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Festool Kapex Miter Saw & CT SYS HEPA Dust Extractor
by Steve Johnson, The Down To Earth Woodworker
A highlight of my visit to Highland Woodworking a couple of years ago was the chance to spend a little time with the Kapex KS 120 EB Sliding Compound Miter Saw and make a quick video review of the tool.

In short, I liked it. I wanted it. But, alas, I couldn’t afford it. More accurately, I couldn’t justify it. While my brief time with the Kapex demonstrated some apparent advantages over my current miter saw, what I had was working fine. I will admit, however, to prolonged disappointment like a kid with a long list of toys for Santa that finds nothing but clothes under the Christmas tree.

The miter saw that has been residing in my shop cost me $650. As soon as I bought it, I replaced the stock blade with a Forrest 12" ChopMaster that set me back another $177. Shortly thereafter I bought a second Forrest blade (another $177) because I have to have one to use while the other is being sharpened. At that point, I had a little over $1,000 invested and I figured that even on the best of days, I might get $400 if I tried to sell it used. That meant that on a "net" basis, the new Kapex would be an additional investment of another $1,000+. No, I couldn’t justify it, but you can tell I was sure thinking about it!

A couple of years have passed, several thousand cuts on my miter saw, and a couple of round trips for each blade to be sharpened. My miter saw is still chugging along, working fine. Then a couple of things happened.

One day I was cutting some boards to rough length, getting ready to edge glue them together. As I often do, I paired the boards together and put them in my bench vice to hand plane joint the edges. I noticed that the freshly cut ends of the boards were not perfectly aligned. It was obvious that the miter saw was not cutting square. So I re-squared it. Then, with just a tiny bump from a rather small board, it got out of square again. Frustrating, but in and of itself, not enough to justify another costly tool.

As a part of my upstairs remodeling, there is a ceiling/wall that slopes all the way to floor level. I built a "knee wall" five feet high, and looked at all that fantastic space behind and realized that with an access door and an additional knee wall perhaps 2 feet tall, I could have a pretty nice cubbyhole to store "stuff." But I really hate dusty, dirty storage, and worse, a place that a spider or some critter even more egregious might access. So I put plywood on the floor and plywood on the interior walls of the storage space and caulked any remaining cracks carefully. To add a finishing touch, I decided to line the entire thing with cedar. I found nice 3-1/2" wide tongue and groove cedar planks and bought enough to do the whole job. Then I began to think through how I was going to cut all the boards (and all the miters) that would be required to get a nice installation. The only real option was to remove my old miter saw from the miter saw station in my shop, carry it upstairs in my house, set it up temporarily with saw horses and work supports, and get to work. Ugh!

My old miter saw weighs in at a hefty 65 pounds. It is 26-1/2" wide and 33" front-to-back and unwieldy, to say the least. The task of carrying that upstairs was beginning to look less and less appealing… not to mention the abhorrent dust collection. No matter what I hook up to the little dust collection port - shop vacuum, Festool Dust Extractor, or a 4" line from my dust collector - the thing still spews dust far and wide.

  Figure 1
My temporary set-up... Note the top of the CT SYS removed and used as a work piece support.
 
Procrastination is a funny thing. When there is an unappealing task to be done, the mind starts thinking of all kinds of alternatives. Unfortunately, I wasn’t conjuring up any good alternatives to hauling the "beast" up the stairs. Then something profound happened… Festool announced their new CT SYS really, really, really portable dust extractor. A Syslite came on over my head… well, actually it wasn’t as bright as a Syslite, it was really more like a regular light bulb… but I could clearly see a multi-dimensional answer to multiple procrastinations… I called Highland and ordered the Kapex and the new CT SYS.

The Kapex’s magnesium body gives it superior rigidity and precision in a svelte 47 pound package. Its slightly smaller overall footprint and the ingeniously engineered carry handle combine to make it much easier to carry than any other miter saw. And you have to admit, whether you are young or old, the difference between 65 pounds and 47 pounds when going up a flight of stairs is significant.

The CT SYS is a fascinating integration into the Festool lineup. The brushless DC motor, HEPA filter, and collection bag are all built into what is essentially a SYS 2 Systainer. A SYS 1 Systainer attaches to the top of the SYS 2 and has been adapted to hold the hose and power cord. Now remember, a SYS 1 is the same height as the deck of the Kapex… so the combination of Kapex and CT SYS not only gives you super portable dust collection, but also can provide work piece support when cutting long lumber. I simply set the system up on the floor, and I was cutting pieces in minutes. The picture tells the story better than words (see Figure 1). Bottom line, I didn’t have to lug sawhorses or any other work supports up the stairs!

  Figure 2
Click to enlarge this and you can see the minimal amount of sawdust left behind after more than 250 miter and straight cuts on the saw... not perfect dust collection, but way better than any other miter saw! Note the Miter Fast Angle Transfer Device... I did use it!
 
Rather than repeat a long list of specifications, features, and "bells and whistles" of the Kapex that are readily available on the Highland Woodworking web site, here are some practical things I’ve learned relative to real world work:
  1. Spin down time. We all know, either from being taught safe work practices or through experience, that the head of a miter saw should not be raised from the cut until the blade stops spinning. The Kapex blade stops quickly, unlike my other miter saw that boasted in its original sales literature an "electronic blade brake." A couple of additional seconds of "spin down" time may not seem like much if you make a couple of miter saw cuts a day, but if you make a couple of hundred, those few seconds make a big, big difference. And don’t forget that even though the effort might seem miniscule, holding the spring-loaded head of a miter saw down till the blade stops spinning consumes energy, so at the end of a long day of work, the cumulative energy savings can be the difference between waking up the next morning rested and refreshed or tired and sore.
  2. Decibel level. "Do as I say, not as I do" is not an admonition so much as it is an admission. I always recommend hearing protection when using any machine, but don’t always do it myself. Shame on me. But if I am going to be careless and foolhardy with my hearing, I can at least look for the quietest running machines on the market. The Kapex is just that.
  3. Vibration. Machine vibration can create inaccuracies and the vibrations can be transmitted to your body creating discomfort and possible long term health issues. But to me, most importantly, excess vibration indicates either an engineering or manufacturing problem. A well-designed and well-built machine should run smooth as silk, and the Kapex does.
  4. Setting bevels and miter angles. Changes to a machine’s set-up should be easy, but firm and repeatable. My old miter saw had a twisting, locking knob that had to be loosened before disengaging a spring tab to rotate to a new miter angle. Then the knob had to be retightened. The Kapex more easily maintains its miter setting wherever you place it. This saves time and effort. Changing the bevel angle on my old saw was an octopus exercise… extra hands needed. The heavy head would try to fall to one side or the other while you attempted to hold it where you wanted and tighten a locking knob. With the Kapex’s balanced head design, unlock the head, dial in the setting you want, and relock. You can actually change the bevel setting on the Kapex with one hand! It really is sweet.
  5. Honestly, having worked for many, many years without any gadgets to measure miter angles, I thought the included MiterFast Angle Transfer Device was a gimmick and unnecessary. In fact, when I first unpacked the Kapex, I set the MiterFast aside figuring I would never use it and it added a few ounces of weight to the unit while carrying it upstairs. But, while working on the storage cubbyhole, I decided to give the MiterFast a try, and was surprised to find it foolproof and labor-saving. Okay, I will admit I was wrong… the MiterFast is not a gimmick… it is a useful bonus on a miter saw that already boasts many other selling features.
  6. Speaking of gimmicks, the jury is still out on the lasers. While right out-of-the-box the Kapex cut perfect nineties, forty-fives, and any "’tween" angle I set (both miters and bevels), the lasers were not perfectly aligned… and I didn’t have the patience or time to fiddle with tweaking them. I suspect that framers and general carpenters may find the lasers useful, and trim carpenters and woodworkers will do what I do… lower the cutting head part way (blade not spinning, please) and sight along the blade edge to the marked cut line. Thankfully there is a switch that allows the lasers to be turned off, and mine always are.
  7. Buy a new band saw, and the first thing any smart user will do is throw away the blade that came with it and replace it with a WoodSlicer. Buy a new table saw, of any price, and the same thing… toss out the included blade and replace it with a Forrest. But with Festool, whether it be their jig saws, circular saws, or the Kapex, the included blade is premium quality. Not needing to immediately replace the blade helps take a little of the sting out of the price tag.
  8. Dust collection is not perfect, but a significant amount better than with my old miter saw. If you look closely at Figure 2, you will see a bit of sawdust behind and around the saw. What the picture doesn’t tell you is that with my old miter saw that pile of dust would have been five times as large.
I’m still learning and still experimenting with the Kapex, but so far I can tell you this: It is everything you might expect from a tool in this price range, and perhaps a bit more.
  Figure 3
My new cedar-lined storage cubby is going to be great for keeping seldom-used or seasonal-use items!
 

Steven Johnson is retired from an almost 30-year career selling medical equipment and supplies, and now enjoys improving his shop, his skills, and his designs on a full time basis (although he says home improvement projects and furniture building have been hobbies for most of his adult life). Steven can be reached directly via email at sjohnson@downtoearthwoodworking.com
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