It's been a little over a year since I splurged on some Festool gear.
Without a doubt, the 5" Rotex sander is one of the more effective tools I use.
When there is a board that has severe chip-out, or snipe on the front edge of it, there's no better tool for the job. We're talking major wood removal here.
Combined with the integrated vacuum, this sander handles the wood very effectively. And cleanly. Seriously, if you have asthma, or breathing problems, this system is the one you want to use.
That's not to say that the Rotex is perfect. It's not. In fact, right about the time I start to apply a finish, I'm reminded of it's shortcomings - mostly - swirls in the wood that weren't visible before the finish was applied. Yes, the Rotex leaves some hella swirls, despite what Festool says. Their recommendation? Turn the suction on the vacuum down, so that the sanding disc isn't pressed against the wood so firmly. For me, that hasn't worked.
That's when I pull out my other Festool sander - the finish sander, to try and eliminate the swirls.
That's not foolproof, either. My sander can't seem to stay flat, despite replacing the pad on it a couple of times. You can actually see a curve in the bottom pad, if you hold the sander up to a straight edge. #$%!
So I tend to pull out a cabinet scraper and slightly shave the swirl marks from the wood. It's effective, but I sure do wish I didn't have to do it.
You'd think that if you spent $1200 on a few sanders and a great vacuum, that you'd have a pretty good tool, right? Let me tell you about another tool that does nearly as good, for MUCH less.
Over the years, I've probably owned just about ever pad sander there is out there. I stuck with Makita for a long time, but gradually, a Milwaukee sander became my favorite. It's combination of weight, center of gravity, balance and power seemed to feel the best to me. Don't get me wrong - when put side by side, next to the Festool, the Festool feels better. But it's also a gazillion times more expensive.
This Milwaukee sander is a workhorse in my school,
but the pads really take some abuse.
Luckily, parts are very easy to get, and Milwaukee ships quickly, and with very reasonable shipping charges.
One of my pet peeves is buying a $2 part and paying $15 for it to be shipped to me. In this case, I picked up new pads and platens (which I probably didn't even need to buy!) for five sanders, all for about $30, including shipping.
It's very easy to switch out the pads.
And these stay very flat over time. Now, you're not going to get the same sort of dust collection with these dust bags that you'll get using a vacuum. But they're for what they cost, and what they do, this is a hell of a sander.
All tuned up, cleaned, and ready for duty.