A Trip to the Festool Museum in Germany

For most of its history, the company we know as Festool was part of a large industrial company called Festo. In 1992 the power tool division was branded Festo Tooltechnic. In 2000 the brand was renamed Festool and the power tool division (Festool Tooltechnic) spun off into a separate company headquartered in Wendlingen, Germany. The U.S. headquarters are in Lebanon, Indiana.

When you enter the museum the first thing you see are the sanders, orbital models dead ahead and belt sanders and random orbitals to the right. Many of these machines go back to the 1950s.

Here’s a closer look at the belt and random orbital sanders. Note the yellow housings on some of the tools. During the 1960s and 70s some Festo products were yellow.

Here’s a closer look at some of the orbital and rotary sanders. According to our guide, any tool with a cord still on it works. I’m not sure how they’ll deal with that question going forward, because for as long as I can remember most Festool products have had removable cords.

To the left of the sanders are some of the circular saws produced by the company during its many years in business.

I’m not sure when this track saw was made but it had to be before 2000, when the brand changed from Festo to Festool. The dust port on this machine looks kind of odd, as if it can be pivoted between high and low positions, or perhaps removed altogether. I have no idea what that’s about.

Here’s another look at the circular saws. Festool invented the plunge cutting track saw in 1964 though saws that ran on or were adapted to tracks go a lot farther back. Look closely and you’ll see that the third saw from the left on the lower level (an early 1950s model) is attached to a short section of track.

The company (then called Fezer and Stoll) produced its very first tool in 1925, a gasoline chainsaw with a rotating bar that allowed the engine to remain upright while cutting vertically, horizontally, and anywhere in between. If you’d like to see the Festo chainsaw “in action” then watch these Festool employees in Lithuania start one up. It’s hard to believe they were able to get such an old machine going. For more on early chainsaws see A Trip to the Chainsaw Museum.

An old and very heavy looking wormdrive.

I’m not sure what the connection is between Holz-Her (now a German brand of industrial woodworking machinery) and Festool. I like this saw for its wooden grip and the depth adjusting mechanism, which locks with a simple wingnut and has a finely graduated scale. Note the wooden wedge used to jam the guard open in the time-honored (and unapproved) manner.

The far end of the room contains stationary machines from Festo and its precursors Fezer and Stoll.

You’re looking at a radial arm saw stripped to the basics: a motor, a blade, and an extremely beefy set of rails.

This chainsaw mortiser is from Fezer, a company that merged with Stoll to become Fezer & Stoll, which later became Festo. Festo spun off its tool division in 2000 renamed it Festool.

I was so focused on the Fezer & Stoll label that I can’t remember what this tool is. Whatever it is, it’s not electric.

This chainsaw mortiser carries a Festo label. Chainsaw mortisers are common in Germany (both portable and stationary) but rare in the U.S. If you see one here, it’s probably a portable model used by a timber framer.

According to our tour guide, Festo saws did not always have riving knives. A riving knife was added at a time when the company wanted to export saws to Switzerland—which had strict regulations regarding the safety of saws. Since that time riving knives have become standard in Europe.

You see more big saws in Europe than here because they use larger framing members and have to remodel old timber framed homes. And timber framing remained popular there long after it fell out of favor here. The invention of stick framing (at that time balloon framing) in 1830s Chicago was the beginning of the end for timber framing in the U.S. When you stick frame like we do, you don’t need big saws, except to cut the occasional beam. Note the dado saw in the background—more on it in the next slide.

You’re looking at the business end of a Festo dado saw designed to cut birds mouths in a single pass. Similar saws were once available in the U.S. but demand disappeared when production builders switched from stick-framed roofs to trusses. The few such saws I have seen in the U.S. were modified wormdrives from the 60s and 70s.

When oil-based alkyd paint was on its way out and acrylics were on their way in, people began to have trouble sanding between coats. Existing sanders left scratch marks so Festo developed a random orbital sander. The sander shown here came out in 1978, when Festo’s hand-held tools were yellow.

This 1953 aluminum circular saw has a built-in slip clutch to protect the motor and gears against overloading.

I have no idea what this tool is; it looks like some kind of rotary sander or grinder. Am guessing it’s a sander because you would not put a cloth collection bag on a tool that produces sparks.

This portable electric chainsaw mortiser would have likely been used for timber framing. Note the positioning stop on the left side of the base and the depth stop on the plunge rod. To the right of the mortise is the type of dadoing circular saw used to cut birds mouths in rafters.

Few items in the collection are actually labeled and it wasn’t till I returned to the states that I began to wonder what this old Festo machine might be. It’s obviously some kind of mortiser. The angled slots are positioned like the slats of a shutter. Those pieces off to the left are Festool Domino tenons. Could the idea for the Domino have come from a machine such as this?

This very cool machine cuts dados for treads in stair stringers. It reminds me in some ways of the router devices used to cut mortises for mortise locks; you turn cranks and knobs this way and that—which advances and lowers the bit. Click here to see it in action.

I can’t say for sure what this is; it looks like a drill press with some kind of mechanism for quickly swapping between “chucks” containing different size bits.

Every now and then I was reminded that the tools in the Festool museum would be hard to use here—as when I looked at the power plugs. Here we use 110 volt 60 cycle power; in most of Europe they use 220 volt 50 cycle power and the type of two-pin “Schuko” plug shown here. This particular plug is not grounded, but most are. The ground connection is made through a pin that extends from a recessed receptacle (all the ones I saw were recessed) into the plug or via spring-loaded contacts in the sides of the plug and receptacle.

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