by Aaron Telian
Its 6-inch pad and 6-amp motor make the Rotex sander
perfect for rapid stock removal. Almost no dust escapes when
the tool is connected to a dust-collecting vac, making it ideal
for remodeling work in occupied homes.
RO 150 FEQ Specs
Length:12 1/4 inches
Paper:Proprietary nine-hole hook-and-loop
Motor:Double-insulated 6-amp w/electronic feedback
Let the tool do the work," counsels the old power-tool adage.
Unfortunately, that approach never really worked with the
5-inch random orbit sander I purchased from a home center a
couple of years ago; the tool required considerable elbow
grease just to keep jobs moving along. So when a project came
up that promised a lot of sanding, I decided to upgrade my
setup to a Festool RO 150 FEQ, otherwise known as the
At more than 12 inches long, this sander is definitely a
two-handed tool, as evidenced by its side handle (which can be
installed on either flank). It contains a 6-amp motor and
offers 28 square inches of disc surface. Like other Festool
products, it comes in a roomy plastic case — called a
Systainer — that locks together with other Systainers.
The tool's 13-foot cord detaches and fits other Festool power
tools, too. The sander also comes with an edge guard that
allows users to sand right up to a wall or inside a
The Rotex boasts dual-mode, variable-speed operation. To switch
from rotary to eccentric random orbital sanding (or vice versa)
you simply turn a knob on the transmission. (Rotary random
orbital, designed for fast stock removal, spins from 320 to 660
rpm; random orbital, for fine sanding, spins between 3,300 to
6,800 orbits per minute.) The sanding pad uses hook-and-loop
paper and can be easily replaced without tools.
The first time I put my new tool to the test I was cleaning an
old Douglas fir 4x12 header we were going to reuse as an
exposed beam. I began the job with a belt sander, running it
against the grain to get down to bare wood quickly. Since this
technique leaves the surface a mess, I brought out the Rotex,
armed with 100-grit sandpaper. The tool's generous surface area
and smooth operation cleaned up the wreckage fast and left a
nice smooth finish. Since that day, I've used the Rotex for
numerous sanding tasks, all of which were accomplished with
speed and efficiency.
The 150 FEQ's motor is quiet and powerful; when you switch it
on, you can feel it rock with torque. In fact, if the tool
weren't so superbly balanced, it would be a real challenge to
hang onto. For the most part, though, I find it a pleasure to
Like all Festool power tools, the Rotex comes in a sturdy
plastic box with plenty of room for accessories. The company's
cases latch together and ride on top of its dust-collecting
There's very little comparison between the Rotex and other
random orbit sanders I've used. First off, the dust collection
is nearly unbelievable. Connected to one of Festool's powerful
vacuums, the Rotex leaves almost no dust behind, which makes
for cleaner work, cleaner tools, and cleaner lungs.
In addition, the Rotex is much faster than comparable tools and
can handle an unusually wide variety of tasks, from heavy stock
removal to final polishing.
No tool is perfect, of course. I noticed that the tool's
phenomenal torque made it difficult to use the "erasing"
technique (holding only a small portion of the sanding disc
against the work to remove particularly stubborn blemishes),
but this treatment is a bit over-aggressive for most sanding
Also, because of its size and weight, the Rotex is less agile
than a 5-inch model; when I need one-handed convenience I still
reach for my smaller sander.
And while the dust collection is superb with the vacuum
attached, it is positively frightful without it — because
there's no dust bag available. For those of us who work mainly
in the field, space in the truck is often at a premium, and
sometimes there's no room for the vacuum. Festool should
include a dust bag, or at least offer one as an accessory. I'm
considering making my own.
Another inconvenience involves the sander's proprietary
nine-hole 6-inch sanding discs: Besides being expensive (I paid
$22.65 for a pack of 50), they're unlikely to be sold at the
local lumberyard or hardware store.
Finally, it would be nice to see Festool offer a variety pack
containing an assortment of grits for new users.
Despite these quibbles, I believe that the Rotex sets a whole
new standard for quality. It combines the aggression of a belt
sander with the control and finesse of a random orbit tool,
opening up new possibilities for what can be done with
Naturally, this hybrid approach may not make sense for everyone
— but for carpenters faced with heavy sanding tasks
unsuitable for either run-of-the-mill random orbit sanders or
belt sanders, the Rotex may fit the bill.
The 150 FEQ retails for around $440 — a sizeable
investment compared with the $80 random-orbit sanders I
generally see on job sites. As far as I'm concerned, whether
you should spend that money depends on if you already have a
dust-collecting vacuum. If you do, I'm confident that the tool
will live up to its price. But if you don't, the decision's not
so simple. To make the purchase worthwhile, you'd have to spend
at least $700 total for the sander and Festool's smallest
vac.Aaron Telianis a carpenter for Telian
and Sons in Oakhurst, Calif.
Two Handy Ladder-Levelersby Brian Doherty
Over the course of 16 years as a house painter, I've rarely had
a job that didn't involve setting up a ladder on an uneven
surface. Whatever the problem — sloping ground, a pitched
roof, a stairway — my standard solution has been to shim
the low spot with some combination of bricks, blocks, or
boards, then cross my fingers and hope for the best.
However, I'm happy to report that I recently discovered two
valuable products that make it fast and easy to erect a safe,
level ladder on a base that's anything but.
Werner Co.'s Equalizer (888/523-3370, www.wernerladder.com) is
a standard extension ladder outfitted with factory-installed
leg levelers. Although devices of this type have long been
available as aftermarket add-ons, the chintzy contraptions I've
seen are difficult to install and more hindrance than help. The
Equalizer is different.
Its sliding leveler legs are heavy-duty aluminum box beams.
Rows of holes — much like those in an adjustable shelving
system — allow them to be adjusted up to 81/4 inches in
3/8-inch increments. A stout locking pin secures the setup at
the proper height. To avoid guesswork, the ladder's bottom rung
features a built-in spirit level. These features have been
trademarked by Werner as the EverLevel System.
Adjustable legs and a built-in spirit level ensure that the
Equalizer ladder can be set up safely on uneven ground (above
left). Staggered holes allow users to adjust the height in
3/8-inch increments (above right).
Last fall, I tried out a 20-foot Equalizer ladder (Type II); my
only disappointment was that the company hadn't come out with
something like this sooner. Even though the adjustable legs
stick out a couple of inches on the bottom, they never got in
the way. In fact, the only time I remembered that this ladder
was any different from the others in my collection was when I
needed to adjust it. Ordinarily I would have had to search
around for some type of shim, but with the Equalizer I just
pulled the locking pin (it's tethered to the ladder with a
cable, or I'm sure I would have lost it by now), extended the
short leg until the foot was resting on solid ground, and
reinserted the pin in the appropriate hole.
A spring-loaded ball bearing located near the end of the
locking pin is designed to prevent the pin from being
accidentally dislodged. However, I did manage a few times to
accidentally kick the pin partially out of the hole, though not
far enough to loosen the leg. I resolved to be more careful
about where I put my big feet. Still, if the maker decides to
upgrade the spring, I won't object.
I've made a substantial investment in my existing stable of
ladders, but when it comes time for replacements, an Equalizer
will be my first choice.
Werner is currently manufacturing Type I (250-pound duty
rating) and Type II (225-pound duty rating) aluminum Equalizer
ladders in lengths of 16, 20, 24, and 28 feet. Type IA
(300-pound duty rating) fiberglass versions in 20-, 24-, and
28-foot lengths should be available early next year. Prices
vary, but you can expect to pay about $40 more for an aluminum
Equalizer than you would for a standard Werner ladder of the
same size and rating.
The Pivit Ladder Tool
For all of my ladders that don't have adjustable feet, the
Pivit Ladder Tool (ProVision Tools, 888/276-1060,
provisiontools.com) is a godsend. Essentially a giant plastic
wedge covered in strategic places with nonskid materials, it
provides a stable platform over an uneven surface. On asphalt
shingle roofs, for example, the Pivit can prop up a ladder on
pitches as steep as 7/12 without having to be fastened to the
sheathing, the maker says. So far, I haven't set it up on
anything steeper than 5/12, but it's been rock-stable every
time I have used it.
A Pivit Ladder Tool can support a ladder on a staircase or
hang from the rungs to serve as a ladder jack.
This tool is more than just a glorified shim: Its unique design
allows it to serve as a paint-tray holder, stepstool, tool
carrier, and ladder jack. In a pinch it can also be used as a
standoff, though I much prefer the standard U-shaped devices
for that job.
Since I do mostly interior painting these days, my favorite
place to use the Pivit is on a stairway. It has a notch in one
end that's designed to rest securely on the nose of a stair
tread while the other end sits on a lower step. With this
"landing strip," I can lean a ladder against the side wall and
easily reach the high spots in the stairwell.
ProVision sells the Pivit on its Web site for $85 plus postage.
The tool is also available at paint stores and hardware
Brian Doherty is a painting contractor in
Remodelingby Patrick McCombe
One of the most useful remodeling tools I ever owned was a
25-ton railroad jack, which was invaluable for structural
repairs and porch rebuilds. I bought it at a garage sale, but
Jet — better know for its table saws and other shop
equipment — sells screw jacks similar to my tool with
capacities from 5 to 25 tons. The 441325 (shown) has a 25-ton
capacity and weighs about 45 pounds; I found it on the Web
.com) for $171. Jet, 800/274-6848,
Nice Fit. Expertly fitting countertops and
finish carpentry to existing walls can be a lengthy process,
but a neat tool invented by cabinetmaker Bill Friegang can help
speed things along. The QuickScribe — which mounts on the
bottom of a Bosch, Porter-Cable, or DeWalt laminate trimmer's
offset base — lets users quickly and easily match the
contour of the waviest walls. A video on the company's Web site
shows how the $80 product works. Custom Design
Cabinets, 408/258-5768, www.thescribingtool.com
Do-It-All. More than one GC has purchased a
Fein MultiMaster for a single job, only to have it become his
all-around go-to tool. With the help of various accessories, it
can cut, sand, scrape, remove grout, and polish. The most
recent models — FMM 250 and FMM 250Q — have
250-watt motors and star-shaped accessory mounts that don't
loosen during use. FMM 250Qs also feature a toolless quick
release. Prices range from $200 to $400. Fein,
Electric chain saws offer a lot of
advantages over gas-powered versions: no exhaust, no need to
mix or store gas, minimal maintenance. With Stihl's 16-inch MSE
180, users get power, a comfortable weight, and a coast-down
brake — features that helped the tool snag top place in a
recent electric-chain-saw test performed by Tools of the Trade
(JLC's sister publication). It costs about $370.
, 800/467-8445, www.stihlusa.com
Just Right. On the chain-saw scale, the
Rancher 455 lies somewhere between the cheesy home-center
models and the monsters used by loggers. Designed for part-time
users who want pro-saw performance, it boasts a 55cc 3.5-hp
engine, a toolless chain tensioner, and a quick-release air
filter. It accepts bars from 13 to 20 inches and costs about
$400. Husqvarna, 704/597-5000,
Added Stability. The thought of using a chain
saw on lumber may strike many framers as sacrilege — but
add a Big Foot Headcutter 75 and you've got the perfect tool
for cutting timbers and SIPs, and for gang cutting rafters. The
aluminum shoe attaches to the bar of any chain saw and bevels
to 75 degrees. It costs $240. Big Foot Tools,