Festool’s line of premium handheld power tools is first and foremost a power tool system, meaning that the tools are designed for inter-operability in function, use of accessories, storage and transportation. In other words, Festool power tools work exceptionally well on their own, but they work better still as a team. And at the heart of the team, as you may already know, you’ll find Festool’s renowned dust extraction system.
The Festool dust extraction system, like the rest of the Festool line, may not be for everyone. In fact, your first thought on seeing one of the units advertised might be, “Wow, that’s a lot for a vacuum cleaner.” But rest assured, there’s a lot more to a Festool Dust Extractor than meets the eye. And once you understand what they are actually designed to do, and how well they do it, while fitting logically and unobtrusively into the routine of everyday work, the investment starts to make much more sense.
So, why do Festool and a few other manufacturers give the important sounding name “dust extractor” to a piece of equipment that most of us would be tempted to call a “shop vac”? Unlike the largely meaningless honorific titles you’ll find tagged onto power tools of all sorts, the term “dust extractor” actually does have considerable descriptive value. Festool Dust extractors come with all of the usual shop vacuum accessories: an extension tube, floor and upholstery nozzles, the all-important crevice tool, and the like. But the core task for which they are so carefully designed is much more difficult than ordinary sweeping up. Festool Dust Extractors promise and deliver as close to dust-free operation of a full range of handheld power tools as it is possible to achieve.
That’s an extremely important point, and to understand why, you’ll need to know a little bit about the physics of dust collection. In essence, there are two types of dust collection. One type is designed to handle debris in large volumes from stationary power tools. Stationary dust collectors, and larger portable units, do this by moving large quantities of air through good-sized ductwork at a speed fast enough to keep chips, shavings and dust aloft and moving along to a collection receptacle. The trade off is that while the typical dust collector’s hefty induction motor and impellor are able to move massive amounts of air at the appropriate speed, they aren’t designed to produce much in the way of suction power. In other words, a standard dust collector doesn’t stand up well to resistance in the air current, and relies on a ready, free-flowing supply of incoming air to keep everything moving along.
This type of dust collection is not at all well suited to capturing the dust and debris generated by small handheld power tools. In fact, it’s essentially the opposite of what is needed. Handheld tools generate a small amount of debris, compared to most stationary power tools, but their size and physical layout make capturing the dust they do produce more difficult. Instead of large quantities of air movement, a dust collection system for handheld tools needs to generate powerful suction - enough to overcome the significant resistance produced by small dust ports, restricted interior spaces, and a limited availability of incoming air.
The suction power that an air moving device is capable of producing is given, in scientific terms, as the amount static pressure that the motor and fan are capable of generating. Static pressure, as it is most often stated, is a measure of how far the vacuum will draw a vertical column of water upwards against the force of gravity. In Woodshop Dust Control, expert Sandor Nagyszalanczy characterizes a "top-performing" shop vacuum as one that will draw in the neighborhood of 70" of water or more. The least powerful of the Festool Dust extractors weighs in at an impressive 80’’ of static pressure, while the larger Festool units generate an almost unparalleled 90”. Compare that to a top-performing portable dust collector, like the 3HP Powermatic Model 75, which is rated to produce a modest 12.38 inches of static pressure, and the dust “extractor” versus dust “collector” terminology begins to take on more meaning.
But there’s more to building a really great dust extractor than providing amply powerful suction. A really great machine will make keeping your work area clean easy and hassle-free, and that means it will have to surpass a typical “bargain” shop vacuum on a number of fronts. And who would know that better than a crew of finish carpenters? Recently, Fine Homebuilding magazine asked a professional carpentry crew to put the Festool CT 22 to the test, along with four of its upscale competitors. After living with the five contestants through a major restoration project, author Rob Wotzak declared the Festool “best overall”. Citing its “quality construction and well designed details”, he called the CT 22 a vacuum that will “perform well in just about any situation.”
What makes that so? Here are a few key factors that come up all the time in shop vacuum comparisons, and how Festool dust extractors fair in each, beginning with the most obvious: noise output. Rated across the board at 72 DB(A), Festool Dust Extractors have a very modest voice. What do the numbers mean? For comparison, 60 DB(A) is about the level of normal conversation, and the 85-plus DB(A) that’s not uncommon among inexpensive shop vacuums is the rough equivalent of standing on the median of an extremely popular expressway. If you’ve ever opted to use a broom and dustpan at the end of the day, just to get out of hearing your vacuum scream away for another ten minutes, a Festool Dust Extractor will seem like an easygoing, soft-spoken friend.
Beyond the noise issue, a shop vacuum has a duty to blend in seamlessly with your work. Its function is important, but it is also, after all, “auxiliary”. A shop vacuum should be easy to move around, small enough to fit easily under a workbench, and require very little attention during the course of your work. This unobtrusiveness begins with the Festool’s tool-triggered start up. Like many of the better vacuums, Festool Dust Extractors give you the option of plugging your tools into the vacuum and taking advantage of the automatic activation feature – when you start up the tool, the vacuum starts too; when you shut it off, you turn the vacuum as well.
But Festool takes matters a step further, adding an uncommon feature that blends in exceptionally well with the automatic start-up switch: its step-less suction control lets you dial in the electrical current level to fine tune the suction power to suit the job. Since the automatic start-up feature requires that the tool you’re using and the dust extractor share the same electrical circuit, the power control gives you an added benefit: you can control the amperage drawn by the vacuum and prevent overloads when you’re using it along with a power-hungry tool.
The “well designed details”, mentioned above by Wotzak, further integrate Festool Dust Extractors into the day’s work. Instead of the inexpensive plastic casters that render lesser vacuums completely immobile upon contact with a piece of debris no larger than a Tic Tac, Festool Dust Extractors have large, sturdy wheels front and back, which – in a stroke of common sense – are actually designed for the shop and jobsite environments in which they are intended to serve. Add to that convenient onboard hose, cord and spare bag storage, a small footprint, superior dust separation, an external filter cleaning mechanism, and anti-static equipment to prevent static charge build-up, and you end up with a machine that puts a new spin – to say the least - on the term “shop vacuum”.
Finally, there’s Festool’s commitment to developing tools that not only bring new accuracy and performance to the world of handheld tools, but also to designing equipment that works together as part of a system. Don’t get us wrong - if all you want is a really great vacuum, by all means give Festool serious thought. With four models to consider, ranging from the compact, affordable CT Mini on up to the 8.7 gallon flagship model CT 33 E, you’re sure to find one that fits your workload and budget. But if you really want to get the most out of Festool’s line of premium power tools, you have to use them with one another, and that’s nowhere more true than with the Festool dust extraction system. From convenience features like the stack-and-go dock for the unique Festool “Systainer” storage system at the top of the units, to the fact that Festool Dust Extractors were engineered specifically for maximum performance when used with other Festool products, it’s clear that Festool power tools were simply meant to be together.