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'tis better to have tools you don't need than to need tools you don't have

Posted: Jan 21, 2011
Updated Jan 25, 2011 - Added photo/note on using the Quick Clamp upside-down in the table

Review: Festool MFT/3 Multifunction Table

It's a game-changer

Available from Amazon.com

MFT/3 Standard $595
MFT/3 Basic $495
Quick Clamp $39
Clamping Elements $98
(Please note that all Festool dealers sell all Festool items for the same price).

I've often been puzzled by the MFT/3. What is that thing? What would I use it for? And why does the top look like swiss cheese?

I got the notion that it was a portable worktable. But I never could grasp what made it different from any other worktable, especially at the typically Festoolian price of almost $600. I just didn't see how it could be worth that much money. Will I ever learn?

I even went so far as to make a post on the Festool Owner's Group discussion board. I asked if the MFT/3 would be of any use to a shop-based guy like me, who rarely if ever works outside the comfort of my shop? Several people politely informed me that, yes, it would be a good thing to have. But they didn't really outline a good, solid reason, so I kind of decided to pass.

Then Shane and Rick from Festool stepped in. If nothing else, they're solidly confident of their products. Within a couple weeks, I had a brand-new MFT/3 in my shop, along with the accessory pack, a set of clamping elements, and a pair of quick clamps. The table was very well-protected in the box, so it arrived in perfect shape, despite what appeared to be a valiant effort on the part of UPS to damage it.

What you get

The "basic" MFT/3 is just the table itself and should not be purchased alone. The only reason you'd ever buy just a table (as far as I can tell) is to use it as an extension of another MFT/3 using a pair of MFT Connector bars. Note that MFT/3s cannot be connected to the older 1080 or 800 models of the MFT.

The "standard" MFT/3 is only $100 more than the basic model and comes with an accessory pack including an FS1080/2 guide rail, rail hinge, rail support, cord/hose deflector, and an angle (protractor) unit with a fence, lock, and flag stop. The FS1080/2 alone costs $80, so the accessory kit is a heck of a bargain.

Simple to assemble

I really feel that anything I buy, whether it be a tool, computer software, or anything else, should be well-designed enough that I can get started with it and do some simple tasks without wading through a user manual. The MFT/3 passes this test with flying colors. Just by looking at the photo on Festool's web site, I was able to assemble the entire table in about 15 minutes. Now that I know how it all works, I can go from a pile of parts to a fully assembled and ready-to-work MFT/3 in about three minutes.

Click here for a short video on assembling the MFT/3

First off, start with the table on its side. Each leg meshes with indentations in the corner block and is held in place with a knob. Loosen the two knobs (the legs are connected in pairs), rotate the legs to the other indentation, tighten the knobs. Repeat for the other leg set and turn the table over.

BTW, note the rectangular rubber feet on each corner. You can also leave the legs folded and set the MFT/3 on the floor, a counter, or any other surface and use it that way.

Once the table is upright, one of the feet turns to adjust the length of that leg. Why just one? Well, the other three legs form a tripod and will always sit flat, just you only need to adjust one leg to get all four flat.

The table is edged with heavy extruded aluminum rails. These rails are used to attach various accessories to the MFT/3. What's nice is that, because the rails are the same on all four sides, you can attach the accessories to any side and slide them to any position.

Start off with the rail hinge unit. Looking at the table edges, one has a factory-set stop toward near the left end. This is the "standard" side for the rail hinge. Unless you're really, really sure you need to adjust it, don't move the stop! Just slide the rail hinge in from the right side until it's against the stop, then tighten the knob to lock it into place.

Moving to the opposite side, you'll see another stop toward the right. Slide the rail guide support unit in from the left to the stop and tighten the same way as the hinge unit.

The stops are quite nice in that they ensure accurate repeat positioning of the rail so that it's square to the table and fence.

The guide rail attaches to the hinge unit with a key that slides into the rail and tightens with two bolts. One tip: The key alone won't pull the rail parallel with the table. When installing the rail, lay the hinge flat (parallel to the table top) and slide the guide rail onto the key, then slightly tighten the outside bolt. Lift the rail and tighten the inside bolt, as shown here. Then lower the rail onto the table and loosen the outside bolt again. This lets the guide rail swivel slightly. Raise the guide rail support on the other side of the table so that the tab pulls the rail into alignment, then tighten the outside bolt on the other end. While the rail still needs the support to stay perfectly aligned, this will ensure you're not way off and having to pull the rail into alignment before it'll go on the pin.

One of my favorite bits in the MFT/3 package is the cord/hose deflector. It clips onto the end of the rail and keeps the power cord and dust extractor hose from hanging up on the end of the rail. It makes a huge difference in how smoothly you can move your saw or router along the rail. Note that it's also available separately and is $16 well-spent.

Next up is the angle unit. The unit has a jaw-clamp, so it can be put directly in place without sliding from the end. Hook it on and tighten up, the long triangular jaw meshes with the the triangular shape of the side rail, pulling it into exact parallel with the table side. Finally, just slide the fence onto the clamping pins and tighten.

 

That's it! You're all ready to work.

A closer look at the angle unit

Click here for a quick video on the angle unit

The protractor head of the angle unit is very well designed. It features accurate and tight stops at all the common angles such as 22½° and 60°. However, the stop plunger also locks up to allow any angle, including those very near the stops without jumping to those settings. Another very nice feature of the head is the ability to swing all the way to 90°, allowing you to accurately and safely trim small panels or put a very shallow angle on a board.

The fence is a flat piece of extruded aluminum that slides onto the clamping pins of the angle unit. The clamping pins ride in a channel that's removed from the end of the fence, which allows the guide rail to sit lower when cutting thin stock. When cutting high-profile stock, the fence can be flipped vertical to provide more support.

Two other (included) accessories make the fence even better. The fence clamp attaches to the fence and clamps it securely to the far side rail, eliminating any flex in the fence. And the flag stop makes repeated cuts of the same length a breeze, while easily flipping out of the way when needed. Note that both items can be used whether the fence is flat or upright.

In addition to swiveling to various angles, the unit also slides in and out, as well as sliding along the side rail. The fence itself can also slide left and right. All in all, the angle unit is tremendously flexible and gives you lots of options for aligning your work.

A closer look at the guide rail system

The guide rail that comes with the MFT/3 is a standard FS1080/2 (42") rail, which means you can substitute a longer rail if needed or use the MFT/3's rail to extend your other Festool rails using a pair of rail connectors.

Since it's a standard rail, the MFT/3 can be used with the TS55/75 saws. Festool routers can also ride the rails using optional "guide stops". I don't have a Festool router, but other routers will ride the back side of the rail, albeit without the nifty micro-adjustability of the Festool guides.

Both the hinge and support ends easily adjust up/down to accommodate material up to three inches thick. Just flip up the lock lever, move the rail, the push the lever back down.

Replaceable top

One very nice feature is the replaceable MDF top. It's held securely in place with four bolts that to into precisely placed threaded inserts. If the top gets damaged or just plain worn, removing the top and flipping it over (or end-to-end for a new saw kerf) is a simple five-minute process. Likewise, replacement tops are also available.

It makes the TS55 shine

Many times, I have pieces that are difficult to crosscut. Too long for the tablesaw, too wide for the miter saw. For example, I recently needed to cut down some 72x18 butcher block tops. Trying to juggle those on a tablesaw would be dangerous and most miter saws max out at 12-14". In the past, I would have used a self-clamping straightedge and a circular saw, probably mis-measuring the blade offset in the process.

On the MFT/3, I simply lift the rail guide, push in the top, and set the rail back down. No need to even remove the TS55, it will stay on the rail for that small incline. In a few seconds, I've made a perfect cut exactly where I needed it and I'm on to the next piece.

Another recent task was needing to cut down a number of 36" solid-core doors. Instead of marking each door, aligning the straightedge, and making the cut, I used the MFT/3. In the standard configuration, the MFT/3 only has a max cut width of a little over 27 inches. But, since you can attach parts to any side of the table, I was able to move the guide rail hinge and support to the ends of the table, giving me about 44" of cut width. You have to use a longer rail (I used a 55") to reach the length of the table, but now I could just butt the end of door against the fence and make a perfect cut in about 1/4 the time as without the MFT/3. (you may notice the boards between the door and the table, those are there just because I didn't want to cut another kerf in my tabletop). Hint: use the fence to set the guide rail parallel, then back it up for your cut length.

The clamps make the MFT/3 a versatile work holder

The MFT/3 is really mis-named. "Table" really doesn't capture what it is. Instead, it's primary purpose is to hold workpieces while guiding tools over them.

After working with it for a while, I'd have to say that I wouldn't consider the quick clamps or clamping elements "optional". Quick clamps are just absolutely a must-have and the clamping elements are almost, but not quite, as handy.

The quick clamps use an L-shaped bar that inserts into the table and a ratcheting clamp mechanism that quickly and securely grabs the workpiece. The bar can be also be slid into the channels of the side rail, allowing you to clamp items to the side of the table, e.g. to plane an edge square. (On a side note, the clamps also slide into the bottom of any Festool guide rail, allowing you to clamp rails to large/long stock) You can even flip the clamp upside-down and use the leg to clamp parts with limited headroom.

The "Clamping Elements" are extremely handy. They consist of a pair of dogs and cam clamps. The bottom of each has a protrusion that fits into the holes in the MFT/3 top, with a knob that screws in and holds it in place. In practice, I found the clamps stayed in place just fine without the knobs.

Locking a part into place is super easy, just put it up against the dog, slide the clamp jaw against the other side and push the cam handle closed. The cam action slides the bar forward and secures the jaw against the workpiece. The only issue I had was the tendency of the camp clamp jaw to lift under pressure the the bar is extended away from the head any distance.

I found the clamping elements coming in handy in so many situations. Because they can rotate in the holes, they're very flexible in holding oddball parts. Two dogs and one cam clamp easily grab a round part. The dogs have one straight and one round edge, so using the inside of a hole for clamping is no problem. The cam clamps can also be used by themselves, for example to hold a part tightly against the fence.


One of the most difficult things I had to do recently was route some dadoes at 22½° in smallish parts. I rigged up some complex router jig at the time that did the job, but I spent more time making the jig than using it. Just for fun, I decided to see if I could set up the MFT/3 to do the job. Sure enough, in about two minutes I had this setup ready to go. Just lift the rail, slide in the part to the stop, set the clamps and go. Turnover time between parts: about 10 seconds.

Oh, one side benefit of using the MFT/3 for routing: you can use the holes to set your router down without retracting the bit.

What's not to like?

Alas, nothing is perfect. And although the MFT/3 is a truly amazing product, there are some things I'd like to see one day.

The biggie is size. Now, I understand Festool designed this table to be portable so you can take it to the jobsite. What I personally would like to have would be a workshop-version of the MFT/3 with a larger table, maybe around 40x60 inches.

I also wish there was some kind of height adjustment. The table is about 35½" off the floor, which is a few inches short of my ideal work surface height. And sometimes it would be nice if I could drop the height 10" or so when working on a taller item.

If there's one part of the system I've found to be overpriced, it's the clamping elements. For almost $100, they really should be more ruggedly built. It appears the bars are made of aluminum and the cams dig into and mar the bars. These raised bits make the clamps hard to slide. While you can quickly file them smooth again, it's a pain. I'd like to see them make the knobs an optional accessory (or just drop them altogether) and upgrade the clamp bars.

Finally, I wish the legs were sturdier. While the MFT/3 is amazingly stable for a folding-leg table, it lacks the sturdiness a good workbench gives you. Again, the wobbliness comes from needing to keep the weight down, it's pretty minimal, and it's probably acceptable to most people. I'm not sure how much the optional MFT Cross Members would help. Ultimately, I think I'll either build a larger table using the MFT components or a rolling base cabinet in place of the legs.

OK, I'm sold

As with so many other Festool products, the reality of the MFT/3 surpasses the promise. It truly changed the way I approach many tasks and I can do them faster and easier than before. While I won't be giving up my miter saw or table saw, the MFT/3 is a worthy addition to any shop and an amazing jobsite tool.

Highly recommended.

 

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