Festool is expensive. I don’t think I’m breaking any news by putting this up front and center. It may be what they are primarily known for, but Festools are also good. Usually.
There are quite a few sanders in the Festool line: 5″ and 6″ random orbits, rotary versions of both plus a 3.5″, rectangular and delta versions of the 5″, drywall, half sheet sanders…you get the point. The 5″ random orbit is called the ETS 125, the number representing in millimeters the pad size. It is normally almost $200, which is a stark number to ask when competitors are half that price or better.
So, Festool tried something new this time, a limited edition of an upgraded ETS 125 called the Pro 5. You’ll notice right away the use of imperial numbers, something Festool is also trying with a number of tools in their lineup – catering to the American measurement system. You’ll also notice right away the limited edition price – $99.
When the Pro 5 reverts back into the new ETS 125 in 2017, it will most likely go back to near or at $200, come in the regular systainer, and come with the dust bag and a sheet of paper. Until then, it is further identified as a limited edition by coming with a total of 11 discs of sandpaper (the standard 120 grit, plus a 10 pack of 2-80, 2-120, 2-150, 2 -180, 2 -220) of Granat variety, a locking port for your hose to match the new sanders, and a gorgeous dark blue systainer with green accents. This is the same blue that the tools are in, which a lot of people mistake for black. It truly is a stunning combination, and I’d like to see them go with this color standard.
The special price point was designed to get more people into the Festool ecosystem, and I’m sure to sell more 5″/125mm paper and pads. The ETS 125 was a hard sell to even those invested in the Festool system, mainly because it felt a bit underpowered, had a small stroke, and with the pricing occupied an odd spot in their lineup. The ETS 125, DTS 400 and RTS 400 all use the same motor and housing, and just differ in the pad shape and size, with the RTS/DTS priced about $100 higher. The thing about the ETS was that for about 40% more, you could pick up the 6″ ETS 150 in either 3mm or 5mm stroke. A bigger pad size allows for more work done in less time, and is generally considered by most Festool fans to be a much better value.
Festool tried to make this more appealing by bumping the power – a 25% increase from before. The power rocker is bigger and more finger friendly. It has a new dust port that features a twist and lock mechanism, for more secure attachment to the extraction hose. All three sanders will now include edge protectors, which is a great move in my opinion. I think there is an improvement with the pad extraction, but I can’t speak to that with any accuracy. Obviously, the thing that does the most to make the sander appealing is the price. At $100, it competes on a more level standing with offerings from Dewalt and others. The other big factor is the inclusion of a$50 rebate, to be used upon the purchase of any other Festool power tool – or rather, anything with a serial number (MFT is included). No accessories, but then that is to be expected.
So for anyone already in the market for another Festool, it equates to a $50 sander. That’s a heck of a deal. So how does it perform? Well, the thing to remember is that this is a 2mm stroke sander. It is for finishing, not stock removal. It should be the last sander you reach for, not the first. I have three sanders that I will be comparing this to: a cordless 5″ Ryobi, a 5″ Porter Cable, and my 6″ Festool 150/3.
My first sander, the Ryobi, I nicknamed Disco Volante. Why? It would spin like a top if you let go of it, an indication of how out of balance the thing was. A lot of that could be contributed to the effect of a heavy battery on top. If you’re coming from something like this, you will absolutely be blown away, but perhaps for the wrong reasons. Pretty much any sander is going to be better balanced and better made than that Ryobi I had.
The other 5″ sander I owned was a Porter Cable 390K. This is a low profile sander that unfortunately is no longer in production. This was a great sander. It did very well at removing stock at lower grits all the way up. It was comfortable. It did have the tendency to vibrate, and the pad material broke down a bit too quickly. At around $60, it fared comparably to other box store sanders. If I was comparing it directly to the Pro 5, I would say the Pro 5 is slightly better. The dust collection is better, and it is better balanced. Unfortunately though, the 390K was a better all around sander due to the larger stroke. As long as your hands didn’t mind getting numb, you could use it for awhile.
My best comparison is to the ETS 150/3. This is a decent compliment if you need a lighter, smaller sander for vertical surfaces. I would still say that if you could only get one, or you needed a first one, the 150, 3mm or 5mm stroke, is the better choice. It is more ergonomic, even better balanced, and you get the advantage of the larger pad and stroke. The 150/3 is a sander I can use for hours, with any grit. It will get the job done in orders of multitude faster than the 125.
I used the Pro 5 two different ways. The first was testing it out on rough cedar and soft maple. While I went through the grits as expected and got good results to the touch, I also did a run of just 220 and it actually felt better on both the cedar and maple. I also compared it to the 150, and the 150 made much shorter work of it. The feel was the same, and it pretty much should using the same Granat discs in the same 220 grit. The other way was on my LEGOrganization cabinet, by sanding from 120 to 220 on the drawer fronts while they were still in the cabinet, with the drawer pulls already installed. I did enjoy the edge protector, the lighter weight, and the finish it gave me I had no complaints with.
The Pro 5/2017 ETS 125 is a fine sander, and I really do mean that. It is well balanced, it leaves a good finish, is light enough for vertical work, and has the dust extraction you would expect out of a Festool product. For a $99 (or $49, if the voucher will be used) sander, I think you’ll get your money’s worth. Here is a short video I shot showing it isn’t going to walk away from you while sanding.
The thing is though, it’s not fantastic. It does it’s job well, but it isn’t a game-changer. I have my doubts that if you are new to Festool that you will get a good sense of where the quality and game-changing attributes are in the lineup. I don’t know that it alone will move more product. If for some reason you can’t afford the ETS 150, or don’t have a use for a 6″ sander…buy something else. Particularly at full price. If you want to stay in the Festool family, buy the RTS or DTS instead, and gain the advantage of being able to fit in even tighter corners. I would go as far as to say there would only be two reasons why you would want to buy the Pro 5 – you either have it ordered at the promotional price, or you have a RO 125 that you don’t want to invest in a new paper size. The Pro 5 suffers from the same problems the old ETS 125 did: it isn’t a good enough or cheap enough sander to make you want it over the 150. Even if you were to dedicate it to only 220 grit and above, the 150 still does a great job at making it superfluous, and the sharp corners of the RTS or DTS would be more useful.
So, in conclusion: The price, voucher, and special systainer are the real draws here. Without all of those things, you’re better served with an alternate choice.