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Hillbilly Track Saw Project

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Blog entry by SeaWitch posted 976 days ago 7311 reads 10 times favorited 12 comments Add to Favorites Watch

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



12 comments so far

View Jimbo4's profile

Jimbo4

1120 posts in 1360 days


#1 posted 976 days ago

What a fantastic idea ! Do you intend to apply for a patent ?

-- BELT SANDER: Used for making rectangular gouges in wood.

View FredIV's profile

FredIV

115 posts in 987 days


#2 posted 976 days ago

this is great. i just use a straight edge but this seems much better. by the way that little 4” mikita saw is my favorite as well. i “stole” it from my dad. :)

View Dave's profile

Dave

11141 posts in 1437 days


#3 posted 976 days ago

Great project. It’s not overly complicated and it works… Thanks for sharing.
I hate jigs that need a engineering degree to operate. If they are simple. You can build one fast and the set up is a breeze.

Thanks for sharing..

-- Superdav "No matter where you go - there you are." http://chiselandforge.com

View SeaWitch's profile

SeaWitch

149 posts in 992 days


#4 posted 976 days ago

Thanks for the kind words, guys. Yup, it’s really simple, but it works. And I never knew how easy or cheap it was to get aluminum extrusion. A patent? Nah….I don’t think it’s that interesting….but you made me smile. ;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

View FirehouseWoodworking's profile

FirehouseWoodworking

622 posts in 1870 days


#5 posted 976 days ago

SeaWitch,

Great job! And thanks for the tip on where to get cheap aluminum stock!

And there is a way that you can make your smaller 4-3/8” saw work!

I made a number of these a few years back for the various saws I own as well as for my routers with different bits in them. I used a good quality 3/8” plywood for the base and aluminum angle (I had to buy mine!).

But instead of screwing down through the aluminum into the plywood (for all the same reasons you point out!), I used 3/4” flathead bolts UP through the plywood and aluminum. You just have to predill the plywood and countersink the holes deep enough for the flat head of the bolt to be just below the surface. A lock washer and nut on the aluminum side and your done. On some of my jigs, I use nylon insert lock nuts and flat washers.

I also made 5-foot and 3-foot lengths. These are great for cross cutting sheets of plywood and narrower stock. Don’t need to have all that length of an 9-foot jig hanging over. Taking the time to make these additional jigs has been very worthwhile for me.

Again, great idea and thanks for sharing.

Cheers!

-- Dave; Lansing, Kansas

View SeaWitch's profile

SeaWitch

149 posts in 992 days


#6 posted 976 days ago

Thanks Firehouse. You’re right about the shorter tracks. I thought of that, and I’m going to make a couple of shorter ones—I forgot to mention it. That’s a good idea about the screws too….I’ve been puzzling over how I can make it thinner so the 4 3/8” will work. The one thing I’m not sure about is if I bolt it from the aluminum side, I have to get those bolts inside the square channel, which may not be so easy. But THANKS!

-- 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

View FirehouseWoodworking's profile

FirehouseWoodworking

622 posts in 1870 days


#7 posted 976 days ago

Why not just use longer bolts on the sqare aluminum? Drill the holes all the way through the square aluminum , bolt up through the wood, and add the washers and nuts at the top. Should work.

Even if the bolts are a little long, and stick up beyond the square aluminum stock, they should not interfere with your saw. You could always add a second nut to keep from snagging a finger on the exposed bolt threads.

Cheers!

-- Dave; Lansing, Kansas

View QuickWay's profile

QuickWay

77 posts in 1179 days


#8 posted 976 days ago

Thanks for sharing this fine project. The pictures add new detail and you did a great job explaining the process. I think I need to make one myself.

-- Bill Native Texan

View SeaWitch's profile

SeaWitch

149 posts in 992 days


#9 posted 976 days ago

Thanks for the kind words QuickWay. ;o) And hey, I’m from Louisiana!

Firehouse, you’re right. My only concern is that if I bring a bolt up through the bottom, I have to be careful that the bottom is absolutely flat and the bolt is recessed, so I don’t mar the good plywood it’s resting on. I’m concerned about a bolt’s holding capacity in 1/2 or 3/4 plywood if it’s recessed. You don’t think that’s a problem? You think there’s enough thickness to hold on to? I guess I could use 1” ply as a base…...

-- 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

View FirehouseWoodworking's profile

FirehouseWoodworking

622 posts in 1870 days


#10 posted 976 days ago

All of mine are cut from 3/8” plywood, best face down. This will prevent marring the plywood you’re cutting. The bolt holes are set 8” apart. Each hole is champhered enough for the bolt head to sit just below the surface. If you don’t have one of the champhering drill bits, they are fairly inexpensive and well worth buying. Just drill carefully. Don’t overdrill (too deep) as it won’t leave a whole lot of wood left.

I have never had a problem with a bolt pulling through, the jig getting bowed, or damaging the plywood i’m cutting. If it still concerns you, you can sand the plywood and even finish it with laquer or poly.

The plywood doesn’t have to be perfectly flat starting out. Once bolted to the aluminum channel (or in your case, channel and square stock), the plywood will hug up tight to the aluminum and stay flat.

I hang all my jigs on a wall and they stay flat. If you don’t have the wall space, store them flat, with full length support, so they do not sag. Do not lean the jigs against a wall as they will eventually start to assume the curve of the leaning, no matter how you’ve built them.

I find that hanging them on a wall keeps them very flat. I hang mine in my basement stairwell, next to my shop. The stairwell gives me very high walls and the jigs tuck in nicely behind the handrail.

Oh, one more thing. Each jig is labled for the saw and blade, or router and bit, for which it was constructed. That way, I can line up the kerf with the cut line and make the cut without worrying about calculating standoff distances or anything else. They work great.

Cheers!

-- Dave; Lansing, Kansas

View SeaWitch's profile

SeaWitch

149 posts in 992 days


#11 posted 976 days ago

Thanks Firehouse. All good ideas that will go into the New and Improved (shorter) Version! ;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

View 404 - Not Found's profile

404 - Not Found

2544 posts in 1566 days


#12 posted 975 days ago

Cutting guides like this are a great asset in the workshop and on site. I have one I made with the offset for the circular saw on one side and the offset for a router with a 1/2 trimming bit on the other. It’s a great combination for making chip free cuts in melamine faced chipboard.

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