I had been pining for a Festool dust extractor for a while. I mentioned this to a Festool rep a few months ago, and that I was thinking of pulling the trigger on one. He said, “Can you hold off till October?” Huh? I just said I want to buy something from you. What kind of a salesman are you? Of course, I didn’t say that out loud; I think I just said, “Sure.” The wait turned out to be worth it when I received my new CT 26 dust extractor a couple weeks after it was released.
Why go green?
I have had a Festool domino for a little while, and when Festool offered 10% off of their tracksaws and tracks, I had to take the plunge (no pun intended…well, maybe a little). Of course, these tools work great, but I’m constantly amazed at how much dust they can produce. Since this affects not only the life of the tool, but the life of my lungs, a dust extractor was the next logical step. This is probably the appropriate time to make a disclaimer: My blood does not run perpetually Festool green. My attitude is that if something works, it works. I don’t care if it’s green, blue, yellow, red, pink…actually I don’t think I’ll be buying any pink tools, unless it’s for breast cancer or something. But, I digress.
Quite a few carpenters I know like Festool and their products, but are put off by the initial price. I say that if it makes you more efficient and gives you a top-quality end result, it’s less about the upfront price and more about the costs associated with not owning it. Okay, that’s the end of my rant; back to the review.
Apples to apples
For the purpose of this review, I got my hands on a CT 22, just to compare apples to apples. Let’s do a side-by-side comparison of both models and see where things have changed.
In all the photos, you will notice that the optional hose garage is attached to the CT 22. I did this for two reasons. One, it allows for better comparison, since the the CT 26 has a hose garage integrated to its design; and two, if you do have a CT 22, I can’t imagine why you wouldn’t have the garage attached, especially if you are mobile. Unless I used it in a shop set up, where I wouldn’t necessarily “roll up” every night, it only seems logical to have a place to store the hose with the unit.
As far as size goes (and we all know size matters) things are pretty much the same, in the overall scheme of things. Same basic wheel setup. Suction control, manual/auto switch, and power connection for tool-actuated startup are all the same, just slightly reconfigured. The CT 26 is about 2 lbs lighter. The gasket seal along the dust collection bin is the same. The decibel levels are nearly identical; the CT 26 measured 71db(A) and the CT 22 measured 72db(A). Amps, power cord, and hose: all unchanged. One thing the 22 has that the 26 does not is a blower port. Underneath the 22 you could connect your hose and choose “clean air out” to clear off a work space. I really don’t think losing this feature is a deal-breaker, because I don’t know how many 22 owners actually used it. As for me, well, that’s why God made compressed air.
Now let’s look at the good stuff.
As I alluded to earlier, the integrated hose garage is fantastic. Also, the integrated carrying handle seems much more stout and robust. When you remove the lid, you don’t feel even a little flex in the handle.
The removable motor/suction unit is a real plus, and doesn’t require any modifications for using accessories, such as the handle, boom arm, and so on.
I did see, on the Festool Owner’s Group, where someone actually mounted the new one-piece cord-storage component on one side of the hose garage. This required some custom modification, but is certainly an option if you have a lot of onboard accessories. I don’t use the accessory handles on either of mine, but I know at least some of you do. I suppose it could get in the way a little when it comes to changing the filter bags on the CT 22, but the 2-part system of the CT 26 makes it a non-issue. I assume wet operations would be much less cumbersome with the new system, as well, since you remove all mechanical components when you take the lid off.
Let’s talk filters.
|The CT 22 had two HEPA filters,|
but with the CT 26 they’ve gone to one HEPA filter. And changing it couldn’t be easier. Lift the green “active” handle and pull…that’s it.
Some of the functional features have been refined, too. The connecting-clasps on the CT 22 were single-pivot-and-click. The CT 26 has two pivot points and is spring loaded. This may seem insignificant, but if the handles are not secured properly on the CT 26, the spring will throw them open—which means there’s no guess-work on whether or not the unit is sealed.
The hose port was moved from the front left corner to dead-center (see photo, left). It’s only a few inches, but I noticed a big difference—when vacuuming around my shop, the CT 26 just glided behind me. That’s not to say that the CT 22 performed poorly, but, moving from one to the other, you could certainly feel the difference in how they tracked. This also may be due to the fact that the new wheels on the CT 26 have a thin hardened-rubber coating. While it is an improvement, I would’ve liked to have seen all-rubber wheels instead of hard rubber over plastic. This was the only gripe I had with the entire system.
The wheel locking system was given a welcome upgrade. The CT 22 was fine, but the CT 26 is fantastic. Instead of setting the locks individually, the CT 26 has a single-motion system: just step on a lever, and the front wheels lift off the ground, locking the unit in place. Watch this video for a quick demonstration:
When I pulled on the hose of a locked CT 22, it slid a bit, and left some tiny scratches in the floor. I had to pull hard on the locked CT 26 just to get it to budge, and when it did, the rubber on the bottom of the brake gripped like a champ. The release couldn’t be easier, too. Tap with your toe, and the spring-loaded brake hops into the “up” position.
Capacity & Filter Bags
Capacity has been increased from 5.3 to 6.3 gallons. When you compare the cavities side-by-side, the CT 26 looks nothing short of gargantuan. I bet if you yelled into it, you’d hear an echo; it’s that big.
|CT 22||CT 26|
The filter bags have also been improved. I know that the CT 22 bags are pleated, but when you put them next to each other, it looks like three CT 22 bags could fit in one CT 26 bag. Not only was the size increased, but there were steps taken to make the design more efficient. The new bags are made of a “unique, pliable fleece,” which prevents caking on the inside of the bag. When caking occurs, you lose a significant amount of suction, even if the bag is not yet full, because the filter portion of the bag is essentially clogged. These new pliable bags still inflate while in use, allowing the cake to form. But when you turn the unit off, the bag deflates, breaking the cake loose. Once paper bags are inflated they rarely deflate. So the cake remains and grows during every use. This can cause undue stress on the motor, which can lead to mechanical issues down the road. Not to mention the fact that you are paying for bags that are half full. Who needs that? It should be noted that this occurs more frequently when you are dealing with fines from sanding.
Another important factor is “how” the bags are filled. I checked mine several times during use, and, without fail, the majority of the dust was in the back half of the bag. This is due to the massive amount of suction put out by the new motor. According to Festool’s specifications, the RPMs have been increased from 24,000 to 36,000, while slightly lowering the decibel level, and decreasing the weight of the motor by 2 lbs.
The max. suction force was increased from 134 to 137 CFM, but more importantly, the Static Water Lift (SWL) was increased from 90 in. to 96 in. What does that mean? I didn’t really know either, so I read for a few hours and learned a couple things. Now, by no means am I a scientist or mathematician, so I’m going to give you the “wood shop definition.” The greater the SWL, the more suction you feel. It’s essentially the power behind the air movement.
Here’s a real-world example of how well this unit performs: I was working with a friend on a remodel, and he had to sand a 1x8x16-in. wall cap that had been filled with spackle. This was in the middle of a nearly completed great room with dark wood floors. He had planned on masking and blah, blah, blah. I said, “Why don’t you try this and see how it works.” He hooked the CT 26 up to his 5-in. Porter Cable sander and started sanding away. I watched closely, and didn’t see any dust. I thought to myself, “No way this thing can be capturing everything;” so I got my head about 12 in. away from the pad. Looking into the light of a nearby window, I couldn’t see anything. Not a puff or wisp of dust. Even after he was done, you could run your hand on the cap and barely feel anything. And the floor? Nothing. The suction on this thing is nothing short of incredible—and remember, this was not a Festool sander he was using.
This is definitely a dust extractor, not a shop vac.
The long and short of it: this new unit is a definite improvement over its predecessor. However, if you’re reading this and you own a CT 22, I’m not suggesting you go out, tie it to a tree and bash it to pieces with a shovel. If you look at other companies that lead the way in innovation and high quality, like, say, Apple or Cadillac, the new products they release are always better, quicker, and smarter than the previous versions, yet the older models retain a lot of value, because they are still far beyond the competition. The CT line from Festool is certainly worth including in that category.