Over the past couple of years, I have yet to speak with a woodworking tool company that hasn’t been affected by the current recession, and Festoolhas felt its impact along with everyone else. But, according to Rick Bush, Festool’s product manager, the way to get through these challenging economic times isn’t to throw anything and everything “new” against the wall to see what sticks with end users. Far be it from that. Instead, for Germany-based Festool, it’s all about defining key customers and clarifying focus, then targeting new products that satisfy the needs of those specific users. It’s about setting boundaries while continuing to maintain high standards for precision, performance and durability. And here’s the bright news: in spite of a challenging economic climate, Festool is launching a number of exciting products during the remainder of 2011 that should be of real interest to us woodworkers and other professional tool users. They’ve definitely got my attention. Here are some of the details about what’s new in black-and-green, plus a bit of Festool update.
Rick says that over the past few years, Festool has used the bearish market as an opportunity to “focus our energies and be more efficient about conducting business.” Here’s a partial translation to that statement: Festool has zeroed in on certain target customers that principally include cabinetmakers, furniture builders and remodelers. In other words, folks who rely on tools for a paycheck. This isn’t really a big shift in market, from what I can tell. Festool has been providing premium tools to both German and American professional end users all along. Rather, it seems the recession has provided a catalyst to underscore that commitment even further.
As you probably already know, Festool’s standard for quality is impressively high, but Rick provided a specification for tool bearings that just reinforces the fact. “We need a bearing to be round, and our definition of round for a 28mm bearing is that it can only be out of spec by 18 microns (micro meters)…that would be the same as having a bearing 1 meter in diameter off by only half a millimeter.” Tolerances for bearings are measured in parts per million, and Bush says Festool’s suppliers work at a level of 60 parts per million or less. Engineering these sorts of standards into tools not only makes them perform at a high level initially, but also extends their durability and performance over time. That equates to a solid return on investment for pros that want to, as Rick says, “buy it once and be done.” It’s a prevalent tool-buying mindset these days, when for many it’s harder than ever to invest in new equipment. And, while the initial outlay for a Festool tool is typically high when compared to their competition, Bush says it’s not uncommon for the company to learn about Festool products that have been continuing to function in production environments for more than 20 years. Dollars spent on the front end should be considered in terms of continued reliable performance over the long term. Festool aims to deliver that value.
Inevitably, even the best tools can break. When that happens, Festool takes the downtime of an end user very seriously. “We measure the time it takes to repair every tool from the moment it hits our door until it’s back out the door. We have a turnaround rate of 99 percent in 48 hours. Most of those tools left (our facility) in 24 hours or less. So whether you’re a hobbyist or professional, we all have limited time to accomplish the things we need to get done, and none of us has time to for a tool to go down for service. This is why it’s critical to get tools in and out of here, ready to work again as quickly as possible.”
Suffice all of this to say, Festool is holding the bar very high no matter what might happen next on the world scene or on Wall Street. The company’s commitment to designing premium quality, high-performing and long lasting tools is unwavering. And that leads me to the exciting news Rick shared about some fresh-from the pipeline products. You may have already heard the news about Festool’s new RO 90 DX ($375), which has been available since March. It’s a Rotex sander at heart, with both an elliptical orbital action for aggressive stock removal plus a random-orbit mode for fine finish sanding.Here are two big points of additional interest: the RO 90 DX has a 3-1/2-in. round pad nearly 2 in. smaller than a typical random-orbit pad. The smaller size could come in quite handy for narrow applications like flattening face frame joints or tackling other confined jobs. Or, you can pop off the circular pad and install a triangular one, then switch the sander to its third orbital mode for fine, detail work. In addition to being highly adaptable, Rick says the little three-mode sander will benefit from Festool’s dust extraction capabilities and a full range of hook-and-loop StickFix abrasives.
Launching June 1, Festool will offer a new CXS “ultra compact” drill/driver. Rick explained that it’s a 10.8-volt Lithium-ion driver sporting a slimmer design and ergonomics, which promote greater control with less fatigue. Like Festool’s larger drill/drivers, it will come with a Centrotec interchangeable chuck system that allows quick transitions between drilling and driving tasks. The new CXS also has a belt clip, ultra-bright LED and magnetic bit storage. A right-angle attachment will be available for drilling in tight quarters as well as a three-jaw chuck that can be removed without tools. Sounds like this new CXS could have the right chops for day-to-day woodworking where we don’t need a burly tool or brute force.
Festool is also rolling out a brand new jigsaw line in June called Carvex, first as barrel-grip or D-handled corded models, and by late summer or fall a pair of cordless options that will accept any of Festool’s slide-type batteries. Rick says the Carvex saws benefit from the same industry-proven features offered by other current Festool jigsaws: Triple Blade Guidance, carbide blade jaws, splinter-free cutting and efficient dust extraction.
What’s “breakthrough” about Carvex is that there will be five different interchangeable shoes that fit over the base, designed to suit a wide variety of cutting applications. A plastic base will come standard, or you can choose from dimpled, hard fiber, steel or StickFix hook-and-loop shoes to suit general purpose cutting, rough material, low-friction applications, metalwork or delicate surfaces. An articulating foot will also be available that opens and closes like a book to tilt the saw to a range of bevel angles. Carvex jigsaws will come with brushless motors and a “stroboscopic” LED light system, which essentially synchronizes four LEDs with the blade’s speed so the blade appears to be stationary while in motion. The effect, according to Bush, makes the blade easier to track accurately on a cutting line.
Rick reports that Festool will also launch a larger CT 48 dust extractor this year that will have a 12.7-gallon capacity for really big jobs, and a whole new T-LOC Systainer latching system is already available. It streamlines the four-latch approach on current Systainers to a single front latch for faster, easier stacking, transport and access and you can even open a T-LOC Systainer in the middle of a stack. (T-LOC Systainers are fully compatible with the “classic” four-latch system; the new latch style will eventually replace the classic style.) Other new products, such as a collapsible, portable workstation for the Kapex Miter Saw (called the Kapex UG) and the Workcenter WCR 1000 (a tool storage center that fits on top of dust extractors) are new for 2011 as well.
Judging by the variety and number of fresh offerings, Festool has taken the challenge of a weakened dollar to task instead of waiting for better days to come. And, it seems that’s all part of the program for a company that focuses on moving quality and innovation forward, regardless of economy. As Rick points out, “It takes years to develop a tool…we have not slowed down in our development of future products that provide clear and tangible benefits with the quality our customers have come to expect of us.”