By David Frane
Several weeks back I had the opportunity to check out Festool's new CT 26 and CT 36 dust-collecting HEPA vacuums. As I examined the tools and read the list of features it reminded me of how far vacuums have come since my early days in the trade. My first shop-style vac was little more than an oversize can with a motor and filter on top, a description that fits many of the $75 to $125 vacuums sold today at big box stores.
A dust collecting vacuum is a different animal. Festool refers to theirs as "dust extractors" because they are designed primarily to extract dust from the collection ports of power tools. They can also be used like standard shop-style vacs, though to prevent clogging you would want to switch to a larger diameter hose. What distinguishes a dust-collecting vacuum from a standard model is the special electrical receptacle on the front of the machine. When a power tool is plugged into the receptacle and turned on it automatically activates the vac so that dust is collected as it is generated.
The CT 26 and CT 36 are intended to replace the older CT 22 and CT 33 dust extractors. Like earlier models, these new vacuums have variable-suction and can be used for both wet and dry pickup. The interiors of these machines have been completely reconfigured. The upper part of the housing used to be attached with a hinge and mechanical parts extended into the lower section. Now, the top lifts off and the bottom contains nothing but the dust collection bag. This makes it easier to change bags and less messy to change filters.
The collection bags for the new models are made from fleece instead of paper. According to the manufacturer, fleece bags collapse and shed dust when the vacuum shuts down, so a high level of suction can be maintained until the bags are nearly full.
With their boxy housings, large wheels, and kickstand-like locking devices these vacuums are easier to store and transport than other tools of their kind. They are the same size as preceeding models but a couple of pounds lighter and with about a gallon more collection capacity. The included anti-static hose can be stored in a recessed area on the top of the housing without affecting your ability to lift by the handle or attach a Systainer tool storage box.
For many tradespeople, the price of these tools will be hard to swallow – the CT 26 costs $550 and the CT 36 $600. It costs $60 to replace the HEPA filter and a 5-pack of fleece bags sells for $31. I think it comes down to getting what you pay for. If you are serious about collecting dust then it is worth considering these vaccums; if all you want is clean the jobsite it would be better to look at a less expensive machine.