In this article, Gregory Paolini shares his experiences using the Festool Rotex RO 90 DX Multi-mode Sander. Gregory Paolini is a nationally recognized woodworker, author, and woodworking instructor. You can learn more about him by visiting his website at www.GregoryPaolini.com.
The Festool RO90 hit the market in March, 2011, and I had to opportunity to give this sander a test drive before it's public debut. My initial thought was "Oh, a small sander, for small places." But it turns out this little sander can be a pit bull when it comes to aggressive stock removal. Then with a turn of a dial, it becomes a fine finishing sander. One more turn of the dial, and a swap of the sanding pad turns the RO90 into a detail oriented delta, or triangular shaped sander, perfect for getting into corners and edges.
Ok, so this is all great in theory, when I'm sanding random pieces of wood for no rhyme or reason. But what about real world applications? Well, I'm right there with you, so I turned the Festool RO90 loose in my shop for a few weeks, to see where and how it would fit in.
I currently, or actually after getting my hands on the RO90 I should say, I used to use sanders from various manufacturers, for different scenarios, and one popular piece for me presents several of these scenarios. My "Solution Stools" are deceptively simple, although they require lots of tedious sanding, and attention to detail to live up to my quality standards, which rival those of museums.
With the Festool RO90's mode switch turned fully counter clock wise, it switches into aggressive stock removal mode, and allows me to level the feet and rabbet joinery of the solution stool, to keep it from rocking around when in use. In short order, I turn the dial one click clockwise, and the RO90 changes modes to a fine random orbit sander, which virtually eliminates its own scratch patterns, leaving a surface that's ready for finish.
When I turn my attention to the inside of the stool, the compact nature of the RO90 lets me get all the way in, smoothing the bulk of the panels. Adjacent panels are left untouched, thanks to a removable guard on the front of the RO90, which protects the work piece, and the sanding pad simultaneously. Then a quick swap of the round sanding pad for the delta shaped pad, allows me to focus on the inside corners – a process which used to be delegated to endless hand sanding. And Festool's legendary dust collection capabilities are not lost on the RO90. Dust extraction was so good, that I didn't need to vacuum or blow off the piece once, even prior to applying finish!
Festool's new abrasive, the blue colored Granat paper, blew me away. My typical sanding schedule to level and smooth out the solution stool feet is to start with 80 grit paper, and move up successively to 100, then 120, and finally 150 on white oak. I generally wear out a sheet of each abrasive per stool. Using the Festool RO90 and Granat, I found I could start, and end, with a single disk of 120 grit paper. The aggressive mode turned the 120 paper into a little grinder, and the fine mode of the RO90 left such inconspicuous swirl marks, that I didn't need to progress to finer grits. And not only did one disk level out a stool, but it survived through a half dozen stools, and then went on to prep a few dozen stain finish sample blocks before I had to replace it because I accidentally tore the paper on the edge of a small sample block. The Granat was still as sharp as new, just torn on the edge.
After using it for a few weeks, the Festool RO90 has proved itself in my shop. It saves me time and money, because I spend less of each switching sanding disks for different grits, and the Granat disks just last so much longer, which means I'll buy a lot less sandpaper. The RO90's compact size let's me easily get into places that were once reserved for hand sanding. And the multi mode versatility of the RO90 literally makes it 3 tools in one. The RO90 give me plenty of power, finesse, and adaptability, all with virtually no dust!