by Steven D. Johnson
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You Paid What?... For What???
Remodeling a house can be frustrating and challenging, but on the whole, it is exhilarating,
exciting, and fun. Converting a garage into a woodworking shop with my personality and style
incorporated into every aspect is an experience I am greedily anticipating. But this entire
upheaval in the Down To Earth Woodworker’s life is profound in another, very important way...it is an
excuse...uhh, scratch that...a reason to buy some new tools!
If I have said it once, I have, with increasing degrees of exasperation, said it a dozen times in
the past week, "It is not a shop vacuum --- it is a HEPA filtration dust extraction system."
"It looks like a shop vacuum," mumble my more sardonic friends. Obviously these are not
woodworkers. Were they, they would immediately recognize the distinctive off-white, off-black, and
strange color green clamps, switches, and Festool logo. Other folks look at the unit, look at the
invoice, and look at me like one might look at an errant child or worse, the hapless soul we
sometimes see pushing on the door labeled "pull."
Based on a small sampling group, woodworkers seem to fall into three broad categories regarding
Festool equipment. There are those who have made the investment, there are those that would like to
make the investment, and there are those that think precious hobby money can be better spent
elsewhere. For a long time, I camped rather firmly in that third category. Recently, though, faced
with much, much sanding to do, and remembering the promise I made to myself to keep noise and dust
control at the forefront of my tool-buying decisions, I decided to take the plunge.
I am preternaturally resistant to being "locked in" to anything that requires the sole and
exclusive use of the "branded" accessories. Ink jet printers spoiled that concept for me. I feared
Festool might be another inkjet printer trap from which there would be no escape.
Upon closer examination, however, this is not your typical razor/razor blade scenario, with razor
blades priced at 100 times their intrinsic value. A good example can be found in Festool’s abrasives
selection. For comparable quality sanding disks, the Festool prices are pretty much in line, and
any slight premium is offset by the enhanced usable service life of a disk when coupled with the
Filter bags seem to be another area ripe for profligate profit-taking, but here, too, a more
detailed examination is revealing. I currently use filter bags in my trusty old ShopVac (the brand
and the function). Those bags are less expensive, but not by much.
Bags make any shop vacuum (or dust extractor) easier to clean, easier to empty, and more
efficient, and contain the dust during and after disposal. At 80¢/gallon of debris collected for
the Festool self-cleaning bag versus 60¢/gallon for the ShopVac bag, the small difference is, to me,
A few months ago we examined decibel (dB) sound levels as an irritant and possible health hazard
in the shop. Festool (and Fein) advertise their dB ratings but published dB
specifications are frustratingly difficult to find for other brands. In my shop, under real working
conditions, at an equal 6 feet away, the Festool, running at full speed, produced 77dB and my
ShopVac produced 81dB. It may sound like a small difference, but small dB rating changes make a big
difference in comfort and safety. And remember, the Festool, a more powerful unit, also has a speed
adjustment, and at lower speeds, will produce even lower sound pressure.
By the time next month’s article rolls around, I will have considerable experience with two new
Festool sanders and will report more on them and the dust extractor. In the meantime, my deadline
is rapidly approaching (for this article and for the house) and there is still much deconstruction
and reconstruction to do (on this article and the house!). Stay safe. See you next month!
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Steven Johnson is recently retired from an almost 30-year career selling medical equipment and
supplies, and now enjoys improving his shop, his skills, and his designs on a full time basis
(although he says home improvement projects and furniture building have been hobbies for most of his
Steven can be reached directly via email at email@example.com.
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