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by Steven D. Johnson
Racine, Wisconsin

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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 dust extractor.

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, inconsequential.

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 adult life).

Steven can be reached directly via email at sjohnson13@mac.com .

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