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The name Festool is unfamiliar to most U.S. woodworkers, but the company is well-known in Europe where it has been in the power-tool business for about 70 years. A distributor began selling Festool tools in 1997, and I tried out a plunge-cut circular saw, which comes with a carbide-tipped blade, aluminum guide and case.
Out of the box, the ATF 55 and guide were ready to go, no assembly required. I used the tool on a job trimming laminate-covered doors. The tool had power to spare, but what really surprised me was how little noise it produced.
The saw is equipped with an electronic speed control and soft start. When you press the trigger, there’s no wrist-jerking roar. The machine has six speeds, which allows you to dial down the rpms when cutting easy-to-melt materials such as plastics. The saw also has an electric brake system that brings the blade to a stop within two seconds. And the tool is equipped with a retractable splitter, which helps prevent blade binding and kickback.
In use, you set the base on the workpiece, press the trigger and push on the handle. The spring-loaded base retracts, and the blade plunges into the stock. Depth of cut is adjustable. Because the saw is made in Germany, it’s built on a metric framework. The number 55 in the model name refers to the depth of cut in millimeters, or about 2-1/4 in. The blade is 160mm dia., or about 6-1/4 in. Because the tool’s arbor is 20mm, you have to get a replacement blade from Festool.
It takes some getting used to the tool’s design. It suffers from a problem common to many circular saws: It’s difficult to see where the blade meets the pencil line when cutting freehand. A plastic window is fitted in the side of the saw guard, but I found it of little use. Although this saw is not designed for the task, I tried cutting some 2x4s, framer style, with the stock resting on my foot. It’s awkward because of the downward pressure required to retract the base. Festo also makes circular saws without the plunge feature, suitable for framing work.
But the guide system is the best I’ve ever used. The saw’s base is slotted to fit over a rail on the guide body, which has an anti-slip sole. An elastic strip on the edge of the guide serves as an anti-splinter device, and it really works.
The Festool saw does a lot of things better than most saws, but with performance comes a big price. The ATF 55 and guide is the most expensive circular saw I’ve ever put my hands on.
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