April 15, 2011

Festool Rotex RO 90 DX - Review


Festool has just released the RO 90 DX Rotex Sander, a tool capable of sanding, grinding, polishing, and dealing with inside corners. It's a crazy tool and we were just entering the sanding phase of a large shelving project when Festool sent one our way to test out.


First, a description of the tool...It's an orbital sander with a 3-1/2" circular sanding pad. It has three modes that can be switched with a nice large toggle at the head of the tool. The three modes are; geared, orbital, and delta. When in the orbital mode, the tool behaves like an orbital sander. When in the geared mode, the tool gears down, trading speed for torque, and acts with the aggression of an angle grinder. When switching into the delta mode, it is necessary to swap out the orbital pad for a triangular one. Then, when in use, this mode alters the movement of the pad to maximize efficiency for sanding areas like inside corners and other spots an orbital pad can't reach.

So this isn't a tool that does three things all in a similar fashion. It's a tool that performs three completely separate tasks as if it were three different tools, each made specifically for that particular task. In each of the modes, the orbital pattern is different, the speeds are different, the functionality is certainly different, and the whole mojo is different.


Switching out the orbital pad for the delta is painless and tool-free. Just turn the orbital pad and it comes off, then twist on the delta until it clicks in. Needless to say, the tool is compatible with the Festool dust collection system. The Rotex is variable speed with numbered markings between one and six.


Because the center of gravity is so different from our other orbitals, we really had to re-learn how to hold the tool. With the handle configuration as it is, the natural state of the Rotex is tipped over, so you can't simply spin the sander from one hand to the other like we can our other orbitals. Holding this one takes a little more concentration and a lot more effort. You pretty much need two hands on the tool, which also means a independently stabilized workpiece. This is especially true in geared mode. In fact, we had to keep dialing the speed down because at the fastest speed in geared mode handling this tool is like trying to keep your hands on a 20 pound bass that's flipping around the boat trying to kill you (hyperbole alert! Actually, it's not exactly like that. It's more like a 3lb bass that isn't trying to kill you). The tool is so aggressive and jumpy that we really only felt in control at the lower speeds, which is fine due to the fact that no matter what speed it's at, it absolutely chews through wood.


It's also not a small tool and we ran up against some issues getting in tight places. With the orbital pad, the length of the unit is just over 11 inches, but with the vac hose attached, you're realistically talking something closer to 16 inches, which can be a little tough to cram in between shelves.

The delta sander is a great feature to have. Oscillating tools also have a delta sander, but those move in a back and forth pattern meaning that the surface is being unevenly sanded (the areas at the points are getting more motion than the areas towards the center), but, like we said earlier, the Rotex delta moves in an orbital pattern which prevents this and ensures even removal of material. To test out the difference, we set up a couple inside corners and gave each tool a new sheet of 80-grit and 20 seconds. As you can see the Festool not only sanded a larger area, but it also did a much more complete job.


We've spoken to the guys at Festool a number of times about this tool and each time they tell us that it's not meant for large amounts of production sanding and that it's best as a compliment to their other, larger Rotex models. We see where they're coming from, but we're not sure we agree 100%. Yeah, if you're locking yourself in a room for six months to do nothing but sand shelves and table tops, then sure, you should go for something that has a larger pad, but we're of the opinion that this is enough sander for the working carpenter, particularly when you consider the versatility of it with the delta and geared modes. And since not everyone has the cash to sink into the complete Festool line, if you can only budget for one sander, this one is pretty sweet.

And back to the geared mode. We quickly found that it's one of those features that you have no idea how much you'll use until you have the ability to use it (does that make sense?). We found we were clicking over to the aggressive mode constantly to knock down a bad seam, take a little cup out of a small board, or finish off a round over, getting the spot that the router couldn't get to. It's a very nice option to have up your sleeve and we ended up relying on it quite a bit.


And how's the dust extraction? We used the tool with a new Festool CT and it's pretty insane. After sanding for a solid hour or so, we patted down our clothes and saw no dust. We also engaged in the highly scientific "nose blow" test and saw similar non-results. There was certainly dust on the workpiece, but very little became airborne. We poked around a bit on some tool message boards and saw some people saying they were expecting the dust collection to be better. Further investigation revealed these people to be part of the Festool Cult, so to put their comments in context, it's like saying that you're disappointed with the acceleration of the Lamborghini Jota because the Aventador can get to 200mph in about 1.3 seconds. It's all awesome, and if you want, you can quibble over degrees of awesome, but we tend to settle for plain old awesome. Call us simple.


So the lowdown here is obviously that we were really impressed with this tool. Is it the best sander that we've ever used? Absolutely. The variable modes really set it apart from the pack and make it a truly complete sanding tool.

The RO 90 DX is being sold for about $375 and we honestly think it's worth it. We really do. As we said, it's three separate tools in one and all three of them operate at the top of their respective arenas. It's really quite an impressive item and we can't imagine someone being unhappy with their investment. The kit includes the tool, the delta attachment, a guard for sanding near delicate surfaces, and a large selection of sanding sheets for both the orbital and the delta.

At Festool Products and Amazon.com

All the stats and details at Festool's Rotex page here.

Read More in: All Reviews | Painting | Power Tools | Sanding

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Posted by Doug Mahoney at April 15, 2011 5:44 AM
Recent Comments

BJN- heh, yeah we got a bit carried away with the bass comment. We updated the review to further explain.

Jerrick - We've got that same Ridgid sander and, yeah, this one is a little more than slightly better.

Posted by: Tool Snob at April 15, 2011 1:23 PM

"...handling this tool is like trying to keep your hands on a 20 pound bass that's flipping around the boat trying to kill you."

Sounds lovely.

Posted by: BJN at April 15, 2011 10:55 AM

Very nice write-up. Puts my Ridgid 5" orbital sander to shame!

Posted by: Jerrick at April 15, 2011 8:58 AM
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