Few tools have garnered as much anticipation among our crew in recent years as the Milwaukee M18 track saw did when the company announced it was rolling out the saw to compete with several other new entries in this growing category. We’re several years into the switch over to cordless tools, and many tradespeople have found themselves—by choice as well as inadvertently—in a committed relationship with a single battery platform. And rightfully so; batteries are expensive, and if you are all in on cordless tools, you no doubt have developed work habits that are more efficient and much easier to follow if you are on a single platform. I have met and worked with many carpenters who were hesitant to step outside the Milwaukee M18 battery family and introduce a whole new set of batteries and chargers to their kit for a high-dollar purchase like a track saw. These holdouts for the M18 track saw have finally had their patience rewarded.
Earlier this year, the team at TDS Custom Construction got our hands on a new Milwaukee M18 Fuel 6 1/2-inch 2831-21 track saw kit, which included one XC6.0-Ah battery pack, an M18 and M12 rapid charger, and a 24T framing blade, all inside a Packout XL Tool Box. This kit retails for $640, while the bare tool can be had for $400.
I suspect that the bare tool will be the preferred purchase for M18 platform users unless they put a high value on the Packout XL Tool Box. My carpentry crew at TDS found the Packout XL box overly bulky when compared with cases for our Makita, DeWalt, and Festool track saws. Currently, Milwaukee does not offer the 2831-21 kit with the track included, unlike its competitors in this space, which offer kits either with or without track. The track is available separately in 31-inch, 55-inch, and 106-inch lengths ($80, $130, and $250, respectively); we tested the saw with two lengths of 55-inch track joined together with a set of Guide Rail Connectors ($30). Guide Rail clamps with standard screw handles are also available, for $40. The Milwaukee track is nearly identical to the tracks offered by Festool, Makita, and Triton, which means that the Milwaukee M18 track saw will work interchangeably with track from these manufacturers.
Features. One of the first things we noticed about the saw is its light weight; at 9.13 pounds (without battery), the saw weighs less than the other three saws in our shop. There was some concern that this would cause the saw to have stability issues, but so far that has not been the case. Even when ripping a 1 3/4-inch LVL to fit into an existing floor system as a flush beam, the saw showed plenty of power and stability.
The depth stop is easy to set, with 1/8-inch graduations, and the saw can bevel from -1 to 48 degrees, with a stop at 22.5 degrees. It has a 2 1/4-inch depth of cut at 0 degrees and a 1 5/8-inch depth of cut at 45 degrees, enough to rip a 45-degree bevel in 2-by lumber.
The plunge action of the saw is a hinged, tipping-forward motion, which is something that I greatly prefer over a straight-down plunge motion. The plunging motion is controlled by a simple thumb switch and a locking tab that is fully visible to the user, a feature that many people may not quite realize the importance of until they have tried to address a cut with a track saw only to have the saw refuse to plunge due to buildup of sawdust at a hidden locking tab.
Speaking of sawdust, Milwaukee claims 90% dust recovery when the matching dust bag or a dust extractor is used. In practice, we found this claim seemed about right, though—as with most track saws—the large hole in the side shroud of the saw that is necessary for the removal of the blade allows some dust to escape and has a dulling effect on the strength of a dust extractor.
But thanks to that large access hole and a positive spindle stop level that holds the saw in the right place for a blade change, switching out a saw blade is simple. Currently available through Milwaukee are a 24-tooth framing blade (the one we used for all of our testing), 40-tooth finish and 52-tooth fine-finish blades, and fiber-cement and laminate blades to fit the saw’s 20mm arbor.
One additional feature of the saw is a splinter guard that can be installed in place of the blade-viewing window at the toe of the saw. This guard can be used to prevent splinter damage to the sawn-off workpiece that is not protected by the track’s splinter guard strip.
Performance. Cutting with the Milwaukee M18 track saw, as with most of the track saws on the market, is a joy. The brushless motor on the saw has plenty of power cutting and ripping all framing materials and doing light surgical demo work—one of our carpenters used the saw to make a straight line cut in a roof deck that allowed us to tie a new addition roof in while giving the roofer a clean line to patch to. Using a wheel-style speed selector, the brushless motor can be set to produce 2,500 to 5,800 rpm with a max of 6,300 rpm under load. The saw has shown it has plenty of power for all the framing applications that we’ve put it through and plenty of finesse for the standard track-saw application of cutting finish-grade sheet goods and trimming interior doors.
For M18 battery platform users who have been waiting years for this saw, I suspect that you will not be disappointed. At $400, the bare tool is economical, and the money saved over the kit could allow you to purchase the 106-inch track in addition to the versatile 55-inch track. milwaukeetool.com