Plunge-cut circular saws are a central tool in most modern woodshops. These saws, often also called track saws, owe their accuracy and ease of use to guide rails or tracks. Although the tracks are usually specific to the saw brand, two of the leading manufacturers, Festool and Makita, carry very similar-looking models. If you are considering which guide rail system to buy into, or are simply about to add a new rail to your arsenal, you may be asking what is the difference between Festool and Makita rails, and are they compatible?
In this article, we are going to compare Festool and Makita rails side-by-side, and answer this question in detail. First, in summary: Festool and Makita guide rails are not exactly the same, but similar enough to be mostly compatible, so you can use a Makita track with a Festool saw, and vice versa, without major issues. The rails differ in execution of many of the track details, which may affect performance and usability.
Compatibility of the rails means that you cannot go totally wrong with either brand, but also that you do have options to consider. After buying and working with both Festool and Makita rails, I can give you an account of the differences, and hopefully help you decide which rail to get.
|+ dimensional accuracy|
+ better polymer strips
+ more versions, accessories
– incompatible anti-tipping features
+ almost equal to Festool
– incompatible anti-tipping features
What is similar?
Before diving into the differences, let’s summarize what Festool and Makita rails share:
Overall, Festool and Makita guide rails are very similar in construction and function. Both are aluminium, come in similar lengths and have almost identical cross sections. They also have quite similar functional plastic/polymer additions.
The similar construction makes the rails nearly equivalent in functionality. They both guide the saw, stick to the surface, and allow aiming the cut the same way. In my opinion, the rails offer a user experience that is practically the same.
Festool and Makita tracks are similar enough that they are mutually compatible in almost all respects. That means that you can use a Makita track with a Festool saw, and vice versa, and get most of the same functionality.
What is different?
While the overall construction and functionality are the same, there are many significant differences between Festool and Makita guide rails on the detail level. Because of these differences, the user experience is not exactly the same, and the cross-compatibility is not 100%.
Let us go through the differences between Festool and Makita guide rails one by one:
Difference 1: Guide ridge width
In both the Festool and the Makita rail system, the lateral guiding of the track saw is taken care of by a square guide ridge on the left-hand side of the track top face. This guide ridge, indicated in the figure above, mates with a slot in the saw base, and allows motion only along the rail length.
Makita and Festool rails differ here in that Makita’s guide ridge is slightly narrower than Festool’s – by about .01″ (0.3 mm) to be exact. Both work just as well, but the tiny width difference forces you to readjust the saw fit when swapping a rail of one brand for one of the other.
Saw refitting is quickly done using the adjustment knobs found on both Makita and Festool track saws. It does still take some 15–20 seconds, and becomes a nuisance when jumping between Festool and Makita tracks. If you want to avoid this, you might want to choose either Festool or Makita rails, and stick with the brand.
Difference 2: Splinter guard strip
On both rails, there is a narrow polymer splinter guard strip at the right extreme, which the saw blade will trim on the first cut. This strip is an excellent small invention: it virtually eliminates tearout and allows all cuts following the first one to be very precisely aimed using the trimmed strip edge as a guide.
Although rails of both brands have such a strip, the two manufacturers have opted for different materials: the Festool strips are harder and plastic-like, while Makita’s are soft rubber.
Both strips work just fine, but the general user consensus seems to be that the Festool strip cuts more precisely, stays better in place, and allows easier aiming. Personally, I give Festool a slight preference here, but consider the difference pretty minor.
Difference 3: Non-slip strips
One of the key usability features of the tracks is that they do not require clamping to stay in place during the cut. This stability is achieved through two strips of exceptionally grippy foamed rubber on the underside of the tracks.
Again, both brands employ such strips, but their dimensions differ slightly: Festool’s are narrower (3/4″ vs. 1″) but thicker (.09″ vs .07″) than Makita’s.
Despite this and the different splinter guards, which a part of the saw weight is resting on, the grip offered by the two rails is very similar: I measured the force required to slide the rails both length- and sideways on the smooth side of a hardboard sheet, and the results were too close to tell any difference with confidence.
Difference 4: Glide strips
The tracks are further faced with two plastic glide strips on the top side. These strips are in contact with the saw base and carry the saw weight, and are made of slippery plastic to allow the saw to glide along with little resistance.
Although the material of the glide strip on Festool and Makita rails seems similar, their shape differs: the Festool strips are narrow but smooth, and Makita’s are wider with a serrated top surface.
Both work well and provide low friction, but the serrations on the Makita strips have been complained to wear out the base of the saw. I looked into this myself and yes: after relatively low mileage on the Makita rails, my saw is starting to show signs of wear too. While initially cosmetic, with time this wear may start affecting how the saw sits on the rail – certainly not a nice prospect.
Difference 5: Anti-tipping features
In bevel-cutting, track saws are operated tilted far to the right, and are prone to tipping over. Both Festool and Makita have recognized this as a safety hazard, and integrated anti-tipping features in their saw base and track.
The anti-tipping features implemented by Festool and Makita both work well, but are sadly mutually incompatible. Festool has a slight overhung shoulder in guide ridge, which creates a detent action together with the conical adjustable jaws in the saw base. Makita, on the other hand, has a separate small slide tongue in the saw base which engages a pronounced overhang on the track side ridge.
Both mechanisms work, but only with a matching saw and rail. If you are mixing brands, bevel-cutting requires much more care, as you must continuously support the saw to prevent it from tipping over.
Difference 6: Dimensional accuracy
Dimensional accuracy of the guide rails is important as it directly determines the accuracy of your cuts. The primary metric here is the straightness of the rail, or specifically of the guide ridge that steers the saw.
Straightness: Some users have complained of a curvature in both Festool and Makita rails, so I decided to check the two Makita and four Festool rails I had at hand. Comparing each against a straightedge, I measured the following deviations with a feeler gauge:
While two rails seemed slightly bent, I consider all of them sufficiently straight for woodworking. Further, I cannot tell whether the bends are a manufacturing defect or due to damage in transport or storage – in this very small straightness control, both manufacturers get a pass.
Camber: In addition to being straight along the length, the rails should also be totally flat across, since any camber there will tilt your saw and the cut from the vertical. Many users have complained of cross-wise camber in the Makita rails, and after going through my own collection, I did find some camber in one of the Makitas; all of the Festools were totally flat. The camber was too small to disturb the saw support from the glide strips, and I doubt it has any effect on the sawing.
Although this comparison would benefit from a much larger sample of rails, my conclusion is that both Festool and Makita rails should be accurate enough for most carpentry. Still, there seems to be some evidence that Makita rails have more distortions, so if you are very worried about accuracy, you may want to give a preference to Festool.
Difference 7: Available lengths, models and accessories
When it comes to product range, Festool has a clear edge on Makita:
Lengths: Festool tracks are available in 8 different lengths between 32”–197” (800–5000 mm); Makita offers theirs in only 3 lengths between 39”–118” (1000–3000 mm). See table below for lengths.
While the Makita lengths should cater for most needs, the additional stock options offered by Festool may come in handy, particularly with very long cuts. It should be noted that you can make a rail shorter by cutting it down, or extend it by joining two or more rails end-to-end using connection pieces available from both manufacturers, but only at some penalty to usefulness and accuracy.
Special versions: Festool also carries special perforated versions of their guide rails for use with the European frameless cabinet system LR-32. To my knowledge, Makita only has the plain standard option available for each rail.
Accessories: Festool’s offering of guide rail accessories is wider (most listed below). Although many of the Festool accessories will fit Makita rails, compatibility is not guaranteed.
I put together all the rail lengths and most accessories for both Festool and Makita in the table below. Most include a link to Amazon. (Workshoppist.com is an Amazon Associate. As an Amazon Associate we earn from qualifying purchases.)
Guide stop (OF 1400)
LR 32 drilling set
Circular saw adapter
Splinterguard 55″, 197″
Non-skid strip (32.8′)
Glide strip (32.8′)
Splinterguard 55″, 118″
Difference 8: Price
As you might have guessed, Festool rails are considerably pricier than Makitas.
Both in North America and in Europe, a Festool track typically retails at almost double the price of a Makita track of similar length. With the longest Festool rail actually exceeding the brand’s not-exactly-cheap saw in price, cost is certainly factor in considering which make of rail is the right for you.
In my opinion, both Makita and Festool make very decent guide rails, and are both a good purchase at their respective price points. Technically, I give a small preference to Festool, but with the price factored in, will probably buy more Makita in the future.
Nevertheless, I would recommend to pay the premium and go with Festool if …
- you already own Festool rails, and do not like the prospect of constant saw fit readjustment
- you often work with oversized sheet goods or large projects, and want uninterrupted cuts longer than 8 ft. (2400 mm) — Festool has the rail for you, Makita does not
- you want guaranteed accessory compatibility
- you are a die-hard Festool fan, and only Festool will really cut it for you