When you start looking for a quality dust collector to complement your work, there's a lot to consider besides price. The Festool CT 36 E AC is the top choice of professionals, but what attracts so many?
Stay at Festool for a long time and you'll hear them talk about tools as systems. The effort our German friends put into their designs goes beyond the bounds of OCD. This is exactly the mindset you want when you are producing high-quality results.
Even a dust extractor is part of any tool system in the Festool range. It's not just CFM and suction, though. So let’s take a deeper look at how the Festool CT 36 E AC compares to the rest of the industry right now.
Can hose really be a feature worth talking about?
Absolutely! Festool includes an 11-1/2' antistatic hose. It's not the longest you'll see in the industry, but it's intentional. The longer the hose, the greater the loss of performance, so using the shortest possible hose is actually beneficial.
Since the Festool CT 36 E AC is designed for use with Planex grinders, it comes with a 1-1/2" diameter hose like you'll find on most oil extractors in this class like that. However, if you intend to use it with other Festool sanders, you will need to use their smaller diameter hose (27mm/1.06″) for best performance in these applications.
Having a self-cleaning filter cleaning system is part of Table 1 compliance with OSHA's silica dust rules. The other is equipped with a HEPA filter (required in some applications). While you can get the Festool CT 36 with a HEPA filter, you also don't get the self-cleaning feature. But Festool's focus is not on concrete, but on carpentry, paint and plasterboard. So don't stress about it, especially when the stock filter is down to 1 micron.
The automatic cleaning system helps prevent filter clogging and loss of suction performance. Since the filter traps particles, it can be difficult to get air through it. The self-cleaning system simply helps knock the larger particles into the bag while preventing the smallest particles from escaping.
Auto Clean will work in both automatic (power tool activated) and manual modes. By turning the power dial all the way to the left or right, you can also have the system run an automatic cleaning cycle when you need it. The other two dials you see adjust the length of time between cleaning cycles from none to every 12 seconds. There are separate dials for manual and automatic opening modes.
Almost every dust collector these days has a straight-through power plug. But you need to be careful – you can't run a 15 amp miter saw through a duster that also pulls 15 amps, because they share power. Festool recommends that you do not exceed 3.7 amps when using tethered tools to reduce the risk of fire. One feature that is missing compared to most other extractors is a power dial, so you can increase the power available to the tool. But Festool believes that you shouldn't sacrifice decimator performance just to run one through the CT 36.
If you're still not convinced Festool sees the world through a system lens, take a look at the top of the unit. With the best wire and hose storage in the industry, Festool has a considerable advantage. Everything wraps neatly around the top so you don't have to worry about wires or hoses falling off the sides of the case.
Festool Systainers will also lock on top – even with hoses protruding into them.
CFM and hydraulic lifting
You'll see CFM on every dust collector. Cubic feet per minute is how we measure the amount of air a dust collector draws in. As with most performance specs, higher is better. But buyer beware—not all manufacturers measure at the same point. We will test from the end of the hose where the work is actually done.
The Festool CT 36 E AC has 138 CFM. You'll see numbers well over 150 in some of the other options, so it's a little lower. However, this is not enough. Even the CT SYS Portable Dust Collector has enough CFM for the sanding tasks we use it for.
On the other hand, we have water lifters or suction. We use lift capacity to measure the weight of water an extractor can lift. Again, the higher the number the better. Since you can directly convert this measurement to various other measurements, you don't always think of it as the water level in inches. Our test rig uses 2-1/2" tubing, so it doesn't quite match the same tests as other extractors.
However, we've run this test against most of the top names and have a pretty solid baseline to work with. Our current leader at 85.0 inches of lift. The Festool tool measures 81-3/4″—the second tallest we’ve tested.
Another thing we looked at was how much the water lift was reduced during filter cleaning. Our current record is a drop of only 4 inches and the worst lift loss is an astounding 30.25 inches. Festool drops over 20 inches. That may seem like a lot, but it's better than most we've tested.
Good performance with a new, clean filter is one thing. But how much power is lost after use?
After cutting and sanding with the miter saw for a while, I also cleared the workshop floor and some tools to give the extractor enough sawdust and grime to chew through. Surprisingly, there is very little performance degradation. The only difference is that the water lift drops about 2 inches during the automatic cleaning cycle.
Scientific testing is all well and good, but real-world performance speaks volumes. I have used the Festool CT 36 E AC with several sanders and found the performance to be excellent. Of course, the feature set makes it easier to use than the other options we offer, and the cord/hose management makes pulling it out and putting it away a lot easier.
Compared to other extractors we've tested, the miter saw's performance is equally impressive. Admittedly, both applications use the smaller 1.06-inch hose, which gives us more suction power. Once we finish working on the new Planex we will update you on the 1-1/2" hose and its capabilities.
The Festool CT 36 E AC Self-Cleaning Dust Extractor is a good example of why CFM isn't everything. With the second-best hydro lift we've tested, it's capable of moving larger debris better than most other options on the market. Once the sawdust and shavings are moving, 138 CFM is more than enough to ensure it ends up in your stash bag.
The self-cleaning feature is sure to maintain high performance when you're sanding with the Planex or working on plasterboard. However, it also raised the price of the HEPA unit from $756 to $875. Since self-cleaning models don't have a HEPA rating, you might want to take this into account, depending on your situation. For most professionals, though, a 1-micron filter is enough to trap dust and keep your workspace clean.
There is a noticeable gap in performance between a $500-$600 dust collector and a dust collector over $700. The good news is that when you add the Festool CT 36 to your Festool tools, you're not just buying a simplified system – you're getting more performance too.
Festool CT 36 E AC Dust Collector Specifications
- Power consumption: 350 – 1200 watts
- Weight: 33.51 lbs (15.2 kg)
- Rubber Insulated Power Cord: 25 ft (7.5 m)
- Container/Filter Bag Capacity: 9.5 gal (36 liters) / 8.9 gal (34 liters)
- Filter Surface Area: 979 in² (6 318 cm²)
- maximum. Volume Flow: 138 CFM (3 900 L/min)
- maximum. Vacuum: 2.45 static water liters (24 000 Pa)
- Price: $875
- Warranty: 3 years