At the end of the September I was lucky enough to be one of about a dozen journalists world-wide invited to tour Festool’s headquarters in Germany. We flew into Stuttgart, then were shuttled to Esslingen—a small city with churches and buildings that date as far back as the 13th century. Though we did visit Festool’s manufacturing facilities (where I got to see a Kapax assembled), most of our time was spent at the company’s headquarters in Wendlingen.
Festool is a family-owned company that was started in 1925 with the explicit goal of improving woodworking tools. They aren’t a big company by comparison to other major tool brands, and that is intentional. Festool wants to develop solutions for specific work processes, and keeping focused allows them to do so. The company targets a few select groups in the trades: joiners (aka cabinet makers), carpenters, painters, and auto-body painters.
One of the many presentations given included a review of the company’s warranty, called Service All-Inclusive. Like all tool companies, Festool believes strongly in their products. Their warranty is among the best in the industry: 36 months from the date of purchase, which includes free shipping to and from the service center. They also guarantee that within 48 hours of receiving a tool, it will be shipped back to you (85% are shipped out within 24 hours). If a tool goes out of production, they guarantee spare-part availability for 10 years. An interesting side note: in Europe the warranty also covers replacement due to theft.
I got some insight from Festool about their marketing approach. I asked why they didn’t sell their products on their website, and why they aren’t more readily available in places like big-box stores. The answer was simple: They won’t sell from their site because they don’t want to compete with their dealers. And the relationship they have with dealers is considered sacred: Dealers help train and educate users on tools, in addition to selling—a more comprehensive experience for the customer intended on extending the personal relationship with tool users. After learning about the company’s history and their warranty policy, we got to put our hands on some of their latest tools, four of which are now newly available to the US market:
1. HK/HKC 55 Circular Saw
Carpenters who frame and do exterior trim will be interested in these new saws. Unlike the company’s plunge-cutting models, these can be used freehand, like standard circular saws (though they lack a rafter hook at this point). But they are designed to work with a new spring-loaded FSK track designed for quick and accurate cross-cutting of angles up to 60 degrees (the saws are compatible with the FS tracks as well). Angles are set by adjusting a stop on the bottom of the track. Cutting is a matter of placing the saw on the stock, butting the stops to the edge, and then sliding forward on the rail. When the saw is lifted at the end of the cut, the track automatically springs back to the starting position so precise cuts can be made in rapid succession. FSK rails are available in three different lengths for cuts up to 10, 16.5, and 24 inches across.
There’s a change on this saw that many will find a welcome shift for Festool products: all gauges and guides are in inches instead of millimeters. Also, the front edge of the saw’s shoe aligns perfectly with the cutline. And lastly, the saw has plunge cutting feature that coordinates with the depth of cut: set the depth of cut, engage the plunge cutting feature, then plunge the saw into the work and it will stop at the preset depth. It's one of those tools that will take some getting used to, but could completely transform the way you work. Price: $440 corded; $560 corded with 16.5-inch capacity FSK rail; $375 cordless bare; $690 cordless in two battery kit with 16.5-inch capacity FSK rail.
2. DWC 18 Cordless Drywall Gun
Drywall and remodeling contractors will be interested in this new high-speed drywall gun, which has been on jobsites in Germany for the past six years. It has manual (trigger-activated) and automatic (pressure-activated) settings, and fine-tuned depth adjustments (in 1/256-inch increments). To give you a broad range options, the gun includes interchangeable heads: one for traditional use driving single screws, and a magazine attachment for collated fasteners. The auto-feed magazine and chuck can both be changed tool-free, and the magazine can be turned at virtually any angle for situations where it may otherwise be in the way—as when working in an inside corner, for example. It runs off a brushless motor that spins at 4,500 rpm. The magazine is compatible with most collated fasteners on the market. You can set errant screws without breaking the paper thanks to a pulse function that gives you an extra bit of control when the heads are pulled off and you’re driving with just a bit. According to Festool, the drywall gun with drive 4,500 screws on a full 5.2-Ah battery. Price: $300 (bare); $495 (incl. 2 batteries and a charger). Both configurations include magazine and conventional drywall chuck, depth stop, belt clip, scaffolding holder, bits, and a Systainer SYS 2 Tloc.
3. SysLite DUO Work Light
All contractors, particularly painters and drywallers, will be interested in this new jobsite work light. The SysLite DUO resembles a sleek headlight, which is no coincidence since the technology was developed in partnership with the same company that makes headlights for Audi. The news with this hard-wired light is that it throws an intense 8,000 lumens projected over 180°, which is a broad spectrum for work lights. The light color is dialed in at 5,000 Kelvin, the same as cool white/daylight compact fluorescents. This temperature, according to Festool, makes color “true” when looking at walls and other surfaces, which is good for painters. It works with the new Tripod ST DUO 200, a stout tubular-style tripod that looks like it could hold up an umbrella in a hurricane. Price: $300 (light); $199 (tripod); $435 (light and tripod set).
4. DTS 400 and RTS 400 Sanders
Anyone who sands painted surfaces will be interested in two new hook & loop sanders, scheduled to be released November 1 of this year. The detail DTS 400 and its rectangular cousin, the RTS 400, both are lightweight (2.4lbs) and compact. Festool let us try both sanders out on a paneled door so that we could feel for ourselves the reported low vibration (it was significantly lower than other sanders I’ve used). Each sander comes with a spring-style dust bag and interlocking dust port (a new feature on all Festool saws and sanders). Each sander also comes with a removable bumper guard, for when you want to protect the edge of the sanding disc or the surface you’re working up against. Price: TBD.