The Festool CT-SYS dust extractor reminds us that being daily tool users is like being parents. Just when we have gained an understanding of the current age/behavior/patterns of our children, a new stage of development unfolds in front of us.
Evolution in tools happens the same way…sometimes for the better, when technologies are improved. On the other hand, when change isn’t joined by advancement, convenience or efficiency, the heart of a great product can be broken.
Then there are times when change proves to be neither for the better or worse, but for the “different“. When a new option appears in a tool category, and excels in tasks that challenge the rest of the line, we call that: “Better for Certain Situations”.
Disclaimer from the publisher:
This tool was provided to us at no cost by Festool for testing purposes. We don’t publish reviews of all products that manufacturers submit to us for testing, but from time to time we highlight new and innovative technologies that are introduced. All product review information we share is objective, honest, unbiased and 100% our own.
CT-SYS: Vac in the Box
It is good when tool manufacturers make us think. Users are the check and balance system that assess tool engineering and design for practical application use. We look for new technologies to have a purpose. They have to provide solutions and enhance how we (painters) work.
The CT-SYS was a head scratcher for us at first. Festool is a pioneer in mobility and organization, and they have never hesitated to put wheels and casters on gear too cumbersome to carry.
Their dust extractors, to our knowledge, have always been a rolling lot – culminating with the current Cleantec generation that features large wheels on the rear axle and small directional casters up front.
First things first, this vac has no wheels… pic.twitter.com/n6RInXyiV2
— Prep to Finish (@PreptoFinish) October 4, 2016
The first thing to know about the CT-SYS is that it is a conceptual departure from the rest of the Festool dust extractors. Festool Cleantecs are well-known for their compulsive efficiency and widely used as the foundation of Festool system mobility. If a vacuum rolls and can carry tools, it is the ultimate beast of burden.
Folks around the world every day securely lock multiple systainer boxes on top of Cleantec hose garages and roll off to solve problems on projects with the confidence that widespread dust capture and minimal gear footprints can bring.
To Be a Vac and Not to Roll?
A vacuum without wheels conjures the mental image of the classic “dust buster”. Those small, underpowered handheld suckers that our parents had hanging on the pantry wall: better for small clean up jobs than a broom and dust pan, but not by much, and it was no fun to empty them out.
So why shrink vac technology and take the wheels off? Think of this as a bit of a downsizing option. As much as we all want mobility and ease of motion when transporting tools, there are times when a full sized shop vac of any type is more than we want to carry.
Have you ever been in heavy traffic in your truck, and noticed a pedestrian that somehow manages to get ahead of you over the course of many red lights and intersections? Rolling rigs are impractical at times.
Sometimes slowing down is the best way to go faster. There are situations when we have to pick up and carry shop vacs because rolling isn’t a good option. Sidewalk, curb and stairway navigation show us just how heavy our vacs are…especially when the containers or filter bags are any kind of full.
Comparison: CT-SYS and CT-Mini
Generally, when testing Festool equipment, we compare their new technologies to their existing ones – mostly because it is difficult to do fair head to head comparisons with product lines from other manufacturers. Festool product lines tend to go both deeper and wider than most.
Here is a quick look at how this over-the-shoulder rig compares to the CT-Mini, which was previously Festool’s most compact dust extractor.
Quick CT-SYS Fact Check: What do these Numbers Mean?
- CT-SYS costs 25% less ($) than Mini
- CT-SYS has 48% of the capacity (g) of the Mini
- CT-SYS weighs 28% less (lbs) than the Mini
- CT-SYS has 18.5% less suction (cfm) than the Mini
- CT-SYS has 83% of the power (w/amp) of the Mini
Unlike the rest of the Cleantec extractor line, the CT-SYS does not have a variable suction control. It runs at a fixed suction level of 106 cfm, which according to our math is at 83% of the power band of a CT Mini (or any of the other CT units) when fully dialed up.
83% (106 cfm) is plenty of suction, but it would be nice to have the option of turning down in some situations. When running sanders on the 130 cfm Cleantec extractors, we typically turn the suction down as much as half (65 cfm) to get better “float” from our sanders with negligible decline in dust extraction.
In other words, it is generally accepted that the 130 cfm Cleantecs have more than enough suction power for sanding extraction, so being locked in at 106 cfm is definitely better than running at 130. The pre-set suction level of the CT-SYS has proven to be acceptable for the majority of sanding tasks we have used it in with many of the Festool sanders. Also worth noting, with each new sander introduction, Festool continues to redesign their pad system to make the sander less sensitive to extraction level on the vac.
The positive spin is that the absence of suction control makes the CT-SYS a bit more user friendly because without the ability to adjust suction, there is no confusion over where to set the control level. Users won’t be sticking sanders to the wall or wrestling jumpy orbitals with this configuration.
Another notable change with the CT-SYS, compared to the current generation CT line, is that it can also be used as a blower. However, it is not recommended for use as a wet vac.
Final Analysis: Lightweight Knockout Specialist
Festool earns points for the ‘Vac Engineering Surprise of the Year’ with the CT-SYS dust extractor. I don’t think any of us saw a vacuum in a systainer coming down the line.
Before deploying this tool on projects, we weren’t sure if it was intended to be a fancy dust buster or just a stackable substitute for the legendary CT extractors. Everyone loves a cool new gadget, and convenience tools are popular, but where would this fit?
The CT-SYS probably won’t be the first Festool dust extractor you will buy. However, if you are already “in the game” and have Festool extractors, the CT-SYS is a very capable and convenient supplement to your fleet. You can keep your larger CT units hooked up to tools and use this technology for smaller scale extraction and clean up needs.
Having used the CT-SYS for 6 months now, we expect it to excel for Festool system users who do frequent tasks where space is limited, mobility is tricky and the need for punch list finalization or “knockout” type work is critical. Because of it’s small filter bag capacity, we don’t recommend it for extended runs with tools attached, as the bag will fill more often than most users would prefer.
That said, the ability to connect tools to the CT-SYS for shorter run times with excellent dust extraction and efficient clean up duty makes this tool a unique and simple solution for professional users and hobbyists alike.
At the end of the day, for painters, it comes down to this: we have to constantly be analyzing the way we work. Products and tools are a major part of that. When outfitting for projects, we don’t like to carry a 5 gallon bucket of paint when we know the task only requires gallon.
Festool’s introduction of the CT-SYS encourages us to consider task-based vacuum needs in that same light, where we can lug just one gallon of capacity instead of several. It is good to have properly sized and highly capable options.
In the interior paint world especially, the vacuum is usually the first tool in on a project, and ALWAYS the last one out because we have to turn over clean spaces to our customers. We never want to hear that the painters were messy.
Ultimately, the job of any Festool Cleantec dust extractor is twofold: to extract dust for power tools and to clean the workspace. The CT-SYS meets both criteria while adding a unique dimension to the compact end of the Festool Cleantec extractor line.
[Another round? Read our thoughts on the Impact of Dust Extraction…]