About a year ago my remodeling company had an opportunity to test the new CT 26 Dust Extractor. This product was not entirely unfamiliar to us, because our stable of vacuums already included some older Festools. The CT 26 resembles the earlier CT 22, but it's very different inside. The earlier model's hinged top opens to expose a canister with a paper collection bag in front and mechanical parts in back; the CT 26's mechanical parts are housed within the top, which lifts completely off a canister containing only a fleece collection bag.
Fleece collection bags are part of what drew us to this machine. We'd been having trouble with the paper bags for our CT 22; they clogged when we sanded drywall, and somewhere along the way we received a batch that split at the seams if we filled them too far. Fleece bags are stronger and less prone to clogging, according to the companies that make them. And Festool says its fleece bags are self-cleaning, because they collapse slightly between uses and then shed dust when they reinflate.
At this point my crew and I have used the CT 26 for more than eight months. Here's what we have to report.
We sand drywall with a random-orbit sander connected to a vacuum. This method is easier than sanding by hand and allows us to collect nearly all the dust. On a recent project we sanded 60 very cut-up sheets of drywall and a large amount of plaster. We collected the dust with the CT 26, and it maintained suction until the bags were nearly full. The vac was equally good at collecting dust when we sawed wood, sanded trim, and cut and ground cement board, masonry, and tile.
The CT 26 is not intended to replace the shop-style vacs used to suck up large debris like wood, nails, and chunks of plaster. Although it can be used for cleanup, you have to sweep up the big stuff first or the 27mm hose that comes with the machine will get clogged. If you plan to use the tool for heavy cleanup, you'd do well to buy one of Festool's larger hoses – and be prepared to go through a lot of bags.
The CT 26 is more sophisticated than a shop-style vac, but that doesn't mean it's a delicate machine. Several months back I borrowed a painter from another contractor and put him to work sanding drywall with an orbital sander. He forgot to lock the Festool's wheels and it tumbled down a set of stairs. The impact from the fall broke a corner off the hose garage, but the machine was otherwise undamaged.
Although we usually mix mortar outside, on one condo job we had to mix it inside the bathroom we were remodeling. To control the mess, we used the CT 26 to suck up sand, masonry lime, and cement dust as we emptied the bags and mixed. On several occasions the machine ran for 15 minutes straight. I was afraid the motor would overheat or the filter would clog, but neither problem happened. We checked the HEPA filter afterward and it looked nearly new.
One nice addition to this model is the wheel-lock mechanism, which flips down to lift the pivoting front wheels off the floor. You can engage and disengage it with your foot, without having to bend down and reach under the machine. This is a handy feature, though it's better for folks with smaller feet – it was a little hard to get my size 15 steel-toe boot in there.
HOSE AND STORAGE
The hose stores in a recessed area on top of the machine. The hose garage is a $50 accessory for earlier Festool models but is standard on the CT 26. I much prefer this arrangement to taking the hose off for transport or wrapping it around the machine.
As with other Festool vacuums, my least favorite part of the machine is the hose: Though durable, it's stiff and has a memory.
Like earlier models, the CT 26 has variable suction and a tool-activated switch. These features are a must if you are collecting dust from power tools. Variable suction allows you to dial the motor back so sanders don't stick to the work. And a tool-activated switch saves you from having to manually activate the machine.
THE BOTTOM LINE
The CT 26 is an expensive piece of equipment, but I think it's worth the price, mostly because it reduces the amount of time we spend on cleanup and keeps us from breathing dust-laden air. In a number of cases it has even helped us land jobs – clients saw how clean we kept the job site and decided to go forward with additional work they had been putting off because they dreaded the mess.
Rob Zschoche is a tile-setter and remodeling contractor in Chantilly, Va.
CT 26 Specs
Weight: 28.7 pounds