Plunge Cut Circular Saw Versus Table Saw

For a part-time shop, can a high-quality circular saw and guide setup take the place of a table saw for panel cutting on small jobs? June 3, 2009

I have read several posts on here where people have a plunge cut circular saw and swear by its ability. I typically do installs but due to slow home building I have started entertaining the thoughts of building cabinets on a small scale. I had 15 years of experience building high-end custom cabinets before I decided to become a subcontract installer. A builder has offered me some simple MDF built-ins for several houses. My plans are to build them in my two car garage. I don't have a cabinet saw and was wondering if any of you feel that the Festool would be a decent substitute. Does the guide stay in place without the clamps as well as it appears to?

Forum Responses
(Cabinet and Millwork Installation Forum)
From contributor E:
For light work, a T55 is the equal of a table saw. If you make a day job of it, you'll want a table saw, but the T55 is a great tool. It should handle a few MDF built-ins. No problems with the fence staying in place.

From contributor M:
The T55 is a great tool. You may want to look into the vacuum if you plan to cut a lot of MDF. The fence does stay pretty good without clamps.

From contributor J:
The Festool saw will do the job but it will be slow. The rail that comes with the saw is around 54" long. What's your game plan for ripping sheets of MDF? Once you get that MDF dust going your rail won't stay in place unless you're very careful to keep it brushed off the material. If you buy the clamps, get the cheaper screw type. I have the cam type and don't like them.

From contributor R:
I love my TS55, but it's not a replacement for a tablesaw. It cuts absolutely beautifully in a straight line, but it's up to you to define the line, and therein lays the problem. Not only do you need parallelism, but a true right angle. You can probably get pretty close if you're really fussy, but that may not be good enough; especially in frameless.

Contributor J - why don't you like the cam clamps? I haven't got yet, and am going to order soon, and based on what I saw at the show in Vegas, the lever action clamp looked very slick, and appeared to work very well. It looked much quicker than screwing.

From the original questioner:
Thanks for the input guys. My two car garage is where I will be cutting parts and building. It is used for the riding lawn mower, the kids ride-ons, toys and so on. Space is limited until I get an outside storage shed built. My thoughts were to try to get by without a tablesaw because of room but I want to work efficiently. I am really trying to decide whether to buy the Festool or a tablesaw and just build some collapsible outfeed tables. It would be nice to buy a Powermatic or Sawstop but money is tight for now. My portable 10" Hitachi is not really a good option for MDF sheetgoods. Maybe a $400-500 contractor saw?

From contributor J:
The clamps work as advertised but to me they're awkward. I tend to make a lot of repetitive cuts with mine (countertops). When I release the clamp to remove the rail the lever drops all the way down. To reinstall the rail, I have to start all the way over. The screw types are faster for my applications. They also don't require as much room horizontally to operate. I'm sure you saw too that the screw types are half the price of the others.

To the original questioner: for what you're planning on doing you really need a good table saw. I've said on this forum before that if I could only have one saw it would be the Festool but I wouldn't want to try to build cabinets if it was my only saw. You should look around for a good used saw. In that price range, it will probably be your best bet.

From contributor D:
I do this all the time. If space is an issue (and you say it is) the Festool will do a great job as long as others have pointed out, your very selective with how you place the rail. Get the 106" rail though. Its expensive (about 200) but screwing two smaller ones together gets old fast. As long as you use the vacuum, I have had no problems at all with the rail staying put. It just takes some care and practice. If you really want to get concerned with perfectly square cuts, invest in the table. Of course the cost of this system is going to totally negate any money you will make on these built-ins, but it will pay the bills the next time. Besides, this tool will be your best friend in the field on installs once you get it!

From the original questioner:
Thanks for your reply. I am now trying to decide between the Festool or the Rigid TS3650 contractor saw. I researched it and found very good reviews on it. The saw has a 36 inch rip capacity which is great. I can get it at my local HD on sale. I like the fact it comes with a mobile base.

From contributor C:
I was in your exact situation three years ago. I went and bought the Rigid table saw at HD on wheels for $600, thinking I would replace it within the year, but I still have it. It was tested at 1/1000th of an inch accurate and when I put the caliper on my rip piece it in fact was exactly 1/1000th accurate. Not enough power all the time but I have cut some 8/4 jobs. You will need to build a sled for squaring up pieces (max. width = 25").

I have all the Festoolís now and bought the 55 for squaring up pieces wider than 25" but you can drive yourself crazy deciding on a mark. That system worked for a year or two (rigid, sled, circular saw) and then I finally got a vertical panel saw. I love my Ridgid and it will stall out before it kicks back.

From contributor J:
I also have the rigid saw and have built more cabinets than I'd like to admit on it - I also have a pair of those Stanley plastic sawhorses that adjust up and down with a sheet of melamine on it and it works great for an outfeed table although the sawhorses are a bit overpriced, but hey it takes about three minutes to set up an outfeed - I started using them when I was hauling the table saw all over town in my trailer so they would probably work great in your garage.

From the original questioner:
Thanks to everyone for your input. I have made up my mind to get the Rigid tablesaw. When my financial situation is better I will also add the Festool to my tool collection. I have to cut sheet goods onsite on occasion and the Festool would make things much easier.

I have the Rigid assembled and sitting in my garage. It took about six hours to assemble it, didn't seem too bad. I have one question. Can anyone tell me the best way to make sure the belt has the correct tension? I followed the instructions but it seems really loose to me. Hopefully I interpreted them correctly.

From contributor B:
I have the Rigid Cabinet maker table saw. It is great. However, I am very interested in buying the Festool T55 plunge saw and guide simply for squaring and straightening sheet goods. I figure that once I am able to straighten and square the large sheet goods into manageable sizes, I can revert to using my table saw for dadoing, beveling, etc. I don't know how to use a table saw to accurately straighten and square large sheet goods. If anyone else has a good method, please let me know.

From contributor U:
I purchased one at the beginning of the year. This tool and a few accessories has completely allowed me to do construct cabinetry in a small shop/garage/in the field setting without any compromise of quality and accuracy, though admittedly with some degree less efficiency than in a full cabinet shop setting. I have owned and operated several cabinet/design shops. The last was a 7,000 square foot facility with a point to point CNC machine, a full size Griggio sliding table saw with 16' + rip capacity and 12' cross cut capacity, a bank of shapers, wide belt sander, 20' of edgebanding machine, full spray booth, etc.

I've scaled back. I now work alone, in a 13' wide x 24' long building with my Festool TS 55, a Festool Domino, a Bosch 4000 table saw, a Makita 7-1/2" compound sliding/ bevel saw, a tiny and light Delta thickness planer, an ancient little shaper (really just a nice router table) and the only true stationary equipment is a Powermatic 54A 6" wide jointer. Lots of clamps and hand tools also help me produce my woodwork. I have just finished building a kitchen, all 3/4" ply boxes with 1/2" backs and 7/8" flush face frames. The only thing I farmed out was the dovetailed drawer boxes.

The deal with the TS 55 is that I can do all my basic rips which I do tweak with the table saw. But, I do all my very precise crosscuts with the TS 55. I use a very accurate square to set up and double check with corner to corner measuring and though, yes it is slower than using the Greggio there is no compromise in squareness or achieving accurate repeated lengths. There is a web site called which has a very useful tutorial as to how to achieve consistent results with the Festool. I took some of what I learned there (thank you very much) but then developed my own systems. I would be happy to write another post describing the process if anyone cares to read it, but it will fill another box at least this big. You might need to pore a coffee or crack open a beer in order to get through it.

Having said all this, the bottom line is that the TS55 with a few accessories can really make garage cabinet making or in the field work safe, easy, and profitable. I would make it the basis of my shop set up, augmented with a decent 10" table saw.

From contributor R:
The T-55 saw is a great tool but only for small jobs. I have a T-55, T-65 and a T-75. I would say the T-55 is way too small for any kind of production. All the Festoolís are good but they cannot replace a tablesaw. For small cut on install I have let my installers use them and at least 4 of them have purchased Festoolís but they are not for building cabinets, only for cutting panels. You really need at least a contractor saw to make cabinets. I have six, ten foot sliders, I have a 14 foot panel saw, two CNCís and five cabinets saws. I have two 12" shop saws for sale.