Festool ES150/3 EQ Random Orbital Sander Review

By Jack A. Loganbill


We use a variety of random orbital sanders in our shop including a Bosch 3283 and a DeWALT 421. They are both good sanders, but neither would be considered a top-of-the-line, "professional" sander. Festool offered us the opportunity to try the Festool 150/3 random orbital sander and we have found it to be a significant improvement compared to our less-expensive sanders.

Sanders like the Dynabrade, Fein, Festool, and Metabo run hundreds of dollars more than typical homeshop sanders. What you get in return is a better-made tool that results in a closer to ideal scratch-free sanded surface, higher rate of material removal, lower vibration, superior dust collection, and longer tool life. Sanding is not the most enjoyable workshop task but as we found with the Festool ES 150, a high-quality sander makes the job a lot more tolerable.

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Festool es150
Manufacturer: Festool USA
Tooltechnic Systems, LLC
140 S. Los Carneros Way
Goleta, CA 93117
Toll-Free Phone: (888)337-8600
From Canada: (805)685-3757
Fax: (805)685-5927
Web: Festool USA
Email: Festool Sales

Special thanks to Christian Oltzscher (President and CEO of Festool USA) and Bob Marino (Festool Sales Rep) of Festool USA for providing the Festool ES150/3 EQ sander for our use and review.

Product Description

Physically, the ES 150/3 is taller and larger than the typical homeshop sander. The ES 150/3 has a six inch sanding pad, which according to my math, provides 30% more sanding area than a five inch disk. In fact, the disks of our other sanders seem puny in comparison.

The large handle is comfortable and is angled in a way that allows you to use the sander one-handed quite comfortably, however, we generally use two hands when operating it. The motor housing is nicely shaped for one's hand, though I wouldn't use it as a "palm" sander unless you have the hands of Michael Jordan.

Though more powerful than our other sanders (70+ watts more powerful than the Bosch), it runs quieter and with less vibration. In fact, vibration is virtually non-existent.

Dust Collection
I have found that dust collection is a primary design feature of Festool tools, and the ES 150/3 is no exception.

The ES 150/3 provides an excellent built-in dust collection port. It's not a flimsy plastic port that can fall off, it's an integral part of the sander's lower casting. The ports of our other sanders are not as well designed. Our DeWALT's port is not intended to accept a hose, and though we added a port that accepts one, it's not the best arrangement. The Bosch provides a round plastic port but it's diameter does not accept our vac hoses and it exits directly out the sander's right side which isn't the best location for a hose.

The ES 150/3 employs a unique nine-hole pattern in its pad and sanding disks. Eight holes are placed around the circumference similar to other sanders. A larger ninth hole is placed in the center that acts as a vent to prevents vacuum lock-up. For dust extraction or vacuum cleaning to work, you have to have airflow. A principle I demonstrated when selling vacs as a teenager. If you stop the airflow of a vac, you'll have suction but not dust collection.

Try it: Turn on your shop vac and place the end of the vac nozzle flat on your workbench top. Depending on the power of your vac, you may have trouble breaking the nozzle loose! However, even though the vac motor is screaming away providing maximum suction, you'll notice no debris is actually being sucked into the vac--suction without collection. I assume this is the principle behind Festool's ninth-hole. It ensures air flow to/through the other eight holes, even when the sanding pad is making flat contact with the work piece surface. Consequently, the Festool sander should pick up more dust than conventional sanders and since the disk does not load up as fast, it should last longer.

The ES 150/3 comes equipped with a very effective paper dust / filter bag (and plastic frame for support) for those who prefer a bag rather than a vacuum and hose. The bags are not reusable--once they're full you discard them. Festool wants the user to avoid breathing dust, both when using the tool and during disposal of the dust. Anyone who has dumped the contents of a cloth filter bag, especially the small bags associated with sanders, can appreciate the Festool philosophy of discarding rather than dumping. By the way, a pack of 5 Festool Turbo bags costs less than $5.00. A pack of 25 costs about $20.00.

Electronic Speed Control
The ES 150/3 provides step-less variable speed (8,000 to 21,000 strokes per minute) controlled by a dial located on the front of the sander. Our Bosch is also variable speed, but the speed is controlled by the trigger position. I prefer the on/off trigger and separate speed control dial of the ES150/3. With the Bosch-style variable trigger, it is too easy to apply more speed than is desired, and though you can "preset it", the dial is inconveniently attached to the trigger.

The ES 150/3 is equipped with an effective and easily replaceable brake. The ES 150/3 takes 4 seconds to come to a complete stop from maximum RPM. In comparison, our DW 421 takes about 6 seconds and the Bosch takes a whopping 17 seconds to stop from its maximum RPM. Also, either the brake or the electronics (or both) keep the ES 150/3 from spinning beyond a certain RPM--our Bosch will happily run away with itself without a load.

Sanding Pads and Disks
The sanding pad is easily removable using the provided hex key, stored on the sander itself. Festool offers an array of optional sanding pads (very soft, soft, hard) and polishing pads. Since the pad is so easily removed, you're more apt to select/use the right pad for any particular job.

The Festool branded Stickfix (Velcro-backed) sanding disks hold up well and are very reasonably priced (approximately $15.00 per 50). We pay that much for our 5", 8-hole disks. You can also purchase the Festool (a.k.a., Festo) nine-hole disks through the major outlets (i.e., Klingspor carries them for approximately $16.00 per 50, which is the same price they charge for their other 6" disks).

Removable Power Cord
The power cord is four meters (approximately 12 feet) long, a good five feet longer than the cords of our other sanders. Plus, the cord twist-locks on and off the handle. This allows you to easily replace the cord if damaged or to quickly switch sanders in a production environment where perhaps you have multiple sanders setup with different sanding grits but don't want the mess of multiple cords.

Systainer Carrying Case
The ES 150/3 is delivered in a fitted Festool Systainer. The Systainer's latches and design allow you to connect it to other Systainers and to the CT line of Festool dust extractors. The ES 150/3 Systainer provides storage for the sander, the dust/filter bag and frame, and approximately 50 6" sanding disks.

Click for additional comments and a slide show regarding the Festool Systainer.

What I Like About the Festool ES 150/3 Random Orbital Sander

Swirl Free Finish
The ES 150/3 is designed as a finishing sander and thus is less aggressive than the Festool Rotex and ES 150/5 models (this is an assumption on my part--I have not used the other models). With that and the price in mind, you would expect the ES 150/3 to produce a near swirl-free finish and it does. If you shine a light across a work piece sanded with an orbital or random orbital sander, and look at the surface closely, you will see hundreds if not thousands of small swirl marks etched into the surface. Generally most observers don't notice the marks--but woodworkers do. And such swirls have to effect the quality of the finished piece. The ES 150/3's small stroke and high stroke-per-minute capability produces a much finer finish than we have achieved with any other sander.

Dust Extraction
Dust extraction is excellent. Virtually all dust is evacuated. Extracting the dust with such an effective and easy to tolerate system makes the task of sanding much more enjoyable--no longer do we stand in our little dust tornado as we finish sand cabinets and the like. Also, the sanding disks seem to last much longer than those of our other sanders. You may have noticed in some of the pictures above that the disks literally wear out before they load up. Granted, the ES 150/3 is not the most aggressive sander on the market, but for the first time in my 30 year woodworking life, I actually save disks for use later when changing to higher/lower grits.

Low Vibration - Comfortable to Use
The sander produces very little vibration and the large handle and shape of the motor housing makes the sander very comfortable to use for even long periods. The large handle and reasonably light weight make it very easy to control.

Speed Control - Braking
The speed control and braking are very effective. Our Bosch does not have a brake, consequently, you have to be oh so careful when starting and stopping the sander and applying it to the surface to be sanded. The braking systems of other sanders are often a source of problems and gripes in the trade magazines. The Festool system, using a ring mounted on the sanding hub, works perfectly and is easily replaced on-site when it is no longer effective (wears out).

Six Inch Sanding Disks
I like the six inch sanding disks. It makes sanding a large surface just that much quicker and seems to add even more control to the sander, having the larger sanding surface in contact with the work. As I said earlier, the five inch disks of our other sanders seem puny in comparison.

What I Don't Like About the Festool ES 150/3 Random Orbital Sander

Dust Filter Frame
So far, the only thing that I don't like about the ES150/3 is the large plastic frame used to support the dust bag/filter. It simply extends too far behind the sander (9 inches from the sander's base) and gets in the way when sanding within a confined space. If you're sanding a table top or similar flat surface, it is no problem. And frankly, it is not a big deal for us because we prefer to use the sander with a Festool CT dust extractor than the filter bag.

The Bottom Line

The Festool ES 150/3 produces a great sanded finish, what you would expect from a sander in this price range. The sander is a pleasure to use--the vibration and noise levels are less than our other sanders and the dust collection is remarkable. Health concerns aside, it's just downright annoying to work in an environment where dust is being exhausted from a sander. Cost of ownership should be lower than other sanders due to the extended life of the sanding disks and long expected life of the sander itself (three year warranty, 30-day money back). Not having used a Fein or a Dynabrade with dust collection, I can honestly say that I have not used a better sander than the ES 150/3, and thus give the ES 150/3 a FIVE.

Rating: out of 5!

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