As a self-employed carpenter, I have found the best way to increase my profits is by increasing my jobsite efficiency. There are only so many minutes in a day and when you're working on a bid job, every minute counts. Everything from gang-cutting parts to wearing a tool belt, always having a trash can close by, and working neatly—don’t just step over the scrap, pick it up—shaves time on a project. And that means making money more easily.

Since my focus is primarily woodworking [Editor’s note: Follow Nate on Instagram and check out his bunk-bed projects @rinne_trimcraft], I deal with lots of parts. They need to be planed, shaped, routed, or sanded. To that end, I often need to clamp—and re-clamp—the same part multiple times. When you have hundreds of parts, minutes spent clamping add up fast.

I've seen several variations of "quick clamps" that aim to speed up the process, but in reality they still require a fair bit of repetitive motion to secure the work properly. However, when I first saw the Festool Vacuum Clamping System in person at the Festool Connect event in 2018, I saw pure efficiency.

What It Is

The system is basically a suction cup. A clamping module holds workpieces (up to 65 pounds per head unit) securely via a separate vacuum pump unit connected by a hose. The pump delivers 198 pounds of clamping force with the head sitting level; 121 pounds with the head tilted 90 degrees. Simply set your work onto the vac head, and it automatically clamps it down. To release it, depress the footswitch.

I’ve found that it's nearly impossible to pull a piece off without disengaging the vacuum. There are four different heads available (three are sold separately) and you can link two head units together with one pump to hold longer or heavier materials. Another awesome feature: With the flip of a switch, you can clamp the head unit down using the vacuum pressure to any nonporous surface. Add to that the unit’s ability to tilt to 90° and swivel a full 360°, and the case makes itself for how much speed this puts on the track for my woodworking jobs.

What It's Good For

Planing and sanding cabinet doors and drawers. Routing hinge gains and boring locksets in doors. Edge-forming, sculpting, wood carving, painting, and anything else you can think of (edge-banding, for example, or setting hardware) where having no clamp in your way and the ability to rotate your work 360° is important.

Actually, it’s more than just some vague notion of important.

More to the point, the level of efficiency the Festool Vac Clamp offers me is something that doesn’t save only a second here and a minute there. It’s top-to-bottom step minimization or elimination. I don’t need to fuss with clamps at all—no changing, no adjusting. The unit is compact and takes up very little space and sets up in minutes. I’m not tired and distracted from having to clamp and reclamp and clamp again and unclamp and move clamps. And I can use the tool from fabrication to applying finish and hardware. It’s saving time and energy while increasing focus and production all the way through the process.

These clamps save me boatloads of time and I can say beyond question that the Festool system is a money-making addition to my business. Cabinet makers should check these out for increased efficiency in the shop.

The single-head kit is $990. Dual-head kit is $1,375.

Specs and Details

Festool 203148 Vac-Sys Vacuum Clamping System

Cost: $990 for single-head kit $1375 for dual-head kitPressure: 150 mbar
Pump Capacity: 2.06 cfm (3.5 m3/h)
Power Consumption: 120 watts / 1 amp, 120 V AC
Noise (Sound Level): 55 dBA
Motor Speed: 3,300 rpm
Pump Speed: 3,600 rpm
Ambient Temperature Range: 41°F - 104°F
Weight: 20.4 lb. (0.25 kg)

Kit includes
Vacuum Clamping Unit VAC SYS SE1 in Classic Systainer
Round 215mm Clamp Head
Vacuum pump
Foot valve
Vacuum hose

SYS Accessory Set VAC SYS VT Sort
Interchangeable clamping heads (3)
Cost: $380
Includes three (3) Clamping Pads: 200x60mm, 277x32mm, and 275x100mm in a Systainer SYS 3

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