The plunge saw, also frequently known as the track saw, is one of the lesser-known power tools. The plunge saw is similar to and often confused with the closely-related circular saw due to its physical similarity and overlapping use. However, the plunge saw is a distinct saw type and has some unique abilities that the circular saw lacks, while in some of its overlapping capabilities, the plunge saw produces better results than the circular saw. In this review of plunge saws, we first look at how this specialised saw type is used and how it compares with the circular saw. Then we examine the features that one should look for when buying a plunge saw for the home workshop or for trade use, before assessing the array of plunge saws that are readily available to the UK consumer.
The Plunge Saw vs The Circular Saw
One of the questions most often asked with plunge saws is whether they are really necessary to own if one already has or plans to get their hands on what is often a cheaper circular saw. Can a circular saw not do pretty much everything a plunge saw can? The answer to that question is yes and no. Although the plunge saw is very much like the well-known circular saw, it has some physical attributes as well as mechanics that are clearly different, and in some situations can produce results that are superior to those obtainable from the familiar circular saw.
So what are the main differences between the two saw types? Well, first of all, the blade on the plunge saw is completely enclosed and is only exposed during the cut as the handle is pushed down. This allows the plunge saw, as its name indicates, to plunge! In practice, this means that although circular saws have to start cutting from the end of a workpiece, plunge saws can plunge at any point on the workpiece and begin the cut from there.
Plunge saws also have a flat side to them which can be used as a guide to cut very close to the edge of a floor or wall, whereas circular saws are generally bulky on both sides of the blade.
Another key physical feature of a plunge saw is that it has the ability to be used with a track which makes every cut much more accurate, even more so than using a circular saw with a side fence. A track also allows the plunge saw to make repeated cuts exactly along the same cutting line which is important for certain types of sawing where multiple passes of the blade are needed to get a good end result. Hand-in-hand with this track-using feature is the ability of the plunge saw to cut without chipping out the edge of the material. This is credited in part to the sacrificial plastic edging found on plunge saw tracks which acts as an anti-chipping cover over the edge being cut. It should be noted, however, in recent years even some circular saws have started to incorporate the ability to use a track (such as the Evolution R185CCS circular saw) so the lines between plunge and circular saws have started to blur a little.
Finally, when it comes to dust extraction, plunge saws win hands down over their circular saw cousins, as their enclosed blades tend to prevent debris from flying off in all directions, and the enclosing structure surrounding the blade acts like an extension of the vacuum tube thereby maintaining the sucking power of the plunge saw’s vacuum system right through to the cutting interface.
Unique Uses of a Plunge Saw
Aside from the regular plunge cutting that the saw can perform, the plunge saw can also do certain other types of cutting especially well. To begin with plunge saws can be used to trim the bottoms of doors without even having to remove the doors from their hinges.
Plunge saws are also the saw to use when cutting wall installation, as one can be very accurate with the cut and the mess that is usually produced when cutting foamy or fibrous insulation can be avoided by employing the superior vacuum system of the plunge saw.
Plunge saws are also particularly good at cutting through floorboards as not only can the saw cut very close to the edge of the floor, they are also good at reducing the chance that structures under the floorboards, such as hidden pipes or wires, are mistakenly nicked or severed. This is credited to the ability of the plunge saw to precisely control the plunge depth of the blade with millimetre levels of accuracy.
What to look for when Buying a Plunge Saw
There are a range of features and technical specifications that one finds on plunge saws. Most of these are outlined below:
Plunge saws come in either a mains electricity-powered form, in which case their power specification is measured in Watts, or in a battery-powered form, where the voltage rating of the device is the unit of power measurement. As with most power tools, corded plunge saws are generally more powerful than untethered battery-operated ones. Corded machines also have unlimited usage time, although the plunge saws can be limited by their need for ready access to a mains electrical socket. On the other hand, battery-operated machines are limited by a finite battery supply, although universal battery systems of today, which allow the interchange of batteries between a range of power tools from a single manufacturer, reduce the chances that one will run out of power at an inconvenient time.
Like circular saws, plunge saws come in different sizes which is mostly determined by the blade size they use. The most common blade size used by the UK consumer is the 160 mm or 165 mm diameter blade, but larger size machines using larger blades are also available. Another metric to pay attention to, especially when purchasing replacement plunge saw blades is the bore hole diameter of the blade which fits over the motor spindle of the saw. Fortunately, most plunge saw blade bores conform to a single specification of 20 mm in diameter.
Maximum Depth of Cuts
One of the most important specifications on a plunge saw is the maximum depth of cut that the machine can perform. This is primarily determined by the size of the machine and the blade diameter it accommodates, but it is also determined in part by the physical design of the machine. Plunge saws can also often do angled or beveled cuts which reduces the maximum perpendicular blade penetration that the machine can achieve since the blade is travelling laterally as well as downwards. Consequently, one should check to make sure that the machine of choice also has the capability to perform the depth of cuts required when angled. Clearly, aiming for a plunge saw with the greatest maximum depth of cut at both the default 90° angle and at its maximum beveled angle will provide the user with as versatile machine as possible.
Maximum Bevel Angles
As noted above, plunge saws, like circular saws, can often angle their blades to carry out an angled or beveled cut. The standard maximum angle that the blade can be tilted to is usually 45°. However, in some situations, being able to go a few degrees past the 45° setting can also be useful when doing mitring work, and consequently some plunge saws have been designed to go beyond the 45° mark by two or three degrees. A similar situation is true at the other end of the scale where being able to tilt the blade further than the 0° setting, usually by a single degree, can also be useful for a similar reason.
Plunge saws are not only used to cut wood but with the right blade many plunge saws can be used to cut a number of other materials such as plastic. As a consequence, plunge saws can not only accept different blades for cutting different materials but also a lot of plunge saws have variable speed control integrated into their design to optimise for non-wood cutting. Thus getting a plunge saw with variable speed control will increase the versatility of the plunge saw beyond just regular wood cutting.
As with most power tools, weight is another criteria to take into account when purchasing a plunge saw, as the higher the weight, the more unwieldy the machine and the more tiring it will be for the operator especially if used for extended periods of time.
Like most power saws, plunge saws are not quiet machines and wearing ear protection is recommended when operating one. This is especially true when the plunge saw is to be used repeatedly over a short period of time or if it is to be used on a regular basis.
Some plunge saws have a feature that allows them to set the machine so that it will only score the workpiece rather than make a full cut. This is particularly useful when cutting laminates which are prone chipping at the cutting edge. By scoring the workpiece before doing the actual cut reduces the likelihood that a chip will occur in the finished surface of the laminate.
Riving Knives and other Kickback Protections
Some plunge saws are equipped with riving knives that are more commonly associated with table saws. A riving knife increases the safety on a saw, reducing the chances of a kickback by preventing the wood from pinching the blade after the cut. Riving knives on plunge saws tend to be spring loaded so that plunging cuts can still be performed without interference from the riving knife. Other anti-kickback mechanisms are also sometimes incorporated into plunge saws, especially those without a riving knife. These include integrated electronic kickback protection and a mechanism that prevents a plunge saw from moving freely backwards along a track (although some operators may find this latter mechanism interferes with how they naturally move the saw).
For most power tools, a carry case is an invaluable accessory to have in order to safely store and transport what is often an expensive tool. This is especially true of plunge saws which are usually bulky, heavy, and relatively expensive machines.
Popular Plunge Saws in the UK
|Einhell TE-PS 165|
|Bosch GKT 55 GCE|
(Watts or Volts)
Plunge Saw Reviews
Makita DSP600ZJ Review
The Makita DSP600ZJ is a top-notch cordless plunge saw with an excellent design and high build quality typical of most power tools from the Japanese company. The Makita plunge saw has a range of features including a variable speed motor with five defined speeds from 2500 to 6300 rpm, which are useful for different cutting applications. The motor is brushless meaning that it uses less energy and lasts longer than brushed motors. In addition, the track saw also has a soft start which takes it up to speed more gradually without the crudeness or safety risks associated with instantaneously jumping to full power when the trigger is pressed. To top it off, the Makita plunge saw has ‘Automatic Torque Drive Technology’ which automatically adjusts the rotary speed and torque according to the load. It also has an electric brake that rapidly slows the blade when the trigger is released.
Like other cordless plunge saws, the Makita DSP600ZJ allows the user the freedom to move around the work area without the hassle of a trailing power cable. Power comes from two 18V batteries which work together to generate the 36 Volts needed to power the saw. As a result of this higher voltage requirement, the saw cannot run on one battery alone. The batteries are the Lithium-ion LXT versions which make up part of Makita’s universal battery system where a range of different battery capacities can be used across a wide selection of Makita cordless tools, of which the Makita DSP600ZJ track saw is one. LXT batteries come in a range of sizes from 1.5 Ah to 6 Ah, although for the high energy demands of the Makita track saw, the higher capacity batteries are more practical. It is not unusual for two 5 Ah batteries to run a whole workday on a single full charge and even have some charge leftover. To keep track of battery status, the Makita DSP600ZJ incorporates battery charge indicators showing remaining power in both batteries so users are always aware when it's time to recharge. The only slight downside from using battery power is that the saw does not have the power of corded equivalents and will struggle with some tougher cutting jobs. Indeed, it is not unusual for the blade to get stuck in denser material and stop spinning altogether. Although this can be annoying, this can be seen as a safety mechanism reducing the risk of kickback or damage to the plunge saw motor when the saw is overtaxed.
To minimise the power needed from the batteries, the Makita DSP600ZJ plunge saw comes with a special 165 mm diameter blade which is exceptionally thin. This thin kerf blade means less resistance from the material being cut which in turn reduces the amount of power needed from the saw. Being a Makita-branded blade also means that its quality is second-to-none and this is quite evident when using it, producing exceptionally neat cuts even with difficult laminated surfaces (discussed more below). The Makita blade even works well for 45º-angled bevelled cuts and is certainly worth its higher price compared to cheaper generic blades which do not cut as cleanly nor last as long. The blade angle on the Makita plunge saw can be varied up to 48º and has an optional detente at 22.5º for easy common angle setting of the blade. The blade can even be angled in the opposite direction by -1º.
The Makita plunge saw also has a variable depth stop to control the ultimate depth of blade penetration for use with different thickness materials. The maximum cutting depth of the Makita DSP600ZJ is an ample 56 mm when the blade is in its default perpendicular position and 40mm when angled at 45º. The Makita track saw also incorporates a scoring depth stop button which stops the blade from plunging more than a couple of millimetres allowing just the scoring of the workpiece before a full depth cut is made. This is particularly useful when cutting finished laminated board, such as melamine or wood veneer-coated boards, to eliminate chipping of the finished surface and, together with the extra thin blade, generates an exquisitely clean cut. This scoring feature has to be used with a track (purchased separately) to ensure exact cutting over the score line.
As for accessories for the Makita DSP600ZJ, in addition to the thin kerf blade, the plunge saw comes in its own MAKPAC case. Unfortunately, however, it does not come with any batteries nor does it include the track on which the Makita DSP600ZJ runs, making the machine essentially inoperable without these accessories. Most Makita power tool owners will already have compatible batteries, so buying the naked tool will likely not be an issue, however, although the Makita DSP600ZJ can be used freehand without a track, it mostly defeats the purpose of buying a plunge saw in the first place. Therefore, separately purchasing a track is a necessity with this saw. For some fortunate previous owners of track saws who might already own a track from another company such as Festool, the Makita DSP600ZJ can run successfully on other non-Makita branded tracks (with the exception of those from DeWalt). Makita tracks come in a few different lengths that can be fitted together in different combinations to generate a range of lengths for different-sized cutting jobs.
Overall the Makita DSP600ZJ is an excellent cordless track saw that is a pleasure to use and which can produce some very professional-looking cuts, especially when compared to other cordless saws. It is built with the excellent pedigree of Makita quality and should last a lifetime. Its price is not cheap, however, but then again, one is getting their money’s worth and track saws anyway tend to be disproportionally expensive compared to other power tools like the closely-related circular saw. So if you have the money to spare and have the batteries and a compatible track, or are willing to fork out more cash for these accessories as well, then you are not likely to be disappointed with the overall performance of the Makita DSP600ZJ track saw.
Einhell TE-PS 165 Review
At the budget end of the market for corded plunge saws, one finds the Einhell TE-PS 165. Although not of the same calibre as professional machines, the Einhell plunge saw is still a good option for DIYers without them needing to break the bank in acquiring one. Important roles for any plunge saw, such as being able to cut perfectly straight lines, make grooves in timber using a depth stop, or being able to cut wood up close to a wall or similar, are all still possible with this budget machine.
Specifications-wise, the Einhell TE-PS 165 has a reasonably powerful 1200W motor that powers a standard-sized 165 mm diameter blade. These specifications allow the Einhell machine to cut into timber up to the typical depth of 56 mm perpendicularly, and up to 42 mm in thickness when cutting at its maximum bevel angle of 45º.
Unsurprisingly for a budget machine, the Einhell TE-PS 165 has no variable speed control to vary the speed of the blade, with the blade spinning at a single speed of 5200 rpm and limiting the plunge saw, to a small extent, in the applications in which it can be successfully used. However, the Einhell plunge saw still comes with depth and angle adjustments controls, both of which are operated tool-free just like with more expensive plunge saw brands.
The Einhell saw also has most, if not all, of the other characteristics of higher-brow plunge saws such as an integrated vacuum suction nozzle that can be rotated 360º for better access, and a finger-operated blade lock for easier blade changes. This budget machine also has a transparent window panel for better operator monitoring of the cutting line.
The power cord on the Einhell plunge saw is a good 4 metres in length giving the plunge saw operator a wide range of motion to work with, although the cord itself is of the less-premium PVC type rather than a rubber constitution making it quite rigid and less comfortable to use.
Although not the lightest of plunge saws, the Einhell TE-PS 165 is still relatively lightweight with an overall weight of only 4.8 kg, making it relatively easy to operate even by less able-bodied persons.
As for obvious negatives with the Einhell TE-PS 165, these mainly involve the accessories that accompany the saw or lack thereof. First off, this Einhell plunge saw does not come with any form of carry case making it more inconvenient to transport and store. In addition, the Einhell machine is not always sold with guide rails or tracks, instead requiring a separate purchase, which seems rather badly thought out given how most plunge or track saws are most often used. To make matters worse, the Einhell tracks designed to be used with this track saw, seem to be in perpetual short supply at retail outlets, making them difficult to acquire when buying the Einhell saw.
Finally, one accessory, the blade which comes with the saw, is recommended to upgrade. That’s because the saw blade included with the Einhell TE-PS 165 quickly reveals its budget nature by making clean cuts hard to come by and by having a rather limited lifespan. As a consequence replacing the included blade with a higher-quality branded one, preferably with more than the 48 teeth of the budget blade, will go a long way to improving the quality of cuts one gets using this Einhell plunge saw.
Overall, the Einhell TE-PS 165 saw is a very good low-cost machine that is ideal for the occasional user or those on a strict budget. Like with other plunge saws, using the Einhell machine is certainly better than simply using a circular saw with a track. Although it may not have the pedigree of known power tool brands, it still performs well and does not cost the arm and a leg that most plunge saws tend to.