Festool CT26E Dust Extractor - Canadian Woodworking Magazine

If you are looking for a highly reliable and efficient tool that does a great job of managing dust in the shop or on a job site, then the Festool CT26 is well worth considering.


Festool CT26E Dust Extractor

Wood chips and dust are two unavoidable by-products of woodworking, and managing them is both an ongoing chore and a challenge. Essentially there are two ways to manage dust - using either a centralized or a localized collection system. For stationary machinery that produce large volumes of wood chips, the best choice is either a single or two-stage (cyclonic) dust collector.

For powered hand tools (random orbital sanders, circular saws, and the like) that typically produce smaller volumes of wood chips, and often larger volumes of finer dust, shop vacuums are very effective. In small shops where space is at a premium, shop vacuums are also ideal for benchtop machinery, such as jointers, router tables, miter saws, mortisers, and spindle sanders.
For the past year I've been working in a shop that is just over 250 square feet - space is sacred. I do have access to a larger shop with a stationary thickness planer when I need to process large amounts of rough lumber. But in general, I do all my work out of the small shop.

Rather than a conventional dust collector, I've been using a shop vacuum. While it's proven to be less convenient than a dust collector, it takes up much less space, I can easily move the unit around the shop, and fairly quickly switch the hose from one benchtop machine or power tool to the next. I also like that it's noticeably quieter than a dust collector. And, it's proven to be very effective at capturing most of the dust generated at source. Plus, I do occasional onsite work, and I can easily transport the vacuum to and from a job site.
A major limitation with vacuums is that they have small storage capacities, so they need to be emptied more often. This is really evident when using a thickness planer or even a benchtop jointer. Fortunately, there are a couple of work-arounds, including the Oneida Ultimate Dust Deputy, which I've reviewed in a companion article.
Shop vacuums have undergone a number of improvements over the years and there are now several brands designed specifically with the needs of woodworkers in mind. To distinguish these newer products from the more conventional vacuums, you'll find that maufacturers refer to them as 'dust extractors'.
In this review I'll share my experience using the Festool Cleantex CT26E HEPA (#583492) dust extractor. There are 5 models of Festool extractors, ranging from 2.6 gallon capacity, up to 12.7 gallons. The CT26 is right in the middle of the pack, at 6.9 gallons. As the models are quite similar, most of my comments below should be relevant to all the models.


Short and squat provides lots of stability

The CT26 is a mid-sized extractor, with a footprint that is approximately 25" by 14", and a height of just over 21". While most extractors are round, and generally tall in relation to their foot size, the rectangular shape of the CT26, with its low center of gravity, provides a considerable degree of stability. It's almost impossible to inadvertently flip the extractor onto its side, whether you pull hard on the exhaust hose, or bump up against it. The large 1-3/4" by 8" rear wheels and the 2-1/2" by 4" 360-degree rotating front wheels make it easy to move the extractor about the shop, and they move easily enough over debris and extension cords on the shop floor.

Spring loaded latches

There are two sections to the CT26. The motor and HEPA filer are housed in the top part of the extractor, while the bottom part houses the waste storage container and dust bag. A pair of sturdy metal flip latches hold the two halves securely together, yet quickly detach and swing out of the way when removing the top. The latches are nearly flush to the sides of the extractor, so they won't get caught up against anything when it's being moved about.

Motor and filter are separate from the storage container (dust bag removed for clarity)

Having the motor and filter separate from the dust storager container makes a lot of sense: the filter doesn't take up space inside the container, and it's much easier to access the container for chaning dust bags.

A channel along the bottom half mates with the rubber gasket on the top half for a tight seal

The bottom half has a channel, in which the rubber gasket along the rim of the top half neatly fits into.This forms a tight seal between the two halves, which prevents dust, debris, water, and moisture from getting into the extractor.

Fully enclosed motor housing

A feature that I particularly like is that the motor on the CT26 is completely enclosed by a plastic shield, keeping dust and debris away from the motor and electronics. There are a series of vents on the front of the extractor, just below the control panel, which I assume provide air to help cool the motor.

Foot activated parking brake

On the front of the CT26 is a very clever, and very neat 'parking brake'. Essentially, it's a foot activated spring-loaded lever that raises the two front wheels off the floor, stabilizing the extractor. To activate the brake you simply push down with your foot on the brake while pulling the extractor forward. A padded 'foot' swings down and locks in place, lifting the front wheels off the ground. When you're ready to move the CT26 just press your foot against the large green release handle located above the stabilizing foot.

It works quite well on rougher floor surfaces, less so on smooth, slippery surfaces. On my concrete shop floor the CT26 does tend to slide forward if I pull too hard on the dust hose. Still, it does work much better than other wheel locking systems I've used.

A long power cord that is easily stored

The heavy duty 12-gauge power cord on the CT26 is a generous 24' long - and when it comes to power cords, longer really is better. However, when strung out across the floor it can be a tripping hazard, particularly in a small shop. On the back end of the CT26 you'll find a cord hook. It's convenient for keeping any unused length of cord off the floor, and storing the cord when you want to tranport the extractor. Small 'hooks' on either side of the cord hook enable you to clip the end of the cord neatly in place.

Stack as many Systainers on top of the CT26 as you want

The flat top of the CT26 is designed to hold one or more Festool Systainers. You can also attach the Oneida Ultimate Dust Deputy. If you own any Festool products you'll know all about Systainers. Systainers are portable, stackable boxes designed to facilitate tool storage, transportation, and organization. One of the great features of Systainers is that they can be stacked on top of each other, and you can open any of the stacked boxes without having to separate them (Note: This applies to the 'T-Loc' style boxes, not the earlier latch style boxes.) Most Festool products come with a Systainer.

Latches on one side and indents on the other hold Systainers firmly in place

Attaching a Systainer to the CT26 couldn't be quicker or easier. Two green sliding latches on one side of the top, and two corresponding indents on the opposite side (what Festool calls its Sys-Dock feature) securely hold the Systainer in place. This effectively turns the extractor into a mobile cart for various power tools and accessories. It provides extra storage space in the shop, and makes it very convenient for keeping tools organized and at hand on the job site.

If you don't own any Festool tools, you can still purchase the Systainers separately and use them to store tools from other manufacturers, and to store accessories and hardware. There are about a dozen Systainer models to choose from. You can even make your own Systainer. Check out the clever multifunction boxes that Timothy Wilmots made,or watch his video.

Convenient hose storage and a sturdy carry handle

Hoses can be unwieldly to store and more around. Fortunately, there is a 4-1/2" deep cavity in the top of the CT26, perfect for storing the hose when not in use. It will accomodate either the 1-1/16" hose that comes standard with the extractor, or the larger 1-15/16" hose. I find this feature especially handy when transporting the extractor to a job site.

A sturdy handle is integrated into the central cavity so that you can easily lift the 29 pound extractor onto the bed of your truck, into and out of a job site, and up and down stairs.

Anti-static hoses: very durable if somewhat stiff

Standard hoses have a nasty habit of building up a static charge of electricity as the fine dust particles flow at high speeds along the walls of the hose. Touch the hose and you can get a real zap. Nothing dangerous here I think, but it is rather annoying. Which is why I love the anti-static hose that comes standard with the CT26. At 11-1/2 feet the hose is reasonably long. It has a 1-1/16" (27mm) diameter - which works fine with Festool brand tools. While it does work with some tools, like my Bosch ROS65VC random orbital sander, you may need to purchase an adapter to accomodate your tools - Festool sells a variety of adapters. Or get out the duct tape.

The hose is noticeably more rigid than other hoses I've used, which can sometimes be an annoyance, and it has a tendency to coil in one direction. On the plus side, it's super sturdy. I've walked on it more than once, and dropped a rather heavy 2x8 length of Ash on it without noticing any cracking or deforming. If you plan on using the extractor with a thickness planer or benchtop jointer you'll really want to purchase the larger 1-15/16" hose, which comes in various lengths, from 11-1/2' to 23'. I found that the smaller diameter hose constantly plugged up with debris.

L to R: hose outlet (2-9/32" o.d. 2-3/32" i.d.); small hose inlet (tapers 1-3/8" to 1-13/32"); large hose inlet (1-3/4" o.d. 1-1/2" i.d.)

To remove any residual dust in the hose (and in the tool attached to the end of the hose) after the extractor is turned off, the CT26 is equipped with a delay shut-off. It causes the motor to continue sucking for 4 or 5 seconds after its turned off. I appreciate this feature most when I'm doing a lot of stop and start operations.

Easy as pie to connect and remove hoses

Because the extractor is my only dust collector I'm regularly moving the hose from one tool to the next, or switching from the smaller diameter to large hose. Thank goodness for the 'push and pull' style of hose connection. It's surprising how firmly the hose connects to the extractor with moderate hand pressure, and how easy it is to remove. It might seem like an inconsequential feature, but it makes things go a lot smoother.

Hoses can be awkward to manipulate, so Festool has put a small hole on the top rim of the CT26 - it's for an optional hose holder (#487072, $45) that provides table-high hose support, reducing drag on the hose when sanding, routing, or sawing. With a bit of ingenuity you could likley install a shop-made hose support.

HEPA filter for healty lungs

Maybe its because I now work in such a small shop, without windows, that I'm much more conscious of the quality of air I breath in. Or because I'm getting older. Or because I have allergies. Either way, I'm a big fan of HEPA filters, and glad that Festool has chosen to install them on all of its extractors (with the exception of the CT36AC model). The HEPA filter removes 99.99% of particulate matter down to 0.3 micron.
Lift and carry filter frame

To access the filter you flip the green filter retainer handle upwards and then remove the frame. The HEPA filter, which just sits in the frame, has a large 6-7/8" by 8-1/8" surface area to trap the really fine dust. One a week I remove the filter and tap it against the side of a trash can (located outside the shop) to dislodge the crap. Occasionally I'll blow it clean with compressed air. If you use dust bags with the CT26, as you should, and regularly clean the filter, the HEPA filter will last a very long time.

Self-cleaning fabric dust bag

The CT26 comes with a self-cleaning dust bag (what Festool calls a filter bag). According to Festool, it all has to do with caking on the inside of the bag. The issue is that in use, fine dust clings to the inner lining of dust bag, and as the 'cake' builds up, it begins to reduce suction power, and the extractor becomes less efficient. Plus, it causes a greater build up of heat inside the unit, which isn't good for the motor. Unlike rigid type dust bags which you might be more familiar with, Festool's new self-cleaning fleece bags are very pliable, and when you turn the CT26 off, the bag partially deflates, causing the cake to fall off the sides of the bag. They're also quite strong, so filled bags won't spill their contents when moved about. Another feature of these bags is that they trap dust particles down to 5 microns, which helps to extend the life of the HEPA filter.

Rubber seal to keep dust in the bag; closure to prevent dust from getting out of the bag - very clever
There are a couple of other nice features that set these dust bags apart. There is a rubber seal that fits tightly around the dust intake. It helps keep dust from going where it isn't supposed to go. Once the bag is filled with dust, the trick is to move it to your trash bin with a minimal amont of dust escaping the bag. Festool has put a simple cardboard handle at the mouth of the bag opening - pull the handle, and the opening is sealed. It works really well to prevent spilling.

SelfClean dust bags take about 30 seconds to replace - then you're back to work

Changing dust bags takes about 30 seconds. There is a slot just below the dust intake, in which you hook the bottom of the cardboard sleeve. Then you simply push the rubber seal around the intake port until you feel the top of the sleeve click into place. That's it. There really is no way the dust bag can work loose. To remove the bag you lift up on the green clip and push the sleeve off the intake port. And, of course, don't forget to pull the cardboad handle to close the mouth of the bag so no dust escapes.

A set of 5 bags (#496187) costs $40.00. An alternative is to purchase Festool's Longlife filter bag. It can be refilled 500 times before needing to be replaced - that works out to .44 cents a refill. While it's a no-brainer if you use the CT26 day-in and day-out, you'll need to get your mind around the rather imposing $220 price tag. Of course, you do need to empty the Longlife bag, which potentially puts dust back in the shop air,unless you can empty the bag outdoors. I'll be purchasing the Longlife bag as soon as I'm done with my last SelfClean bag.
The tank capacity on the CT26 is rated at 6.9 gallons, while the dust bag has a 6.3 gallon capacity. Regardless, what's really important to me is that the bags fill completely in use. And, just as importantly, I seem to be getting the same high level of suction throughout the life cycle of the dust bag - whether the bag is empty or three quarters full.

Straightforward up-front controls: auto start outlet, variable suction control, and power switch

The CT26 has a 10 amp motor that delivers an impressive air flow of 137 cubic feet per minute, and a water lift capability of 96". A high volume of air flow is important for moving the lighter weight dust particles. Water lift is a measure of the amount of suction the extractor can develop - the bigger the number the greater the suction, especially for moving larger wood chips. Compare these levels to other extractors on the market and you'll see that the CT26 is right at the top of the food chain.
The power controls are up-front on the CT26, and consist of a auto start outlet, variable suction control, and power switch.
I find the auto start feature (also called tool triggered activation) to be indispensible. Plug any tool into the  outlet, and when you press the tool trigger, the extractor starts. It's an effeciency enhancer. I've connected tools with a 15 amp draw to the CT26 without any problem. The extractor not only has to regulate power to it's motor, but also to the tool that is plugged into it. To reduce the strain on both motors, and prevent a current surge at start-up, the CT26 features a delayed start-up. It's barely noticeable, and results in a smooth, rather than a sudden, jerky start-up.
The power switch has two settings, depending on whether you have a tool plugged into the auto start outlet or not. When connected to a tool you turn the power switch to the 'auto' mode, so that the extractor will automatically start whenever power is drawn through the outlet. Otherwise you switch the power on and off manually.
The suction control switch, as the name implies, controls the airflow, from a few CFM up to the maximum 137 CFM. Most of the time I leave the switch at full throttle, but when using a random orbital sander I'll often decrease suction - otherwise the suction pulls the sander down too tightly against the material I'm sanding. As well, lowering the CFM will also make the CT26 run quieter.

A place for the optional compressed air module

Right next to the tool triggered activation outlet is a cover plate under which is an outlet for optional modules. At this time the only module available is the compressed air module that enables you to use the CT26 with an pneumatic sander.

I haven't used the CT26 to vacuum water, but it does have an automatic water level sensor that shuts off the unit before it overfills. As well, the top part of the CT26 that houses the motor is sealed, and the lid has a gasket to keep water out. If you do use it for liquids be sure to remove the HEPA filter, and install a wet filter (#496169, $23).
Festool also has a wide variety of accessories for the CT26, including reducing sleeves, different styles of hose holders, cleaning tools, hoses, and filters.

A perfect match for any Festool tool that generates lots of dust or wood chips

There is a lot to like about the CT26, and very little to grumble over. It's reasonably quiet - ranging anywhere from about 62 to 72 dBA, depending on the level of suction. It does an excellent job of sucking up dust and filling the dust bag to the brim, without any apparent loss of suction power. And,the dust bags are quick and easy to remove and reinstall. I like that I can stock pile the full bags until my local landscaper takes them away for composting.
I use the CT26 quite extensively with a Festool TS55EQ plunge saw to process my sheet goods and rough lumber before final dimensioning on the table saw. This is a combination made in heaven. A lot easier on my back, and the CT26 picks up 80 percent or more of the dust. When connected to my random orbital sander the extractor seems to pick up just about all the dust.
Connecting some non-Festool tools to the CT26 has occasionally been a challenge. Nothing that a bit of ingenuity can't usually overcome - though at the expense of time and patience.

The biggest hassle I had was that the bags filled up too quickly when thickness planing. I could easily go through two or three bags in the matter of a couple of hours. However, the Oneida Ultimate Dust Deputy, which I recently installed, diverts larger dust chips into a separate nine gallon container that uses plastic dust bags costing me less than a dollar each. The longer term cost savings are substantial.

The CT26 costs $671 (plus taxes and delivery if you can't pick one up locally), and comes with a 1-1/16" hose and one self cleaning filter bag. On average, I'm in the shop 30 hours a week, and the CT26 is my only dust extraction system, so it gets a lot of use. If it lasts the duration of the warranty (3 years), my annual cost of ownership (less consumables) is about $250. Given the reputation of Festool, and my experience with the TS55EQ, I think it reasonable that I'll get 5 years from the unit, which works out to a COO of $150 a year. And, if you run a woodworking business, you can claim a 20% capital cost allowance. Factoring in its small footprint, the ease of quickly connecting it to different tools, the convenince of transporting it to a work site, it's efficiency in sucking up dust, the relatively low noise level, and it's overall reliability - the CT26 provides me with good value for my money. While it's certainly hard not to get perturbed by the initial upfront cost of any premium tool, it's important to look at the prorated cost over the expected life of the product.

If you're looking for a vacuum simply to clean up the shop floors, then the CT26 is probably not for you. However, if you are looking for a highly reliable and efficient tool that does a great job of managing dust in the shop or on a job site, then the Festool CT26 is well worth considering.


ModelCleantex CT26E HEPA (583492)
Air FLow3,900 liters/minute
Water Lift96"
Tank Capacity6.9 gal
Bag Capacity6.3 gal
Filter0.3 micron HEPA
Dust BagSelf-cleaning fabric bag
Delay Shut Off4-5 seconds
Power Tool ActivationYes
Variable Suction ControlYes
Noise Level (min/max)62 to 72 dB
Hose1-1/16" x 11'6", anti-static
Power Cord24'
Weight28.7 lbs
Dimensions24.8" L x 14.4" W x 21.5" H
Warranty3 years
Where to BuyDealer Locator
Includes(1) HEPA filter, (1) Selfclean bag, (1) 1-1/16" x 11'6" anti-static hose
July 2013

Carl Duguay
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