Get Cleaner, Better Cuts With This Circular Saw Tracking Guide

47,719

461

21

Posted

Introduction: Get Cleaner, Better Cuts With This Circular Saw Tracking Guide

Cutting 4'x8' sheets of plywood can be a challenge if you're working by yourself and using a circular saw. I always worried about damaging the finished side of the board as I muscled it into position on top of several 2x4's laid on the ground. This zero clearance tracking guide solves that problem by allowing me to put the good side up, providing a smooth, chip free cut. And, it keeps the blade of the saw squarely on line, eliminating saw handling errors that result in a less than perfect cut. I use it to accurately rip or cross cut large sheets of plywood with ease. It consists of two, approximately four foot long sections of hardboard with MDF guide rails that the shoe of the saw rides between. The tracking guide locks to a board with adjustable, sandpaper backed end blocks. Use one section for a 4' cross cut or screw the pieces together for a full 8' rip cut.

Step 1: Parts List

This tracking guide can be built for around $20 which is considerably less than a commercially manufactured metal tracking sled. The parts list below includes all required parts as well as a description of each parts function.

Parts:

1/8" thick Hardboard for base – 4 pieces: length = 47 7/8”, width = circular saw shoe dimension plus 3” (glue 2 pieces together for a final thickness of 1/4” for each half of the base),

1/2" thick MDF for rails and connectors:

guide rails for 1st section of base: 2 pieces: length = 54”, width 1 1/2”

guide rails for 2nd section of base: 2 pieces: length = 48”, width 1 1/2”

base section connectors: 2 pieces: length = 12”, width 1 1/2” (bridge connections that join the two track sections together)

setup / transport / support brackets: 2 pieces: length = total overall width of tracking guide, width 1 1/2”

Hardwood Blocks – 2, 1 3/4” x 1 1/2”, length = total overall width of tracking guide (one block is fixed, one is adjustable)

Sandpaper – 60 or 80 grit to glue to wood blocks

Wood Screws – 8, 10x1” phillips head, countersunk

Hardware (for adjustable end block) – 2, 5/16” tee nuts, 2, 5/16” fender washers, 2, 5/16” x 18 threaded screws with plastic knobs (min. 1” screw length)

Circular Saw Shoe Template – 1, 1/8” thick piece of hardboard, length = 48”, width = circular saw shoe width (used to properly space guide rails during assembly).

Step 2: Rail to Base Assembly

Parts review:

Hardboard Base Pieces:

4 pieces: length = 47 7/8”, width = circular saw shoe dimension plus 3” (glue 2 pieces together for a final thickness of 1/4” for each half of the base)


MDF parts for rails:

guide rails for 1st section of base: 2 pieces: length = 54”, width 1 1/2” (note: use two pieces of MDF for each rail, one 36" long and the other 18" long when cutting from a 2' x 4' piece of MDF)

guide rails for 2nd section of base: 2 pieces: length = 48”, width 1 1/2”

Circular Saw Shoe Template:

1/8” thick piece of hardboard, length = 48”, width = circular saw shoe width (used to properly space guide rails during assembly).

Assembly:

After cutting all the required pieces to size and gluing the hardboard base pieces to the proper thickness the rails can be glued to the bases. The attached photos illustrate the sequence.

Photos #1 & #2 show the main pieces that make up a section of the tracking guide (base section connectors and support brackets not shown)

Photos #3 & #4 show how the guide rails are glued to the base using the template that was cut to match the width of the circular saw.

Things to make note of:

- The guide rails of section 1 extend 3" past each end of the base to accept the end blocks (one fixed, the other adjustable) that hold the tracking guide firmly to the work piece.

- The guide rails of section 2 are offset 3" from one end of the base to extend 3" past the end of the base that accepts the end block when making 8' rip cuts.

- Remember: the sled will only be usable with one particular saw.

Photos #4 & #5 show the saw in position between the rails

Step 3: The End Blocks

Parts review:

Hardwood Blocks – 2, 1 3/4” x 1 1/2”, length = total overall width of tracking guide (one block is fixed, one is adjustable)
Sandpaper – 60 or 80 grit to glue to wood blocks

Hardware – 2, 5/16” tee nuts, 2, 5/16” fender washers, 2, 5/16” x 18 threaded screws with plastic knobs (min. 1” screw length)

Photo #1: This wood block is permanently screwed to the 1st section of the tracking guide. Make sure it is square to the base and rails.

Photo #2: The removable end block can be used at the end of either section of the tracking guide to facilitate making either a four foot cross cut or eight foot rip cut to a sheet of plywood.

Photo #3 & #4: Sandpaper attached to the end blocks help hold the work piece firmly in the tracking guide

Photo #5 Elongated holes in the rail ends allow movement of the adjustable end block to facilitate mounting to the work piece.

Photo #6: Shows the fixed end block in section 1 of the tracking guide and the adjustable end block secured to the out feed end of section #2.

Step 4: Base Section Connectors & Setup / Transport Support Brackets

Parts review:

base section connectors - 2 pieces: length = 12”, width 1 1/2” (bridge connections to join 4' and 8' track sections)
setup / transport / support brackets -2 pieces: length = total overall width of tracking guide, width 1 1/2”

BASE SECTION CONNECTORS: The base section connectors are glued and screwed to the rails of section #2 and extend approximately 6" over the rails of section #1. Drill and countersink mounting holes in section #2 with matching holes in section #1 where the bases will be joined together. Join the sections together when making a full 8' rip cut on a sheet of plywood.

SUPPORT BRACKETS: The support brackets provide stability to the base sections before joining them together and should always be used. Their function is to keep the tracking guide from undue flexing and the separation that would occur if one end of the tracking guide isn't locked in place to match the opposing fixed or adjustable end block.

- The brackets will be removed after mounting the tracking guide to the work piece and before making the cut.

- They will be reattached prior to removing the tracking guide from the work piece.

Step 5: Mount and Saw

These photos illustrate the tracking guide in use:

Photos #1 & #2: Show the tracking guide sections joined together and mounted to the work piece to make the initial, full 8' rip cut. This cut will create the zero clearance saw kerf.

Photo #3: Shows the tracking guide moved to the side after the cut has been completed.

Photo #4: Shows section #1 of the tracking guide mounted to the work piece to make a 4' crosscut on the same sheet of plywood.

If you find cutting large sheets of plywood difficult, this tracking guide will make things a lot easier. Plus you can use section #1 to cut pieces shorter than four feet by simply clamping the end of the base to any length of wood you care to rip or cross cut.

Share

    Recommendations

    • Science of Cooking

      Science of Cooking
    • Pocket-Sized Contest

      Pocket-Sized Contest
    • Microcontroller Contest

      Microcontroller Contest
    user

    We have a be nice policy.
    Please be positive and constructive.

    Tips

    Questions

    20 Comments

    or two straight edges and four clamps...

    It seems like a useful accessory to make, if you're casting about for a small project. But If you have at least fair skills with your circular saw & not much time for another small project, A one sided guide should be sufficient . As for the tear-out problem mentioned several times, most of us are familiar with using a small piece of sacrificial scrap wood clamped against the material which neatly will do the trick of preventing ragged torn ends or surfaces. As with any tool or accessory I can see that having this available & with enough practice & use, This guide could be a worthwhile timesaver to have.

    Great design. I think I will make one. For uncounted years I have used a guide that is mechanically similar to the wider half of your gadget. It has the disadvantages noted though it is simpler to make. It is also 8ft long which can be awkward so I have made a shorter version. Clamping them with C clamps can be trying and taking it to places other than home in my small car is no fun either.

    With my first handheld circular saw being on the cheaper side, it didn't have a rail, so I just clamped a straight board to the material I wanted to cut. This worked well, but I had some issues with tearout when cutting plywood and veneered stuff. I solved this by just passing the saw backwards along the rail with the blade protuding just one mm below the base in the first pass (hold it down firmly!). This way the teeth cut into the surface rather than out of it, leaving a shallow groove with a crisp edge. Then with the blade set to material thickness and cutting forward with little pressure (to avoid warping the saw which may lead the blade nicking the just created clean edge) i finished the cut. Sometimes it helped to ever so slightly tap the rail to offset it a fraction of mm from the desired edge prior to the end cut to clear the blade from the nice edge.

    Now that I own a dive action track saw (again on the cheaper side *sigh*) tearout is not an issue on the inner edge any more. Sadly, the outer edge will still fray since there is no support for the fibers there. But setting the blade depth is much easier on the track saw, so above mentioned method is just a piece of cake compared to the old saw.

    This is such a good idea. Thanks. I have a "cheap $20 guide" as bobthemoron suggests and it is quite tedious to use. First it is too flimsy. Besides tear out the biggest problem for me is keeping the cut clean as you awkwardly reach across the 4 foot width. I hate cutting plywood sheets. Doing it on a table saw with minimum side tables is worse. Having a guide which fits my saw and keeps it snugly on track will be perfect. Beautiful.

    It doesn't have all the features of an expensive Festool Track saw but you don;t have to trade your first born to own one either.

    Or you could for about $20 buy a clamp on guide.

    True, but it would only guide one edge of the shoe which means the user could still drift off line. Also, it wouldn't have the benefit of the zero clearance cutting feature which I think is a big plus. If you use a zero clearance insert on your table saw you'll get the point.

    You missed the point.

    This guide shows you the virtually-exact CUT line, and not just "a straight line" that inevitably is, say, "...4-11/16" plus a little bit AWAY from that blade, and...oh, dangit, I wanted to be on the OTHER side of my pencil-line...and wait a minute, how thick is my blade?..."

    Personally I rely on a simpler short-term-use "shooter board" (shows where the cut line will be, like only one side of this guide) but there are times when having this doubly-guided precision would be nice.

    Very Cool;

    I've always dealt with these problems.

    Buying materials tonight!