Festool CMS GE Basic Router Table Review - Canadian Woodworking Magazine

A premium router table, with a full range of features, that quickly converts from stationary to benchtop mode.

Festool CMS GE Basic Router Table Review

Festool CMS GE Basic Router Table



It's no stretch of the imagination to suggest that the router table is an indispensable piece of equipment for anyone building furniture or cabinetry. While it obviously can't be used for every routing task, it does provide greater user safety, better control, a higher level of accuracy, and considerably more versatility than freehand routing. This is especially true when using larger bits – anything around 1-1/2" and larger – which are harder to control, particularly when routing edge grain. A router's fence also provides a higher degree of support when milling stock placed on edge. And, most woodworkers will likely feel more confident, and be able to exert more control, having both hands holding the work piece, rather than the router.
 
Woodworkers who might not use a router all that often, and those on a tight budget, will likely choose to build their own router table. Professional and avid hobbyist woodworkers, and those who use a router table in both the shop and on the job site, often choose to purchase a commercial router table.

As you might expect, premium router tables provide the greatest range of features, offer superior accuracy, and are typically designed to last a lifetime. Just as when buying any major shop machine you'll want to consider how your acquisition is likely to enhance your productivity, increase your accuracy, save you time, and generally reduce work stress.

There are quite a few high end router table systems to choose from, with one of the most recent additions being the Festool CMS (Compact Module System). The CMS is designed to work exclusively with Festool OF 1010 EQ  and OF 1400 EQ routers – you can't use any other router with the CMS.

Essentially, there are two models of the Festool CMS – the free-standing CMS GE and the CMS VL that attaches to a Festool MFT/3 multifunction table. Both models are available in a ''Basic' version, and a 'Set' or enhanced version that comes with the four optional CMS accessories - miter gauge, sliding table, table extension, and splitter dust hose. If you do a lot of router work then it's much more economical to purchase the Set version, rather than buying the accessories separately. The price difference between the Basic and Set versions is $484 - the cost of purchasing all four accessories separately is $1,066.

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The Festool CMS GE model

Over the past two months I've been using the Festool CMS GE Basic router table, equipped with a Festool OF 1400 EQ router, in my shop. The CMS GE Basic is a hybrid model that can be used as a free-standing router table, or folded up for use as a benchtop table (or for storing).

I won't go over the process of setting up the CMS and installing a router, as the process is clearly covered by Festool. The instruction manual that comes with the CMS it isn't overly detailed, and the black and white photos are much too small to see details clearly. You're better off downloading Festool's Router Table Supplemental User's Manual. As well, visit the Festool YouTube site, which has several very informative videos on setting up the CMS and attaching the various optional accessories.

Because the CMS GE and CMS VL models are almost identical, most of my comments below should apply to either model. As I have the CMS Basic model I won't comment on the optional miter gauge, sliding table, and table extension. Just so you know, setting up the CMS GE Basic model and installing a Festool OF 1400 EQ router took me less than half an hour.

STATIONARY/PORTABLE MODES

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Easy conversion from free-standing to benchtop mode

The ability to convert from stationary to benchtop mode was a major feature that attracted me to the CMS. Once you've practiced it a few time, the changeover takes about a minute. You simply loosen four large locking knobs on the legs, fold the legs, and re-tighten the knobs. You can do this with the legs positioned to the side, as in the photos above, or with the legs positioned to the front.

This is a very convenient feature if you think you'll be using a router table both in your shop and on a job site. As well, if you work in a small shop where floor space is at a premium, you can quickly fold up the legs and store the CMS out of the way, under a bench for example, until your next routing session. 

Table weight with the router installed is about 45 pounds, so you can easily pick up the table to move it around the shop – which probably explains why it doesn't have wheels. When transporting the CMS in benchtop mode to a job site you don't have to remove the router, or the fence for that matter.

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A bit of extra weight helps reduce table sway

In benchtop mode, when placed on a solid work surface (or the floor), the CMS is very stable. Rubber feet keep it from moving about, even on fairly smooth surfaces. However, I notice that in free-standing mode the unit has a slight tendency to sway side-to-side, likely because the weight is up high and there is no lateral support between the two pair of legs. The racking is more noticeable when routing longer stock.

I found that placing a piece of ply over the braces on the legs and loading the ply with some weight does help to reduce the swaying somewhat. Plus, it provides extra storage space – which you can never have too much of in a small shop. Mind you, the swaying doesn't compromise routing tasks – it's just annoying to find in a premium router table.

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The concrete floor in my shop isn't all that smooth or level. Consequently, whenever I move a piece of equipment around I invariably have to shim one of the legs. A nice feature on the CMS is the adjustable foot on the rear right leg, what enables you to stabilize the table very quickly.

Table height is just over 35" with the legs extended, and 12-7/16" with the legs folded, and can't be adjusted. These are standard heights you'll find on most stationary and benchtop router tables.

TABLE TOP

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Top plate lifts up for easy removal of router

Having a flat top is critical to the performance of any router table. If the table sags or bows routing accuracy is going to be compromised. The table top on the CMS consists of a 1/4" thick anodized aluminum plate that sits within a stout aluminum frame. The edges of the plate are perfectly level with the frame.

With the router installed I checked the plate along its X and Y axis using an engineers straight edge, and found that it was as flat as could be expected – a miniscule dip near the center at around .002". The aluminum surface is very smooth, and baring any abuse, should remain so for years.

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Two screws at the front edge of the table (photo at left) hold the plate snug in the frame. Loosening the screws enables you to lift the plate out of the top frame (photo above) to facilitate removing the router.

Because the plate is only 1/4" thick it doesn't accommodate a miter track, which a lot of people use to support a featherboard or a coping sled. While the CMS comes standard with a Hold down/Featherboard attachment, to make coping cuts you'll need to purchase the optional sliding table (standard on the CMS Set model).

The table is 16" by 24", the typical size for a benchtop model, but half the size of a standard stationary router table (which generally measure 24" by 32"). If you normally rout wide and long panels this might be an issue. You can purchase an optional outfeed table that provides an additional 14-3/4" x 17-7/8" of support (comes standard with the CMS Set model). The optional sliding table will also give you an extra 9" x 15" of support in front of the table.

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Small table top limits panel width

So far, I've not been bothered by the size of the table top. However, I mostly build furniture, and the largest panels I've routed to date were 15" by 38". I probably wouldn't want to rout panels much wider than about 18". However, for long panels you could place a roller support on the outfeed side of the router table for additional support.

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Throat plates snap into place

The throat plates (aka template rings) – black in the photo above – snap into a centering ring (white in the photo above), which makes installing and removing the rings, super quick and easy – a boon if you constantly change router bits throughout the day. It's nice not having to search around for a tool to remove the rings. I also like that the rings sit perfectly flush with the top.

FENCE

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Rigid aluminum split fence

The table top and the fence need to work together seamlessly in order to rout accurate joints and smooth edges. The CMS has a split fence with two 4-1/4" x 12-1/2" wings that are perfectly flat and straight. Once correctly installed I found them to be square to the table top, and because they're fairly short they don't bow under pressure. I found the fence height adequate for the bulk of routing that I do. The T-track integrated into the front of the fence wings enables you to mount a taller ply or MDF sub-fence as needed.

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Quick fence to table alignment

Over time the fence on any woodworking machine can get out of square, particularly when subject to a lot of use. On the CMS a screw behind each fence makes quick work of realigning the fence to the table. I put the fence intentionally out of alignment, and then realigned it in under 60 seconds.

There is also a T-track integrated onto the top of the fence, which is convenient for mounting a flip stop, or perhaps some other accessory.

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Large fence adjustment knobs

If you use the router table quite a bit then you'll be regularly moving the whole fence forward and backwards, as well as adjusting the fence wings sideways. The largish knobs on the CMS make these adjustments relatively easy. 


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Micro adjust for right fence

Unfortunately, the CMS doesn't have a micro adjust for the full fence. This means that you end up having to manually tweak the position of the fence relative to the bit when setting the width or length of a cut. If you're making multiple incremental cuts, it can be time consuming to readjust the fence. While not a deal breaker in my view, it's a disappointment.

What the fence does have is a micro adjust mechanism for the right wing. An adjustment knob at the back of the fence enables you to move the right wing 5/16" in .004" (0.1mm) increments. A full turn of the knob moves the wing .04". This feature is useful when you need to joint small, narrow stock – which is much safer to do on the router table than the jointer.


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Adjustment scale can be difficult to read

There is a metric scale on either side of the fence that you can use to align the fence relative to the router bit. Because the markings on the scale, and the registration line on the table top are all the same colour, my aging eyes found it difficult to read the scale in all but ideal lighting conditions.

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Fence in relation to router bit when installed on front mounting holes

A nice feature on the CMS is that the fence can be attached to the table top in one of two locations relative to the router bit opening. When installed in the holes nearest the router bit, the maximum distance between the fence and bit center is 11/16". The fence can be advanced so that it encapsulates the bit. I have been able to do virtually all my routing with the fence installed in this position.

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Greater distance from bit when installed on rear mounting holes

With the fence installed in the rear holes, the fence distance from the bit center is between 9/16" and 2-5/8". This location is handy when you want to rout further away from the edge of a board.

Changing the position of the fence is straightforward, except that you need to turn the
two knobs that hold the fence onto the table top 16 times just to release the fence – and another 16 turns to re-tighten the knobs. Speed nuts integrated into the knobs, or shorter bolts would speed things up.

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There are two knobs on each fence wing that need to be loosened to adjust the mouth opening between the wings. The maximum practical fence opening is 3". You can alter the opening by loosening a screen on the back of each fence wing. I left these screws unloosened, which I find makes the throat adjustment easier.




BIT INSTALLATION/HEIGHT ADJUSTMENT

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Bit installation involves a kneeling and reaching action

Installing and removing a router bit, and adjusting the bit height, are two of the most frequent operations you perform on the router table. On the CMS these operations are easy to do, though they involve bit of kneeling and reaching underneath the table. Thankfully, bits can be accessed from above the table top.

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The fence often impedes the removal of the throat plate

In order to change a bit you first need to remove the throat plate. When the fence is installed in the front mounting holes (the typical location I use) you have to open the wings in order to remove the throat plate. With the fence installed on the rear mounting holes you need to move the fence backward to fully expose the throat plate – you don't need to open the wings.

Once the throat plate is removed you then crank up the collet, insert the bit, and tighten the collet nut with a wrench. The process is straightforward, but it does involve quite a few steps:

  • Reach under the table and release the plunge lock knob on the router.
  • With your other hand press the router's trigger release lock button.
  • Turn the crank handle to raise the collet up as far as it will go.
  • Reach under the table and depress and hold the right side of the spindle stop button on the back of the router.
  • Use the supplied wrench to loosen the collet nut.
  • Extract the router bit, insert the replacement bit, install the collet nut, and tighten the nut (you need to depress and hold the left side of the spindle stop button when tightening the collet nut).
  • Lower the bit to the required depth.
  • Re-install the throat plate.
  • Reach under the table and tighten the plunge lock knob on the router.
  • With your other hand lock the power button in the 'on' position.
  • Reinstall the fence.
The first few week or so of using the CMS this process seemed a tad convoluted. However, with repetition comes familiarity, and the process now takes me noticeably less time. One feature that I particularly like is the ratcheting action on the router spindle that makes for the fastest and easiest nut tightening and loosening of any router on the market.

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Router bits can be adjusted in 1/256" increments

With the OF 1400 router you can dial in an incredible 1/256" of bit depth. That's a level of precision I'll likely not use all that often, but it's nice to know that it's available if needed.

As with the adjustment scale on the side of the fence, the registration marks scored into the table top can be hard to read, depending on lighting conditions and how good your eyes are. I still use a ruler and make test cuts until the cutting depth is spot on.

HOLD DOWN/FEATHERBOARD

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Combo hold down and featherboard can be tilted out of the way

The CMS comes with a very practical, easy to use combination hold down and featherboard that mounts into a rectangular receiver on the fence. Certainly the best that I've seen. When not needed it can be quickly removed, or simply tilted upwards, out of the way.

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Narrow stock is awkward to push past the featherboard

When routing narrow stock the featherboard makes it difficult keep your right hand in contact with the work piece when completing the cut. One option is to move the featherboard forward, out of the way, as shown in the photo on the right. However, this defeats the purpose of the featherboard (as both a safety device, and to apply constant pressure on the work piece against the router bit). I simply use a push stick to move the work piece past the router bit once the end of the work piece approaches the right side of the featherboard. Works like a charm.

DUST COLLECTION

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Superior dust collection - if you use the dual splitter hose

The CMS has, by far, the best collection system I've used. With a single hose attached either to the fence or the router dust collection is good. However, with the optional splitter dust hose installed dust collection is superb. The splitter hose is essentially two hoses connected by a Y-fitting that attaches to your dust extractor, with one hose attached to the fence and the other hose attached to the router underneath the table. What this gives you is better accuracy, a cleaner shop, and better air quality.

In the photo above the dust you see on the top of the table is everything that wasn't picked up after I finished rounding over both sides of 92 tambour slats. I think that's pretty impressive.

ROUTER

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Festool OF 1400 EQ mounted on CMS table top plate

As I mentioned earlier, the CMS only accepts the Festool OF 1010 EQ and OF 1400 EQ routers. The OF 1400 EQ, which I use, is a fabulous router for freehand use - and it does a stellar job when mounted on the CMS. Fortunately, it only takes a couple of minutes to remove the router from router table, which is important to me, as apart from a palm router, I now use the OF 1400 EQ for quite a bit of my freehand routing.

Some of the features I particularly like on this router are:

  • The pistol grip (which houses the on-off switch) and the knob handle (which locks the routing depth) make the router very easy to control, increasing accuracy, particularly for complex cuts. 
  • Plunging depth is a generous 2-3/4" and can height adjustments can be made in an impressive 1/256" increments.
  • The unique spindle locking button and the collet ratcheting system make bit changes the easiest that I've ever experienced.
  • The included guide bushing adapter simply snaps into the base, and you can use standard 1-3/16" brass template guides with it.
  • The router comes with three collets: 1/4", 1/2", and 8mm.
  • Dust extraction on this router is about as good as it gets. There is a chip extractor that attaches to the top of the router base and surrounds the bit, and a chip catcher that attaches to the bottom of the router. Together they remove pretty well all the dust chips.
  • The 12 amp motor is powerful enough to all but the largest router bits, and it features Festool's proven MMC (Multi Material Control) electronic circuitry that provides constant power under load, and it protects the motor from overheating.
SUMMARY

Every woodworking machine has it's quirks, and the Festool CMS is no exception. Most notably it has a slight tendency 
to sway side-to-side, lacks a micro adjust for the full fence, the fence often impedes the removal of the throat plate, and bit changeover is a tad cumbersome. 

I've found that I can live with these quirks, and that what the CMS has to offer far outweighs what it lacks. Most important to me is the high build quality on this router table. I look for machines that are built to last decades, not years, and that will stand up to rigorous day-to-day use. After two months of using the CMS in the shop I've no doubt that it will still be performing admirably when I'm not. Both the table top and the fence are super flat, straight, and rigid, while bit installation and height adjustment, though not as speedy as I might like, are straightforward, and highly accurate.

Because I work in a small shop, I also look for machines that make efficient use of space, and that I can easily move about. The CMS scores big on this, as it's quick to convert from stationary to benchtop mode, and light enough for me to cart around the shop without risking a slipped disc.

I'm very happy that the OF 1400 EQ router can be so quickly removed from the CMS for freehand use – simply because it's such a stellar router.

Working in a small shop has made me a lot more diligent about dust management, and the CMS has the best dust control system that I've seen on a router table (when using the optional dual splitter hose). 


If you're looking for a long term relationship with a premium router table, then the Festool CMS is definitely one that you should consider. I think that you won't be disappointed – I'm certainly not.


KEY FEATURES:

CMS GE Basic:
  • Footprint: 22" by 37"
  • Work table surface: 16" by 24"
  • Work table height: 35-1/2" 
  • Work table height (legs folded): 12-7/16"
  • Fence size: 4-1/4" x 12-1/2" (each side)
  • Weight: approx 45 pounds (with router installed)
  • Warranty: 3 years
  • Includes: fence, hold down/featherboard, chip deflector, wrench
OF 1400 EQ:
  • Motor: 11.7 Amps (1,400 watts)
  • Speed: 10,000 - 22,500 RPM
  • Soft start
  • Routing depth: 2-3/4"
  • Fine adjustment: 1/256"
  • Fine adjustment routing depth: .31"
  • Weight: 9.9 lbs
  • Warranty: 3 years
  • Includes: 1/2", 1/4", 8mm collets; chip catcher, dust extraction hood, guide rods, Plug-it power cord, guide bushing adapter, systainer, instruction manual

COMPANY:Festool
MODEL:CMS GE Basic Table: P00112
OF 1400 EQ Router: 574342
PRICE:CMS GE Basic Table: $1,482.00
OF 1400 EQ Router: $647.00
MADE IN:Germany
SOURCE:Where to Buy
October 2014
Author: 
Carl Duguay
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