Circular Saw Guide

This circular saw guide review is part of a collection of circular saw articles. The main index of all those circular saw reviews can be found here.

In our series on reviewing the circular saw let's examine guiding systems. These are add-ons to make using a circular saw easier to handle and a more precise tool. When it comes to using this kind of saw efficiently, you'll discover that a fence or guide system (track saw) is certainly helpful.

If you're looking for the best circular saw for your workshop, you should closely examine guide rail systems, rip fence, available tables or laser guide systems. Knowing which type of guides are available for a certain circular saw model and how to use a circular saw on a guide rail will make sure you choose the right saw for your needs.

Simplest Circular Saw Guide : Rip Fence

A rip fence is general included with most circular saws. These are a simple guide for making rip cuts. A rip fence can also act as assistance for creating parallel cuts usually following the grain or doing parallel cutting on boards. It is usually attached to the saw table and is adjusted by a knob screw.

Rip Fence
Small, Flimsy and Insufficient
Professional Double Guided Rip Fence
Unfortunately a typical example of rip fences on most circular saws today. Short (with hole to attach a longer piece of wood to it) only guided in the front of the table with an unstable mini sized bar. Rarely found nowadays a full lengths double guided rip fence on a circular saw. (Picture: Mafell)

On most saws the rip fence is constructed from sheet metal. It is located on the front end of the saw table. The fence guides the wood or other material to the teeth of the blade. It has occurred to some, that since the rip fence on a circular saw doesn't appear important as you purchase the power tool, many manufacturers never seem to take the effort to make an efficient one.

There the exceptions such as Mafell or Festool that offer a decent parallel guide as extra accessory. However, the rip fence is one of those parts of a circular saw that are quite frequently used yet poorly designed.

Guide Rail Systems for Circular Saws

It is the number first criteria for most cabinet makers, as it comes to buying a circular saw. The guide rail or Track Rail system is a major component for any professional woodworker.

Plunge Cut Saw on a Guide Rail System
A Festool track saw on a precision guide rail.

What is a guide rail for circular saws?

In its early stages, a guide rail system was a simple metal or aluminum bar clamped to the workpiece. The circular saw was hooked to it (or was guided along the bar), and guaranteed a precise straight cut.

Today modern circular saw manufacturers have improved a lot based on those simple guiding bars. Currently modern guide rail systems are a high precision accessories where the professional cabinet maker or DIY enthusiast can operate with ease.

Here are some things to watch for on circular saw guide systems:

  • Non-Slip rubber surface holds the rail in place
  • Adjustable fit of circular saw to the guide rail
  • Anti-Splinter guard on the edge of the rail
  • Glide-Strips on surface of rail for effortless sliding of the circular saw on the rail
  • Guide rails available in different length

Guide Rail Adjustable to Circular Saw and non-slip

A good circular saw guide rail system allows for the adjustment for the fit on the rail. Since the saw runs along the rail the secureness of this fit must be adjustable.

Circular saw guides for low-end circular saws sometimes offer exchangeable inserts. These can be inserted into the base plate of the saw, which need to be replaced if worn out. Professional advanced guide rail circular saws such as for the Festool plunge cut saws, are sold with a simple but effective adjustment wheel integrated in the saw table.

Adjusting the Fit
of Circular Saw on the Guide Rail
Adjustment Wheel
integrated in Plunge Saw Table
Precision on the guide rail. Adjusting the tightness of the saw sliding on the guide rail. Easily to adjust from the top using a little wheel.

Anti Splinter Guard

Not all circular saw guide rail systems on the market come with it, but it is very important that there be the Anti-Splinter lip. It's often called a splinter guard band and is attached to the lower side of the rail.

These cut rubber and other such material material on the very first cut. Thereafter, the edge of the splinter guard band marks the exact cutting line for any future cuts with the same blade.

The blade is literally cutting along the edge of the band and prevents the blade from marring the material. An anti-splintering lip fulfills two important needs when using a circular saw cutting guide rail system:

  • Preventing the wood from splintering
  • Aligning to the line of cut exactly before you start cutting
Cutting Along the Splinter Guard Lip Replaceable Adhesive Splinter Guard
The circular saw cuts along the anti-splinter edge of the rail. On professional circular saw guide rail systems the anti-splinter band is an adhesive band. Easy to be replaced after hours of cutting.

Sliding Strips and Special Guide Rail Clamps

Sliding Strips Clamping Circular Saw Guide Rail
Advanced guide rail systems come with sliding strips on top of the aluminum rail allowing the circular saw to slide over the rail effortlessly. To clamp a rail down to the workpiece, special clamps are inserted into the groove of the guide rail. This allows clamps to get out of the way of circular saw sliding on top of the rail.

Which circular saw do you use on guide rail systems?

When a serious cabinetmaker buys a circular saw with guide rail system, you might want to examine a plunge cut circular saw as a good alternative. This, as opposed to a standard pendulum guard saw. Working mostly on a guide rail, the plunge cut model allows effective handling and maneuverability while on the guide rail. Since the pendulum guard doesn't need to be pulled back into place while on the rail. In our circular saws review here we explain in detail the pros and cons of plunge cut saws vs. pendulum guard saws.

Alternative Guide Systems: Laser Guide Line on Circular Saws

Some cordless circular saws and some corded models come with a little laser line guide. These models offer a fine laser line marking exactly the cut-line. Never a bad idea to have some sort of extra hint where you are going to cut at, but I doubt that a circular saw laser guide will truly satisfy a professional who needs a guide system doing much more than just show the line of cut.

Summary on Circular Saw Guide Systems

From a cabinetmaker point of view, if you look into which circular saw to buy, you should very closely examine any guide rail system available. Since most power tool companies offer guide rail systems as an accessory you should check before if the rail system offered comes at least with the most essential features such as an ant-splinter band and non-slip surface protection on the rail.

Cutting large amounts of plywood, hard or softwood with a portable saw with precision, makes a professional circular saw with a guide rail system my first choice.
For some carpenters, roofers or framers guide rail systems may not be essential. For you a decent precise and parallel guided rip fence will be more important.

With circular saw guide systems being a vital part for every circular saw, the one single most important component which make any saw really cut well is the blade. Therefore we will examine circular saw blades in the next part.
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Circular Saw Guide

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Circular Saw Blades >>

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