One of the most laborious tasks for the hobby woodworker is breaking down sheet goods. 8x4ft sheets are heavy and most of us do not have the panel saw required to handle them efficiently. Instead we all use a circular saws with a straightedge, or a table saw with an array roller stands to support the plywood.
A panel saw is by far the best option, but it is also an expensive one. One alternative of a somewhat lesser pedigree is a track saw. Since I do not have the space for a panel saw, I purchased the DeWalt DWS520CK.
The DeWalt DWS520CK
First and foremost, this tool does product a finish level cut. Tear out on the track side of the saw is almost always none existent. A table saw with a good quality blade will produce a similar quality of cut, except it will do it more consistently. The bevel feature is nice, but I will probably use it once a year.
The soft start, on the other hand, I do use every time I turn the tool on. The saw does not jump, and I don't think it will ever trip the breaker. The riving knife is great safety feature, but you'll never notice it.
DeWalt's promotional video, if you look past all the marketing and hype, is a nice overview of what the saw can do.
Setting up a cut is where the DeWalt falls down. The accuracy of the saw relies on how accurate the user can locate the track. Armed with a marking knife and an engineering square, I was able to locate the track almost perfectly (+/- 1/64"). For wider pieces I needed to use a tap measure, which dropped my accuracy down to (1/32"). Over 8ft that means that the two sides of the panel are no longer square.
A longer engineering square will probably solve this issue, but it will also add time to the ask. What I am trying to show here is not that is impossible to locate the track perfectly; I am trying to show that it takes care and time.
On a table saw I position the fence using a digital read out. It's as accurate and fast as anything can be. The DeWalt DWS520CK can be a table saw replacement, if you are willing to spend more time per cut and risk the off misaligned cut due to user carelessness. A table saw with a good digital fence is faster and more accurate. Cuts are also repeatable. A track saw needs to be repositioned for every cut.
A Woodworker's Perspective
Judging from the point of a woodworker that has a table saw, I find the DeWalt to be best suited for breaking down sheet good to rough dimensions. I have no problem cutting half a sheet of plywood or less on my table saw mostly because that's a size I can handle.
Cuts on 8x4ft sheets are doable, but suffer from inaccuracy due to difficulty handling the sheet. The DeWalt DWS520CK track saw complements my saw nicely. It cuts a sheet down to a manageable size and the table saw produces the final product. Even if I need a 8ft strip for the side of a tall bookcase, the DeWalt has its uses. Cutting the final dimensions from a rough-cut20" strip is much easier than cutting that strip from a full sheet.
DeWalt vs Festool
At this point the ominous comparison to Festool is in order. In my opinion the DeWalt is a fine example of a track saw that can hold its own against the Festool TS 55. One saw may do one thing better than the other, but at heart all of them remain track saws.
The Festool, just like the DeWalt, will be an inferior choice of tool for certain workloads in my shop. The DeWalt, and not the Festool, got my nod due to the price. The Festool and all its accessories are significantly more expensive than the DeWalt. Given the inherent limitations of track saws (the time it takes to position the track), my workload did not justify the premium Festool requires. A tracks aw is a rough-cut tool in my shop.
The bottom line for me comes down to utility. The DeWalt DW520CK excels at breaking down sheet goods. While it does produce a finish quality cut, it takes too much time to accurately position the saw to cut to finish dimensions. I do my final cuts on the table saw, which is faster and more accurate.
Overall this tool is a winner, but it's not a panel saw by any stretch of the imagination. In a pinch, it can be a good substitute. If you find yourself making awkward or unsafe cuts on your table saw, it might just be time to get a DeWalt track saw.