I'm always tremendously skeptical about a tool that claims to "change how work is done" as Festool does for its plunge-cutting 8-1/4-inch, 13-amp TS 75 EQ circular saw system. But after testing the TS 75 EQ, the company's newest and largest saw, I believe every word of it.
The TS 75 EQ excels at making precise straight cuts. It's not a framing saw, and it doesn't pretend to be; but this precise saw and guide will change the way you make long clean cuts on site. At the heart of the system is its aluminum guide rail that the saw base fits onto with zero play. A rubber strip along the guide's edge is cut to a perfect fit with the saw's first use and thereafter serves as an exact, splinter-free cut line–where you lay the edge is where you get your cut. The guide rail doesn't have to be clamped down; grippy material underneath holds it in place. Guide rails are available in eight lengths from 32 inches to 16 feet, 5 inches and also can be connected together.
Another major difference of the TS 75 EQ is its plunge-cutting action. The guard stays in place while the motor and blade descend to a preset depth stop–adjustable in 1-millimeter increments or as small as .1 millimeters with the addition of a set screw–before being pushed forward. This allows the saw to cut in the middle of a workpiece. Lines on the side of the saw mark the back and front cutting limits of a fully plunged blade. Before plunging, a plastic stop can be fixed to the guide behind the saw base to make absolutely sure it doesn't move back past your rear mark, and the attached riving knife is spring-loaded so it can even be used in plunge cuts.
A plastic splinter guard mounted to the saw contacts the exposed side of the blade's teeth where they exit the wood, opposite the rubber strip, but must be removed for beveled cuts. And when bevel cutting, the angle is locked in with knobs fore and aft of the blade, unlike most other saws I've seen that have just a single locking point.
The third major difference with this saw is that the pivot point is designed to put the inboard cutting edge in the exact same place when vertical or tilted, so the guide edge is always accurate, regardless of the bevel angle.
The most crucial part of my field-testing was cutting 2-inch-thick cherry countertops for a kitchen remodel; the cherry needed a smooth cut that didn't burn or chip, and the cuts had to be dead on. I was nervous making my first cut–it was disconcerting to realize that I couldn't see the blade cutting the line through all of the splinter guarding–but I decided to trust the guide rail. The cuts were perfect, even with the finished side up.
Another example where this tool changed my way of working was site-cutting 3/4-inch birch plywood to make built-in cabinets. It made this process a one-man job because there was no need to wrestle 4x8 sheets through a table saw. Although, unlike a table saw, repetitive cuts must be individually marked and lined up carefully each time, unless you are cutting through stacked sheets.
This saw can be aimed freehand along a line or with an accessory rip fence like most circular saws, but all of the cuts I made used the guide rail–it's really most effective as a system, not just a saw.
The supplied 8-1/4-inch blade cuts wood, and specialty blades are available to smoothly cut solid surfacing, laminate flooring, and different metals and plastics; however, a 30-millimeter arbor prevents the use of most non-system blades with the saw. Its electronic variable-speed control (1,350?3,550 rpm) optimizes cutting in different materials. Cutting depth ranges from to 2-1/8 inches at 45 degrees to 2-3/4-inch vertical cuts with the guide rail, and as deep as 21-5/16 inches without. A unique feature of the saw is a lever on the body that locks the motor spindle to allow easier removal of the blade. And even though it's a large saw, the TS 75 EQ is well balanced and isn't too heavy at 13.6 pounds.
Festool's claim is accurate: The TS 75 EQ did change how I work. I will use it if more space is needed for on-site or one-person work that I would otherwise do with a table saw or a sliding miter saw. But it won't replace my traditional circ saw for framing and other cuts that are impractical with a plunging blade and a guide.
–Joe Youcha is a contributing editor for Tools of the Trade. He runs the Alexandria Seaport Foundation apprentice training program in Alexandria, Va.
TS 75 EQ Circular Saw & Guide Rail System
Price: With standard 55-inch rail: $560; as tested with 75-inch rail: $623