/16"/49mm cutting depth at 90° with rail 
  • 1-11/16"/42.9mm cutting depth at 45° without rail 
  • 1-7/16"/36.5mm cutting depth at 45° with rail 
  • 0° to 45° bevel adjustment 
  • FastFix blade changes 
  • Retractable spring-loaded riving knife 
  • 1-1/16"/27mm/ – 1-27/64"/36mm dust hose connection 
  • 13' 4"/14m flexible Plug-it detachable power cord 
  • 9.9 lb/4.5kg weight 
  • 30-day money-back; 3-year limited warranty 
  • Includes: 48-tooth ATB blade, 55"/1,400mm Guide rail, Limit stop, Splinter guard, Plug-it power cord, Systainer SYS 4 T-LOC 
COMPANY:Festool Canada
MODEL:TS 55 EQ
PRICE:$640
MADE IN:Germany
SOURCE:Find a Dealer
November 2012


Author: 
Carl Duguay
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