Bob Marino of Festool asked if I would try the Festool ATF 55E circular saw in our shop and pass on a review. Since we use our DeWALT 364 circular saw with shop-made cutting guides and table as a "panel saw", I enthusiastically accepted the offer to work with the Festool circular saw, its guide rail and a Festool dust extractor.
The Festool catalog advertises the phrase LIKE NOTHING ELSE on its cover. It only takes a few minutes with the ATF 55E and its accessories to agree. The saw may appear like a typical circular saw to the casual observer, but once you handle it and begin to use it you'll find it is quite a different animal. Because the saw is so unique, I wrote this review in two parts. Part 1 includes my usual, like and no like lists. Part 2 provides a more indepth look at the saw and its unique features, including a few videos.
Note: Clicking the hypertext links (bold-faced blue text) and blue-framed images will launch additional content.
Depth Adjustment and Stop
Base (Sole Plate-Shoe)
Riving Knife - Splitter
Festool Thinks of Everything
The blade / blade carriage does not lock in the extended position.
Millimeters-Metric System. The depth stop adjustment scale is in millimeters and I don't use the metric system. Luckily the depths I use are easy to remember (i.e., 25 mm for cutting ¾" panels with the guide rail).
You must remove the riving knife/splitter to perform pocket/plunge cuts.
You must adjust the angle guide for square.
I would like to see their rip-guide included with the saw.
Click to view a brief slide show of the Festool ATF55E.
The Festool ATF 55E circular saw out performs my DeWALT 364 and PC 743 in several ways. It's lighter and better balanced than either saw. The standard blade is much better than the blades supplied with either saw for panel and finish carpentry tasks. In conjunction with the Festool guide rail, it will cut a straight, accurate, clean line. Its dust collection is far superior to our DeWALT 364 and other circular saws I have owned or used. And it is head and shoulders above our primary saws in regards to details such as depth adjustment (accuracy and ease), blade changing, noise levels, and so forth. I highly recommend the saw for cabinet making, finish carpentry, or other fine woodworking. It is best suited for woodworking activities that require a precise and easy to handle saw. I would not recommend it as a framer's saw or a general purpose, throw-it-in-the-back-of-the-truck type saw. With the right blade it will cut construction lumber, metals, or whatever, but I think I would purchase a second, less-expensive saw for such duties.
And what about price? Well, the saw, guide rail, and systainer runs about $375.00. If you figure in the premium top-notch blade (I paid $60.00 for my 7-1/4" Forrest WWII), the guide rail (a non-integrated guide runs about $60), its performance, pleasure of use and a three year warranty (an indication of the tool's reliability), the price does not seem out of line. A decent panel saw with less versatility, precision, and splinter control will run several times the price of the ATF 55E. The saw is geared towards professional cabinet makers, finish carpenters, floor installers, and small shops who will quickly see the dividends of a Festool captial investment. However, I recommend that anyone who wants a state-of-the-art circular saw and panel cutting system should take a look at the ATF 55E.
Regardless from whom you purchase your Festool tools, most if not all your Festool purchases will be delivered direct to your door from one of two Festool warehouses. Consequently, I thought you might be interested in how the tools are packaged for shipment.
I received four packages. One package contained the dust extractor. The dust extractor was double-boxed and bubble-wrapped for maximum protection. It arrived without a scratch. Its hose was shipped inside the extractor. The two aluminum guide rails were also packaged well. The longer of the two rails was packaged in a wood-framed, hardboard covered container. The smaller guide rail was shipped in a box and protected on the inside by 1/4" luan panels. Consequently, these tools arrived in perfect condition.
The circular saw and the guide rail accessories were boxed and bubble-wrapped but not double-boxed. Double-boxing was not necessary since the saw and the saw accessories were shipped in their own Festool "systainers". Let's take a closer look at the Festool systainer system......
Until recently, I did not get too excited about dust extractors and dust collection in general. However, anyone with an open mind realizes the dangers of breathing fine dust particles. At best, dust is a nuisance in the shop and job site that must be discarded. If you're working in someone's home, it is especially important to collect your dust and debris. I know all of this, but over the years I have not been a great practioneer in dust collection.
A few years ago we invested in two Fein dust extractors. They work great. They provide an accessory outlet for a power tool so that the extractor automatically runs when the power tool is started. They're relatively quiet, easy to wheel around, the hose locks into the inlet, and generally do what a dust extractor should do, suck dust! On the negative side, they are prone to tip over (though better balanced than most shop-vacs) and provide no onboard storage for the cord or hose-- consequently, depending on who last used it, the cord and hose are generally under foot.
The Festool CT22E provides all of the features of our Fein units including:
However, the Festool CT22E provides the following additional features:
The only negative I have experienced with the Festool CT22E in comparison with the Fein (and other shop vacs), is it appears that you must use a filter bag to protect (extend the life of) the filters. Our Fein units each have a large conical cloth filter that allows the big stuff to collect in the tank. All material collected by the Festool ends up in the bag. Festool offers a large reusable bag, but it is quite expensive. (See remarks from Festool USA CEO Christian Oltzscher below.)
When used with the ATF 55E circular saw and our covered cutting table, the CT22E extracts virtually all of the dust. Some dust escapes towards the front at the end of the cut (as the blade exits the workpiece), but that's it. Consequently, a lot less dust ends up in our lungs, saving our health. And a lot less dust ends up on the floor, saving us time. The ATF 55E/CT22E combination would be the ticket when working in a customer's home (or your home), especially a carpeted room, as it leaves very little dust/debris to clean up.
In response to my CT22E remarks, Christian Oltzscher of FESTOOL USA writes...
You can use the CT22E without a filter bag. However, we recommend that you use the long life main filters (Longlife-HF-CT /2, $39.50 USD) if you plan to use the CT22E without a filter bag. If you don't vacuum water and wet material, the Longlife-HF-CT /2 filter will last you a very long time.
Wow, thanks Christian for your comments. In is nice to know that a CEO can articulate the value of his products and is concerned enough about the woodworking community to provide this kind of feedback! Thanks again!
From a performance point of view, it's the Festool guide rails that really set this saw apart from our DeWALT and Porter Cable saws. It may be a bit unfair to compare DeWALT and PC saws with the ATF 55E, since they were designed first and foremost as framer's tools, and as such do a fine job. However, many of us use these saws to cut panels and do finish carpentry and this is where the ATF 55E and its guide rails really shine.
I have made and use a number of guides with our circular saws. They work fine. However, since they are not "integrated" with the saws, I do have to be careful in operation to keep the saw up against the fence of the guide. Also, since the guides are made of wood, they are heavy and are prone to getting banged up.
Here is a list of what I like about the Festool guide rails:
In several weeks of use I have not found a single thing I don't like about the guide rails, nor anything I would change. However, in regards to the guide rail accessories, it would be great if there were some method of indexing or locking the angle guide to 0° and perhaps 45°, or perhaps a fixed guide. I found the engraved angle lines are accurate, but in use, if I did not set the angle guide (once attached to the guide rail) to a reference board or square, the finished cut was not exactly at the desired angle. This does not indicate that the engraved lines are inaccurate, but due to the length of the guide and the small radius of the angle guide, an imperceptible error in aligning the angle lines results in a perceptible error near the end of the guide.
It is a real pleasure to use the ATF 55E, the guide rails, and the CT22E. The circular saws I use in the shop are not designed specifically for cabinetmaking and finish carpentry. With the proper blade, shop-made or purchased guide rails, and careful setup, saws like the DeWALT 364 and PC 743 work very well. However, out of the box, the ATF 55E and its supplied 55" guide rail (and available 106" guide rail) work perfectly in our shop. The dust collection capability of the ATF 55E, when mated to the Festool CT22E (or our Fein Turbo II), is excellent. As previously noted, it is virtually impossible to attach a dust collection hose to our DeWALT 364.
I have decided to add comments from owners, readers, and .... regarding the tools I review.
Doug Peck writes...
I love them and have used them for years! Really quality products that are worth every penny. I've never had a problem in prob. three years or more.
Ron Remmel writes...
I recently picked up the same Festool setup described in your post. Wow. I am getting a cleaner cut with my saw and guide than I do with my unisaw on sheet goods. I was planning on either buying the multifunction table made by Festool or building my own when I saw you panel saw post with the picture of your table. If you would be kind enough to share your URL with me I would very much appreciate reading up on the table you built. By the way, have you bought the router or other Festool products. I am in the process of putting together an order for the router and some accessories as it seems to be a perfect match for the rails and extractor. Thanks for your help. Regards, Ron
John McCafferty writes...
Thanks for that Jack - I am a bit of a Festo enthusiast and you review their tools very well! I would like to pass on a couple of things..... First up - the Systainer System. These boxes are a heaven in themselves when working "on-site". They store the tools & accessories very well but because they are modular in size and very strong but light weight they are fantastic for "standing-on" - making tressles for sawing / routing etc - a couple "stacked-up" make a great "chair" during coffee breaks - the list is endless. The complete range of Festools is not yet available in the US (marketing reasons perhaps). There is a massive system called the "Basis" - a fold-up table with insert plates that accepts circular saws with depths of cut from 2" to about 3 1/2" - 2 different sizes of Routers, jigsaw, a belt sander, with quite ingenious attachments, table extensions, a sliding table (which is a simplified sliding table for smaller work like routing end grain on boards up to 16" wide), modular racks for storing the whole lot, and so forth. I am about 3/4 the way through of combining this "Basis" system so if you want any pics or more detailed info e-mail me and I will try to help. John
In response to John's remarks, Christian Oltzscher of FESTOOL USA writes...
The "Basis" system is not available in the U.S. due to product liability reasons, not for marketing reasons. We do not have UL approval for the system. As you know, most of the "Basis" components such as the ATF 55, OF 1000, and the PS 2E have UL approval. As John eludes to, it is a very nice system but it was originally designed and is currently produced according to European safety standards and not according to UL safety standards.
I have been a very happy owner of an ATF 65E since they were first imported to the U.S.A. Because of that very positive experience, I bought the 1/2 sheet and Rotex sanders, the jig saw, and a large dust extractor. They all live-up to the manufacturer's claims. I have been able to triple the life of the splinter guard by first cartwheeling it, and "reglueing" it with silicone caulk, then just shifting it sideways and doing the same. Also, dust extraction is better with duct tape stuck over the opening of the guard--this is especially true when cutting 1/8" or less. I prefer the "65" over the "55", because I can stack three 3/4" sheets of plywood, and cut them all exactly to the same dimension with one pass.
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