Manufacturers make all sorts of claims about their products. A few of them true; some of them “kind of” true; and many of them – not so much at all. So when Festool says in its tool catalog that it delivers, “tools that make the task of sanding faster and more enjoyable,” you might be tempted to take it with the proverbial grain of salt. But based on what we’ve seen, and what we’ve heard back from woodworkers who swear by the Festool line of sanders, in this case, there may be a good deal of merit in the manufacturer’s claims.
Okay, we’re not sure whether the word “enjoyable” ever belongs is the same sentence as “sanding”, but for most woodworkers, the term “faster” queues in on the next best thing – with one caveat: faster while still achieving the desired results. Just about everything has its tradeoffs, and power sanding is no exception. And the either/or choice here historically has been between sanding speed and sanding “accuracy”. But with at least a couple of their premium quality sanders, Festool has gone a long way towards offering the best of both worlds.
Traditionally, a belt sander has been the tool of choice for fast material removal. And it’s a good choice: given a powerful enough unit and a coarse enough belt, felling trees is arguably within the belt sander’s range. But the drawback is that the tool can be far too aggressive and difficult to control for exacting work. A belt sander is great for quickly flattening out major surface irregularities or getting rid of an unwanted surface coating, but when it comes to sanding out a smooth, consistent finish, most woodworkers reach for a tool with a lighter touch – like an orbital or random orbit sander.
On the other side of the coin, random orbit and orbital sanders may be the perfect tool for the final stages of surface preparation, but aren’t widely known fro their ability to tear through wood at blinding speed. That’s too bad, because a great many sanding project require a degree of care that leaves the belt sander out, but are at the same time substantial enough to call for tool that means business - and that where Festool’s Rotex RO 150 steps in.
In fact, it’s possible to look at Festool’s two-hand version of the random orbit sander as a sort of hybrid incorporating the best features of the all business belt sander and the more surface friendly orbital and random orbit sanders, as reviewer and professional carpenter Aaron Telian does in the October, 2007 issue of The Journal of Light Construction: “[The Rotex] combines the aggression of a belt sander with the control and finesse of a random orbit tool, opening up new possibilities for what can be done with a hand-held sander.”
The aggressive performance Telian praises owes to the Rotex’s 6 amp motor (more than twice the juice of a typical random orbit sander). But the Rotex is more than just an extra-muscular version of the same old design. Instead, it’s really no exaggeration to call it a one-tool sanding system. With a rotational / eccentric motion setting for course sanding and polishing that changes with a flip of a switch to a random orbital motion for fine sanding, the Rotex RO 150 covers every phase of most sanding projects, from quick and dirty material removal to putting the final sheen on the finish.
Still other features set the Rotex RO 150 apart, along with its slightly scaled down little brother, the RO 125: These tools cover a full range of sanding and polishing operations, and Festool offers a number of base pads, each designed to cover a specialized task. Anticipating that you’ll need to change pads frequently as you move from stage to stage throughout the life of a project, Festool has designed a unique “FastFix” system that lets you change from one specialized pad to the next in a couple of seconds - as apposed to the usual hunt for a screwdriver and frustrating 10 minute sanding pad R & R.
As with all of the tools in the Festool system, you’ll enjoy the company’s typical thoroughgoing and thoughtful design practices. A fully enclosed gear box, for example, prevents dust from entering the gear and bearings and causing premature failure of the tool (an archetypical weak point of random orbit sanders). There are more than a few basic amenities thrown in as well. Notably: a positionable, detachable edge protector that lets you sand right up to adjacent materials fearlessly, a detachable cord that can easily be replaced, and detachable dust extraction channel that you can snap off for added maneuverability in operation where dust collection isn’t an issue.
Finally, The Rotex sanders employ a particularly innovative application of Festool’s renowned dust extraction system. To the typical hole pattern in the sanding pad used to draw up sanding dust, Festool adds an additional center hole, which is vented to the outside of the tool. This simple upgrade keeps dust collection air current moving from the center of the pad outward to the dust collection holes, preventing suction from building up under the pad, and keeping the center area of the abrasive disc – which is usually the first to clog up – just as clean as the outside edge.
When coupled with any of Festool’s high performance dust extractors, the superior dust collection that typifies Festool handheld tools is even better realized. Apart from being some of the quietest and most powerful vacuums available, Festool dust extractors let you adjust the level of suction to achieve a perfect balance between dust collection power and free, easy movement of the abrasive disc.
The Rotex RO 150 and RO 125, and all of the other, more specialized Festool sanders stand out as cornerstones in the Festool premium handheld power tool system. And that makes sense: Festool, for all practical purposes, invented both the orbital and the random orbit sander. Along with the other members of the system, they exemplify Festool’s philosophy that a handheld power tool can be every bit as much of a precision woodworking tool as the best stationary equipment.