This is my first blog entry here on LJ. A few people asked me for some details about my Hillbilly Track Saw, so I’m going to tell you everything here. I’m shocked and honored that this project was chosen for a Top 3. I’m a rookie, and I just thought the photo would fade into oblivion. So thank you, everyone.
I designed and built this because I have a lot of plywood to cut up.
I’m not experienced enough or courageous enough to put big sheets through my little table saw. It’s a great table saw, but there’s very little room in front of or after the blade (or either side of it for that matter.) I also didn’t like the idea of having to cut it down to size with a circular saw and then putting it through the table saw. I asked some of my woodworking buddies and everyone told me either “buy the Festool track saw” or “cut it down with a circular saw and then put it through the table saw.” They said, “you can’t get accurate cuts with a circular saw.” Once I saw the price of the Festool, with 10’ of track, I figured, there’s got to be a way.
So I figured I’ll build my own track. I decided to use plywood as a base for the saw to ride on, but I fortified it with 1 X 4’s underneath. The reason I did this was because I knew I would need to screw down the aluminum and I wanted the screw to bite into something strongly. I wasn’t confident that the screws would hold tight enough to the ply. The aluminum had to be dead flat on the plywood in order for the shoe of the circular to ride against it and not under it.
You can see that I didn’t think it was necessary to make the 1 X 4’s as wide as the plywood. As long it was stable, I was satisfied. I didn’t want to make this project my life’s work. I also put a small cross-piece at each end and stopped the 1 X 4 before it. I did this so the 2 pieces would fit together like a glove, but I didn’t fix them permanently. I only clamp them together. You’ll see why that was a stroke of luck in a second. At a later date, I’m going to add some kind of rail or channel at each end to make it easier to move the 2 pieces together or apart more easily. (the photo below has a lot of distortion—these pieces are FLAT)
Please note that when I use it, I only clamp the 2 strips of track together, and the track to the plywood (to be cut) on one side only. I want the other side of plywood to be free to move away. Because of the dimensions of my saw, I made one side about 9” wide and the other about 5” wide. I wanted to use my little 4 3/8” blade saw. We’ll get back to that.
I used aluminum as a guide because I figured A) it would be slicker (smoother) B) I knew it was more resistant to bending or wear and C) I knew I could get some. My husband recently retired from a long career as a commercial glass contractor (glass for big buildings). He told me that anyone in the commercial glass/aluminum/glazing business has tons of waste aluminum from various jobs. Frequently it’s painted for special projects, and it’s of no use to anyone when a job is complete. He said they have tons of the stuff and usually get a scrap guy to pick it up regularly for like $0.50 – $1.00 per pound. He said you can approach someone in this business and they’d be thrilled to give you scrap aluminum channels. So he got one of his buddies to get me 2, 10’ lengths. It’s clear anodized aluminum extrusion. One side is 1 3/4” X 1 3/4” square and about .110 ” thick. Husband told me that this stuff is more accurate (level/plumb/whatever) and also stronger than steel. The other track is the same square channel but ripped lengthwise (by the glass guys) to 1/2” high. I knew I needed that height in order for the motor of the circular saw to pass over it unimpeded.
The glass boys drilled holes for me every foot. 1/4” holes, and on the high square side, there are 1/2” clearance holes to get in there and they gave me some plastic caps too. Nice guys.
I cut the aluminum ends to make the whole thing about 9’8” long. I filed the ends (not very well) and then thought about making some pretty wooden end pieces, but decided to use red duct tape instead to cover the ends. I thought it was more in keeping with the hillbilly feel ;o) and also easier to see like a flag, and protected anyone from cutting themselves on the metal.
I put the track together so there was zero clearance for blade, sanded the ply (a little), waxed it, waxed the underside of the CS shoe, and that thing rides on there like salts through a widow-woman. There’s no jiggle. The saw has the choice of going forward or back. That’s it.
Of course when I was ready to use it, that’s when the wheels fell off. You see, I didn’t consider that the blade on my little 4 3/8” CS didn’t extend far enough below the shoe to get through the plywood since it was already riding on a 3/8” thick piece of plywood + a 3/4” piece of wood + 3/4” plywood (the good stuff). Even though the blade wasn’t cutting through the first 1 1/8”, it still had to extend past it. BUMMER. That sinking feeling when everything is great, and then it’s NOT. (The cot on the left is for my Shop Dog. No I don’t sleep in my shop.)
So I have this big CS with the 7 1/4” blade which I’m really scared off. It’s just too heavy for me, and now the one I love, the little one with the 4 3/8” blade won’t work! So I bought another one. Don’t worry, it was on sale, and I needed another battery anyway for my drill. The same battery that fits this new one also fits the drill and I already had the charger. And now I have a cordless one. Not the end of the world. I got one with a 6 1/2” blade. So it’s smaller and lighter than the big one. Now of course, I won’t have zero clearance with the track, but I don’t care. I’m not rebuilding it. Fortunately I didn’t screw the two lengths together, so all I have to do is space them a little more and clamp it. Yee Haw, I’m back in business. Yes, I measured the blade and shoe of the new one, and yes, it extends to almost 2 1/2”. I needed just barely over 2”. And yes, I got a good ply/finishing blade with 40 T.
So that’s my story and I hope it helps someone. It may seem like not much to many of you accomplished woodworkers, but I’m a rookie, and I’m really proud of it. and yes, there is a way. ;o)
-- When you are asked if you can do a job, tell 'em, 'Certainly I can!' Then get busy and find out how to do it.” Theodore Roosevelt