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The track saw has matured from its humble beginnings as circular saw with a straightedge to being called a table saw replacement by some companies. That doesn’t ring true to me, because a table saw is much more than a tool for working with sheet goods. It seems to me that track saws are more of a replacement for the bulky panel saw lurking in the shadows of the shop.

A panel saw is probably something every lone woodworker has thought about acquiring at some point, because face it: Cutting a full sheet of plywood accurately on a table saw by yourself is tricky at best (unless you have enough room to equip your table saw with in-feed, out-feed, and side extensions). Unfortunately, a panel saw will take up a good chunk of wall space — but not so with a track saw. You can make cuts in an area not much bigger than a full sheet of plywood, and when you’re done you have your floorspace or workbench back again.

What initially spawned this question was Rockler listing a new panel saw for sale on their website. For $900, a price for which you can get a pretty good table saw, you can buy the Panel Pro 2 panel saw which can handle a full sheet of plywood with room to spare. But who’s still looking to buy a panel saw when you can buy a track saw for half that price?

With growing popularity of the track saw, is the panel saw still a relevant tool? Or will it be relegated to the back of the big box store, custom cutting plywood for customers who don’t own a track saw?

Panel Pro 2 [Rockler]
Track Saw [DeWalt]
Track Saws [Festool]

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19 Responses to Reader Question: Are Panel Saws Still Relevant?

  1. Gary says:

    Looks like the big Festool track saw is $625. The Eurekazone package long enough to cut an 8 ft ply sheet is $350 plus saw cost (wow, that’s gone up a lot since I bought mine 5 years ago).

    I’ve never used a panel saw, but wonder if they are more accurate and more repeatable than track saws.

    But, for my purposes, the Eureka option has worked just fine – but I think about getting an 8 1/4″ saw some day because you can’t cut through two ply sheets at once with a 7/14″ saw.

    I would love to have a Festool some day.

  2. Jerry says:

    After working for some time where we had a panel saw available at the shop, I really began to appreciate how easy it did the job. I really liked it and I think it saved a lot of time.
    Never used a track saw, but replace my table saw? Really? If all I ever cut were panels, maybe.
    Actually, I think the panel saw is still better in that it is somewhat self-contained – no bench space, no horses, etc. But, if you only use it once a year for a single panel…..why bother?
    It all comes down to whether you would get enough use from a tool to justify the cost – in your own mind, of course.

  3. Josh says:

    What if you throw home made panel saw into the mix? Does that change the answer any? Plenty of guys out there building their own from plans. I’ve heard some good praise for this option. I don’t have the room for it right now, but I’d think about this option for a wall of my garage. That’s where I keep sheet goods anyway and it wouldn’t take up any space in the separate wood shop.

  4. @Josh:

    I did think about the home made panel saw while writing this article. I fact, many years ago before I had fully utilized my shop I had plans to build a panel saw I saw in Wood magazine.

    I discovered that if I cut the sheet goods in the garage right off the truck bed (or on some saw horses) using a circular saw and homemade guide, that I wouldn’t have to deal with moving full panels around. And that was before I had ever heard of a track saw.

  5. Dhorvath says:

    I just built a wood rack with one side set up large enough to hold a 4×8 sheet on the outside. With some 90 degree angle aluminum mounted on the bottom edge, it’s set up to allow a straight edge to be clamped on the panel and I can simply rip away with my circular saw. Since it doubles as a wood rack, I don’t loose space in the shop. It also didn’t cost me $300. I framed it with 2×4’s and 1×4’s for the cutting side. I can unscrew the 1×4 slats and replace them cheaply as needed.

  6. Pezdad says:

    I paid for a Festool tracksaw (smaller one) a year ago and love it – MUCH better, more accurate & CLEANER cuts on plywood than a table saw (which was better than a panel saw IMHO). I can’t see getting a panel saw anymore (although I once wanted one).

    Also, I have no place to put a panel and with the track saw I just need a place to lean the piece of styrofoam I use when cutting (backs up the cuts for no tearout)

  7. Gary says:

    Yeah, I break down sheet goods in the garage then hump them down the stairs. And no way would I ever give up my tablesaw.

  8. mickeyrat says:

    I built a panel saw a couple of years ago from stuff I had lying around the shop.I use it to cut 5×5 hardwood ply,granted it takes wall space but its footprint isnt too large.Ive never used a track saw but it seemes to me it would take up valuable assembly space in my shop to use.Its made out of wood and square tubing and depending on temp and humidity in the shop its accurate from 0 to 1/32 over 5 feet and I can live with that.5×5 3/4 hardwood ply panels are a itchB to handle alone and the panel saw was my only solution. Just my 2.02 canadian cents worth

  9. Mike says:

    I think it was Wood magazine that reviewed several track saw systems a year or two ago and IIRC, they had the opinion that they could replace a panel saw and possibly a table saw if you only were cutting sheet goods. I had been planning to purchase a panel saw for the shop at work, though I didn’t want to give up the floor space needed. For us, it would have needed about 16′ of floor space to make rip cuts. Now, I’m probably going to get a decent track saw system instead. So for me, panel saws aren’t too relevant any more.

  10. Measure Once Cut Twice says:

    It seems that a panel saw would save a lot of time and be especially useful if you are doing a lot of panel cutting. If you are only doing a little here or there, the extra time to set up a track saw (or a decent straight edge) wouldn’t hurt as much – in fact, the time to set up and adjust the panel saw would allow for quite a few straight-edge setups.

    If I was doing a panel a day, I’d think about a panel saw. At less than one a month, a straight-edge is just fine.

    (I have a few straight-edges, made from tempered Masonite, with a section for the saw to run on as well as the straight edge. Makes for a very smooth cut – minute tear-out)

  11. fred says:

    Like with most every other tool – the answer is that it depends. We have a 208Volt 3HP model Safety Speed Cut and a large Shop-Fox Sliding Table saw in the shop for handling sheet goods. With doing larger /wider kitchen island fabrication in the shop – we rely on the panel saw to cut large sheets of solid surface material. I’m not sure about specs on the saw pictured – but I’m guessing 1/32 of an inch tolerance square and true. Probably better repeatability over time than a track saw or homemade panel saw – but not up to the 0.005 factory set tolerance on our machine. Do you need this tolerance? Not for everything – but when you are butting mitered joints together – it helps with the seaming. The fact that the panel saw can handle (crosscut) 12 x 5 foot sheets is also a plus for us. Even though the panel saw has an 8 inch blade – the 14 inch blade on the sliding table saw – makes it a much better tool for gang cutting.

  12. Ethan says:

    Another factor to consider is whether or not you’re going to be cutting sheet goods or large panels at anything other than 90 degrees. I’m working on a kitchen with wood countertops and had to cut one at a very odd angle to join it to another section of countertop and create an angled peninsula. A track saw would have been ideal but I faked it with a straight edge. Even then I had to chase it with a top bearing pattern bit on my router because the cut wasn’t clean enough to join the sections of counter top. If I had to do something like this project again I’d go ahead and blow the $500+ on a Festool TS 55.

  13. İt depends what kind of job you want to carry on then the cost is not relevant

  14. fred says:

    Another issue when cutting problem materials – like veneered panels or melamine – is the need to pre-score. On the sliding table saw this is handled as a matter of design by a secondary – separate motor and blade – scoring blade. On our panel saw – we can add a scoring blade – but changing back and forth is very inconvenient and can increase the likelihood of imperfect allignment if you bump the sheet when changing the blade. Not sure about how a track saw fares in this area.

  15. It seems like it would be easier to handle panels on a panel saw than a table saw based purely on friction. I did see Lowe’s panel saw was tilted back which I imagine would help avoid problems when ripping thin materials lengthwise where the last couple feet end up miscut at Home Depot. I don’t have a track saw, but I do have one of those clamping guides I’ve used to guide a circular saw and while it’s nice, it’s still a lot of work to measure, align, adjust and clamp. And if the material is flexible you can’t clamp very tight. and you have to adjust the measurements to account for the distance from the edge of the saw to the blade, etc. whereas the panel saw has these adjustments built in to their guides. So I’d like a panel saw, but they’re a bit pricey so I don’t know when/if I’ll own one. I keep hoping to find a deal on a used one.

  16. Bud says:

    I got the Panel Pro 1 as a demo and used it for several months. My overall impression is that it’s a great idea, but doesn’t stack up to the tolerances of shop quality panel saws. For vertical rip cuts, this saw is great. Load a panel and cut. Rip cuts however are a different story. I successfully made many rip cuts, but started noticing variance in the rip from one end of the panel to the other of up to 1/2″. This is way beyond the tolerances needed for finish work. I haven’t used the saw for rip cuts since. I see the Panel Pro 2 has some extended guides that might help but maybe they will reduce the tolerances, but I’ve lost confidence that it can stack up to shop quality tools. I also think this product is overpriced. The Panel Pro is some nifty sheet meal work with rails and a bracket that mounts a standard skill saw. Maybe I’m cheep but I expect more for $900. I’ve also used Bora’s Clamp edge and it works great but as someone else mentioned there is no repeatability. If you need shop level precision, stick with a table saw, if you need portability, checkout Track Saws.

    I’ve also used

  17. PutnamEco says:

    Re: fred says:
    Another issue when cutting problem materials – like veneered panels or melamine – is the need to pre-score

    Holz-Her and Striebig among others do produce vertical panel saws with scoring blades.

    Re: the track saw…

    First cut, set the blade depth at 1mm., Second cut, all the way through, tedious if there are many cuts, but it is do able.

  18. fred says:

    Holz-Her – would have been an alternative if we were buying from scratch – but the shop was bought with some tooling already in place – like the Safety Speed Cut , a big old Dewalt RAS and an Oliver Straight Line Rip Saw. I have not seen the Holz-Her panel saw in action – but know someone who has one of their beam saws – so if the quality is similar – their panel saw must be a fine tool. We bought a used Shop Fox 14 inch sliding table saw – used – and its what we use for scoring sheet goods – and as I said gang cutting when needed

  19. TominDC says:

    Where has this tool been all my life. Until I saw this story, I had never before heard about or seen a track saw. What a tool for removing old flooring. I just took up the floor in one bathroom with a Multimaster — took for ever, and not as precise as a track saw — then there is cutting the 4×8 to replace the it. After an hour on Youtube, Amazon, Festool, and Dewalt, I settled on the Makita 6.5″. I liked the way it adjusts, have had good luck with their power tools, and ToolBarn sold it to me, saw, track, and clamps online for $400 delivered. OnNe more bath to go, and I am actually looking forward to reflooring.

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