Gary Striegler, builder and master trim carpenter from Fayetteville, Arkansas, reviewed the corded Festool TS 55 REQ track saw in the July 2013 JLC. He really liked the tool’s convenient spring-loaded and micro-adjustable depth stop, exceptionally smooth plunging action, efficient dust collection (even when hooked to his tired old vacuums), and easy “Fast Fix” blade-changing system. The saw can bevel from -1 to 47 degrees for added flexibility.
When Festool introduced a cordless version of that saw two years later, I was intrigued. The TSC 55 IMP. saw (which also goes by the number TSC 55 REB on the tool itself and in the 2016 print catalog), is typically powered by one or two 18V batteries that deliver 18 or 36 volts, respectively (though it will also run on two 12V, one or two 15V, or any dual combination of the 12V, 15V and 18V batteries). Unlike its corded counterpart, it includes a dust-collection bag that can be used in place of a vacuum for 100% cordless convenience.
I’ve been evaluating one of these saws over the past few months to gauge its power and battery runtime, and to see if the dust bag is a practical substitute for a vacuum. Besides the TSC 55 IMP. LI XL Full Set, Festool also sent a universal 28-tooth blade for fine ripping along with two track clamps. The Systainer case included with the set can hold all of that, plus two extra batteries.
WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE
In case you haven’t noticed, Festool now makes two types of 6 1/4-inch track saws, both of which come in a corded and cordless version and ride on aluminum guide rails for making precise crosscuts and rips. It’s important to understand how both types work before making a buying decision.
The corded TS 55 REQ and cordless TSC 55 IMP. feature speedy spring-loaded plunging action, can make splinter-free cuts on both sides of the blade, and do a great job of channeling sawdust to the dust port. The blades are 1.6-millimeters thick and cut a 2.2-millimeter kerf, and the standard 12-tooth, 28-tooth, and 48-tooth blades for these saws have a variable tooth pitch that reduces vibration for a cleaner cut. The saws are perfect for breaking down cabinet-grade sheet goods, ripping a clean straight edge on solid lumber, trimming door bottoms, sawing cutouts in countertops, making tapered stair treads and columns, and plenty of other casework, woodworking, and finish-carpentry tasks.
Festool’s new corded HK 55 EQ and 18-volt cordless HKC 55 EB, on the other hand, resemble more traditional pendulum-guarded sidewinders. They not only can ride on the same FS series of slip-resistant guide rails used by the TS and TSC saws, but can also lock to Festool’s new FSK spring-loaded 9.8-inch, 16.5-inch, or 26.3-inch crosscutting guide rails, which have integrated angle stops that allow you to make precise repetitive crosscuts at up to ±60 degrees and to cut compound miters. That means they not only can rip and crosscut sheathing panels, but can also crosscut framing lumber, siding, decking, and other standard carpentry materials. But the two new saws require more steps to plunge and retract the blade than the TS and TSC saws do, which makes it more of a chore to size lots of panels or create cut-outs. Also, the new saws can only make splinter-free cuts on the inboard side of the blade, and optimal dust collection isn’t a priority. What’s more, the TS and TSC offer a wider range of blades, including a 48-tooth blade for making the finest of crosscuts. And finally, the thinner 12-tooth, 18-tooth, and 32-tooth blades that do fit the new saws don’t have the cleaner-cutting variable tooth pitch. As Festool tells us, although all of its track saws can tackle some of the same applications and offer thoughtful ergonomics, easy blade changes, and built-in riving knives to help prevent kickbacks, the HK and HKC are definitely geared for general carpentry (see contributing editor Tim Uhler’s thumbs-up review of the HKC 55 EB at toolsofthetrade.net).
Festool claims that the TSC 55 IMP. can rip an impressive 100 meters (328 feet) per charge in the 36-volt dual-battery mode, and demonstrates that on YouTube by ripping a continuous string of ¾-inch birch plywood panels at its USA headquarters in Indiana. To test that claim myself, I installed the 28-tooth blade and ripped a series of strips from a 4-foot by 4-foot birch plywood panel. Sure enough, I made 83 cuts, which equals 332 lineal feet. When running on both batteries, the variable-speed saw generates the same maximum RPM as the corded TS 55 REQ, and each 4-foot rip only took about five to six seconds.
Next, I counted how many 4-foot crosscuts I could make with both batteries per charge in the same plywood using the fine-cutting, 48-tooth cross-cut blade included with the saw. This time I made 47 cuts totaling 188 lineal feet. Repeating this test to double-check, I cut 174 feet. Each cut took about seven to eight seconds.
Pushing the saw to the limit, I reinstalled the 28-tooth blade and found that I could make ten 4-foot-long rips per charge with both batteries in very hard 8/4-maple. When making these cuts, I had to use the two guide-rail clamps to prevent the rail from wandering on the tail end and had to hold the saw firmly to prevent kickback when starting each cut, but the cuts were just a light jointer pass away from being glue-ready. I’ve also used the saw to cut ?-inch Douglas fir plywood along with ¾-inch melamine, MDF, and solid red oak, all with excellent results.
Because the saw can also run on just one battery, I originally planned to test its runtime in that configuration. But one battery generates a lower maximum rpm, and I quickly learned that each cut took about twice as long. When ripping the 8/4 maple, I had to back off to keep the saw from bogging down. No thanks. It’s good to know that you can get by with one battery in a pinch, though.
During my nonstop testing, I found that the saw’s onboard battery gauges were misleading. While crosscutting the birch plywood, for instance, both led gauges dropped from three lit bars to one after I made just 18 of my 40+ cuts, and I was able to cut almost 70 more lineal feet after the bars started blinking to indicate that the batteries were almost drained. It took me two hours to recharge both batteries on their separate chargers.
According to Festool, the TSC 55 IMP. collects about 96% of the dust when hooked to a vacuum and 92% when used with the included dust bag. In my testing, I could indeed tell that the vacuum pickup was slightly better, but was surprised to see that the difference was barely noticeable. And given that this is a cordless tool, shedding the squirrelly, snagging vacuum hose is a godsend. If you let the bag overflow, though, you’ll be rudely awakened by a burst of sawdust. When cutting ¾-inch plywood, my bag consistently filled completely after cutting 44 lineal feet. Except for a couple of times when I forgot, I emptied it right before it filled.
Whether you use the dust bag or a vacuum, you must lower the saw’s viewing window or splinterguard so it touches the stock you’re cutting or a lot more dust will blow out the front. Also, if you’re just shaving an edge, neither the vacuum nor the bag works well. Even at maximum dust-extracting efficiency, you get a little spray of sawdust out front as the saw blade exits the stock you’re cutting.
If you don’t need to collect the dust, you can simply install the included rotating port to direct dust away from the work.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Festool’s cordless, brushless TSC 55 IMP. LI XL can handle anything that its corded counterpart can, which makes it ideal for casework, finish carpentry, and woodworking. The bag works great and the battery runtime is impressive when running on two 18V batteries, though I wish the battery gauges were spot on. Shedding the usual cord and vacuum hose is like shedding a ball and chain, making it much easier to bring the saw to the work and to maneuver it through cuts. Whether it’s worth paying $825 for the full cordless set versus $660 for the corded equivalent depends on the work you do.
- Saw weight: 10.1 pounds with one battery; 11.7 pounds with two batteries
- Maximum power: 36 volts
- Rpm: 2,650 to 3,800 with one battery; 2,650 to 5,200 with two batteries
- Blade diameter: 6 1/4 inches
- Maximum cutting depth on track (in inches): 1 15/16 at 0°; 1 7/16 at 45°
- Bevel: -1 to 47 degrees
- Price: $825 (includes two 5.2-Ah batteries, two chargers, 48-tooth blade, dust bag, Systainer case, 55-inch track)
- Warranty: 3 years, 30-day money-back guarantee
Other configurations available:
TSC 55 Imp. Basic ($465) is the tool only.
TSC 55 Imp. Li ($725) includes one battery and charger, but no guide rail.
TS 55 REQ ($660) is a corded version that includes the guide rail.
This article originally appeared in Tools of the Trade.