Review By Bill Esposito  Festool Website - http://www.festoolusa.com

absp_tdk15_01.jpg (25030)
Festool TDK 12 and 15.6
with CENTROTEC

 Review

By Bill Esposito

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I must tell you that I really enjoy reviewing tools and writing reviews though when it gets to putting pen to paper some of the more complex items end up being less enjoyable and more of a chore. When I received these two drills for evaluation I thought to myself, "ahh, something simple to look at". Well I was wrong! These drills have a lot to evaluate and report on and judging from the amount of pictures I took, this review is going to take some work.

As with all my reviews I'll try to describe in detail all aspects of these tools with my goal to to provide you with enough information that you can make up your own mind as if you were standing in a tool store looking it over in person. The drills were provided by Festool USA for evaluation.

What's in the box...umm Systainer:
The drills are delivered right in their Systainer. The Systainer is then packaged in a shipping box. If this is your first Festool purchase, the Systainer is part of Festools modular tool storage system, it is not a cheap plastic case like you get with most other tools. The Systainers have multi-position latches so that the box can be used alone or latched together with others. They can also be latched onto some of Festools vacuum systems and slid into the Systainer-Port to make a roll around cabinet.
Inside the box (photo at right of TDK 15.6) You'll find the drill, CENTROTEC chuck, FastFix keyless chuck, two NiCd batteries, 45 minute charger and assorted bits. If you look on the charger at right I've laid the three included bits on top. You'll receive a bit adapter to allow you to utilize regular bits in the CENTROTEC chuck, a Phillips bit, a torx bit and a 3mm drill bit (.1285"). If you order the TDK-12 set you will also receive FastFix right angle and eccentric chucks.


Before we move on I thought it noteworthy to show you the included documentation. The drills include complete parts breakdowns for everything...including the chucks.

The Specs:

Specifications
 

Specs TDK 15.6 CE TDK 12 CE
Battery Voltage 15.6 12
No Load Speed 0-450 (low gear) 0-430 (low gear)
  0-1500 (high gear) 0-1400 (high gear)
Chuck Size 1/2" 1/2"
Max drill dia. in steel 5/8" 9/16"
Max drill dia. in wood 1 3/8" 1"
Torque setting range 4.5-62 in. lbs. 4.5-62 in. lbs.
Max torque in steel 320 in. lbs. 250 in. lbs.
Max torque in wood 220 in. lbs. 175 in. lbs.
Weight with battery 5 lbs. 4.4 lbs.



The Drills
Being familiar with Festool products, the first thing I thought when I grabbed one of the drills was, "Where the heck you hook up the vacuum?". Of course the TDK drills are one of the few Festool products which doesn't connect to their dustless vacuum system :) As you can see there really isn't much difference in size between the two drills. I emailed Festool and asked them why they picked 15.6v (on left in photo) as the size for the larger drill and their answer was simply that the batteries fit in the same form factor as the 12v. That makes sense since I think for most woodworkers we tend to like the smaller drills and these are marketed as compact.
The drills weigh 5 lbs and 4.4 lbs for the 15.6v and 12v respectively and I find that they feel a bit heavy for compact drills. This is undoubtedly due to their metal gears etc. I did search the net and at most the 12v is about .4 lbs heavier than the leading brands but I'm used to my 9.6v Bosch and it seems much lighter.

As you can see there isn't much difference in size between the two drills. The 15.6v TDK (left at bottom) being slightly longer overall and the 15v battery bulging just a bit (right at top).


Well, just how big are they? My everyday drill is a Bosch 9.6v Compact Tough which until I received these Festools I thought was fairly small. You can see that the angle of attack for the driver is just slightly more than 90 and that the TDK's overall height and length is smaller.
These drills can fit in some pretty tight spaces. The 15.6v TDK with just a Phillips bit inserted into the motor (oh, you didn't know about that?) measures 7.5" (top right) and utilizing the CENTROTEC chuck with bit adapter it measures just 9.5".


Now is as good a time as any to talk about the chucks. There are actually 5 different chucking options with the TDK. The chucks are all quick connect style with the Fast Fix and CENTROTEC (left top and bottom) having a collar that you slide and can be installed/removes with one hand. The eccentric and right angle have variable positions at which they can be set so they attach via a bayonet style connection and require both hands to install. The fifth option is no chuck at all.

At left you can see the bayonet style connection of the eccentric chuck. The gear like protuberances allow the chuck to be positively locked in any position in 22.5 increments. The FastFix and CENTROTEC chucks at right simply pop on and off. Before I get into the fancier chucks, the standard FastFix keyless chuck is a one-handed chuck and works very well. If you have a couple of them chucked up with something that doesn't come in a quick disconnect style, you can use the chucks as your quick disconnect...they go on and off that easy.



No, that's not a jet turbine at left. You're looking at the business end of the TDK with the chuck removed. One of the outstanding features of this drill design is that the bits attach directly into the motor shaft when using the CENTROTEC chuck. In the setup at right a phillips bit is inserted directly into the motor shaft. Also note the two tabs on the the motor housing which are the male ends of the bayonet connections.

CENTROTEC: I borrowed the drawing at left from the Festool site but unfortunately it is as large as its going to get. If you can see it on your monitor what it depicts is a CENTROTEC bit inserted in the chuck. The bit's hex shank inserts directly into the motor shaft that you saw above. The chuck itself slips over that motor shaft and contacts the bit. You can click on the photo at right to enlarge it for a better view of how the chuck works. Because of this design, the CENTROTEC ensures the truest, concentric drilling of any chuck I've seen.


The right angle chuck works great for those hard to reach screws inside a cabinet. You can either insert a bit directly into it ala the drill motor or you can slip on the CENTROTEC chuck and gain the added versatility it has to offer. The Right Angle chuck, like the end of the motor shaft has no way of retaining the bit unless you add the CENTROTEC or FastFix. If you want to use bits directly in the end of the motor shaft or right angle chuck you need to buy the ones with some sort of built in retainer...ball bearing or ring clip.

The eccentric chuck (my favorite) allows you to get right up to a wall or cabinet side and drill a hole. It is equipped with a bit retainer which uses ball bearings. Just about any bit with a detent will lock in place. The eccentric chuck, like the right angle chuck, can lock itself in 22.5 increments.


If you have a high speed internet connection you can click here for a short movie clip demonstrating the different chucks. (5mb)

The batteries are 2.4 amp hour NiCds. Festool does offer NiMH at a significantly higher price as an accessory but I have not found a TDK version which comes with the NiMH instead of the NiCd.
Note the different keying of the batteries so you can't put the wrong one on your drill.

A search of the internet revealed that at least for the 12 volt version, it is one of the highest capacity drills available. More on battery life in the test section though it is difficult to determine how well the battery will last since it's so user dependent. Prior to some torque tests I used the drills for a month without ever charging them. But I wasn't building anything which required lots of drilling or screwing.

The charger is is rated to charge your battery in about 45 minutes. It's a smart charger knowing when your battery is fully charged and doing so while keeping it at a safe current and temperature. The same charger will charge any of the TDK batteries. You can also leave your battery in a plugged in charger indefinitely as the charger will keep the battery ready for use. There is a warning however that a discharged battery which is left in an unplugged charger will be damaged after 30 days from deep discharging.

Another nice feature of the charger is that it has mounting holes which allow it to be wall mounted.

Some other Features:

Batteries slide on and off by squeezing the green buttons. This is really effortless. I did find that I was always trying to pull the battery out rather than slide it off...the older I get the longer it takes me to adjust for change.
The TDK batteries also have a self cleaning contact feature. As you slide the battery in the contacts make via a spade-like connection. This sliding of the spade end into the female causes abrasion which keeps the contacts clean.

The TDK boasts a magnetic bit holder. It can securely hold up to 4 of the small bits pictured at right and a little less securely some of the CENTROTEC bits. If you were drilling some pilot holes you can see that the Phillips bit in the far right photo can be stored but it will be a little awkward. I think that the bit storage was designed into the TDK before the arrival of CENTROTEC.



The trigger and forward/lock/reverse button are pictured at left. Nothing much to say about them except that the reversing button isn't marked so you'll have to figure it out for yourself ;). At right is the clutch and gear selector. There are 19 clutch settings in each speed range. At first I wondered what I would want so many but I've since found it nice to dial in exactly what I need for the specific task. Ergonomically the clutch is great to work with as you adjust it with your thumb. A bit easier to operate than the ring type. The gear selector is not as nice to work with (neither is my Bosch's). It requires firm thumb pressure to change gears. Like all drills I've ever used you can only change gears while the drill is stopped. I think that changing gears with cold fingers might be a challenge. I don't know if this can be solved short of a large button which protrudes, and that would mess with the overall size of the drill.


Brush covers make changing brushes easy.

...and a little human factors discussion...

I think the balance on these drills is excellent. The red mark in the photo at right marks where my very unscientific testing places the center of gravity.

All the buttons are in the right place and are very easy to reach. As I mentioned above you can even change the clutch torque setting with the one hand.

No matter which chuck you use, changing bits is a two handed operation, one to operate the chuck and one to insert the bit. The one-handed FastFix chuck feature is important not because it only takes one hand, but because you don't have to grab that little collar while your tightening the bit, and because of that I think you get more torque on the chuck while tightening.

As I said earlier the drills feel heavy. At 4.4 lbs. for the 12v it really isn't but if you're used to the home owner quality drills this is going to feel heavy. An internet sweep revealed that the TDK weights are in line with the other quality drills. What is deceiving with the TDK is that you get a very heavy duty drill in a compact form factor. I don't know of another manufacturer which sells a drill this small that is still made for heavy duty.

The grip may be just a little narrow for my liking. I don't have big hands and I find the grip bordering on too small. The grip does have a non slip padding on it which helps but I think it needs to be a bit wider (thicker).

Here's one last size comparison pic before we get into use and testing.

 

 

 

Testing and Use:
When I first received the drills I started to think about how I was going to test them. I thought I could drive hundreds of screws or drill hundreds of holes. I actually started drilling hole after hole with the 15.6v drill and a 1 3/8" Forstner bit. Do you have any idea how many curly shavings you get out of a couple of dozen 1 3/8" Forstner bit holes drilled in 2x4's? The pile was getting huge and I wasn't proving anything. The more I thought about it the more stupid this idea was. These drills are primarily for woodworkers and woodworkers don't drill a hundred and fifty 1 3/8" holes without taking a break any more than they drive four hundred and twenty six 3" deck screws into a cabinet. Each woodworker is going to use this drill differently and each is going to experience battery life commensurate with their usage profile.

What I decided to do was simply to use these drills for almost two months in the shop, around the house, and even in sub-freezing weather installing a storm door that my son-in-law should have done when it was still warm out. I also left the drills in my unheated shop...something I know I shouldn't do but I wanted to see how they reacted. During that period of time I did not have to recharge either drill. I used each and every accessory supplied with the drills. They got dirty, dusty, even a little Watco on them. One was dropped (not on purpose) and just for those who wanted a test, using the 12v drill with a 2 day old charge, I drilled 137 holes with the 3,5mm countersink drill bit 1" deep into cherry and drove 2" square drive screws into each and then removed them all (so I'm cheap). The test result? The drill seemed to have as much power at the end as it did in the beginning.

I performed that same type of test using the 15.6v though not more than twenty or so screws. What I noticed was that while the drilling seemed to operate the same, the driving of the screws seemed much faster. Since the difference between the two drills in no-load rpm while in low gear is only 20rpm, I can only conclude that the higher voltage and torque of the 15.6v caused that drill to operate much closer to the no-load rpm than the 12v drill.

I received a number of accessories for the CENTROTEC chuck. These included assorted drill bits, countersinks, bit holders and driver bits.
Unfortunately for us Americans, everything is in metric. Here's a link to an equivalents table.

The woodworking bit set contains a 3mm, 4mm, 5mm, 6mm, 7mm, 8mm, and 10mm brad point bits. These have the CENTROTEC shank and can only be used in that chuck. You can also purchase these bits separately. They all worked great and watching one of them spinning you can see that they run very true due to the CENTROTEC chuck. Looking at the equivalents table you'll see that 1/8 and 3mm are very close, .1250 and .1181. The rest are close as well, should certainly close enough to fractional equivalents for most of our requirements in wood.

These next two bits performed great although I did once mark the work with the depth stop. The countersink and stops work well and like the ones mentioned above, the bits run very true. These countersinking bits come in 3.5mm and 4.5mm. In fractions they are close to 9/64th and 11/64ths. In the picture at right you see the top bit is assembled, the lower bit has been disassembled into three pieces. The main CENTROTEC bit assembly with the free rotating depth stop, the actual bit and the countersink.

To assemble the bit and set the countersink depth, first insert the bit into the countersink body adjusting the bit for the depth of cut you like. Tighten the set screw on the countersink body (photo below, right side). Next insert the countersink body into the the main bit assemble and adjust it for the depth of countersink you desire. Then tighten its set screw (photo below, left side).

.

Next I tried something I know all you Americans are going to want to try. I replaced the 3.5mm bit with a 1.8" bit. The results weren't great but may be passable for some. The photo below on the left shows the countersink and the 3.5mm bit. Fits nice and tightly. The photo in the middle shows the same countersink with the 1/8" drill...notice it is off center because it is smaller and the set screw pushes it to one side. The photo at the right shows the results, a countersink which is offset from the hole (countersink on the left in that photo).



Another bit I used was a stand alone countersink. It is sharp and cuts well but I have never been able to master this type of bit. I found it impossible to keep the countersink centered on the hole if the hole was drilled first and if I drill the countersink first it can still drift to one side or the other. For concealed work this is ok, but for a brass screw which needs to be located precisely because it is visible, I find this method un-precise. Additionally, I cannot get consistent depths with this bit.

Ok, so this is one cool bit. It is called a hook adapter. You use this to drive hooks. Be careful, this bit in combination with the 12v drill quickly snapped this hook off as I was driving it into a pre-drilled hole in cherry. Yea the hook was cheap but it illustrates the amount of torque you can quickly put on the hook...something they will normally never see.

This last batch of bits are the CENTROTEC Phillips (longer Phillips) and the NovaDrive Phillips. By the name you know where the longer Phillips go, and I'm showing #1, #2 and #3 points there. The NovaDrive bits pop in the end of the bit extenders or the end of the TDK motor shaft. Below the Phillips bits is the bit adapter (small one) and the bit extender. Both serve to hold NovaDrive bits of any bit of your choosing including square drive. They are magnetic.


The Drop Test
I didn't mean to do it, honest. I was installing my Jet Air Cleaner with my son's help and we each had one of the TDK's. Mine was laying on the top of a 5 foot step ladder. I made the wrong move and my hip knocked if off the ladder. I'd like to tell you how it hit the concrete floor but these drills were about two days old when this happened and I just closed my eyes. At first when I pick it up and inspected it I didn't see any damage. While using it further I noticed that the battery felt loose. A closer inspection revealed a cracked battery mounting rail (right). At first I was disappointed. These drills were well made and appeared to be, and I believe they are heavy duty. After further thought I had to concede that 5 feet down to concrete was a pretty severe drop and apparently it hit just right to break the battery rail. I took some pictures and emailed them to Festool who has sent them off to their engineers. I suppose if something had to break better this than something else, after all, the drill was still totally functional.

Festool would normally send off just the replacement part (remember those detailed parts diagrams from the first page?) but in this case the replaced the whole battery assembly. Actually I would have preferred the part so I could try to replace it myself. Not to be deterred, I took it upon myself to see just how hard it would be to replace the part. Four screws later and the cover was off (left)...nothing sprung out when I opened it up. It was a really simple operation. The screws are actually Torx and I don't have a set but I found an Allen just the right size for the repair.

Warranty
Speaking of repair, Festool has a great warranty. The TDK comes with a 3 year warranty. The drills are warranted for defects in materials and workmanship for a period of 3 years and there is no exclusion for commercial use. If a problem occurs within the first year, Festool will pay for shipping BOTH ways. If the problem occurs during year 2 or 3, Festool will pay for return shipping to you only. I don't think I've ever seen any product where the manufacturer payed for shipping both ways.

Conclusion
In the past I have found that Festool products live up to my expectations and the TDK drills are no exception. They had plenty of power, plenty of torque and plenty of accessories. Because of the CENTROTEC chucking system I believe these are the truest running drills I've ever used and with the ability to quickly change entire chucks to one more suitable for the current task is extremely productive. Ergonomically the grip might be a bit small for large hands but balance is great.

As with all Festool products these drills command a premium price but only each individual user can determine whether or not the benefits of these products are worth the added cost. I think these are the most versatile cordless drills I've come across and the chucking options alone make this drill more valuable than others. What I do find excessively costly is the fact that you cannot purchase a TDK with NiMh batteries. The cost of adding a single NiMh 3ah battery to the 15.6v drill is $142 where if it was an option when you purchased the drill (a NiCd or an NiMh version) you could probably reduce that cost by more than half.

If I could have only one drill I would pick the 15.6v simply because there really is not a significant size or weight difference between it and the 12v model and the 15.6v appears to significantly have more torque. I would also surely purchase at least the eccentric chuck. The CENTROTEC accessories, at about the same price as high quality drill bits, really make for a true running, quick change tool and the included FastFix chuck lets you use all your current bits.

Festool has a 30 day no questions asked money back guarantee so if you are in the market for a high quality, heavy duty, versatile cordless drill/driver package I think the TDK's are worth a look.

Thanks to Bill Esposito for a great review!

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