Surfix Review

 

This write up is intended to allow readers to see the Festool Surfix oil kit through the eyes of professional finishers who have used it in some depth. The written aspect of this review serves as an overview of the Surfix system as a whole, while the two accompanying videos specifically feature the application and performance characteristics of Surfix.

How it Works

The Surfix is a finishing kit intended for use with three types of oils that are supplied for various small interior and exterior oiling tasks. The oil comes in small containers called bulbs. The bulbs are used to store the oil, and also to apply it, by simply taking off its white storage cap and popping on a green dispenser cap. The bulb snaps into a plastic application base, to which the applicator sponge attaches. Squeeze the bulb and the oil squirts out through an opening at the center of the sponge, and you are ready to start moving some oil.

4 Clean and Simple Steps:

Anyone who has done traditional penetrating oil finishes to enhance the natural beauty of wood, knows that it is labor intensive, and a bit undefined in process, you just keep working it until its good. Traditionally, you would use rags and synthetic steel wool (Scotchbrite pads) to work the oil into the wood. That can get messy.

Prep: Sand wood to 150 or 180 range, as you would for any penetrating oil.

  1. Set up dispenser and apply oil
  2. After 15 minutes, work oil into wood with supplied green pad
  3. Wait 6 hours, apply second oil coat
  4. Wipe and buff with supplied white pad

Here is a video demonstration showing the steps:

 

While we are usually cautious to implement radically non-traditional application methods for traditional techniques or finishes, the Surfix is a well-designed system for working with wood and oil finishes.

Kit comes in a Systainer 3, containing:

– 20 assorted abrasive 6″ sheets (Rubin/Brilliant) gritted for wood prep
– 3 oil bulbs full of each oil type (each with its own dispenser cap)
– Applicator Base
– 5 replacement (yellow) sponges
– 5 coarse vlies discs (green 6″)
– 5 fine vlies discs (white 6″)
– lightweight applicator storage tin

The OILS:

The oil comes in three flavors, two of which are interior. The One Step is a light duty for general purpose use on interior items that don’t see much abuse. There is also a Heavy Duty interior oil for surfaces requiring more durability, and an Exterior grade oil. These are natural, non-solvent oils with very little odor, and without the familiar stink of other penetrating oils.

The 3 oil bulbs (containers) in the kit come with .3 liters of each oil. When the bulbs become empty, they are refillable. Full replacement bulbs are available, and a fully stocked five liter oil refill dispenser is also available. Empty containers will not be available for purchase.

The TDS for the Surfix oils indicates 1 g/l voc which is very low. Low is good. Having a 6 hour in between coat time with any oil is considerably more efficient than the typical 24 hour oil recoat time because it allows start to finish to occur in the same day.

You can see in the video demo above that the oil is milky in color and consistency compared to traditional penetrating (wood) oils. The Surfix oils feel like linseed oil in the way they work. They are plant based oils with some wax fortification. This formulation lends itself particularly well to the mechanical manipulation (sander buffing) that builds the finish. While it would be physically possible to install any oil you want into the bulbs when empty, the Surfix oils seem to really drive the system. Substituting other oil types, such as tung or polymerized, would likely not be as pleasing of an experience given the need for the oil to be slick and wipe-able, and also respond well to the vlies buffing. Not to mention, they would be slower drying.

APPLICATOR Sponges (yellow)

The sponge applicators are a nice blend. They are soft enough to hold oil, which reduces drag and sponge wear by helping you to keep the wood surface wet and slick during application. The sponges are also firm enough to manipulate oil on the wood surface without rolling up and plowing oil on the front edge. The yellow sponge is good for the duration of a small project, and the kit comes with a small tin to keep the applicator wet and reasonably air tight in during the 6 hour hiatus between coats. If you are doing production finishing of multiple pieces, the sponge would be good for at least a couple of days. We recommend starting each project with a new applicator sponge. There are 5 replacement yellow sponges in the kit.

VLIES Buffing Pads

The green and white vlies perform similar to synthetic steel wool for working the oil into the wood surface. Mounted to a Festool sander, the Vlies makes the resulting finish more even and the process more efficient than rubbing by hand. The green vlies has the harder job of the two. Because it is the initial material manipulator into the raw wood, it is both applying and removing a fair amount of oil, and it is not afraid to show it visually, but with no compromise in performance. You will see some gummy residue in the pad on completion, but no swirls, sticky clumping or pilling. The white vlies, which is finer, gets better mileage due to its positioning on the back end of the project. The green and white vlies are available separately in 5″ for 125 owners.

CRITICAL: SANDER NOT INCLUDED

The only thing you need in order to use the stock Surfix kit is a 6″ Festool sander. Either an RO150 or an ETS150. Both work very well with the Surfix system. Our preference so far has been the ETS because it is better balanced and easier to float with one hand during buffing – it’s nice to have a hand free to feel the surface. We found that it worked best to use the lower half of the motor speed power band on the sander. Extraction is not required. It is fun to run a Festool sander without the extractor hose for a change. After the initial prep sand there is no extraction need, and the 4 steps in the finishing process are super clean.

Tips:

You will likely only generate one residual rag when using the Surfix system. And while the oil is comparatively low voc and low toxicity in relation to other oils, it is still recommended procedure to soak used wiping cloths, applicator sponges and vlies pads in water after use and prior to disposal. It’s just a good habit.

As noted in the durability video at the top of this article, for Surfix oil application on countertop, bathroom, bar, wet area or other high exposure risk areas, we do recommend taking wood species (grain openness, moisture content, porosity) into consideration when choosing your initial grit to sand to prior to first oil application. We also recommend applying the oil liberally and extending the vlies buffing times to ensure penetrations and grain seal.

Limitations:

  • Probably best to avoid using the Surfix applicator on overhead finishing tasks, such as wood ceilings.
  • Capable of small scale verticals, and most adroit in horizontal orientation.
  • Requires frequent refills on larger scale tasks.

Surfix Defined

This is a well-stocked accessory kit for Festool 6″ sanders. As noted, the vlies component of the system can be modified by the user who prefers to replace the 6″ vlies with 5″, opening the Surfix up for use with 125 class Festool sanders. For that matter, users can create their own customized Surfix kit entirely by purchasing whichever individual components they need.

While this review covers the Surfix “Kit”, Festool will be making the individual components of the system available for purchase. So you could assemble your own customized kit if you already have a systainer, a sander with green and white vlies, and you just needed the oil and applicator components. The kit is the most cost effective package, but the components will be individually available as replacement items or custom kit creation staples.

We are seeing the Surfix priced at $145, a reasonable price point given the sum of its parts, its systemized nature, cleanliness, and quality of finish. Surfix creates a rubbed oil finish, using tools instead of hand manipulation of the oil. While we still honor the craft of chasing down a traditional hand rubbed finish, there is value in getting to a better finish, cleaner and more efficiently these days through process and equipment advancements. Our appreciation to FestoolUSA for providing the kit for testing prior to Surfix release.

We are happy to answer questions and discuss the Surfix with commentors below.

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About the Author

About the Author: Scott Burt is a contractor and freelance writer whose column "From the Field" has appeared in American Painting Contractor magazine (www.paintmag.com) since 2008. His writing and projects also appear in other print and digital venues. This site is an extension of Scott's publication work, and he encourages readers to leave comments and questions about articles published here. Hope to hear from you! Scott's Google Profile .

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  1. Michael R says:

    Hi, I am working on a piano lid which I had stripped and stained.
    Afterward (a couple of days later) I applied the light oil using the surfix applicator, waited 15 minutes, then worked it in with my ETS sander and green applicator. I then wiped it all with a clean rag. The next day (today) I followed the instructions and fit the sander with Brillant 320 and started sanding lightly. It immediately removed the colour of the lid. So, a couple of questions;
    – What went wrong? This was not a new stain, we had plenty of experience with it. There was no contamination.
    – What can I do from here without stripping the entire lid? I really don’t want to do that! What remedies are there? I have wasted materials and time and am not at all happy.
    – re: the green sponge. Does it have to be changed after each use? So far every time I have used it it got pretty dirty right away.
    – re: the green sponge. Are they washable?
    Thank you.

  2. Hi,
    What is the advantage of the Surfix oils over varethane?
    I have an ETS 125 (5″). Can this be used as a polisher as well as a sander? If so, what are the best products to use when polishing the surface oils? eg. pads, sponges, etc.
    Thank you.

    • Scott Burt says:

      Hi Michael, sorry about the delay in response to your inquiry. Surfix oils are penetrating oils that emulate a traditional hand rubbed oil finish, but without the manual component. I believe Vsrathane is a film forming poly, so that would be a different type of coating entirely. The ets sanders can be used for polishing, as long as you are able to outfit it with Vlies abrasive. I think Festool offers recommended polishes, not specific to Surfix oils, but in general.

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