Being able to make accurate cuts is vital in the vast majority of woodworking projects, and it’s something you can’t achieve without the right circular saw guide rail at your disposal. In this detailed guide, we covered everything you need to know about this important woodworking tool to help you choose the best model out there. Let’s start!
So What’s a Guide Rail?
As the name suggests, a guide rail is a tool that allows you to guide your circular saw to make straight cuts. A guide rail lets you install and lock your circular saw on a straight piece of metal and simply move it straight through the workpiece to make a cut. Most guide rails are made of aluminum, have a guide rib, splinter guard, and non-slip rubber bottom.
Guide Rail Benefits
It’s actually not impossible to master a circular saw to be able to work without a guide rail, but it will take too much time and effort until you reach the needed level of accuracy. Below are the reasons why you need a guide rail instead:
- High accuracy – a guide rail lets you make consistent straight cuts without any fudge factor. A circular saw vibrates, while your hand may shake all of a sudden, but the guide rail will still hold the blade in the right place and let you finish the job without worries about the accuracy, no matter what kind of cut you need to make.
- No tears and splinters – if you cut wood without a guide rail that has a splinter shield, tears and splinters can ruin the look of the workpiece and even make it unhittable for the project. If you use a guide rail, you can be sure that no splinters occur.
- Worksurface protection – scratching the workpiece with the saw base is very easy. If you need to save the perfect surface of your workpiece, a guide rail will help you with that by preventing the saw base from touching the surface.
- No need for clamps – due to adhesion strips in the bottom, particular guide rail models allow working without clamps. That is very useful when you don’t want the clamps to clutter the cut way.
Types of Guide Rails
There are only three main types of circular saw guide rails, and you should know the difference to choose the right model for your project purposes.
- Straightedge guide rails – as the name suggests, this standard type of guide rail is designed to help you make perfectly straight long cuts along the workpiece. It’s very useful when you need to make long straight planks of a large sheet of wood or simply cut a large sheet into smaller sheets of the same or different shape.
- Square cut guide rails – this is a usually smaller saw guide variation that can be attached to a workpiece to help you make neat cuts not along but cross the workpiece. This type of guide is extremely useful when you need to cut an elongated board into shorter pieces of the same size at 90°. This guiding type can be either attached with clamps or tightened right on the workpiece with a built-in Philips screw. Once it is attached to the workpiece, you can attach the saw the same way you do it with your straightedge guide and simply move the saw forward to make a perfectly even cut. This type of guide rail also allows making perfect angled cuts. For this purpose, you need a kit with an angle-marking tool to draw perfect guidelines before you clamp the rail to the workpiece.
- Rip cut (crosscut) guide rails – this is a popular variation of a square cut rail that comes with a special platform for the saw to simplify crosscutting. This tool consists of a ruler, fence, and a saw slot to let you quickly transform an average handheld circular saw into an up to 24” table saw analog for just a few dollars. This guide rail can be swapped with a straightedge rail, but the second won’t beat it in terms of mobility and simplicity of adjustment.
Features to consider
Choosing a guide rail kit of any type, you should pay close attention to the following aspects:
- Size – there is a variety of guide rail sizings, so you need to look for the one that has the right width and length to match your project goals. If you value portability, you may consider rip cut guide rails over straightedge rails, but you need to consider the limits of the first to ensure it can rip the boards of the needed width.
- Kit – it’s always great to have a couple of extras in the parcel, but, in the case of a guide rail, they can be essential. For most projects, a set of clamps, an adhesive strip, and a carry bag would be enough, but you may also want extra measurement tools if you don’t have them yet.
- Portability – if you need a long guide rail, you need to ensure that it can be dismantled to fit in your car trunk and won’t clutter your garage too much. There are both short and modular models on the market, so make sure you get the right one.
- Material – while steel and aluminum rails are the ones and only choices you have if you need to complete more than one project, a plastic model can be a better choice if you want a cheap one-off tool for a small job.
- Price – there are different guide rails for different budgets, so you need to look for the ones that offer the best features and kit for the most optimal price. If you are a professional woodworker, it’s recommended to opt for tools on the high price end to ensure durability and get a good product warranty.
How to Use a Saw Guide Rail?
Saw guide rails are designed for simplicity, so even a beginner can set them up in less than a minute. Here’s what you need to do:
- Place and clamp (if there’s no adhesion strip) the guide rail to the workpiece in the pre-measured spot;
- Attach your saw to the sled and then attach it to the end of the rail;
- Turn on the saw and move it forward to make a straight cut.
If you use a rip-cut guide, you need to adjust the width of the piece you want to achieve by moving the tool left or right on the built-in ruler.
Now that you know everything about circular saw guide rails, you can shop for the right model right away. Consider all the specs carefully to match the tool with your project needs and enjoy making super-accurate cuts like a pro!