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


Festool
RO125 / ES125 / ETS150 Random Orbit Sanders
 Review

By Bill Esposito

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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:
The 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.



All 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.

The 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.

The Sanders

ETS 150/5
Let's 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 mess.

Specifications:  ETS 150/5
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)

Controls:

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 (right).
 

Features: 

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 difference.

 

 

 

  

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.
 
Dust Bag: 

The 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.

 

StickFix Pad 

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.

 

 


 

ES 125 

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) 

Controls: 

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.


The 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 RO125 

The 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.
 

Specifications: RO 125
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) 

This 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 movement.  

 


 

Controls: 

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.

The 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 counterclockwise (left).

 

The pad is removed (right).

 

 

Sander maintenance:
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. 

 

 


 

The 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.

 

 

 

 

Sander Performance: 

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: 

I 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 refinished.

 

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 stripped.

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 sanding dust. 

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. 

For 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 on the 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 room. 

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. 

Furniture Making: 

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 grits.  

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 meg) 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.

Sandpaper:

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 sandpaper. 

I 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 varnish. 

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 FEPA (P) http://www.festoolusa.com/Web_files/Grit_Comparision.pdf

Accessories:
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. 

Summary:
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. 

Conclusion:
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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Festool Rotex RO 125 FEQ 5'' Dual Mode Sander
Festool Rotex RO 125 FEQ 5'' Dual Mode Sander

Festool ETS 125 EQ 5'' Random Orbital Sander
Festool ETS 125 EQ 5'' Random Orbital Sander
 
Festool ETS 150/5 EQ 6'' Random Orbital Sander 5 mm Stroke
Festool ETS 150/5 EQ 6'' Random Orbital Sander 5 mm Stroke
 
     

Copyright 2006, Bill Esposito.
All Rights Reserved.
 

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