Take the Misery out of Drywall Sanding

Written by on August 4, 2013 in Power Sanders with 21 Comments
drywall sanding

Planex in shortened 2 piece form (intentionally heavy mud for this test sequence)

Festool Planex

Sometimes evolution is slow, but right at the end takes a big leap. Drywall sanding is one of those fortunate beneficiaries of the “finally!” phenomenon. We have seen it all in the past three decades – the sanding sponge, the pole sander, the cool variations on the pole sander – and in the past couple of years, the Festool Planex took drywall sanding off the hook.

With a price tag of just over a grand, the Planex may not appeal to the frugal, but to those who still value efficiency, cleanliness and quality results, it is the pretty new girl at the dance.

If it wasn’t enough to drag the dream of just about dust free drywall power sanding into existence, Festool rolled the Planex out with practical amenities that would make it equally effective in tight spaces – such as closets, narrow hallways or powder rooms – as it is on the open road of big walls or cathedral ceilings.

In typical Festool fashion, the Planex comes with multiple personalities.

It’s modular

drywall sanding

Planex in it’s stock 3 piece setup

The Planex travels in a larger than average systainer that is well padded to house the essential three sections that easily snap together to form the basic configuration of the tool. The middle section can be removed to shorten the tool for use in tighter quarters. In it’s full three piece setup, the Planex can be comfortably used on up to 8 foot ceilings. For higher ceilings, Festool also offers a harness which makes overhead work physically much easier. For extended wall sanding, we found it best to run the Planex without the middle section.

In addition to the harness, Festool also offers extension sections that quickly and easily snap into the stock sections of the unit, to increase length in 20″ increments.

Dust Control

drywall sanding

CT36 AutoClean Dust Extractor

We strongly recommend that the Planex be used in tandem with the Festool CT36 Autoclean extractor. This is one of those cases where, sure, the Planex is compatible with the full line of CT HEPA dust extractors, but the CT36 Autoclean is made specifically for use with the Planex.

There are several reasons why this is the best combo…at 9.5 gal container capacity/8.9 gal bag capacity, the CT36 is the desired size for large scale drywall sanding, because you do not want to have to stop and open your extractor very frequently. We have observed 20-30 hours of drywall sanding per bag. With 137 cfm of suction in such a well designed system, the amount of drywall dust contained in the dust extractor is astounding.

The AutoClean feature on the CT36 AC is set by the user to periodically “pop” the internal filter to prevent dust from caking up, and to preserve ideal airflow and suction. The convenience of this feature is beyond words, compared to the now unthinkable act of having to manually clean a filter loaded with drywall dust. The AutoClean feature can be completely disabled with the simple turn of a dial when you are using this extractor for non drywall sanding purposes, which is a nice option to have. The CT36AC is the only Festool extractor with the AutoClean feature, and it costs $775. The lightweight and super flexible hose is also noteworthy as a critical ergonomic component of the Planex/CT36AC combo.

For the Record

We have killed other high end vacuum/dust extractors by either sanding or vacuuming drywall dust. We are pretty sure that drywall dust is the Achilles heel of even some of the best vac/extractors, such as the Fein Turbo series. Drywall sanding creates such fine dust that it can easily infiltrate the motor housing and wreak enough havoc on the bearings to slowly deteriorate the entire attitude and functionality of a lessor sander or vacuum.

As usual, Festool has designed the Planex and CT36AC to handle the most extreme adversity – in this case, drywall sanding dust – with effortlessly. We say this with confidence after 18 months of using the Planex and the CT36AC only in the act of creating and containing drywall dust, in our contracting business and paint training program. We appreciate Festool bringing this tool duo to our attention and providing it to us for testing and functional analysis.

[Related: Sanding Blocks with Dust Extraction]

Grits and Control Settings

drywall sandingBetween the Brilliant 2 and Saphir abrasive lines, a grit range of 24 to 240 is available for the Planex. The lower grits would be desired for more aggressive removal tasks, such as popcorn ceiling removal. For typical drywall or plaster finish sanding, we recommend the 220/240 end of the spectrum.

In addition to the standard 3 position mode switch that allows you to select manual, auto or off, the CT36AC has two extraction related settings. One controls the amount of suction, and should be turned all the way up. The other controls the frequency of the AutoClean “pop”, which is up to you, based on the rate at which you are sucking dust. We found it best between 25-50% on the AC dial.

The Planex has controls on it for extraction and motor speed. Keep the extraction rate cranked up, and the motor speed between 2-4, which is the mid-range of it’s powerband for typical drywall sanding tasks, higher motor speed for more aggressive tasks.

 

 

 

Scott Burt

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!

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21 Reader Comments

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  1. Adam Barringer says:

    Scott,

    I am considering getting the Planex, however, I am concerned about it overall size. I work primarily in healthcare settings where infection control and dust containment is most important. Accordingly, the CT system sounds ideal. Most of my work consists of the removal of wall covering and skimming of walls in preparation for painting within patient rooms, exam rooms, offices and relatively narrow hallways. My concern is the Planex may be too large to handle easily within these relatively confined spaces with wall obstructions such as door frames, cabinets and windows.

    What are your thoughts?

    Thanks.

    • Scott Burt says:

      Hi Adam, because the Planex is modular, you can adjust its length. I will check ours and let you know the shortest configuration length. Beyond that concern, the ability to have a larger sander with such dust control would likely speed up your operation.

  2. Jim Silva says:

    Scott, I want to thank you for the effort you put into helping other professionals out there by sharing your experience and expertise with us. I was shocked that you immediately responded to my post in this forum! To that end, I wanted to let you know that I have purchased both the Festool Plantex and the CT36 AC machine. This latest purchase upgrades my current inventory of Festool vacuum and sanders. I think that had I known about the merits of the CT36AC machine it would have been my first and possibly my only choice in vacuums as this machine clearly does it all.

  3. Jim Silva says:

    Quick question: Do you have any experience running the CT36 with the plastic liner or no bag at all, (as is shown in the Festool video) and if so, how long does the HP filter last with GDW dust being sucked directly into the $60 replacement Heppa filter?

    • Scott Burt says:

      Hi Jim, no…we only run the Planex with the CT 36 Auto Clean extractor (which isn’t HEPA). I wouldn’t run the Planex on a regular CT extractor. We do run smaller orbitals on them for drywall patch sanding and its fine on a small scale. Planex is not a small scale though. The extraction on the Planex is very good, it would quickly overwhelm a non Auto Clean rig. That can be run bagless, although I am not sure why one would prefer that.

      • Jim Silva says:

        So this is the area of confusion for many of us, (my dealer included) concerning the CT36AC machine. This machine is advertised to operate without a bag of any kind,or with a plastic liner with the filter being cleared by the AC function, (air). Some say that this machine does not have a HEPA filter. Others say you can run the machine with a special filter that will come directly into contact with the drywall dust. (There is a filter in place shown on the video by Festool) I appears to me that if this machine is operated with a bag installed, then the Auto Clean feature could not function as the filter is outside the bag. So my question to other professional users out there is: What is your experience running the CT36AC with only the plastic liner, (Festool product) or without any bag at all?

        • Scott Burt says:

          Jim, I’ll get a photo of the innerds of ours tomorrow. In a nutshell, the plastic bag inside is not a sealed bag, it is more like a liner, so the Auto Clean can “pop” the filter inside (which is not hepa) and whatever was stuck to the filter can end up in the bag. This video shows the plastic liner that we use, and I think cleaning out the tub without it would be a messy task:

          • Jim Silva says:

            Thank you for your fast response. I believe we are on the same page now. If I understand you correctly, your running the CT36AC machine with a filter that is not rated HEPA, and using the open liner bag instead of the filter bag sold with all other Festool vacs.

  4. Sean MacLean says:

    Top notch piece of equipment and nicely written article. While I agree with your assessment about drywall dust killing most other vac systems. I can say that for four years now I have had a steady volume of drywall dust go through the Festool CT26 and to date it has required zero internal maintenance. You have perked my interest though as to what I will find if I pop it open and look over the motor. Festool is heads and shoulders above the rest of the usual suspects though and the Planex is an investment I should have already made. Thanks for the read.

    • Scott Burt says:

      Hey Sean! Thanks for commenting. Couldn’t agree more. We use the regular MIDI’s with the ETS/DTS for patch and even joint sanding and the CT line can take that. The difference is that the Planex produces an absurd amount that is way beyond what you describe as a steady volume. Its an off the charts volume that would quickly load a non AC extractor, because the tool is so well designed to extract and so large. Its amazing how good the setup is and how much ends up in the bag. Hope to see you on the road one of these days!

      • Sean MacLean says:

        That absolutely makes sense Scott. While I do more than likely over work the ETS/RTS combo for full room joint sanding sessions simply being a room or two here and there is not the same as a whole interior and the volume of dust being extracted. While the ETS/RTS combo is a slower process I still willingly make the trade off of speed for cleanliness. This conversation reinforces the need I do have for the Planex and would certainly enjoy the time saved with one.

        • Scott Burt says:

          I’m with ya on that. The ets/dts/rts sanders even on a regular MIDI in a whole room of new rock joint sanding are light years beyond pole sanders and sponges. If you are doing a lot of it on a large scale (room +) the Planex is a great option.

  5. I’ve been reviewing the Festool products for the last year or so. We do very little drywall sanding, but we ALWAYS sand walls before we paint them. Same for trim and kitchen cabinets.

    • Scott Burt says:

      Thanks for checking in Guido. The DTS400 is a great option for general prep sanding of walls and trim. Let me know if you have trouble finding it and I can post a link for you.

  6. Chuck says:

    Aside from the price which is out of my range (for the little that I do Drywall jobs) it sounds like they hit the mark with a bullseye. Makes sanding drywall and removing popcorn almost bearable! True drywall companies will be flocking to this set up. I would like to see the filtration system and how it is set up. I will be visiting the site later today!

    • Scott Burt says:

      That’s an accurate assessment, Chuck, thanks for commenting. We do alot of small patch and repair as well, and for those smaller tasks we use their small orbitals (ets/dts/rts) with the regular CT HEPA extractors and they are also very dust free. Let me know if you don’t find the internal pictures you are looking for, I can post a picture of the guts of the 36AC if necessary.

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