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What Is The Best Festool Vacuum For My Shop?

11/06/2019

What Is The Best Festool Vacuum For My Shop? 1
We get this question all the time: “What is the best Festool vacuum for my shop?”

Three years ago I wrote about how to select a Festool vacuum for your shop. Festool has changed its vacuums since then, so I thought an update would be in order. Also important: Festool is ending one of its signature discount programs - the package deal of tool + vacuum - at the end of this year. So it seems like a good time to once again write about your vacuum options.

Festool uses the term "dust extractor" whenever they mention their vacuums. We call them "vacuums" or "vacs" and I don't know of anyone outside a Festool rep who calls them anything different.

The picture above shows the three Festool vacuums we have in our showroom. Below are pictures of the two vacuums we have in our manufacturing workshop. The showroom vacs get used all the time for demos and various projects. The middle one is a CT 36, the other two are CT 26s. The vacuum on the left has the Cyclone on top of it. That's the one we typically use for daily shop cleaning. The other two are mostly dedicated to the Kapex or general demos. The vacuums in the back are used mostly for metalwork and we beat the crap out of them. Fortunately, and I can say this with experience, Festool vacs are all professional grade and they last. The Midi below has to be at least 8-10 years old and it's going strong.

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. All Festool vacuums connect easily to the Systainer storage system for easy transport.

The CT-SYS comes in a Systainer and all of the other vacs can have Systainers clipped to the tops so that the vacuum becomes a rolling platform and base for your work.

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 with the exception of the CT 36 AC, a specialty vac for plaster dust collection. 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 "Longlife" permanent bags for dust collection.

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 - stationary dust collection

  • Smaller professional shop - stationary or larger portable 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 dust collection designed specifically for plaster

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


The range of Festool vacs begins with the tiny portable CT SYS that fits in a Sys 2 Systainer and comes with a shoulder strap. The advantages of the CT-SYS are obvious: it’s the least expensive and the most portable. If you are mainly interested in a vac because of sanding, no problem. The disadvantages are also straightforward. It’s not big enough to deal with the dust generated by the typical shop or the more dust-generating tools (unless you’re using them infrequently). It does have a use for on-site touch-ups and as a dedicated vac for job-site sanding (albeit not plaster).

Next in size is the CT Mini followed by the CT Midi. These 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 2019 version of the Mini and Midi share the same model of disposable bag; the idea is that the Midi just fills it more amply. (The pre-2019 versions use different bags.) The Midi is 2” taller than the mini and has a significantly bigger capacity than the Mini. Otherwise the two vacs are identical and have the same footprint. While the Mini and Midi are slightly less powerful than the CT 26 and larger vacuums, the difference isn’t a big deal. Bag capacity of the Midi 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 Mini and Midi, we would tend to recommend the Midi for its greater capacity and minimal extra cost. These are sweet choices for the jobsite and small shop and a nice supplement to a stationary dust collection system if your shop has one.

The 2019 models of the CT Mini and Midi have integrated Bluetooth technology that allows you to start and stop the vac remotely, 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 the 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).

The CT 36 Autoclean (AC vacuum) is a special case. Plaster dust can easily clog fine HEPA filters, so this specialty vac is not HEPA rated. Its special “Autoclean” feature is essentially a periodic shake of the bag to ensure that it doesn’t clog with plaster. It is basically a CT 36 designed especially for use with the Planex Drywall Sander with non-HEPA filters and the special shake-up feature. You can convert it to regular vac use with an additional hose for connection with non-Planex tools, but you can't convert it to a HEPA rating, so pay the premium only if you need what the AC was designed to do.

A year or two 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 (not the CT 36 AC), 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.

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.

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 CT Midi. 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. Here are some explanations of "Why I love my Festool vac" for each one:

(These are actual quotes from our customers.)

"I feel like a superhero with a jet pack zooming around with my CT-SYS." -- CT-SYS owner

"The Mini is so cute and perfect for my needs." -- CT Mini owner

"I have an attachment set that I store on top of my Midi, which allows me to switch out accessories and get into all spaces, and I never have to go searching for the accessories or store them elsewhere. I know that the HEPA filter is putting clean air back into my space, which is important to me. All in all, it performs perfectly for cleaning up the woodworking messes I make in my apartment, as well as being an excellent home vacuum." -- CT Midi owner

"I love my CT 26 for many reasons - it seamlessly works with all of my Festool tools, and the long cord and hose is great when you need that extra reach. I'm able to store the hose, cord, vacuum accessories, and tools on the vacuum itself, so it transforms from being a just vacuum, to a mobile tool storage unit. The big, durable wheels enable it to roll over uneven floors with ease - I've worked in shops with rough planks that had wide spaces between floorboards, and other vacuums (*cough Fein cough*) would get stuck and be a pain to move around the shop. Festool vacs are the off-roading SUVs of vacuums. Also, when I use my domino joiner with the vac, there is virtually no sawdust to be seen, and catches all of the fine dust when routing. It's a fantastic machine, a workhorse, and I can't work without it!" -- CT 26 owner

"I wanted to go bigger than the 26 and the 36 is proving to be just right for our shop. Pairs really well with all our Festool tools." -- CT 36 owner

"I would be like Pigpen in the Peanuts comics without the 36 AC. Definitely a good decision to get it." -- CT 36 AC owner

"I use my CT 48 with the track saw and Kapex. I use it with a larger hose and I don't move it around much. What can I say? It collects more!" -- CT 48 owner

Very Important Festool News: For years Festool has had a promotion in which you would get a 10% discount on the vac when you purchased it at the same time you purchased a tool. Any tool and any vac! Sadly, as I mentioned at the start of this post, Festool is getting rid of this discount at the end of this year. So if you are planning to get a tool and a Festool vacuum make sure you order before 12/31/2019. Don’t let the clock run out!

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.
Join the conversation
11/06/2019 Kyle L
Thanks for the good overview. I thought that the Cyclone was also compatible with the 2019 Midi (and also possibly the 2019 Mini). Is that not the case?
I think it does work with the midi. We have hooked it up to the old midi, nit the new. The only issue is the hole isnt at a right angle and is a little awkward, but it worked fine
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