I am a rough framer, concrete former and sider by trade, but since I was a little kid watching New Yankee Workshop, I’ve always dreamed of being a finish carpenter. In 8th grade wood shop the teacher would let me come in before school and work in the shop.
The last few years I’ve read a lot of reviews and forum posts about Festool products. Most of the technical info goes over my head because working outside and to rough(er) tolerances, I don’t need these products. Because I work primarily outside, I especially don’t have much use for the dust collection for which Festool has become well-known.
A few months back Tools asked me to use the new (to the US) Festool HKC cordless circular saw and cross cut guide and review it. I said yes, not really understanding what this saw was or how a Festool product might find a place on a framing site.
This saw is a cordless brushless saw that uses a 6 ¼” blade. You can purchase this saw in two kits. One with a rail and one without, but both come with 2 5.2 Ah Li-on batteries, 18 tooth blade and a SYS 4 Systainer and charger. The kits are also available with a corded saw, the HK. This corded version is nearly identical to the HKC with all of the same features except that it is also equipped with a speed adjustment knob. With more control over the motor you have more options for cutting various materials like metal, PVC or laminates; material-specific blade are available as well. I used a 18-tooth framing blade.
This is a blade left saw that bevels to 50°. The depth adjustment differentiates between using it with the track or without, and is very accurate with clear markings. It can also be turned into a plunge saw and used with other Festool guide rails. There is a dust port that can either be hooked to a bag or vacuum. The dust port features a new design that locks with the new locking hose fitting and works on all Festool dust extractor connections.
FSK Guide Rails
These tracks are different than other Festool tracks in that they hook to the saw to become a unit and they are self retracting. What’s even better, they can be set to an angle up to 60° making it easy to achieve shop-quality repetitive miters. These rails come in three lengths: The FSK 250 (9.84 inches), the FSK 420 (16.53 inches) , and the FSK 670 (26.38 inches). All guide rails include an integral splinter guard.
On the underside of the guide rail is a plastic pivot as well as an adjustable “stop”. You simply put the track on the piece of lumber and rotate the saw and rail until both the pivot and stop are up against the material; this automatically fixes the angle. You can adjust the angle to register to either the left or right relative to the material.
How Well Does it Work?
Let’s take the dust collection first. I didn’t use this saw with a vacuum or bag. I angled the port down and to my right because that keeps the dust off the track and material I’m cutting. I found that I cut right handed with my left hand on the track. Whichever hand you use, you will likely want to have your free hand holding the track down in front - particularly with larger material. While Festool doesn’t claim that this saw collects all dust, I found that I had basically no dust on the surface I was cutting. I used this HKC-55 saw to cut 3 stair stringers, all of my 2x8 riser material and 1” OSB tread material, then took the saw off the crosscut rail and used it with one of the FS tracks to rip the treads. During all of this, my workstation stayed clean.
The saw had plenty of power for cutting through really dry 2x12 Doug Fir. I kept a steady speed and didn’t force the saw. I don’t have any complaints about power. The depth was easy to set, guard was easy to retract via a convenient lever just to the left of the blade - although I only used that lever to test the saw, I didn’t actually need to use it as I worked. You can set this saw into a plunge mode which retracts the blade completely up; as you’re cutting from this mode it is nice to be able to raise the guard with the lever. Once we framed the house and papered the roof we could use this saw inside doing pick up work. I found it about as fast to use it and a long rail ripping sheathing for shear walls as snapping a line and cutting.
The guide rail works very well. The splinter guard aligns precisely on the cutline just as with the FS track. I didn’t set the angle to cut the riser and tread lines on my stringers; I could have but I found that it was easy enough and fast to set the track on the line and cut. Like the FS track, the FSK guide rail has rubber strips along the bottom which helps it to stay on the material without slipping.
We got this saw in time to frame a roof that had I-Joist rafters. In addition to the rafters I had nearly 100 10” web stiffeners to cut. I had planned to bring our sliding compound miter saw and stand to cut them but forgot the stand (idiot move). I instead used the HKC and guide. I set the angle to 30° and quickly cut 100 5/4x8 10” web stiffeners with 30° miters on each end. I went through 1 ½ batteries.
What I noticed is that every 20 cuts or so the rail was failing to retract so I took the saw off the rail and shook out the rail. This was ok with me because even while using a guide my shoulder was getting a workout.
Another task I used the saw and rail for was cutting I Joist blocking. We had a lot of 13 7/16” and 9 7/16” I Joists to cut down. The lumberyard sends us lineal footage of I Joist to cut into blocking. Normally I use a beam saw for this and it is hard on my arm and not too accurate.
This time I made all the cuts with the Festool and finished with a cordless recip since the flanges were 2 ½” deep and the festool cuts about 2” deep with the rail. I found that we had perfectly cut blocks and it was actually faster than using the beam saw, plus much easier on my arm. The reason it was faster was I didn’t have to scribe any lines and left my speed square in my pouch. All I had to do was align the guide rail to my mark and it squared the cut for me.
Is It Really Worth Buying?
I have been grappling with this question for the last month. I absolutely loved using it for cutting stair stringers. The set of stairs I built making all the cuts with this saw look very clean. Using it to cut repetitive blocks without pulling out my speed square was also clean and fast.
We had a number of walls to frame up to rafters on the house we are working on and they all had either 30 or 40° miters. I liked not pulling out a square to mark the angles.
As a rough framer I initially thought: I really don’t need this saw, and I would say that most framers don’t need it either. However, after using this saw and the rail it came with and a 118” FS track, it occurred to me that I will never need my table saw and stand, nor my DeWalt 12” sliding compound miter saw and stand on site again. I also tend to rip faster using this saw and guide because I’m not watching the line.
We have a Rosseau table set up with outfeed tables for our Bosch table saw and a 12” DeWalt sliding compound miter saw with the Saw Helper stand (no longer available). Now, they stay tucked away in our shop. These tools and stands total up to be between $1500-2000. I could get the HKC 55 Cordless kit plus the 420 FSK guide rail (16 ½”) for $690 plus the FS 118” guide rail for $355 and still save money.
When I do the math, and add the convenience of taking my saw to the material instead of the material to the saw, consider the fact that I get shop-quality cuts on a rough jobsite, then I absolutely recommend this tool. Another advantage is that everything but the track fits in the systainer box and is easy to roll out and put away and it doesn’t clutter the van. I would suggest that you invest in 1 or two more batteries, though, or consider the corded version. Even with a good blade, cutting through 2x6 up to 2x12 wears out the batteries faster than they recharge.
This is a tool I think we’ll continue to find uses for in the coming months. I know we’ll have it out most days we are siding and installing exterior trim. If you’re a carpenter or a remodeling contractor and you've been waiting to take the plunge into Festool, I think this is the place to start.
This article originally appeared in Tools of the Trade.