Putting the Festool Lithium Ion Cordless T-Drill to Work

by Howard Van Valzah
Roscoe, Illinois

NOTE: This article was written about the Festool T12+3 drill, which has since been replaced by the more powerful Festool T18+3 drills .

Before I purchased the lithium-ion-powered Festool T12+3 drill, I asked myself "How can I justify the high cost?" The first answer was that I have several other lithium-powered tools, and despite early skepticism I have learned they are far superior in terms of battery life and power compared to the old Ni-Cads. The other reason was that I had already acquired a Festool sliding saw, Festool jigsaw, Festool router and Festool Domino machine, all of which though very expensive, were very well engineered.

I particularly like how their circuitry works to maintain constant torque so they do not falter under load. If you push it too hard, guess what? It will hum and stop rather than overheating. The hum tells you politely that the failure is "Pilot Error," meaning you.

So I have been very happy with all my Festool machines and waited until the lithium-powered Festool drill was available. Highland Woodworking brought it to my attention first and I bought it on an introductory special that came with a free Festool Systainer that included many small parts boxes. I haven't been sorry because the Highland staff has been very helpful in assisting me with accessories I felt I needed after the original purchase.

One of the first things I learned about the Festool drill was that my American-style hex drills and square drives did not fit the small Festool Centrotec drill chuck, but they did fit into the Festool FastFix eccentric chuck. Nevertheless I decided to buy metric drills from Festool that would fit the small Centrotec chuck. And fit tightly they did. In fact I found that drilling with the Festool drill bits was much more precise. All my older hex drill bits drifted a lot, unilke the ones from Festool.

I also bought a countersink tool with a built-in stop that I have found to be quite valuable when you have to use screws to pull a joint together and neat appearance is important. The Festool drill's Systainer comes with space to hold the charger and a second battery. Both of these items I keep outside the Systainer however, and use that interior space to hold other things like the drills, center punch, brush to clean drill bits, etc. Another great feature of the Festool Systainer box is that there is a compartmented section in the top for storage of screws. I use square drive screws exclusively and find it is really handy to have a variety of screws right at my fingertips.

Now the question is how did all this work to make the Festool drill worth so much? My first use of the Festool drill involved finishing up a cabinet project I was building for my church. The basic cabinet was built with Festool dominoes, but to install it in the required space, screws had to be used to pull everything tight to the existing pieces to which it was being attached. To do this job right, I had to drill a hole of the proper diameter to grasp the screw threads, then drill in the piece to be pulled into place with holes larger than the screw threads, and finally I needed to countersink that hole.

The Festool T12+3 comes with four chucks that are very easy to interchange. So the small drill went into the conventional Jacobs type chuck called the FastFix keyless chuck, the larger drill went into the FastFix eccentric chuck, and the largest drill bit went into the Festool right angle chuck. This is very handy when you have multiple screws to put into place. You merely slip off one chuck and put on another as the different steps are required.

I found the same type of situation when I worked on my next project, which involved screwing 6" x 6" timbers to each other with 8" screws. Here the power of the lithium batteries really came into play because I had more the 40 of these 8" screws to put in place using the 3 steps mentioned above. I used two 10" brad point drill bits but this time did not need to countersink because the screws had large flat heads that had to be driven into the soft wood. But drilling through 6" of softwood that many times required a lot of power, as did driving the screws themselves. Each one had a full 2" length of threads.

Believe it or not I did not have to change the battery!

The next time I needed the Festool drill was on a repair job at my church. The partitions in a restroom were out of adjustment such that the doors would not stay closed, plus one door had its hinges pulled out of the wall. I used the Festool T12+3 drill in a routine way to drill deeper holes and drive larger and longer screws into the wall studs to hold the door securely. Then a helper and I adjusted the partitions so that all the doors would lock. In addition there was a countertop that was fastened to the wall at one end and it had settled about 3/4" causing problems with the enclosed sink drainage. I used a bumper jack to lift the countertop and then used the Festool eccentric chuck to drive screws into the wall studs. The screws I put in were horizontal. With a conventional drill the screws would have to have been driven on a slant which would have made a much weaker connection.

Ths Festool 12+3 drill is a dream come true. It certainly continues to demonstrate that Festool has a remarkable ability to engineer products that meet users' needs better than anyone else. The only regret I have about buying all the other Festools I have is the possibility that they too will go to lithium battery power, which of course would be nice, but I don't know if they would be compatible with the vacuum power that now makes Festools stand out in the world of dust control.

It will be very interesting to see what the German Festool engineers can dream up next. For now, my next purchase will be the Festool planer, which I will also invert and use as a jointer.

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