What do a real estate agent, a dentist, an architect, a couple of woodworkers, and a father/sons machinist trio have in common? They were all attendees of the two-day Festool Cabinet Construction Class that I was lucky enough to get into.
I’ll preface this article by saying that my first job within this industry was at a small custom cabinet shop, so it’s fair to say that I’ve made a couple cabinets before. Why in the world would I go to cabinet making class when I’m totally satisfied with my process now?
There are always new ways to accomplish the tasks we’ve done for years. Some ideas we discard, some we embrace, and some we just glean a little tidbit from and add it to our bag of tricks. Plus, I have always been interested in how to make cabinets without a table saw. I was hoping this class would shed a little light on that subject, so I could make an informed decision on whether I should change or tweak my approach. Other than that, I really didn’t know what to expect when I walked into the class.
There were eight people in my group—a little more than normal—but, just by happenstance, we had not one but two great instructors, each of whom specialize in two very different aspects of the Festool system. Steve Bace, the head trainer at Festool Las Vegas, came from a deep background in solid surface fabrication before he joined the Festool family; and Brian Sedgeley, the head of the Indianapolis location, specializes in cabinet and furniture construction.
After a brief introduction from our trainers, and a five-minute roundtable with all the students, we walked into the ‘classroom’. If you are even vaguely familiar with the Festool line, let me tell you—walking through their door is the equivalent of being a kid and having Willy-Wonka open the gate to the chocolate factory.
Everyone’s eyes got really wide and started to dilate; I think one guy even wept…no, it wasn’t me (okay, yes it was). Hey, tens of thousands of square feet of green and black might do it to you, too.
An MFT-3 was your desk, the Kapex stations and multiple guide rails were your assistants, and the one hundred systainers filled with every tool or accessory you could think of was the choir. We walked around for a few minutes, just taking it all in. Finally we gathered around and got to work.
They split us up into three groups and gave us our instructions. Each group was to create an FF lower cabinet and euro upper—both complete with 5mm adjustable shelf pin holes. The nice thing about this process is that you can set up this operation at your shop or on-site. Space is your only limitation; and, as you’ll see, you don’t always have to have a ton of space to do quality work. We were also encouraged to ask questions and work at our own pace. “We are not here to build two quality cabinets,” they insisted. “We are here so that when you leave you will have the knowledge to do this again one hundred times over, with confidence.” I really appreciated that approach.
We started by breaking down sheet goods for our carcasses.
|They walked us through the proper way to set up a MFT…|
|…and attach the parallel guides for our long rips.|
They really did walk us through a good deal of the Festool family—both old and new. Speaking for myself, it allowed me to learn the idiosyncrasies of these tools, some of which I had owned for a couple of years. For instance, I had no idea that if you measure from the bottom plate of the Domino to the center of the cutter, it is exactly 10mm. Why is that important? Because if you want to put a fixed shelf between two side panels that is not more than an inch or two from either end, that darn flip down plate is gonna be in the way. Knowing this little tidbit about the 10mm offset enables you to draw a line where your shelf (or shelves) will go, clamp a straight edge to your work piece, and your Domino will line up almost dead center of your 19mm shelf (did I mention this class dealt heavily in metric?). I never knew this trick, and the Domino was the first Festool tool I owned!
We also got a demonstration on the Kapex for sizing our dimensional stock to finished length, which was nice, because I was still trying to figure out if it was really worth the extra coin. Of course, the action was sweet, and the footprint was small, and dust collection was…you get the idea.
But I already knew these things. What really stood out to me was the laser and angle finder that comes with the unit. I had read about how accurate each of them was, but seeing was truly believing.
|When you take a reading in (or around) a corner, you simply bring the jig back to the saw, turn on the laser…|
|…and align the center line on the jig with the dashed laser line. You have now established at what degree your miter will be cut.|
My least-skilled employee could master this within minutes. I like anything that takes the guesswork or calculation out of the equation. If there’s an easy way for me to do something, while getting a quality result, without having to think about it too much, I’m in.
For routing dados, and for trimming edge banding, we turned to the MFK 700—Festool’s ‘little router’. I say that with a little bit of a chuckle, because with its nearly one horsepower motor, micro-adjustability, and wide offset bases, it’s really the router I reach for most often. It’s so comfortable in the hand, and is the only router that comes to mind with which you can place more than 50% of the base on your work. Most router bases are, of course, round, with the bit being dead center. If you are edge routing you will have nearly half your baseplate on the work and the other half, well, that’s up to you. With the offset base on the 700, you can keep the vast majority of the plate on your work—and the handle gives you added stability.
I haven’t even mentioned the other base that lets you do edge trimming. By that I mean flush trimming materials applied to edges. For this project we used iron-on birch edge banding, and, as we all know, you have to trim it. Where I would normally use an edge banding trimmer consisting of a couple plastic components with flush cutting blades and some springs in the middle, we used a router that was tilted almost 90 degrees. This stuff was really thin, so of course it trimmed easily; but the nice thing about this setup is that if we had glued on a piece of solid stock that was, say 1/2 in. thick, we could still have used this exact same setup to trim it.
For boring the 5mm adjustable shelf holes we used the LR 32. I’ve been eyeing this part of the system for a while, since I already had the OF 1010 router (the 1400 will work too, but the setup is slightly different), and my jig/drill approach did not always give me the best results. I also didn’t want to have a dedicated machine for drilling holes or for cup hinges. Blum makes a great press that will do both, but I don’t have space to lug one around with me. Tools that will do more than one job win out nearly every time in my book.
We discussed layout, the standard backset of shelf holes, distance from top or bottom of panels for hinge plates, and whether or not a stop- or through-hole is needed. Once you’ve figured out the setup, the actual boring is a breeze—and really fast, too. You can almost race through the process and still have an absolutely clean hole every single time. (Just as a side note, after this class I went home and bought this system, and I’ve used it a bunch of times already. Melamine, plywood (both pre- and unfinished), and MDF all respond the same: Flawless every time.)
On the second day, we finished our projects about ninety minutes early, and were given two options: leave early, or stay and putter around the shop. Duh, which one do you think we chose?
This is where individual questions and opinions started coming out. One student kept mentioning how much he loved his RAS and the instructor echoed how much he liked it as well. After a couple more mentions of this tool I finally blurted out, “I’m sorry, what’s a RAS?” The room grew quiet, and all eyes turned to me. Imagine crickets chirping. Finally, the instructor said, “Let me show you.” I felt a little bit better when over half the class told me that they had no idea what a RAS was, either.
They brought out the Rotary Sander/Grinder/’Animal’ they called the RAS, drew an arbitrary ‘scribe line’ on a piece of plywood—sort of like what you might encounter on a filler strip butting to an irregular wall—and started in on it. Holy cow, this thing found the line as quickly as a bloodhound, and followed the trail all the way to the end in a minute. And we removed a lot of material. I couldn’t believe the dust collection either. All that stock was sanded off and without any distinguishable dust. Wow.
As I mentioned earlier, Steve Bace comes from a solid surface background. He had mentioned that the OF 2200 was what he used to rout complex edges on some of his material. When someone spotted a chunk of solid surface that was nearly 2 in. thick, the question was posed, “Can you show us how to rout that?” He immediately pulled out a complex detail router bit that was nearly the size of a baseball. “This router can put a clean edge on this stock in one pass.” I think he saw the look of disbelief in my eyes, which is why he looked at me and said, “and Matt’s gonna show us.” What?!? I’ve never used this router before, and all my instincts were telling me that this was not a good idea. But I had to step up, right?
The first thing I noticed when I grabbed this tool is that it’s HEAVY. Actually, 17.2 lbs. to be exact. My first thought was, “talk about user fatigue….” But then, with the enormous bit raised above the baseplate, I set the router on the table, turned it on, and let go (don’t try that at home; the instructor was right next to me). It just sat there humming and didn’t move a millimeter. The weight is actually comforting, because you know there is not only a lot of power, but a lot of beef, too. When I finally began to rout I didn’t even realize that the bit had contacted the edge until the bearing came into contact with it. I moved forward cautiously, but soon realized that the only thing slowing me down was me. This machine carved right through like a champ, and with the dust collection on, the air was as clean as a whistle.
Every question we could think to ask was not only answered, but also demonstrated, when possible. I walked out of those two days with new ideas on how to use my tools (and also with a few more on my wish list).
In the end, did I totally revamp the way I do things? Not really. I have a slightly different approach when it comes to cabinet backs, but I still like my way of joining face frames together. I did walk away with a bunch of new ideas on how to do things that I might not have ever thought of. Some apply to cabinets, some to woodworking and trim carpentry, others I may never use, but I now have the knowledge in my skill set, should the need ever arise for me to use it.
This class also re-instilled the ‘systems approach’: Get a system and use it—whether it is tools, techniques, software, whatever. Figure out the best way that meets your needs, and then repeat, repeat, repeat. I was a believer long before I took this class, but I have an even deeper appreciation for it after those two days.
If you are thinking of attending one of these classes—do it (and if the class is full, send Festool an email and tell them you want to go. My guess is that if they are inundated with requests they may be forced to add a class or two). You may hear some things that you already know, but odds are you will also hear some that you don’t. You may even find that spark of genius that inspires you to try something new and innovative.
Thats an amazing opportunity. Thank you for sharing your experiecnes. I look forward to attending one as well someday! Great article too!
Matt: You did a great job describing the Festool class. I’ve been super lucky and have been myself. They are all you said and more. We are so fortunate in our trade to be living in an age where we can gather knowledge from great professionals like Steve Bace, Brian Sedgeley and Gary Katz. If you have a chance to learn from them do it. You’ll be happy you did.
Oh ya, way ahead of you on that one. The guys who are the current true craftsmen are not going to doing this forever. I thinks it’s our job to keep that fire alive, but at the same time apply new tools and techniques that they were not as fortunate to have at their disposal so early in their careers. This class is shining example of that commitment to old world craftsmanship blended with today’s latest and greatest technologies.
Another great TiC article Matt.
I’ve never taken this exact kind of workshop, but I’ve found that group training classes are almost always valuable and even if the entire thing is a re-hash of what you already know and/or do. Even if you teach this material – you’ll learn something new.
Couldn’t agree more. I’ve found that the few things that I’ve taught (or written) give me a better understanding of my own process. The old saying really is true, “The teacher learns more than the student.”
I inherited a bunch of “Festools” saws, sanders, routers with a ton of adapters.
The only problem is no instruction book on how to use.
Does anybody know if this information is available?
Let me know,
I’ve had the privilege of attending three Festool classes in Lebanon. Every one was an eye-opener for me, and a wonderful learning experience. Brian Sedgeley is a terrific instructor that invests himself fully in the classes and goes the extra mile to ensure that all attendees get the bang for the buck. I find it encouraging that the President of Festool USA often drops in to meet the attendees and query them for their input as to what can be done better. If you have th eopportunity to attend a class, by all means jump on it as soon as the announcement hits your email in box. Classes are small and fill up in minutes.
This is a link to various instructional material including the manuals;
Also consider joining the Festool Owners Group forum. That is where the link is from.
I’ve been to 3 of the classes. All of the staff was great. The classes enlightening.
Thanx for reading Tom, and for posting the link.
Festool’s documentation is poor. Fortunately they have contracted with others to write excellent product guides.
I can suggest both Rick Christopherson’s manuals:
and Jerry Work’s guides:
http://www.jerrywork.com/ (click on the “How To” tab at the top)
Enjoy your inheritance!
Thanx for the comment and the links Fred. I wasn’t familiar with Rick’s work but after a few minutes on his site, it’s easy to tell he’s put some time into it. Jerry’s stuff is also exemplary.
Fred, all I can say is you are one lucky dog. Have fun!
Your article conveys a perfect blend of awe, envy, and humor when describing your use and education of Festools. I feel much the same way every time they’re put to use in my shop, on onsite, or in an article like this. I don’t mean to make it sound like a love affair, but that feeling just never seems to fade. Is it a midnight blue and green version of crack, or what?
While I have been using Festools for awhile now, your article also confirms the benefits (and good fortune) of being able to participate in a class such as this. To someday experience that mythical ” Wall-O-Festool” would alone be worth it.
Thanks for a great article!
Thanx Sonny. I too share that same bit of awe and wonder.
I often tell people that I am a passionate yet reluctant Festool user. Passionate because I’ve literally never used a brand of tools that is this easy to use and gives you such incredible results. My reluctance only lies in the “what if”. What if this doesn’t live up to the hype, or there’s no way it can be that amazing; it’s only a _____. Luckily, the things I would like to see done differently are FAR outweighed by the things that I would have never thought to do in a thousand years.
And there are certainly those out there that are reading this that are thinking to themselves, “both these guys ARE on crack” (trust me, I used to be one of em). All I have to them is give it a chance I had no idea what I was missing up until a couple years ago. Now I look back and can’t remember how I used to function back then.
Thanx for the comment.
I couldn’t help reading your last thought without reflecting on how I used to function as well. I don’ think of myself as that old of a guy (45) , but I remember how I used to operate as an apprentice for a master carpenter 40 years my senior. He didn’t own ANY miter saw or ANY nail guns. We had a custom handsaw clamping cradle for sharpening our handsaws with a file and we made up a wooden miter box every few jobs when the 45 and 90 degree slots got sloppy from the handsaw use. I learned the old crown molding cutting mantra, “upside down and backwards” the first few weeks on the job. We bought 4,6, and 8 penny finish nails by the pound all the time (in those thin little brown bags that were perpetually ripping and spilling all over the truck; I know because I was the one that always had to pick through and sort them back out to a proper containers) and sharpened our planer blades with water stones daily. His most technically “advanced” tools were a router and the original edition Rockwell hinge butt template for “production” door hanging.
Consequently we were operating as small potatoes compared to most remodeling companies, but I did learn some good fundamentals and set a bench mark with which to gauge where I am now. I obviously don’t yearn for the “good” old days. Rather, I think back on those days and relish the competitive position I am in with today’s specialty power tools (including to a large degree, Festools), specialty fastening guns ( framing, staplers, micro finish, plasti-cap, etc), and specialty adhesives (polyurethane, pvc,and cyanurate) at my disposal. What a wonderful time to work in the trade and reflect on how far our tools of our trade have come in such a relatively short amount of time. Given that fact, it’s hard to complain about some of minor shortcomings of today’s tools. Doesn’t mean they can’t always be better, but boy do we (AND our customers) have it good.
Great rant William, and I’m glad you brought up adhesives in the same conversation. I remember when Gorilla Glue hit the market. Oh man did I make some mistakes with that stuff, haha. I still consider myself a bit of a noob at 34, but I too look back at the fundamentals that were pounded into me early on.
Learning to cut flitches of veneer by hand and laminate them curved walls (thanx to Gunnar, the cantankerous old Norwegian boatbuilder) to carving tangent handrail parts (Seth, the guy a couple years younger than me who has forgotten more than I’ll ever know). Both used the most modest in tools, yet produced amazing results.
All that to say this, “Craftsmanship come FIRST”. Give a craftsman a tree and a rock and he’ll more than likely make it happen. The tools mean nothing without someone competent wielding them.
Thanx for the comment. I enjoyed reading it :)
No criticisms? I have most of the Festool line and find them all very good, but there are a few things that could be improved. One is the hammer-head shark attachment for the Domino. Try stepping down two boards for a glue up. You go one way on board “A”, and the other way on board “B” and they are supposed to line up well when you use that attachment. But, there is a little error that accumulates, and you will find that the claims for this tool’s usefulness are a little over-blown.
I think Festool calls them “end stops”.
Well I don’t know about no criticisms. There’s no such thing as the ‘ideal product’; if there was, a single company would make said product and all others would bow down with fear & trembling. Hey, there are 3 other versions of track saws that I can think of off the top of my head. Those other guys wouldn’t make em if they didn’t think they were better. But I digress.
I think I’m gonna start calling it the ‘hammer-head’ attachment after reading your comment. I like it :). I don’t use it often and I certainly wouldn’t use it for glue up. I like to make one tight fitting mortise to seat the domino in and a slightly wider mating mortise so I have some flexibility during assembly. Overstated usefulness? Eh, maybe. Depends on the kind of work you do I suppose. I just know this, I was afraid to use my Domino for a month after I got and now…well let’s just say I’ve forgotten what I did with my biscuit joiner. Is it Domino the end-all, be-all of human existence? That’s for you to decide. Is it the best thing available on the market for that tasks it completes. That’s simple: yes.
Oh ya, you want a critique. MFT’s: Wish they were bigger and lighter. Get to work Festool engineers.
Thanks for the link to waterfront woods supplements. This is what should have been in the box, especially for the price.
Can you realistically break down a 4×8 sheet on the mft?
I’ll accept thanks on behalf of Fred Linthicum. He posted the link to waterfront. I’d never seen his site. That is what’s so great about this forum. Information is shared beyond just the standard content.
The question you posed could (and probably should) spawn another article all on it’s own. If you want the short answer from me, I can give it to you. No. Are there things I like about the MFT. Heck yes. In fact, I had what I’d call an MFT epiphany when I took this class. You spend 2 days building cabinets without a table saw in sight. That’s close to sacrilegious in my book ;) I can’t share my idea yet because frankly I’m still working out the bugs, but rest assured when I do I intend to share it.
Thanx for reading.
Great Job Matt. I think anyone who owns Festool equipment and understands the quality and innovation that these tools bring to woodworking should learn tho use them to their maximum capability. I can’t wait to get to a class. I have quite a shop of Festool and I still figure things out as I’m fumbling trying to accomplish a project. I know I don’t use the 1080 table to its potential. I wish that Festool offered more classes and maybe some closer to home. I will get to one. Someday!
Really cool stuff!! I just wish their tools didnt cost so much.
I would say this is by far the biggest complaint they get. I don’t work for em but I’m thinking they’d back me up. I’ll try to keep this brief.
We all have to look at ‘cost’, but remember cost does not always equal $$$. I live in an old house that didn’t cost a lot to buy, but it’s so inefficient that is costs me extra to operate. My iPhone costs more than some other phones, but it saves me so much time that it justifies the expense. You don’t have to own every tool (although we’d all like to). Start with the one that makes most sense to you. I had the track saw for a year before I bought the dust extractor. Why? Economics, plain and simple. But now I look back at all the time I spent (remember: time>money) cleaning up and I should’ve moved on it sooner.
Bottom line: Is it more expensive? Yes. Is it worth every extra penny? Yes…and then some.
The other thing to remember is… Festool is not made by “slave” labor in China or some other low value economy. Everything is engineered and made by a craftsman for a craftsman. These are not your average homeowner tools, but designed for professionals. EVERY time I use my track saw, or even the Trion jigsaw, and think “Why didn’t I buy this sooner?”. I think that is typically the response from most people.
So what if they’re expensive? How many threads on internet forums or online reviews have you seen complaining about the low quality of other “top” tool brands? Festool seems to be the only company that really has their act together. We can either pony up the bucks for quality or go complain on amazon that our miter saw fences were not square from the factory.
I had the opportunity to visit the training facility in Henderson last month during the PDCA Convention in Vegas (for painters). It was really cool to talk shop with the trainers, in the sense of making connections between finish carpentry and paint finishes. Continuing education is huge for all of us.
Great article! I have enjoyed every moment I’ve spent in Henderson with Steve Bace and have yet to handle a tool there that didn’t result in a more complete understanding of the tools capabilities and value to me as a woodworker under the tutelage of Steve Bace. I will echo the sentiments of others here, If you get the chance, it’s well worth your time.
Do you have any online course to learn about festool further