by Andy Brownell
A well-sanded surface makes a huge difference on a finished piece. Unlike many woodworkers I know, I appreciate the relatively mindless nature of sanding. In addition to recently using the Mirka DEROS for benchmarking purposes, my go-to power sander has been a 10-year-old 6″ Ridgid model. It’s heavy, has a high center of gravity and is less than graceful on small parts. So I was excited to take Festool’s new 5″ brushless model for a test drive.
The tool comes in Festool’s standard “Systainer” hard case, including a separate power cord. The kit included only one sheet of #120-grit sandpaper – considering the cost, it would have been nice for the factory to include a few more sheets. For this test, I used Festool’s #80-, #100-, #120-, #150- and #180-grit sanding discs on walnut and cherry.
This tool is everything my current sander isn’t. It’s quiet, compact and light, weighing in at only 2.65 lbs. Plus, it has a much lower center of gravity than other Festool models I’ve used. This is a plus; I’ve found that sanders with a high center of gravity can fatigue your hands with extended use. The balance of the tool is a bit different than an even lower profile tool like the DEROS. After a bit of trial, I found the right hand position (a modified pistol grip with my thumb atop of the tool), makes it comfortable to use.
The power switch, positioned at the top front of the tool, is easy to reach while in use, however the speed-setting dial requires a bit of a reach-around.
Initially at start up, I found the tool produced a slight uneven wobble when it contacted the wood surface; this was alleviated by dialing down the dust-collector suction by about half. The off button smoothly stops the motor in less than 0.5 seconds, reducing the chance of leaving power sander loop marks on your piece or bench. I love this feature.
This tool is compatible with my Festool CT-26 dust collection system, including the convenient automatic on/off feature when the tool powers up and down. I also tested this tool with the D27/22 antistatic hose, which is sold separately ($250). Unlike my usual sanding setup, this experience was static-free. Overall I found the dust collection sufficient on a variety of sanding grits across its variable 6,000-10,000 rpm operating speeds.
The tool’s 400 watts give it plenty of power to hog through bark and sapwood with 80# on a natural-edge surface, while still allowing enough control with #180 grit on a flat surface. (Full disclosure: I also tested it with Abranet discs – the tool accepts any hook-and-loop disc – and found them better than Festool’s discs when it comes to fewer surface marks.) The tool’s dense foam backer pad allowed for just the right amount of cushion to work around convex and concave surfaces without fear of creating a giant flat spot. Festool also offers softer backer pads for this type of application.
Because this tool has a lower profile and lower price point than most of Festool’s models, I consider it worth the money. PWM