Menushopping cart
Tools for Working Wood
Invest in your craft. Invest in yourself.

JOEL Joel's Blog

Which Festool Sander Should I Get? - Updated


ETS sanders: (l - r ) ETS 150
ETS sanders: (l - r ) ETS 150 , ETSEC 150 , ETS125 , and the ETSEC 125
Back in 2011 I wrote a long blog entry called Which Festool Sander Should I Get? It still gets a lot of clicks, but I still get the question all the time. Festool has added a few sanders to the lineup since 2011, so I thought another look was in order.

All Festool sanders have three features that make them so attractive. The first is fabulous dust collection. The second is proper internal balancing that makes the sander run more smoothly and therefore less fatiguing to use. The final feature is a three-year warranty. Beyond that, which sander to buy depends on what material you're sanding and how much use you envision your particular sander will get.

Unless you are doing something really weird, you would normally want either a 5" or 6" random orbital sander (ROS). Festool makes six versions. The overwhelmingly most popular Festool sander is the 5" diameter ETS 125. It's light, powerful, and has the finest sanding pattern (2mm) of all the sanders mentioned here. A random orbital sander (ROS) has the sandpaper going around and around and back and forth at the same time, but - and this is what makes it a ROS - a sliding weight inside the base shifts around and arbitrarily moves the offset (back and forth) of the stroke around. The scratch pattern of the sander thereby varies, giving you a smoother finish. A newer version of the ETS series, the ETS EC sanders, are brushless and have a very low, more ergonomic profile. They are also about a 1/3 more powerful. The downside: they lack a fan so they must be used with a vacuum. While they are about 1/3 more powerful, they are nearly double the price. The older ETS sanders have fans and come with dust bags.

Not sure whether the 125 (5") or the 150 (6") sander is the way to go? 5" disks are a little less expensive than 6" disks, but the smaller sander is a lot lighter. In general, the 5" sanders are more comfortable to use (not that the 6" is bad in this respect). On the other hand, the 6" sander, with nearly 50% more sanding area, makes faster work of your project.

There are two versions of both 6" ETS sanders available - 3mm and 5mm stroke. Almost everyone gets the 3mm version, except flooring guys who want the more aggressive sander.

N. B. I am a firm believer in the advantages of having proper dust collection and Festool has the best. (You get 10% off all vacs when purchased with a tool - and 15% on most vacs until June 30th 2016! - but for anyone on a budget, get the regular ETS sanders, put it to work, and later add the vac.

Overall, if you are an occasional sander, the older ETS125 is the way to go. It's less expensive, it does a great job, and the extra power your missing isn't critical for most applications. But if you're in a professional shop that does a lot of sanding, you should definitely consider the EC model. They're more powerful and easier to use for long periods, really justifying the extra cost.

The Rotex Sanders: (l-r) RO150
The Rotex Sanders: (l-r) RO150 , RO90 includes a triangular pad , and the RO125

Rotex sanders have dual modes which can be used in either fine (ROS) or coarse (rotary) mode. In general, they are special purpose tools. While for some occasional users having the extra versatility is a great thing, the extra weight of the Rotex sanders is a downer for regular finish sanding. Almost everyone getting a larger Rotex gets the 6", but we sell a few 5" Rotexes -- mostly because if you are using a lot of 5" ETS 125 sanders in your shop already, not having to stock another size of sandpaper is a good thing. The rotary modes of the Rotex really shine when you have need for a coarse sander for paint removal or a polisher. That being said, the Festool Rotex 90, the little guy of the group, is fabulous in these areas. The triangular pad gets into corners easily, especially great for restoration, and having a rotary mode is great for fast removal of anything.

For your average finish sanding, most customers get either the ETS 125 or 150. From there you could add the Rotex 90, to give you regular light sander for doing regular work and the Rotex 90 in rotary mode for aggressive sanding, paint and rust removal, and polishing. The smaller head size is just great for precisely removing rust etc. The smaller head also makes polishing detail stuff much easier. But the deal closer is the triangular head. Getting into corners isn't an everyday requirement, but when it is, having a sander that can really work tight spots is a wonderful complement to the larger workhorse machines.

The Specialty Sanders: (l-r) LS-130
The Specialty Sanders: (l-r) LS-130, RAS 115.04, RTS400, RS/2, DTS400, Planex
Festool's line of sanders include a bunch of specialty sanders. I'm most impressed by the LS-130, a linear sander and a godsend for sanding molding. Festool's half sheet sander RS 2) is a great sander for those you who are doing big panels all the time. We sell a few every year, along with a punch jig for making your own sandpaper for it. (We do stock 1/2 sheet sandpaper for the sander, but it's a limited range.) I can't recommend the RS 2 for general purpose. It's an orbital-only, not a random orbital, sander, and it's too big to be a one - and - only sander to have. Get the ETS 150 instead if your first project is a table.

There are a few more oddball orbital sanders in the Festool range: oddball unless you actually need them for particular tasks. I would never recommend an oddball as a first tool.

We've finally come to the largest sander of the group: the Planex. This is an awesome machine that is constantly growing in popularity with painters and plasterers. This sander reflects a major step forward in sanding plaster and drywall, and comes with one extension for going up to 8 1/2 feet. More extensions can be added to do tall ceiling and high walls.

BTW - if you are re-modelling a home and have a need for specialty tools like the Planex - it will save you oddles of time - remember that there is a healthy used market for Festool. Many people get the tools they need to do the re-modelling job properly and easily, and then sell the tools when the job is over. The cost is just the difference between the original and resale price. Not nothing, but better than having to work with the wrong tool, or giving up and hiring someone.

We stock all the Festool sanders, accessories and all the sizes and varieties of sandpaper to go with them. We offer free delivery anywhere in the US on Festool orders over $50. Click here.
Join the conversation
06/15/2016 Eric Rusch
Excellent and very informative.
Thank you.
06/16/2016 Dougster
I am thinking of using a Planex to sand a hardwood floor because of the excellent dust collection and my penchant for patience. I fantasize a small DIY project (a couple of rooms while incrementally removing a carpet).

Should my patience start to sublimate, I could add modest extra downward pressure on the Planex head by taping some weights topside around the back to achieve extra bite, hopefully without damaging the head itself or gouging the floor.

Is this a hare-brained scheme overall, or would it be a fun "off-label" application?
There are plenty of stories about using a Planex for floors. I have not done it myself. I don't think you need the extra weight on the head. Use Safir 24 and 36 grit. Nails and other fasteners might be a problem. Use a 6" rotex for the corners and stairs. I don't know how effiencent it will be compared to a rental floor sander - but it seems that it will work.
06/17/2016 Terence Gill
HI I would like to buy a dust collector and sander combo, I do a lot of sanding and polishing of flat metal for art work. Plus I would like to use the dust collector with my new festool track saw, Any suggestions, the metal is cleaned first
In general wood and metal sanding dust do not mix. The metal can spark as it is abraded from the metal, and wood dust and air in a vacuum are potentially explosive. We segregate our dust collection. Festool used to sell a spark trap for their vacuums but it has been discontinued Spark Trap #484733 it fits all the vacs but and we should have one left over). That being said it is still not a good idea to combine wood and metal dust.

for metal sanding take a look at the new CT-SYS and then get a second, larger vac for woodworking.
06/21/2016 Dougster
Festool recommends the CT 36 AC when using a Planex for drywall work. However if I use the Planex for wood floors (e.g. with Safir 24 or 36 as you suggested), would the dust be sufficiently coarse that I could use my CT33E-HEPA dust extractor without having to manually clean the HEPA filter periodically? I always use the paper filter bags which means for normal woodworking tools I never need to manually clean the HEPA filter (according to the CT33E manual from 2007).
Yes. Plaster dust is really fine no matter what the grit. Wood dust is what the regular HEPA vacs are made for.
06/22/2016 Craig
If one wants an all-in-one sander and polisher for working with shellac, is the ETS the way to go? Are the Festool polishing add-ons equally effective for all their sanders? Thanks.
The ETS sander is a crappy polisher since the head doesn't go round and round like on a polisher or a Rotex. Consider getting a rotex is both operations are done regularly
Comments are closed.
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.