Festool Carvex Cordless Jigsaw and Accessory Kit Review

A premium quality jigsaw that delivers smooth, precise straight and curved cuts, as splinter-free as can be expected, in solid stock and sheet goods.

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Festool Carvex Cordless Jigsaw and Accessory Kit



Any jigsaw can make reasonably straight or curved cuts in solid stock or sheet goods. But, not every jigsaw can make clean, precise, splinter-free cuts. If you're looking for a jigsaw that can give you optimal cuts, with little compromise, then the new Festool Carvex jigsaw just might be the tool for you. While it shares some features that you'll find on any jigsaw, it does have a number of unique attributes that set it apart from anything else on the market.

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The Festool Carvex family

There are four models of Carvex jigsaws - two corded and two cordless. The two corded models come with a Plug-it power cord, splinter guard, dust collection port, two saw blades, and a Systainer. The two cordless models are available as a bare tool (no battery) or in a kit (which includes a battery and charger). Cordless models come with a splinter guard, dust collection port, two saw blades, hex key, and a Systainer. If you already have a cordless Festool power tool with the TRC3 battery charger, it's more economical to purchase a bare tool Carvex, and either use the battery that you already have, or purchase a new battery. The Carvex will accept 10.8 Volt to 18 Volt Festool-brand lithium ion batteries.

The Cordless Carvex Kits come with an 
18 Volt, 4.2 Ah battery (#499849) that retails for $124. This is a stellar battery that has a very long run time. My only complaint is that it doesn't have an on-board fuel gauge, which I find very convenient. However, it does come with a 3-year warranty.

The following table summarizes what's available.

StyleCordedCordless
HandleD-HandleBarrel HandleD-HandleBarrel Handle
Model #PCB420PS420PSBC 420 EBPSC 420 EB
Price$395$395Bare Tool: $395
Kit: $620
Bare Tool: $395
Kit: $620
Festool also offers an optional Carvex Accessory Kit (#497709, $226), which you can use with any of the Carvex models. I'll talk about this kit below.

I've had the opportunity of using a Carvex with the Accessory Kit over the past four weeks, and in this article I'll share my impressions about some of the key features of this new tool. While I tested the D-handle cordless Carvex (PSBC 420 EB), my comments are applicable to all the models.

Before we start, you'll want to know that Festool refers to the base plate (or foot plate) as a 'table', and the shoe (or base cover) as a 'runner'. What most of us refer to as orbital action Festool calls 'pendulum' action. Different words, same functions. I'll use the more common terms - base plate, shoe, and orbital.

Systainer

Whether you purchase the Carvex as a bare tool (no battery) or as a kit (with battery and charger), it comes in a T-LOC Systainer. Systainers are durable, portable, stackable boxes designed to facilitate tool storage, transportation, and organization - the epitome of what a good tool storage box should be.

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Stackable storage containers
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Neatly organized for quick access
In the photo to the left the Carvex is in the top systainer, and the Accessory Kit is in the bottom container. Latched together they can be easily stored away when not is use, or transported to a job site, without the risk of loosing, or damaging your gear. There is quite a bit of extra storage space in the Accessory Kit systainer to store additional blades, but just enough in the Carvex systainer for a couple of dozen blades of various lengths.

Power Controls

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A sufficiency of power controls

There are a couple of different ways to power on the Carvex. The method I ended up using most frequently was the power switch - push the switch forward and your off to the races. To power off the saw you can either push the power switch forward, or depress the trigger release and then press and release the trigger.

When you turn on the saw using the power switch, saw speed is controlled by the setting on the speed dial. I leave the dial set at "A" (automatic). At this setting the Carvex runs at a reduced speed before the blade makes contact with the work piece, then increases to maximum speed. This makes it easier to line up the blade with the cut line. You can select other speed dial settings when cutting metal, plastic, or other materials.

Alternatively, you can depress the trigger release, and then use the variable speed trigger to power the saw. With this method the automatic speed setting is disabled.

FastFix Blade Chuck


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Push and twist to insert a blade

On the first jigsaw I owned the blade was held in place by a set screw. You not only had to search around for the wrench, but you had to be careful not to touch the blade, as it can heat up quite a bit in use. Fortunately, most jigsaws now have some form of tool-less chuck.

Festool has a very effective blade holding mechanism - the FastFix Blade Chuck. When inserting the blade into the diagonal slot on the chuck you have to twist the blade slightly until it locks in place. Once installed it's virtually impossible for the blade to work loose. As well, the blade is held firmly in place and doesn't wiggle about.

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Push button blade ejection

Most jigsaws also have some form of blade release mechanism that enables you to pop out the blade. This minimizes the risk that you'll inadvertently grab onto a hot blade with your fingers. The blade ejection system on the Carvex is simple, and generally works quite well. To remove the blade you simply push a blade ejector that's located on the side of the jigsaw, which causes the blade to eject from the chuck with a surprising amount of force - so don't point the blade towards your face.

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Proper position of chuck
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Chuck is to low for blade ejector to engage
For the ejector to work, the chuck has to be positioned in-line with the ejector arm. On a couple of occasions, when I turned the jigsaw off, the chuck rested below the ejector arm, close to the blade guides. If this happens all you need to do is manually push the chuck upwards - remember though that a blade can get pretty hot. You can also just turn the jigsaw on for a couple of seconds - I found that this sometimes (but not always) repositions the chuck.

Interchangeable Base Plate System


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Interchangeable bases add versatility (standard flat base show above)

The Carvex is unique in that it incorporates an interchangeable base plate system. No screws or bolts - just pull out a single lever and the base disengages. The saw comes with a flat base plate (made of aluminum), on which is mounted a standard plastic shoe. The majority of straight and curved cuts are made with this flat standard base plate and shoe.

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Blades are perfectly perpendicular to the base

Installing or removing the base plate takes all of 5 seconds, and once you install a blade it will be perfectly perpendicular to the base.

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Angle base plate
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Guide rail base plate
There are two other base plates that you can purchase for the Carvex, along with several different shoes. These can be purchased separately, or as part of the Carvex Accessory Kit.

Blade Guide System

Bandsaw users know that the blade guides are one of the most crucial components that affect cut accuracy. Typically there are two side guide blocks that serve to keep the blade from twisting and deflecting, and a thrust bearing behind the blade that keeps the blade from flexing. With the guide system properly aligned, the blade will track perfectly, enabling you to make consistently straight cuts.

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A single roller wheel provides minimal support
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Dual side guides provide better support
Just about every jigsaw has some form of blade support. Most will have, minimally, a guide roller located behind the blade, which acts somewhat like a thrust bearing. The roller can have a narrow channel (above photo, left) that helps to keep the blade from wandering. This provides only a limited degree of blade support, primarily on straight cuts. However, when cutting circles or curves there is usually a fair amount of blade deflection. A better system, as found on jigsaws like the Bosch JS572 (above photo, right), incorporates side guides in addition to a roller bearing. They help the blade track better, especially on deeper cuts or tighter curves.

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Adjustable side guides provide optimal support

The Carvex also has a triple guide system - two side guides and a roller bearing behind the blade - but the difference is that the side guides are fully adjustable, as on a bandsaw. This means that you can fine tune the side clearance for the thickness of blade you're using to help eliminate blade deflection, thereby maximizing cutting accuracy. Additionally, the guides are made of carbide steel for durability and extra long life. As you can see in the photo above, the front of the guides are positioned close to the gullets of the blade, which ensures that more of the blade is supported by the guides. This has to be the most robust blade support system on the market.

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Simple, straightforward guide adjustment

While not necessary, I find it easier to adjust the guides by first removing the base plate. Using the supplied Allen key you can then make fairly precise adjustments to the guides. There is only one set screw to adjust in order to close up or widen the gap between the guides and the blade.
 
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Blade should be close to guide, but not touching

Similar to when adjusting the guides on a bandsaw, you want the guides as close to the blade as practical, without rubbing against the blade. In use, the stock will push the blade up against the roller bearing, causing the front beveled edges of the guides to score the back of the blade. So as not to over tighten the guides I found it best to gently hold the blade against the roller bearing as I tighten the guides.

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Some blade scoring is to be expected

The photo above shows a blade that was used to make a couple of dozen cuts. You can see how the guides are lightly scoring the back of edge of the blade. If you're getting a lot more scoring on the blade you might have the guides set too close to the blade. Try backing out the hex screw a tad.

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Perfectly straight freehand cuts

Where I really noticed the benefit of side guides is when cutting thicker or curved stock, where the blade has a greater tendency to flex. I was able to make nearly perfect freehand cuts in 2" Ash - the side of the cut is perpendicular to the top of the block, and it's very smooth, which means less time spent hand planing or sanding.

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Block cut on the bandsaw
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Freehand cut with the Carvex
Not only are the cuts square, the quality of the cut is better than I was able to get from my bandsaw, though this has likely more to do with the Carvex blade, which I found gave superb results (or perhaps the condition of the blade on my bandsaw, though it's relatively new).

Splinter Guard

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Splinter guards: zero clearance inserts

The triple guide system does a great job of ensuring the blade doesn't deflect. But, for a perfect cut, you want to minimize chip-out and splintering along the cut line. On a table saw the best way to reduce chip-out is to use a zero clearance insert plate, which provides support for the stock right up to the cutting edge of the blade. The equivalent feature on a jigsaw is an anti-splinter insert, which helps prevent tear-out on the top side of material. Inserts on jigsaws aren't new, though the ones that I'm familiar with have a pre-cut slot that the blade slips into. Invariably, the slot is too wide to be of much benefit.

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Push the splinter guard home
with the jigsaw running
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Properly installed splinter guard
The splinter guard on the Carvex is a solid piece of 1/8" thick clear plastic that is custom cut the first time you use it with a blade. This ensures that there is virtually no gap between the edges of the blade and the kerf that is cut into the splinter guard. There are grooves on both sides of the splinter guards that slip onto ribs on the mouth of the base plate. To install a splinter guard you partially insert it by hand, and than push the guard all the way home with the saw running. Best to do this up against a flat surface, like the edge of your work bench.

In the top right photo you'll notice that there is a gap between the back of the splinter guard and the shoe. 
Once the leading edge on the guard (right in front of the blade) becomes a bit ratty, you can push the guard another 1/8" into the blade, which extends the life of the guard. Once in place, there's no way the splinter guard will slip out. However, I found it difficult to extract the guards. What I ended up doing was to insert the tip of a flat screwdriver behind the guard and gently nudge it out.

Festool recommends using a new splinter guard each time you install a new blade. For general purpose cutting, when replacing a blade with an identical model blade, I don't swap out the splinter guard, and still get a decently clean cut. However, I don't chance it when working with expensive plys, or veneered panels I've made up in the shop - I replace the splinter guard. Besides, the guards aren't expensive. A 20 pack (#490121) retails for $23.

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Sample cut in Ash, topside and corresponding bottom side

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Sample cut in birch play (topside view)

I made a number of straight and curved test cuts in plywood, melamine, MDF, and solid wood, and the results were consistently chip free, on both the top and bottom sides of the stock. In the bottom photo above you can see how clean the side of the curved cut in plywood is. 

Carvex Accessory Kit

There are a number of accessories that you can use with the Carvex - some you might be able to do without, but at least two items that, in my view, all Carvex owners will want to have, as they considerably extend the functionality of the sawWhile you can purchase all the accessories individually, I think it's much more economical to purchase them as a kit. The Accessory Kit (#497709, $226) contains all the accessories Festool currently has for the Carvex, and is approximately $175 less than the cost of purchasing all the accessories separately. Plus you get a T-LOC Systainer in which to store and transport everything.

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Carvex Accessory Kit can be used with any Carvex jigsaw

Along with the T-LOC systainer, the kit contains a guide rail base plate, circle jig, angle base plate, four specialty shoes (which only fit on the standard base plate), five felts (used with one of the specialty shoes), and five splinter guards (which you can use on both the standard and guide rail base plates).

The Angle Base Plate

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Rear knob adjusts bevel angle; scale is difficult to read (insert)

You can't make bevel cuts with the flat base plate that comes with the Carvex. For this you'll need the Angle Base. This is my one issue with the Carvex - having to purchase an accessory for what most users will be accustomed to having as a standard feature on a jigsaw. use the bevel function frequently for edge treatments on table tops, cabinet tops, and the like, particularly when they're fairly large in size. I find it more convenient than manhandling large panels on the table saw.

While it's not overly complicated, the angle base does take some getting used to. It has two arms that pivot from +48-degrees to -48-degrees on a central axis. The knob at the back of the base is large and has a serrated edge, making it easy to grip, though it takes a good dozen turns to adjust the jaws to 45-degrees. Best to check the setting manually, as there is no detent at the 45-degree mark. You can try to use the bevel scale at the back of the Angle Base, but I found it very difficult to read in all but the best lighting, making adjustments that much more annoying.

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Both arms make firm contact with stock
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Angles other than 45-degrees provide less support
I made a range of bevel cuts in ply and solid wood and found that the base worked best when making 45-degree bevel cuts, as both arms ride flat against the stock (left photo above). When making other bevel cuts, for example a 30-degree cut (right photo above), only part of one arm rests against the stock. Even though this looks like (and certainly feels like) the saw will be less stable in use, making the cut was easy, and the results (photo below) were excellent. 

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Cuts on solid wood were generally chip free

Because you can't attach a splinter guard to the angle base plate I expected to see some chip-out on the top side of the cut. However, on solid wood there was little - the cuts were very clean. On plywood, particularly prefinished ply, there was noticeably more chip-out. Applying tape along the cut line does help reduce chip-out. As the blade cuts on the upstroke there won't be much, if any chip-out on the bottom side of cuts, on solid stock or plywood.

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Making an outside corner cut

I don't often make outside corner cuts, and found the best way to do so with the Carvex was to use a straight edge to guide the jigsaw. I thought this would be awkward, as the jigsaw is balanced on only one of its arms, but the cuts turned out quite well.

Circle Jig/Guide Rail Base Plate

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The circle jig is used with the guide rail base

To cut circles (and arcs) with any jigsaw you'll need to use some kind of jig. Festool's Circle Jig Set is one of the best jigs I've used. It consists of the circle jig and a guide rail base. You'll be able to cut circles from 4-3/8" up to 9' 10-1/8" in diameter. That's a pretty decent size range.

The circle jig snaps onto the front of the guide rail base. Like the flat base plate, you can install a splinter guard on the guide rail base. The trammel pin, which stores in the side of the circle jig, uses a 5/32" anchor hole. There are two trammel pin holes on the circle jig, one that you use when cutting in a clockwise direction, the other when cutting counter clockwise (which I use the majority of the time). The tape measure is only printed in metric (which, for a lot of woodworkers means having to convert to Imperial units), and the scale is easy to read.

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Arc cutting is a breeze with the circle jig set

I rarely have need to cut circles, but quite often I'll cut arcs for templates, and the circle jig set makes quick work of the task. The set-up process only takes a few minutes.

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Typical cut quality

Because of the splinter guard, there isn't much, if any, chip out. On the test cuts I made the cut edges were very smooth, requiring minimal clean-up.

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Center the cutting indicator over the cut line

As you can see in the photo above, if you align the center of the cutting indicator (nearest the splinter guard) with the cut line, you'll end up sawing just to the left of the cut line. To cut to the right of the cut line you'll need to align the cut line with the left pointer on the cutting indicator.

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Guide rail base attached to a Festool track

If you have a Festool guide rail, you can use the guide rail base mounted on the rail to make perfectly straight cuts. Tracks come in eight different lengths, and make a nice, albeit expensive, addition to the Carvex. Otherwise, you can run the Carvex along a straight edge. 

Specialty Shoes

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Optional shoes, L to R: Dimpled, stainless steel, phenolic, StickFix

The accessory kit contains four additional shoes that extend the functionality of the Carvex. They can only be attached to the standard base.

The dimpled shoe is used on rough surfaces, such as oriented strand board and rough lumber. The stainless steel shoe is meant for use on steel or aluminum surfaces. The phenolic base has a low-fiction surface that enables it to glide smoothly over most surfaces. Unlike the standard shoe that comes with the Carvex, it's less likely to trap sawdust and scratch work surfaces. It can be used on just about any surface, including solid wood, plywood, and veneer.
A super smooth hook and loop felt pad attaches to the top of the StixFix shoe, which is used on any smooth surface that you are concerned about scratching, such as prefinished plywood, laminates, and solid surface countertops like Corian. The felts cost around $13 for a 5-pack. 

Integrated Dust Collection

 
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Quick to install dust collection port

Dust collection on the Carvex is by far the best on any jigsaw I've used. It consists of two parts - a low-profile dust collection port that attaches to the standard and the guide rail bases, and is then connected to a dust extractor via any 27mm (1-1/16") vacuum hose. The port is super quick to install or remove.

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Adjustable chip guard

At the front of the Carvex is an adjustable, and removable, clear plastic chip guard. I found that when positioned all the way down you get much better dust extraction - the guard seems to act as a barrier for the air suction generated by the dust extractor, helping to funnel dust chips back toward the rear of the saw.

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Dust port not installed
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Dust port installed, vacuum switched on
In the two photos above you can see the benefit of connecting the Carvex to a dust extractor. Not only does the extractor pick up 80 to 90-percent of the dust, it helps to keep the cut line free of debris - not so important when making guided cuts, but crucial when making freehand cuts where you want to follow a cut line.

Stroboscopic Lights


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Four synchronized LED lights

I've been a fan of LED lights on power tools ever since they hit the market. Festool uses a unique stroboscopic feature on it's LED lights. The lights are timed to synchronize with the speed of the saw blade, which has the effect of making the blade appear motionless. It only takes effect at speeds above 2,100 SPM. Apparently this makes it easier to see your cut line when the blade is in motion. This is the default mode for the saw. However, you can switch to a steady-on mode, where the LED lights come on, but the strobe effect doesn't kick in, and you can switch the LEDs off.

While I found that the strobe feature does work - the blade indeed appears to be motionless - I didn't find that it really helped me follow the cut line any better. Also, at speeds below 2,100 SPM I found the strobe effect quite annoying. I ended up switching it to the steady-on mode.

Stroke Adjustment


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Stroke adjustment lever in position 3

All jig saws move the blade in an up and down motion. Some saws, like the Carvex, provide an orbital (or pendulum) feature. In orbital mode the blade is pushed toward the stock on the upstroke, and falls away from the stock on the down stroke, creating an orbital movement. The result is a more aggressive cutting action, at the expense of smoothness. The Carvex has four stroke positions, from '0' (off) to '3' (most aggressive). When the quality of the cut doesn't matter, or when cutting non-ferrous metal, aluminum, or ceramic, you can select a higher setting. I turn the orbital action off for all my cutting.

Ergonomics

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Comfortable, balanced grip

I've always preferred a barrel grip, as you can vary your grip on the tool body - with a D-handle you basically hold the tool one way. However, I opted to try the D-handle as I'm developing arthritis in my hands, and wanted to see if a different handle style would work better.

I found that the smaller diameter D-handle was easier to grasp than a barrel grip saw. It also provides excellent balance, and makes it easier to carry the tool. If you have small hands you might also find the D-handle easier to use.

In any event, t
he choice of handle configuration is largely personal, so you're best bet is to try both handle styles before making a decision.

Brushless Motor

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Brushless motors are here to stay, and we'll continue to see more of these motors in power tools. Festool is the first, and I think, the only company to bring a brushless jig saw to market.

Brushless motors offer a number of advantages over brushed motors. They're smaller and lighter, which helps to reduce overall tool weight; electronic speed controllers in the motors provide increased control over speed and torque settings; they generate less friction, heat and amp draw, resulting in a longer run time; they make more efficient use of energy to run the motor; and, they're virtually maintenance free. All of this means that you can expect to get better battery run time and longer tool life than a comparable tool with a brushed motor. I'm certainly in favour of anything that will make my power tools last longer. 

Blades

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Standard blades that come with the Carvex

Any jigsaw, including the Carvex, is only half as good as the blade that you use with it. While you can use any universal T-shank blade with the Carvex, Festool has a superb range of blades for a variety of applications. The Carvex comes with a S75/4 FSG and a 75/4 K blade. These high carbon steel, 6 TPI blades have a blade length of about 3" and a cutting depth of 2-1/8". Both have a cross-set tooth design, which I've found cuts quickly, yet provides an excellent finish. The S75/4 FSG is 1/16" thick and has .0156" of tooth set, while the 75/4 K is 3/64" thick and has about .008" of tooth set. I also tried the S 75/5 FS blade, which is the same as the FSG blade, but it has no tooth set. These blades are also available in 105mm (4") and 145mm (6") lengths. Prices run from $11 (5-pack) to $63 (20-pack). For the kind of work I do, mostly cabinetry and furniture, I didn't notice much of a difference between these blades - all gave excellent results. The FS and FSG blades are noticably stiffer than the K blade, which I prefered for straight cuts and arcs.
 

What's the Key For?

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A handy lanyard for your keys

The Carvex comes with a small green key attached to a lanyard. You won't find a mention of its function in the user guide. The key is used on the European versions of the Carvex - apparently it doesn't serve any function on the units sold in North America. But, the lanyard makes a nice way to keep track of your keys.

Conclusion

Overall, I'm impressed with the Carvex. Blade installation and removal is very quick; the blade guide system keeps the blade perpendicular to the stock whether making curved or straight cuts; chip-out is practically eliminated (when using the standard and guide rail base plates); the 4.2 Ah battery, like the Energizer rabbet, seems to go on forever; and, it's very smooth running, with virtually no vibration.

While I could live without the specialty shoes in the Accessory Kit, the Circle Jig and Angle Base Plate are indespensible. I don't know if I'll ever feel as comfortable using the Angle Base Plate as I do using a conventional tilting base plate, but it does the job surprisingly well.

If you're looking for a jigsaw to make the occasional curved or straight cut, then the Carvex isn't for you. However, for anyone who makes furniture or cabinetry, and wants to ensure they get clean, precise cuts, whether in solid stock or sheet goods, then the Carvex is well worth considering.

Excited by the new Festool Carvex? Share your thoughts and comments with us in the comments section at the end of this post.



KEY FEATURES (Carvex)
 
  • Brushless motor
  • Multi-Material Control electronics
  • Power source: Accepts 10.8 to 18 Volt lithium ion batteries
  • Stroke speed: 1,000 - 3,800 RPM
  • Stroke length: 1.02" 
  • 4 mode stroke adjustment
  • Cutting depth: 4.72" (wood); 3/4" (non-ferrous); 3/8" (steel)
  • Bevel adjustment: 0 to 45-degrees L & R (requires optional base WT-PS-400)
  • Accepts universal T-shank blades
  • Triple carbide blade guides
  • Four stroboscopic high intensity LED Lights
  • Six interchangeable bases
  • Trigger lock
  • FastFix quick blade release
  • Tool-less blade change
  • Adjustable, removable chip guard
  • Replaceable plastic splinter guard
  • Integrated blower
  • Dust extractor connector
  • Weight: 5.45 lb. (with battery)
  • Warranty: 3 years
  • Kit includes: Carvex, 18V 4.2 Ah Battery, Smart Charger, Splinterguard, dust port, 2-pc blades, Systainer, Instruction Manual
ACCESSORY KIT
 
  • Includes: Dimpled shoe (#497298), hard fiber shoe (#497299), steel shoe (#497300), StickFix shoe (#497301), angle base plate (#496134), guide rail base plate (#497303), circle cutter (#497304), 5 splinter guards (#490120), 5 felts (#497444), and T-LOC Systainer (#497564).
 
COMPANY:Festool
MODEL:PSBC 420 EB
PRICE:
$395 (body only); $620 (kit); $226 accessory kit
MADE IN:Germany
SOURCE:Dealer Locator
January 2014 

Author: 
Carl Duguay
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