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JOEL Joel's Blog

What Is The Best Festool Vacuum For My Shop? (2023 Update)


The three larger CT 26
The three larger CT 26,36, and 48 Festool vacs

A couple of times this week we received calls from customers looking to buy a Festool vacuum who mentioned that they had used a blog post from last year, "What is the best Festool vacuum for my shop?" as a guide. Rewarding news - we love to provide expert guidance - but humbling as well, because even though the post from last year, the information is no longer current. So it's time once again to revisit the topic.

Festool uses the term "dust extractor" whenever they mention their vacuums. We call them "vacuums" or "vacs"; I don't know of anyone outside a Festool rep who calls them anything different. As I mentioned in the 2022 update, Festool vacs get changed from time to time. In 2022 Festool discontinued the two smallest vacs, the CT Sys and CT Mini, and transformed the CT Sys, a corded machine, into the cordless CTC Sys and discontinued the corded version. Since then, Festool has introduced two new vacuums: a cordless variation of the CT Midi, the CTC Midi and an entirely new vac, the CT 25. So this roundup will include this new information that should be good for a while - at least until some new models come out.

We take our dust collection seriously, and you should too. Dust is not your friend! Dust you collect as you work means less dust to irritate your lungs, less to clean up, less to mess up your finishes, less to track through the house, less annoyance for you, your clients, your family, your shopmates, your pets, and so on. Increasingly having a clean job-site is a contract requirement and a way to showcase your professionalism. A stationary dust collection system with extensive ductwork is the typical approach for large shops with lots of stationary machinery, but it's outside the scope of this discussion. We want to focus on mobile dust collection that you can take to the job site -- and for that matter, use in your shop or around your home too if you so desire.

Vacuums are rated by their suction power and their filtration (how fine a particle they can filter out). Modern vacuums can be HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Arresting) rated and in some cases certified for lead removal. HEPA vacs trap particles down to .3 microns. All Festool vacuums are HEPA rated (including the AutoClean models). If you are removing lead or other toxic dust, you must have a HEPA vac that also is lead certified. Festool offers both disposable "Self Clean" and reusable "Longlife" bags for dust collection. Reusable bags entail a substantial one-time cost, but become cost-effective over time. Of course, sometimes you really, really want to dispose of the debris you vacuum up, and in those cases, you should opt for the disposable bags. On a jobsite disposable bags are faster and cleaner since you aren't emptying a bag on the jobsite.

Here are some guidelines for the kind of system you should consider based upon the type of work you expect to perform:

  • Large stationary machines in a permanently set up workshop - you should probably get a stationary dust collection

  • Smaller professional shop - you could go either the stationary route or choose a larger vac for dust collection

  • Small professional shop, but most work is done on jobsites - portable HEPA dust collection

  • Small home shop - portable HEPA dust collection

  • On-site work - portable HEPA dust collection

  • On-site drywall - portable HEPA dust collection designed specifically for plaster

  • On-site touch up/sanding only - small portable HEPA dust collection

The range of Festool vacs begins with the tiny portable CTC Sys that fits in a small Systainer. As noted above, this is a cordless model that uses two 18V batteries (specifically, the 4.0 Ah battery that is sold on its own or in the 4.0 Energy Set) that last about 1/2 hour. The larger 5.0Ah batteries do not fit the machine. For occasional use, and certainly in situations where a working outlet isn't readily available, this is an interesting solution. It especially has uses for on-site touch-ups in conjunction with cordless sanders.

The CT-Mini has been discontinued, so the next in size are the CT Midi, the CT15, and the new cordless CTC Midi. See below for a fuller discussion of cordless vacuums. The corded versions are small but strong vacs that perhaps are especially popular in space-starved New York, but these lightweight and nimble guys offer high performance for anyone who is working in a tight shop or crowded worksite. The big difference is that the CT 15 is stripped down and doesn't have the Bluetooth capabilities (for turning on by cordless tools) and it lacks the hose garage and Sys Dock so you can't stack Systainers on top of it. (The original version of the CT 15 had a non-antistatic hose, but the current edition’s hose is antistatic, although it is not green.). The Midi and the CT15 use the same bags and filters. (The pre-2019 versions of the CT-Midi use different bags. While the CT-15 and Midi are slightly less powerful than the CT 26 and larger vacuums, the difference isn't a big deal. The bag capacity of the pair is fine for everything except doing a lot of routing - in which case you will fill up the bag pretty fast. Frankly, if you are debating between the CT 15 and Midi, it might be hard to justify the cost of the Midi. On a job site, however, being able to stack Systainers on top of the Midi and move everything at once is a real boon. As a secondary vac, the CT15 offers considerable savings. These 15L options are sweet choices for job sites and small shop and a nice supplement to a stationary dust collection system if your shop has one.

Midi Vacs have integrated Bluetooth technology that allows you to start and stop the vac remotely with cordless tools, and a manual cleaning feature. If your sander uses the Festool Bluetooth Ergo battery, the battery pack can communicate with the vac and start it automatically when the sander is turned on.

Next up are the three larger vacuums - the CT 26, CT 36, and the CT 48. All have nearly identical footprint and vary only by their height and capacity. All three vacs are great. The CT 26 is by far the most popular. If you do a lot of routing, consider a CT 36 or CT 48. These vacs are all portable, but with a full bag they can be pretty heavy. The question is one of balancing cost, portability and capacity. We sell a fair number of CT 36 vacs but very few 48s. Let's be fair, they are a whole lot of vac and most people prefer a slightly shorter height instead of the larger bag. The names of the vacuums tell you their capacity: the CT 26 has a 26 liter (6.9 gallon) capacity; the CT 36 has a (9.5 gallon) capacity; CT 48 has a 48 liter capacity (12.7 gallons).

A few weeks ago Festool released the CT 25, which adds another factor to the mix. The CT 25 has a 25L capacity and is obviously modeled on the CT15 in that Festool value-engineered out the Bluetooth capacity, the Sys-Dock and the better anti-static hose - and cut the price significantly. Unlike the CT15, the CT 25 has bags that are designed for just this one model, so no sharing with CT26. These cost savings can make the CT25 a very attractive option, especially if you are put off by the cost of vacs or are looking for a secondary vac.

The CT 36 Autoclean (AC) vacuum and CT 48 Autoclean (AC) vacuum are modified versions of the regular 36 and 48. Plaster dust can easily clog fine HEPA filters, so these specialty vacs have an "Autoclean" feature that essentially gives a periodic shake of the bag to ensure that the bag and filters don't clog with plaster. Festool describes the CT 36 as being optimized to work with the Planex Drywall Sander. (Why isn’t the 48 also “optimized”? I don’t know.) The older versions of the Autoclean vacuums were more specialized for plaster. The current versions work with all the tools. In general if you are a cabinetmaker in a shop (pro or hobbyist) and you never work with drywall, the Autoclean is an extra unnecessary cost. But if you are a drywall person or a contractor who occasionally does drywall, Autoclean will do dust collection on everything and also prevent clogging when you sand plaster, even if you don't use a Planex. The ACs can also be used for silica dust removal. Incidentally, earlier versions of the CT36AC did not come with HEPA filters but you can retrofit them for HEPA use with HEPA filters. The 48AC and the current version of the 36AC are both Autoclean and HEPA vacs.

A few years ago Festool introduced the Cyclone Dust Collection Pre-Separator, an accessory that is compatible with the CT 26, CT 36, CT 36 AC, CT 48 and the discontinued CT 22 and CT 33 models (that have the same basic bodies as the 26 and 36 respectively). The Cyclone removes larger dust and debris before it fills the filter bag, giving the filters and bags a longer run. If used with a HEPA-certified vacuum, the Cyclone can be used in compliance with OSHA's Table 1 rule for silica dust. The Cyclone has a stackable collection container that is easy to transport with the vacuum.

The CTC SYS comes in a Systainer and is designed to be carried on a shoulder strap. All the other vacs come on wheels, and except for the budget CT 15 and CT 25 models, all the vacs have a “Sys Dock” to which you can clip and stack Systainers so that the vacuum becomes a rolling platform and base for your work. (You can even get a Systainer whose top is like a tiny MFT table to truly function as a work platform.) All corded Festool vacs have an outlet to plug in corded tools, and turning on the tool also turns on the vac. You can also add a Remote Control button to the hose of all current vacs except for the CT15 and CT25 so you can turn on the vacs from the hose rather than the machine.

For more detailed specifications for all the vacuums please click on the links for the various models.

We stock not only the vacuums and bags, but also lots of cleaning attachments, accessories, extra hoses and even replacement parts like replacement hose garages and socket housing - all the odds and ends that help your productivity. We got a call this week about non-antistatic hoses. Basically Festool discontinued all of them, so expect the high performance and attendant price of the anti-static hose.

When I am asked directly which vac to get, I typically recommend the CT 26, unless portability and cost are a big issue. Then I recommend the CT15. I only recommend the larger or smaller models if there are specific situations that need more capacity or can do with less. But every one of the vacs has a fan base.

I hesitate to recommend the cordless vacs unless someone has a specific reason for using one. This week a customer told us that he cannot add any electrical demands to his apartment, so even though he isn’t doing his woodworking in a verdant field, he thinks he will be buying a cordless vac. Most of our customers work near an outlet, whether on a jobsite or in a shop, and prefer the reliability of the cord. But we would love to see a hybrid version of a cordless/corded vac with a battery/cord adapter combo, like that offered by the Hybrid cordless ETSC125 sander, which would give the reliability of the cord and the freedom of the battery as you wished. This hybrid is still in the dreaming state, but it would definitely be attractive to many customers.

We keep a CT 26 in the back next to the permanent dust collector. We use it mostly for shop cleanup.
We keep a CT 26 in the back next to the permanent dust collector. We use it mostly for shop cleanup.

 This is a very old CT Midi that now does chip collection and cleanup on our mill. It also plugs into the laser.
This is a very old CT Midi that now does chip collection and cleanup on our mill. It also plugs into the laser.

We keep every vacuum in stock in our shop at all times. Here is a CTC Sys out of the box to show a customer. Sometimes we run out
We keep every vacuum in stock in our shop at all times. Here is a CTC Sys out of the box to show a customer. Sometimes we run out, but very rarely.

I'll close out once again with once again a picture I took a few years ago of a contractor I saw working outside a local brownstone planing some doors. I did a double-take because he was using a CT 22, a vac that Festool discontinued almost 15 years ago. When I marveled about its age, he said, "As you can see I certainly use it and it hasn't given me a moment of trouble ever."
An old CT22 in use by a contractor on the street.
An old CT22 in use by a contractor on the street. "As you can see I certainly use and it hasn't given me a moment of trouble ever."

If you're in the New York area this weekend (October 13th and 14th), come see all the vacs in action at Festool Fest, our celebration of all things Festool, 12 - 3 PM on Friday and Saturday, at our showroom - 112 26th Street in Brooklyn.

Join the conversation
10/11/2023 Alan
Joel, great to see you at Handworks again. Thanks for the update this is still one of the best resources on the web for understanding the festool vacuum line
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The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the blog's author and guests and in no way reflect the views of Tools for Working Wood.