There is usually one
aspect of any profession or hobby that is less pleasurable than the rest.
If you're like me, in woodworking or remodeling that task is sanding. Now
I'm not about to tell you that a Festool sander is going to make you like
to sand or that one will even make sanding more pleasurable but after
using these sanders which were provided by
Festool USA, I can tell you that sanding
will be easier, less tiresome, cleaner, faster and use fewer sanding
disks. Also check out my companion review to this of the
Festool CT22E dust extractor.
As with all of my reviews
I endeavor to provide as much detailed information as I can so that you
will be able to make an intelligent purchase decision and not be surprised
when you open the box. Click on any picture to enlarge it.
What's in the Box:
sanders I've been using for the past six months are (from left to right)
the ES 125, 5" Random Orbit palm sander, the ETS 150, 6" Random Orbit
sander and the Rotex 125, a 5" RO/Rotary sander.
of the sanders come packaged in a Systainer (photo at left) with the tool
instructions, a single sanding disk, the detachable "Plug It" power cord
and in the case of the ES 125 and ETS 150, a dust bag and attachment.
Systainers are designed to be the only storage any Festool tool needs, be
it in the shop or on the job site. The Systainers are designed to stack
and lock to each other and have molded inserts to store your sanding disks
and accessories to bring with you to the job site.
Systainers are not your
typical shop cluttering molded case. They are an integral part of the
complete Festool System.
start with what I think is Festool's flagship
sander, the 6" (150mm) ETS 150/5.
The "/5" in the part number indicates that this sander has a 5mm stroke
(3/16"). There is also a "/3" (1/8") model and we'll talk about the
stroke in the testing section.. As stated earlier, in addition to the
Systainer, this sander comes with what you see at right, the sander,
power cord, sanding disk and dust bag. If you're new to Festool I'll give
you a hint, put the dust bag away. You're going to want to use all of
Festool's sanders with a
vacuum attached. Not only do they sand better with a
vacuum attached, the paper lasts longer and of course there is less of a
Power consumption: 310 Watts / 2.6 amps 120 v AC
Pad diameter: 6" (150 mm)
Speed: 6000 - 10500 orbits per minute
Sanding stroke: 3/16" (5 mm)
Dust extractor connection: 1" (27 mm)
Weight: 4 lbs. (1.85 kg)
The ETS 150 is a variable
speed sander with a locking trigger located on the grip (left). The speed
is selected using a thumbwheel mounted in the top front of the sander
Because the ETS 150/5 and
the ETS 150/3 are identical with the exception of the stroke, Festool has
marked the top of the sander with either a "5" or a "3" to indicate the
A convenient feature of
all the sanders is the "Plug-It" detachable power cord. This removable
cord makes storage simple and switching tools easier. If you're sanding
using the ETS 150 for instance and want to switch to say the palm ES 125
simply swap the sanders at the tool end of the cord and vacuum hose.
paper dust bag attaches like many full size vacuum bags. Just push the
bag over the neck of the attachment.
The dust bag attachment
slips over the Sanders port and is secured by tightening a thumbscrew
(above right and at left).
The dust bag works well
but not as well as when the sander is connected to a vacuum.
Festool calls their hook
and loop attachment system StickFix. The ETS 150 has a 6" sanding pad
which is easily removable with one hex screw and the included hex wrench
(right). The StickFix system uses 9 hole sanding disks with the center
hole actually blowing air out with the 8 holes around the circumference of
the disk drawing air and dust in. Festool claims that this arrangement
keeps the disk cleaner therefore making it more effective and extending
its life by 30%. I can tell you that after using these sanders for quite
some time that that figure seems low for the Rubin paper. But more on
that later in the testing section.
The ETS 150 also has a
pad brake, you can see it in the photo at left as the rubber ring which
surrounds the pad.
The ES 125 is a 5" Random
Orbit one handed or palm grip sander with a 2.5mm (3/32) stroke. It
weighs about 2.5lbs or just over half the 4lb weight of the ETS 150 which
makes it ideal for one handed, vertical or overhead sanding. Like the ETS
150 it comes with a dust bag (pictured at left) but should really be used
with a vacuum.
Specifications: ES 125
Power consumption: 220 Watts / 2 amps 120 v Ac
Pad diameter: 5" (125 mm)
Speed: 6000 - 13000 orbits per minute
Sanding stroke: 3/32" (2.5 mm)
Dust extractor connection: 1" (27 mm)
Weight: 2.4 lbs. (1.1 kg)
Control layout is a bit
different for this sander because it doesn't have a handle like its big
brother. Powering the ES 125 is accomplished by an on/off toggle switch
located at the front top of the sander (left) and speed by a thumbwheel
located at the top rear of the sander (right). The ES 125 also has the
Plug-It removable cord feature.
ES 125 also has a 9 hole StickFix pad and is attached by 4 Torx head
screws. Like the ETS 150 the pad must be removed to gain access to the
brake although a tool in not included.
Rotex RO 125 is a departure from the conventional sanders because it is
actually two sanders in one. This dual mode sander fulfils all your fine
random orbit sanding needs with its 5" diameter, 3.6mm (9/64") stroke and
with the press of a button turns into an aggressive yet very controllable
rotary sander. Perhaps one reason it is so controllable and aggressive in
the rotary mode is because the pad performs a random orbit while it is
rotating, an operation that I believe is unique to the Rotex.. With
accessories you can also use this sander in a third mode, that of a
polisher. At 4.4lbs the Rotex is light enough for extended use and its
ergonomic design feels right at home in your hands.
Power consumption: 500 Watts / 4.2 amps 120 v AC
Pad diameter: 5" (125 mm)
Speed rotary motion: 300 - 600 rpm
Speed eccentric motion: 3000 - 6000 rpm
Sanding stroke: 9/64" (3.6 mm)
Dust extractor connection: 1" (27 mm)
Weight: 4.4 lbs. (2 kg)
short video demonstrates how the rotary and random
actions are combined. The Rotex is set on the slowest speed so you can
see it. Watch the outer holes and disc edge "blur" from the RO
There are four buttons on the Rotex.
At left, my thumb is on the power on/off switch...push on/push off. Above
the on/off switch is a slider which changes from Random Orbit to Rotary
mode. At right is the speed thumbwheel similar to the other sanders. And
the button by the vacuum port is the pad lock which enables the tool-less
pad change. Also, like the others, the Rotex has the removable Plug-It
power cord. Because of the rate at which the Rotex removes material a
dust bag would fill up in no time and therefore was not included in the
design. To collect sanding dust the Rotex must be connected to a vacuum.
Rotex does have a soft grip (left) and a 5", 9 hole StickFix pad (right)
which is removable without tools. Since the Rotex has a variety of
accessory pads, soft, hard and polishing the tool-less removal is a plus.
To remove the pad put the
Rotex into the rotary mode, depress the pad shaft lock and rotate the pad
The pad is removed
About the only maintenance you'll have to perform other than cleaning is
replacing the sanding pad if it gets worn and replacing the brake when it
wears. The brake is a wear item and will need replacing about every 100
hours or so. The following will help guide you through the brake
replacement...it is quite simple.
The photo at left shows
the Rotex pad removed using the technique I explained above, and
the brake removed. The brake is simply attached by tabs in slots and to
remove the old one you just grab it and pull it off. To replace the brake
you just align the tabs and insert them into the slots as shown in the
photo at right. That's it. Now replace the pad and you're ready to go.
When the brake is properly seated, it will look like the photo at left
while an improperly installed brake will look like the photo at right.
ETS 150 is a bit different. The tabs are not on the brake like the
Rotex but on the sander itself (left). At right is a picture of the brake
and the recess into which the sander tabs must be inserted.
When you push the brake
on over the tabs, there are also some screws which have to fit between
small tabs on the outer diameter of the brake.
Just make sure everything
sits flush and you're all set.
The ES 125 is
different in that the brake is attached by a crimped metal band. The
replacement for this brake comes with a screw adjustable band.
One thing I wanted to try
to prove was that the hole in the center of the Festool sander actually
had an effect. In the photo at left the Brilliant 180g disc on the left
was used on a piece of walnut with the center hole blocked while the disc
on the right was used normally. I had to do a lot of experimenting here
because if I sanded too long then the whole disc simply got covered with
wood so I had to try to sand long enough to produce a discernable pattern
but not too long.
Needless to say it was
difficult to do. I used an egg timer so that I sanded exactly the same
time with each configuration. My interpretation of the results is that
the center hole does indeed make a difference and the air flow or dust
flow operates the way Festool depicts in their literature. The dust
clearly has migrated closer to the outsides suction holes on the disk on
the right than on the left. Over time that should mean that your disks
will load a bit slower and regardless whether they last longer or not,
they should sand more effectively.
I hate house work:
had the opportunity to utilize the sanders on both a home improvement
project and furniture making. For the home improvement project I had an
all pine room (walls and ceiling) that needed to be stripped and
The woodwork in this
three season room which is exposed to sun and moisture was in very bad
shape. Much of it stained and all of it needing to have the varnish
Probably the smart and
easier thing to do was to remove all the trim and just replace it and then
sand the walls and ceiling. I opted to sand the trim as well for a couple
of reasons but the main one was that this house has sections that date
back to 1767 and the crude workmanship (OK, I admit, it was mine 20 years
ago with nothing more than a Craftsman jigsaw and circular saw) actually
fits into the style of the house pretty well. Plus I wanted to keep the
rustic, weathered look.
Anyway, armed with Festool I attacked the project. While
for the walls the Rotex 150 would have been a better choice, the Rotex 125
was selected because I had to do a very large ceiling and the thought of
holding the RO 150 over my head for any length of time was not very
appealing. As it turned out the Rotex 125 was a perfect fit. The routine
was to start off with 50 grit Rubin paper on the RO125 in the rotary
mode. I could very quickly remove the bulk of the varnish. The next step
was a pass with the RO125 and same paper in the Random Orbit mode to
remove the swirls. I then moved to the ETS150/5 Random Orbit sander and
80 grit Rubin paper. The ETS150/5 was quite aggressive and the 80g pass
went very quickly. Final sanding was performed with the ETS150/5 with
120g Rubin paper.
I used the sanders
connected to the
Festool CT22E vac throughout the refinishing operations
and as you can see in the photo at left, the workplace stayed free of
For testing purposes I
also performed the whole operation from 50 through 120 grit with the
ETS150/5 and it worked quite well. Of course the RO125 in the rotary mode
removed the varnish significantly faster but the ETS150/5 was no slouch
either and if the ETS150/5 was your only sander, the project could easily
have been completed albeit not as quickly.
the trim i started with 80 grit Rubin paper because I was in a more
comfortable position and I felt I didn't need the added speed of remove
that the 50 grit provided even though I had 80 pieces of window trim to
strip. I started with the Rotex in the Rotary mode then went to the
ETS150 with 80g and finish with the ES125 with 120 grit Rubin. Clicking
picture on the right will start a short video (1.5 meg
download) demonstrating the speed of material removal with the Rotex 125
in the Rotary mode with 80 grit Rubin paper and also display the ease
which I was able to control the sander with one hand. The sander appears
so easily controlled that one would think it was in the Random Orbit mode
but it is not. Again I surmise that the fact that the Rotex combines the
rotary and random orbit motions contributes not only to the
controllability but to the quality of finish you get when using it in the
rotary mode. The quality of finish of the Rotex in the Rotary mode was
reasonably good with the orbiting action doing a good job of breaking up
the rotary scratches. The ES125 and ETS150/5 both produced great finishes
which were more than adequate for what I wanted to accomplish for this
For the overhead sanding
I used the Rotex and the ES125. To put it plainly the only way that job
would be easy is if I had my son doing it instead of me. The overhead
work was exhausting but I feel that the Rotex helped reduce the time I
needed to hold a sander up there. In this case I used 80 grit Rubin for
the first rotary pass, then switched the Rotex to Random Orbit mode with
the same paper and cleaned it up with the ES125 and 120 grit Rubin. I
also switched from the green anti static hose to the lighter. more
flexible silver non-as hose and that helped with the fatigue a bit.
Again it was nice to be able to sand over my head without having sawdust
get in my eyes.
My first real use of the
sanders on furniture came this past fall when I made a pair of end tables
for my #2 daughter. While I used the Rotex 125 on this project I did most
of the sanding with the ES 150/5 and the ETS 125 RO sanders. To me it was
a no brainer to use the ETS 150 wherever I could. This sander is simply
the smoothest sander I ever used and easily the smoothest of the three I
tested. For this project I used the Brilliant paper in 120 through 240
Dust was minimal with the
only visible escaping dust being when you ran the sander off an edge. I
thought the ETS 150 was a bit too big to comfortably sand the legs but it
really excelled on the larger table top and shelf leaving not only a very
smooth scratch free finish but totally flat to the touch and eye. The ES
125 worked great on the smaller pieces but I had to be careful not to
apply too much pressure or it would bounce a bit. Of course with any
random orbit sander you really don't want to apply much pressure at all
because you don't want to slow down the disc's movement but it is a hard
habit to break when you're sanding.
I've created a short (2
movie clip to try to illustrate how smooth all three
sanders really are. All three are running at the fastest speed and have
220 grit Brilliant paper installed. I removed the vacuum hose because
with it attached its stiffness made them all look extremely smooth when in
reality they are all different. In this clip the ES125 appears to be the
smoothest but I believe that is because its pad is virtually brand new.
As the most often used sander, the ETS 150 had the most beat up pad with
gouges in the side and hook worn smooth in a place or two and I think it
suffered a bit in this test because of that. The Rotex is smooth but you
can see that it wants to wander more than the others.
Throughout my use of
these sanders I think the ETS 150 was the smoothest of the three.
You will often hear Festool users talk about the Festool System and
usually they are referring to dust collection but in my opinion a very
integral part of the system when it comes to the sanders is the Festool
used the Rubin paper exclusively for the room refinishing and the
Brilliant for the furniture. The Rubin is about twice as thick as the
standard Norton paper you'll find at the big box stores and in my
experience lasts significantly longer. The biggest problem I encountered
with regard to paper wear when removing the varnish was loading the paper
with varnish. If I ran the sanders at full speed they quickly became
covered with a hard plastic coating. The way I resolved this was to turn
down the speed of the sanders. By lowering the speed I sacrificed only a
little project time but the reduced heat enabled the paper to last much
longer. So much so that when the paper needed changing it was only
spotted with varnish whereas before there were long streaks of varnish
circling the discs. The photo at left shows a prematurely useless 50 grit
Rubin disc (disc on left) before I figured out I needed to reduce the
speed. The disc on the right is also worn out but not loaded with
The Brilliant paper
performed well although I did notice is was more prone to tearing than
paper I had used before and I had to be careful to check it periodically
to make sure a chunk hadn't torn off. A couple of times it did and I wore
a small flat or two in the ETS 150's pad.
You can buy softer pads
for these sanders and if you do you want to use the Brilliant or lighter
paper because the Rubin is too heavy duty and it will prevent you from
benefiting from the soft pad. For the heck of it I used my calipers to
measure the thickness of some new discs and the Brilliant 220 grit disc
(smallest grit sold) measured out at just 1/64th", the 180g Rubin at
1/32nd" and a disc of 150 Mirka I found was also at 1/64th".
Festool grades their grit
sizes using the FEPA (P) method. Here's a chart that compares US CAMI and
Like most other Festool products these sanders have plenty of accessories
for purchase ranging from buffing and polishing to different firmness pads
and interface pads. I bought some felt discs, sheepskin discs, and the
buffing adapter pad for the Rotex 125. I used my tripoli buffing compound
to buff an oiled walnut table top I had made last year. After about 10
minutes of buffing I had achieved just the sheen I liked and I finished it
off with some carnauba and the sheepskin disc. If you have a Rotex I
recommend adding the buffing accessories to your arsenal.
I used each sander extensively over months and they all performed very
well. All the sanders are balanced and have stepless variable speed
control. As stated earlier I think the ETS 150/5 was the smoothest of
the three and its 6" disc created a very flat surface. When using Rubin
paper the ETS 150/5 could be very aggressive, aggressive enough that if
you were to only have one sander, this would be the one I'd recommend.
Its performance with the higher grit Brilliant paper was well, in a word
brilliant! While I never tried an ETS 150/3 I did not find the 5mm stroke
of the /5 to have any adverse effect on the final fine finish.
The Rotex 125 would be my
sander of choice if I were a refinisher. While it can put as fine a
finish on a piece of wood as the ETS 150/5, its smaller disk and right
angle form factor make it a bit less suited to be your only furniture
sander in my opinion though it certainly could be. With the heavier grit
Rubin paper in the rotary mode it removed wood as fast as my belt sander
and is very easy to control. I found the ability to go from rotary to
random orbital a real time saver. At no time was I ever bothered by any
vibration from this sander even though I used it very aggressively.
The ES 125 was very
useful in situations where I was working vertically, overhead or on small
parts. In most instances it was very smooth, actually as smooth as the ES
150/5 but I found that if I wasn't careful and applied too mush pressure
it would bounce and vibrate. Once I learned to simply guide it I was ok.
Since there are times when the ETS 150 will be too big or heavy, the ES
125 fulfills the need for a light palm sander.
Dust pickup was
outstanding with all three sanders and I did have to use the variable
feature of the CT 22E vac on more than one occasion to smooth out the
sanders. You really need to connect these sanders to a vacuum in order to
get the benefit of virtually dustless sanding. Both the ETS 150 and the
ES 125 come with dust bags but I would only use those bags when I
absolutely had to. Without suction attached the dust pickup is no better
than any other sander on the market although it is nice to be able to just
throw away the full paper bag rather than getting dust all over the place
while you try to empty it.
You can't go wrong with any of these sanders and if you have the means
you can even make a pretty good case for owning all three. They are
nicely engineered and rugged... I bounced all three off the concrete floor
more than once. The only one I can complain about is the ES 125 because
applying too much pressure can make it bounce but other than that they are
all great sanders. As for price, well they're Festools and they command a
premium price but I've yet to talk to anyone who was disappointed with
their purchase. All Festool's come with a 30 day money back guarantee and
3 years of warranty.
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