A Festool DTS400 Sander Reduces Labor in My Love of Painting

Reducing Labor with a Festool DTS400 Sander and Extraction System

Festool dts400 sander

The author uses her Festool DTS400 sander with dust extraction for surface prep.

For much of my painting career I struggled with the antiquated mind set that performing a task in an environmentally friendly manner meant doing it by hand. Traditional painting tasks seemed to have always been done manually – on a planet historically flush with resources, blue skies, and clean oceans. We didn’t think so much about smog, endangered species or a giant vortex of plastic trash stretching miles long out in the ocean – much less the immediate working conditions on our jobs.

Until recently, this was my approach to sanding and surface prep practices as part the Harmony Haus  philosophy. Everything was done by hand. It was painful, tedious, exhausting and messy. I thought painting was just a labor of love. Everything was hand sanded, from simple drywall repairs, to cabinet refinishing to smoothing out skim coats on entire walls. It sounds ridiculous to me even now as I’m writing this. What an inefficient backwards way of working! But I will only run an environmentally conscious painting company so was there any other way?

Power tools seemed out of the question.

But then I began to develop pain in my wrist and elbow from all this grueling manual work. After only five years working at my dream job as a self-employed painter, was I washed up already? If so, what would I do now?! Two years ago I had taken a fine woodworking class for fun: eight weeks of working with wood. Next to painting day in and day out, this was heaven. While we primarily worked with hand tools, again an old fashioned way to go about building something to all but the serious fine wood craftsman, I believe you have to start with the basics and know how to create a dovetail joint or mitered joint by hand before moving onto mechanical tools. Anyhow, after weeks of working on our projects, we did the finishing work with electric sanders hooked up to a vac. For these steps we used  Festool equipment.

Festool dts400 sander

The pointed front edge of the tool allows complete sanding into corner details.

While I loved the quality and ease of use of these top notch tools, it somehow didn’t click at the time that I could take this technology and apply it to my painting practices. It wouldn’t be until a bit later that my “lightbulb moment” would happen! As my hands and joints continued to grumble over manual work, I began doing some research around the same time that Festool introduced their sanders and extractors to the professional paint market. This was when I made the connection, and it clicked for me.

I realized I could use Festool in my business! I already knew they were the best woodworking tools because of my previous experience. But now, my mind made the connection that my body was calling for, and I was immediately sold. I was preparing for an upcoming project that included refinishing two dressers, three bookcases, two bathroom vanities and a row of kitchen cabinets in addition to all the repair and painting of the walls. It was a turning point for me to realize that there was no way I was going to be able to accomplish this in a feasible time frame for a reasonable price using my outdated and painful manual methods.

How I Started to Integrate Power Prep Gear

I placed my first Festool order of a CT Mini Hepa Vac, DTS 400 EQ Delta Sander and a whole slew of Granat abrasives post-haste! My order arrived just days later and I broke it in on this big job. After day one on the site when I was able to sand and prime all of the previously mentioned items, I was astonished by the speed and cleanliness that my new set up allowed. Also, the simple organizational nature of how the tools relate to each other was a first, and an improvement to not only my cleanliness, but my efficiency. I couldn’t imagine living without my Festool products in the future. My own work conditions, and the experience for my customers would be changed profoundly.

festool clean

The Mini extractor allows the author to sand in the painting/drying area onsite

The high quality of craftsmanship that goes into the production of these tools in tandem with their comfort, ease of use and the results they deliver is absolutely amazing. I have the smallest of the Hepa extractors which is just the perfect size for me to be able to comfortably maneuver and haul when I’m working that third floor walk-up. I almost never pick up a sanding block these days but for the smallest of repairs. It took a little figuring out on my part finding the sweet spot between sander speed and vacuum suction, but once I got the hang of it I was off! After hours of sanding, one piece to the next, I didn’t encounter a single pang of hand fatigue. The DTS sander was perfect for open planes as well as getting tight into corners.

Granat: Icing on my Prep Cake

The Granat sandpaper is also a marvel in itself. I think I went through maybe two pads to refinish all of those items on that first job. It didn’t load up with dust at all and I probably had to switch to the second one because I tore the heck out of the point on the first sheet from sheer enthusiasm and not wanting to stop. It seems that the combination of sander and extractor reduce friction at the surface, which helps the Granat to remain effective longer than I was used to. Again, a tribute to a well thought out system.

The Customer Experience

dust free

The author uses her DTS400Mini extractor combo to sand small scale wall patches

The speed with which I was able to refinish all that furniture along with the time alone I didn’t have to spend on draping every single thing in the open floor plan unit I was working in followed by countless hours of particulate clean up on that first big job with my new tools more than paid for my initial up front cost. And now I can truly offer an environmentally friendly service because my sanding is actually dust free. It’s clean, quick, relatively quiet and I’m not coating the home owner’s belongings in a fine mist of dust, and then charging them to clean up the mess I made. I’m still building my business and don’t have a workshop as of yet, so when I’m working on this type of refinishing work, it’s absolutely essential that I am able to do so within the client’s home without creating a huge mess. More often than not the homeowner is curious and drawn to my tools as I wheel them in, they just look cool and look like they mean business!

So what have I learned?

It took me five years to come around to Festool and now just months later I’m already planning on what to purchase next to grow my collection. Since my initial purchases, I have also ordered and received Granat soft roll pads so that the rare hand sanding I do is easier, and I purchased the Fakir wallpaper perforator to make the tedious task of stripping faster and easier. I have another big project coming up that entails the painting of hundreds of feet of baseboards, crown molding, window trim and doors currently coated in oil-based paint. It looks like the Linear Sander will soon be mine and it’s the perfect next addition to my collection and will make this RRP job a breeze!

Nichole Lovett

Nichole Lovett is the owner and operator of Harmony Haus Painting, a small Chicago area paint company that prioritizes environmentally friendly practices and custom services to clients. Nichole is an active PDCA member and her website is Harmonyhaus.com.

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  1. Lori says:

    I love your article! I have just finished up hand sanding some doors that had been painted with oil based paint. My hands are already killing me! I still have rooms of doors, rows of kitchen cabinets and what feels like miles of crown molding to still tackle over the coming months as I renovate a house I bought from a woman with an oil based paint addiction and a love of beige. Do you, or any of your readers, have any recommendations for a sander/vacuum combination that would work for my personal needs? Festool or any other brand? I’m not sure I need contractor level sizes/quality as I hope to take a break from painting once I’m done with this house. Thank you!

  2. Thanks for your input on these sanders. I run a crew of 3 painters and really need a few good ones. Great article!

    • Scott Burt says:

      Agreed! We thank Nichole again for her informative guest article.

    • Nichole says:

      Thanks Painting Artist! Festool is definitely the way to go if you’re looking to get into some good sanders. The quality and craftsmanship doesn’t even compare to anything else I’ve tried. The only issue you might have is letting others use your tools!

  3. Nichole says:

    Thanks Stephanie! Good for you on deciding to re-use someone else’s cabinets and give them a second life, I love that! I refinish cabinets fairly often and it saves a whole lot of money and they come out pretty fabulous too. Make sure to prep them really well and the refinishing will last for a long time to come. Cheers!

  4. Stephanie Ghostkeeper says:

    Loved your article! I’m actually super excited to show my husband a review of power tools. We’ll be needing to redo our kitchen soon and I’d love to use reclaimed cabinets if we can. This makes those sets I keep seeing at the Habitat for Humanity Re-store look so much more attractive and like so much less work to refinish!

  5. Nichole says:

    Thanks Autumn, I thought so too but it’s easily made into a reality!

    Thanks a whole lot Christian, cheers!

    Thanks to you as well Mike! Yep, I absolutely can’t imagine working without my Festool at this point. Total game changer.

  6. Great Review! Once you have the Festool sanding system, you look for more and more ways to incorporate it into your day to day painting tasks. I am constantly finding ways to save time with Festool in my painting business. The sanders pay for themselves very quickly!

  7. “I enjoyed reading your article. Keep up the good work !” – Chris

  8. Autumn Rio says:

    Dust free sanding sounds like a dream. Great review.

  9. Thomas Bader says:

    The only suggestion I have has nothing to do with the sanders(s) (I do own the DTS and others). It has to do with technique, get a work table of some sort, be it just a simple old door and horses, get yourself off the floor. You’ll agin increase your productivity and it will make for a much more comfortable day.

    My back and knees hurt, just reading this.

    The LS 130 is a nice sander, get some extra pads so you can make your own profiles.

    Nice job on the review, by the way.

    From a fellow Chicagoan.

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