Pre-judging a Tool

It is a rare thing for a tool to perform significantly different to what you imagined, and often that is not a positive thing.

So it is even rarer to find oneself completely surprised by how a tool just purchased operates, and in a good way!

The tool in question is the Arbortech Contour Sander.  It is fitted to an angle grinder and is for smoothing odd shaped items (such as one might create with some of the other Arbortech tools!)

Now the angle grinder is not exactly a tool that you would regard as being subtle.  It is loud, it vibrates, and it runs at around 10,000 RPM.  You would imagine that attaching a shaft to that, and sticking a piece of sandpaper on the end, that you are about to have some very rapid stock removal, in a cloud of dust.

Nothing could have been further removed from my expectation.

Instead, I had a tool running at very high speed (as angle grinders are want to do), but the sandpaper end was barely moving on the workpiece.  It is a random orbital sander style, so the rapid angular speed of the angle grinder translates into a more linear, but random amount of microstrokes.

It was subtle, it sanded quickly, but at a very controllable rate, and the soft end allowed the contours be sanded, without them being removed or abraded away.  Contour Sander indeed!

I think my only negative point was that the sandpaper is stuck on, rather than using velcro/hook & loop, so it isn’t easy to change from one pad to the next, working through the grades.

I’ve already used the sander on a few small jobs, smoothing and softening the natural edge of some timber, but I well expect it will prove a very useful tool for a range of projects in future.

Now That’s a Knife

It’s only been 4 months since I got this set of steak knives from Professional Woodworker Supplies.  That is a pretty quick turnaround time for me these days!  Everything hasn’t gone to plan though, as I will elaborate, but I got close to achieving a good result.  I don’t like accepting a compromise – it may be that others wouldn’t notice anything wrong, but I would every time I use one of these.  However, I’m getting ahead of myself.

Knife blanks

These four knives are begging for some stunning handles (the timber on either side are known as “scales”), and so the timber of choice is African Rosewood.  I recently bought a couple of lengths during the recent April WoodFest with the vague idea of making a box, but it jumped out at me when I was looking for what to make the knives from.  The timber is around 19mm thick, so a bit over double the thickness required for each side of the knife.  So resawing was the order of the day.

Resawing the African Rosewood

I changed the blade down to a 5/8″ blade on the Carbatec bandsaw, then racked up the tension.  With the MagSwitch fence in place (single roller), the blade sliced the timber cleanly in two.  I am so loving having the bandsaw tensioning handle below the upper wheel.  The benefits of a larger bandsaw.

Single Roller MagFence making the job easy

Can’t beat those MagFences either for resawing. Love how easy, and accurate it makes the task.

Passes through the Drum Sander for accurate dimensioning

From the bandsaw, the next step is to run it through the drum sander.  This may not be everyone’s first choice – for one you have to have a drum sander to be able to use it.  I’ve become a big fan, especially for situations like this.  These are pieces of timber way too short to ever consider running through a thicknesser, so you’d have to resort to a ROS, hand plane or similar.  Me, I like the electron-murdering whirling abrasive wheel! With careful passes, I was able to get the board down to within 0.1mm of the required thickness.

Jig to accurately cut the handles

Next job was to shape the scales.  The only important side initially is the edge that butts up against the bolster.  To save on timber (a big mistake – not how I chose to do it, but any attempt to scrimp on timber inevitably leads to undesirable results, and more timber wastage. I know this, and still find myself doing it), I cut the timber close to dimension, and drilled holes using an MDF template I made of the scale from the knife tang. I used a couple of lengths of brass rod to replicate the rivets to position each scale to be cut precisely.

Thinning down the pins

For the two pins, I needed them a little thinner than the rivets would be, so I could get the scales off the jig.  To take off a small, controlled amount, mounting the pin in the drill, then running it on the sandpaper provided a precise size decrease.

Ready to cut the handle end

In hindsight, doing it this way was a mistake. Drilling the holes for the rivets needed to be done after the first scale was glued to the tang.

Knife handles roughed out

The scales, ready to be glued on.  Rather than gluing both sides at once, the plan was to do one side only, then use a pattern copying bit to get the scale to accurately match the tang.

Gluing the first handle side on

Two part epoxy resin (Araldite) being the glue of choice.

Clamped up

There is plenty of overhang which is a good thing, but this is where two mistakes compounded.  The trying to be too thrifty which resulted in the scale slipping in a couple of cases enough that the tang wasn’t properly covered, and when the glue had set, not trimming off the excess resulted in a couple of chipouts on the router table that destroyed the handle.  The router bit here is a straight bit with copying bearing.  Straight after this, I was down at Carbatec and picked up a solid carbide spiral router bit with double bearing – the spiral has a shearing/slicing action rather than a chipping action for the next time I attempt to make more handles.

Shaping the blank to the handle

Did have a couple of successes, the bearing running on the tang so the scale gets cut accurately to match.

As good as it got

The results were looking good, and the few refinements to my technique should prove very successful.  For the handles here, I took the photos, then took a chisel and snapped the scales off. Oh well, I’d rather it right than compromise.

Episode 71 ROS on TWC

Episode 71 ROS on TWC

ROS, TWC: TLA Heaven

To translate: you can now fit a number of Random Orbital Sanders to the Torque Workcentre!

What I have here is a prototype, but actual versions should not be too far off. Fits Bosch, Triton, DeWalt, Milwaukee and I’m sure there are plenty of others with a similar body.

ROS Attachment for TWC

Where a random orbital sander is used as a finishing device with a fine-grit sandpaper, it is not a stock removal tool, and it removes enough material to end up with a smooth surface, but not necessarily flat (and that is fine when at the final finishing stages).

On the other hand, if you want to use one for flattening a surface it is just not possible….until now.

Load the ROS with 80, 60 or even 40 grit, and with the tool mounted in the TWC, it will be kept at the same level across the entire surface, allowing the ROS to flatten out the peaks, lower and repeat until the surface is flat.

It could also help dust clearance, preventing clogging as the grit in the paper is touching and cutting, not the entire paper resting on the surface.  It can also decrease the amount of heat generated for the same reason.  And one other benefit, if you are often too heavy-handed with the ROS, you can prevent it achieving a fully random sanding effect – having your focus changed to moving the ROS across the surface rather than pushing it down into the surface will produce a better result.

I’d still use the ROS handheld for fine finishing – this is more a bulk material removal and flattening technique with the ROS mounted to the TWC.

Just another attachment that improves the already impressive functionality of the Torque Workcentre.

Episode 57 Surfacing, Sanding, Cyclones and Workgear

Episode 57 Surfacing, Sanding, Cyclones and Workgear

A Tale of Two Sanders

It was the best of finishes, it was the worst of finishes, it was the age of exorbitance, it was the age of thrift, it was the epoch of German engineering, it was the epoch of Chinese manufacturing, it was the season of pleasure, it was the season of pain, it was the spring of jet dust extraction, it was the winter of clogged abrasive, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to woodworking Heaven, we were all going direct the other way–in short, the machines were so far apart, that some of the noisiest proponents of one insisted on it being placed on a pedestal, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

I was in the shed one day, using the same random orbital sander (ROS) that I have for a few years – an $80 Triton, and my hands were really hurting from the vibration.  Irrespective of the risk on ongoing health problems from exposure to vibration (HAVS being a rather undesirable effect), what’s the point of trying to enjoy woodworking, when a tool is causing such a distraction?  So without even realising that it was on the cards when I headed down to the shed that day, at that point I decided that tool was being retired, immediately, and a replacement ROS was to be sought.

Triton ROS

Despite the range of brands available out there, I had no question which brand I was going to go with after having experienced them first hand at the Ideal Tools workshop.  Despite the premium price tag, I was going Festool.  The machines operate so smoothly, you almost don’t have to hold them, guiding them around the surface with a finger.  The only question I had was which model to choose.

I specifically wanted a random orbital sander, so I quickly narrowed my choices down to either the Rotex, or one of the two eccentric (ETS) sanders – the 150/3 or the 150/5.  That is where I started to run into a decision-making problem.  Just which one was the most suitable for my requirements?  It wasn’t like I could eliminate any on quality.  Price could have some bearing – the Rotex is quite a bit more than the ETS sanders, but then it is more versatile than the other two.  People who own one really swear by it, and that is very inspiring.

I was rather fortunate that I was given access to all three sanders to compare by Ideal Tools, which meant I was able to make a decision with full confidence, rather than choosing and hoping based on what I read on the net, or in the marketing materials.

Festool Rotex 150

The Rotex is called a 3 in 1 sander – being switchable between orbital and random orbital settings.  Orbital being used for bulk material removal, and random orbital for finishing, with the circular and elliptical motions simultaneously meaning that there is no swirl marks produced.  The 3rd action is polishing, but that I gather is more of a use of the tool – there is no specific setting unique to the tool for this.

Festool RAS115 "Termite"

I have the Festool termite (RAS 115), so bulk material removal is not something I have to struggle with, so I was particularly interested in its ROS use.  Handling it is rather different to other ROS, in that the centre of balance isn’t directly above the sanding pad, so operation has to be two-handed.  This isn’t as unusual to me than for some, because for a few years I was using the original Triton ROS sanding attachment which fits to an angle grinder.  I know how well regarded the machine is, so was really looking forward to trying it out for myself.

Triton ROS Attachment

After giving the unit a good run in both modes, I was still trying to ‘get’ why it is so popular with its enthusiastic supporters. That is probably going to be quite a bone-of-contention, but I didn’t.  “Get it” that is.  Controversially, I found it not unlike the Triton ROS fitted to an angle grinder, with the obvious upgrades – multi jetstream, variable speed.  On the other hand, the Festool Termite has a similar layout, and like my angle grinder is much easier to hold.  I found the body of the Rotex too bulky for me to feel like I had good control over the tool.  Bit surprised by my reaction, particularly given the feedback I’ve heard about the tool, but this isn’t a criticism of the Rotex, or its supporters – it just wasn’t for me.

So now I’ve turned to the ETS models, and other than the number 3 or 5 on top, they are indistinguishable.  The numbers represent the degree of eccentricity – either 3mm or 5mm.

Festool ETS 150/x

Both units are very well balanced – you can hold the handle, or just push the unit around the surface with a finger!  They are variable speed, and have the multi-jetstream dust clearing technology (which is both an air supply and removal system across the surface of the pad that clears away dust that has been created, and in doing so prevents dust buildup that results in heat buildup, and clogging of the abrasive.)  You don’t have to use abrasives that have the multi-jetstream holes, but obviously you loose the advantage of the system while you do.

In the end there was no question that it would be an ETS that I would buy, the final question would be which model.  The 150/3 is for very fine finishing, the 150/5 less so (by all of 2mm), and is slightly more versatile.  That is something I needed (when I was only going to end up with one of these), and I also found I appreciated the sanding action of the 150/5 more – the 150/3 just didn’t feel like it was doing enough (it being a fine finishing sander only) for my purposes. And still it has variable speed, and I can work right through the different grades of abrasive – up to 2500 if I choose.  (And I did take note of all the comments made when I first raised the question back around Nov last year!)

So that is what I went for in the end – the Festool ETS 150/5.  The brand new unit arrived recently, and I haven’t actually gotten it dusty yet – there is plenty of time.  I also got the Systainer for the sander, as well as a second one with the abrasives insert to keep all the different abrasive pads organised,

Abrasives Systainer

and a rollboard which goes under my slowly increasing pile of systainers to make it easier to move them around the workshop (until I find a more permanent location for them).

Festool Systainer Rollboard

All these were sourced from Ideal Tools, and thanks to Anthony for the opportunity to give the various models a workout before I made a final decision. (Oh, and when I bought it, the deal at the time (still current) was for a Festool Cooler Bag and set of BBQ utensils – quite handy for a Stu’s Shed BBQ!)

Festool Cooler Bag & BBQ Set

As to what happened to the old Triton ROS?  Dickens to it 🙂

Jetstream Conspiracies

It doesn’t take more than a few clicks to be diving deep into websites of paranoia I can tell you.  One that comes up a lot is all about Jetstreams, and Jet trails (or contrails (condensation trails)), with varying, and conflicting reports of mass population control, mass population killoffs, biological weapon dispersal testing, weather altering and control.  The conspiracy theory is that the “government” is playing around with the position of the Jetstream, and using jet trails/contrails to seed clouds, or drop nasty stuff on the uninformed populations below.

What would all these conspiracy ‘experts’ think if they knew there were Multi-Jetstreams!!  And the government knows about them!!

(BTW – from my Navy days – the definition of an Expert:  an Ex is a has-been, and a Spurt is a drip under pressure.  Oh, and if you assume something, you make an ass out of u and me (

But Multi-Jetstreams are not a myth, nor a conspiracy – they are the latest development in sanding technologies by Festool.  By supplying, and exhausting air through many holes in the sanding pad of a sander (such as a Random Orbital Sander), you have rapid, dust free material removal, a significant decrease in sandpaper clogging which then leads to maximising service like of the sander, the pads, and the abrasives.

High Speed Photos of Sanding with Different Hole Configs

In addition, the airflow helps cool the sanding pad, resulting in the tool, abrasive and work surface being 25% cooler than it would without Multi-Jetstream tech.

(Video below – click to play)

Multi-hole technology

The holes in the sanding pad either provide or remove air depending on their position.  It is curious that there are more holes in the pad than there is in the paper – this is deliberate – air is also supplied below the paper, and all the supply and exhaust holes combine to maximise dust movement and removal as it is produced, reducing heat and clogging.

Supplying air is unusual – pushing dust trapped at the centre towards the outside where it is collected by the multiple extraction holes.  It is backwards compatible with older sandpapers, and new multi-jet paper can be used on old machines – obviously both scenarios do not benefit from the latest technology.

Don’t try what someone suggested on the Festool Owners Group website/forum – drilling extra holes in your current pad.  Sure, it might look more multistream, but there are internal channels leading to these holes in the legitimate pads!

This new technology is now standard in the Festool sander range, and both the ETS sanders and the Rotex will benefit significantly from the improved airflows and dust removal from the sanding surface.

I know they claim a marked improvement in minimising clogging of the abrasives, but I don’t know how it will work in situations that caused me the most clogging – burnishing with oil.  Oh well, you can’t win them all!

Festool Stack

While making a decision about which Festool sander would be the best for me, I’ve been lucky enough to be able to try each out and give you a bit of an insight into my decision process.  Ideal Tools sent over this interesting stack, which also includes the wheeled base I needed for my rapidly growing collection of Systainers, as well as a Systainer set up to hold my random orbital sanding disks, which will keep them all together, and with the sander (as I do with the dominos).

A Stacka Festool

Unlike some other reviews, this will be rather interesting because I’m not comparing different models and brands in their ability to do a specific task.  I’m comparing models that are all at the top of the game, to see which will fit best with my requirements, not which has deficiencies in itself.

The three I am looking at are the ETS 150/3, the ETS 150/5 and the Rotex 150.  It will be particularly interesting to see if I can find a difference between the 150/3 and 150/5 – does that extra 2mm of throw really result in improved performance, or a decrease in finish (that I can notice)?

Bananas on the Slope

Damn, but this Festool slope sure is slippery!

I was using my Triton ROS for some Xmas presents the other day (like just before Xmas obviously), and I was reminded just how much it vibrated – you come away with your hand tingling from the sensation.  If those fat-buster belts of the 60’s actually worked, my hand would be anorexic by now after the latest session.  That was enough for me – if it came to the point that I’d almost prefer not to sand because of the tool, then it is time for that tool to find a more sympathetic home.

It has been a bit of a debate, which sander to replace it with, and I sought advice on here back in November which gave me plenty to think about (thanks to all contributors).  There was obviously the Rotex, but it is significantly more money, and I couldn’t bring myself to go that route (and in part because I have the Festool Termite, so the orbital capabilities of the Rotex are duplicated in the Termite (which is also a Rotex fwiw)).

So it came down to the ETS sanders.  There is the 125 and 150mm diameter first, and in this case I decided a slightly larger diameter than what I have been using would not hurt.  With the 150s, there are 2 models – 150/3 and 150/5.  The /x number represents the amount of eccentricity the tool can achieve (either 3mm or 5mm), and again, decisions, decisions.

For the fact that I am looking for a bit more capability from one machine, I went with the 150/5, in a Systainer.  It comes with 50 free assorted abrasives, and I got another 100 for 1/2 price (a current Ideal Tools special), as well as a Cooltainer for $20 – after all, you can’t have too many beverages on ice eh!

Given the rapidly increasing stack of Systainers, I’ve also added the roller unit for the bottom so they can be moved around easily, and another Systainer to finally keep my abrasives all neat and sorted.

Finally, another bag of 4mm Dominos, as what I started with took a heavy hit with the recent Toy Kitchen construction.

Hmm – online shopping can be addictive – just keep ticking boxes 😉

Repairing the ROS

I haven’t ruled out getting a decent ROS (random orbital sander), but in the meantime I am not one to leave a perfectly functional tool in a state of disrepair, so I decided to fix the existing base, and return the Triton ROS to operational status.

Step one, I removed the base that had the velcro and backing (which had sheared off) from the machine, and cleaned the solid mounting plate up a bit.

I was hoping to find a replacement base that would just work, but that wasn’t going to be possible.  So instead I chose a different route, amalgamate the new base (a Bosch) and the ?fibreglass? backing from the Triton.  The Bosch base had a plate built in with three mounting holes, that were unfortunately a lot closer to the centre than the Triton took.  So I decided to mount it to that Triton backing, then use the original screws and holes to mount the whole new unit to the ROS.

Merging the bases

I drilled 3 new holes in the backing, then used steel rivets to join them together.  Steel rivets are significantly strong, and very low profile which is why I chose that method.

Fully repaired ROS

By then drilling new holes through the Bosch plate, it allowed the original Triton bolts to be used to join the whole refurbished base to the ROS.  Fired up, and it was all back to being functional, and frankly, it will now last a lot longer that the original.

In the background of the second photo, you can see my accordion riveter (also known as a scissor riveter).  This design has significant power, and is excellent in use.

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