The Festool C18 drill enters a crowded field of 18-Volt Lithium Ion hand tools. However, it is one of few that targets the wood shop and cabinet shop so well. It is available in three levels of kit that vary in the number of accessories and chucks that are included with the drill body. The configuration I reviewed is the most comprehensive: Festool C18 Cordless Drill, model 564616.
The C18 distinguishes itself by approaching the field with a big battery and a modular solution that lives up to Festool’s reputation of meticulous engineering and smart, usable design. There is a lot to talk about with the Festool C18 kit – it’s certainly not your ordinary cordless drill.
Festool C18 First Impressions
Festool C18 Drill Features
- Compatible with full range of FastFix & Centrotec Chucks
- 2 Speed Brushless Motor
- Electronic Clutch
- Intelligent Batteries and Charger with 3 year warranty
- Magnetic Bit Storage
- C18 Drill/Driver
- 1/2″ Keyless Chuck
- Centrotec Chuck
- Centrotec Bit Holder
- Centrotec Right Angle Chuck
- Centrotec Eccentic Offset Chuck
- Bit PH 2
- (2) 5.2 Ah Li Batteries
- TCL 3 Charger
- SYS-2 Systainer
- Time to Full Charge: 70 minutes
- Chuck Capacity: Up to ½” (13 mm)
- Max. Torque in Steel: 354 in-lbs. (40 Nm)
- Max. Torque in Wood: 238 in-lbs. (27 Nm)
- Torque Setting Range: 4.4 – 70.8 in-lbs. (0.5 – 8 Nm)
- Systainer: YS 2 T-LOC
- Weight: 3 lbs. 4.9 oz. (1.5 kg)
- Price: $625
The Festool C18 offers versatility and delights as one explores the chucks and clever features that are built into the drill body, batteries, and attachments.
Overall Styling: The Festool C18 does not look like other drills and its non-standard appearance can make it difficult to tell how big this tool is compared to a more conventionally-shaped drill. Comparing the C18 to a another 18V drill, their overall sizes are very similar. The major difference is that the handle of the Festool is shifted rearward to make room for the addition of the front vertical member.
The C18 weighs in at about 4 pounds 5 ounces with battery and 3-jaw chuck, which is heavier than the comparison 18 V drill at 3 pounds 10.5 ounces. This weight difference is due entirely to the C18’s much larger battery; without batteries, the Festool weighs about an ounce less than the comparison drill.
The orientation of grip handle to tool body imposes a specific grip on the user. Employing a typical four finger grip, almost the entire weight of the tool rides on your index finger. This is fatiguing. Going with a three finger grip while moving my index finger to the side of the tool, the weight is distributed among the thumb, forefinger, and middle finger. In this grip the ring and little fingers operate the trigger. It’s actually quite comfortable and perhaps an improvement over the grip of a conventional drill.
Digital Control: At unusually low power, some drills seem to have a power step that needs to be exceeded before they will turn smoothly. Not the Festool C18. Squeeze the power trigger in minute increments and the C18’s shaft will begin to rotate smoothly at extremely slow RPMs. These are not settings you are likely to use often – if ever – but they contribute to an overall sense of smooth power and control.
Electronic Clutch: The Festool C18 uses an electronic clutch instead of a mechanical clutch. Festool says this will extend the life expectancy of the tool. Where a good mechanical clutch will just slip and immediately stop driving, the C18’s electronics need a microsecond to issue a stop command. As a result, the tool jerks in the instant between when a screw is torqued and when the drill actually stops.
This response time lag is lessened by tying torque settings to RPMs. As the torque setting is lowered, the C18 lowers the max allowable RPM at full trigger pull. At the lowest torque setting and the slowest RPM, driving two hundred ¾” screws can start to seem glacial. It’s the trade off you make for control with this design.
Hex Bit Holder: Four hex bits can be held by rare earth magnets in a pair of slots along the front edge of the front handle. They are removed by sliding them to the end of a slot where there is a little ramp that pushes bits out of the slot. This system holds bits unobtrusively and no bits fell out during use. This is a very clever feature.
Belt Clip: A belt clip is built into the bottom of every battery. The clip can be pushed to one side or the other, permitting the drill to be hung on the user’s left hip or right hip. This is also a very intuitive feature.
Battery Level Indicator: A bank of LEDs is built into the bottom of the main grip and the battery’s level is displayed when the trigger is squeezed. I really prefer LED displays built into each battery because in order to check the level of a battery on the Festool C18, it must first be inserted into the tool.
LED Light: The LED light is located in the face of the front handle. It seems to work great for low light applications.
Systainer: Even the box this drill comes in is well thought out. Festool is not the only manufacturer to ship their tools in high quality plastic boxes with inserts. However, Festool takes it all to the next level. To cap it off, they have a picture in the lid of the box showing where everything should be stored. Putting stuff away might sound like a no-brainer, but with as many parts as are in the kit, the photo is helpful. Last but not least, the manual tucks between the liner and a box side to keep your documentation safe.
Festool C18 Chucks and Attachments
The C18 kit comes with four chucks you can click onto the front of the drill body. This selection makes drills with only a keyless chuck seem antiquated and sadly limited. Every chuck is a rock solid performer.
Centrotec Tool Chuck: The chuck itself snaps onto the drill spindle with a quick release. This chuck has a quick release for Festool’s Centrotec hex shafts. Universal ¼-in hex shafts do not fit in a Centrotec chuck. Centrotec bits extend through the chuck into the drill spindle which Festool says increases stability. With the bit adapter in the chuck, standard 1/4″ hex bits are held magnetically.
½” Keyless Three-Jaw Chuck: This chuck is a standard keyless chuck with a bit of innovation built into it. There is a collar around the nose of the chuck. Have you ever marred a finished surface with the front edge of a spinning chuck? This collar will contact the finished surface first, the chuck body will continue to spin within the collar, and the collar will rest motionless against the finished surface. Genius!
Angle Attachment: This attachment’s drive shaft mates into the drill’s spindle, but the attachment itself locks to the body using a lugged ring mechanism that Festool calls FastFix. This locks the attachment onto the body in any orientation from 0 to 360 degrees in 22.5 degree increments. The spindle on the front of the Angle Attachment is identical to the spindle on the drill body. It can be used to mount the Centrotec Tool Chuck or the ½” Keyless Three-Jaw Chuck.
Installing the Angle Attachment sacrifices none of the smoothness of the Festool C18 – the power, control, and intent of the drill simply take a 90-degree turn. When working with the Angle Attachment , the utility of the front handle built into the body of the Festool C18 is immediately apparent. It can be used as an auxiliary handle to support and guide the tool.
Eccentric Attachment: Like the Angle Attachment, this attachment uses FastFix. The Eccentric Attachment enables you to drive a fastener close to the inside edge of a cabinet. Its quick release socket supports ¼” universal hex shanks.
Working with the Eccentric Attachment sacrifices none of the smoothness of the bare Festool C18. Taking the contours from the top of the C18 into consideration, the Eccentric Attachment can be maneuvered to drive fasteners about 1/2″ from the side of a cabinet.
Actually using the Eccentric Attachment is not as weird as it looks. In fact, the Eccentric Attachment is enjoyable and surprisingly unobtrusive. With the driver at top-dead-center and a sight line along the top of the drill body, it might even be a better driving experience than a conventional drill offers.
Finally, the drill spindle itself, i.e., the shaft that sticks out of the front of the C18’s body, bears mention. You can insert a ¼” hex shaft or a Centrotec bit directly into the drill spindle and skip chucks altogether. This is a plain socket without a quick release or friction bearing inside. You can’t get much stubbier than that.
The following array of pictures shows the various chucks, combinations of chucks, and support for hex bits.
This review reused a task protocol that I’ve worked with before to put it through a variety of low to high stress applications on one charge.
- Drill ten (10) 2″ holes through ¾-in plywood with a hole saw
- Drill ten (10) ½” holes through a pressure treated 4×4 post with a spade bit
- Insert and remove fifty (50) ¾” machine screws into an A/V rack
- Insert and remove eleven (11) 2-1/2″ course drywall screws in a pressure treated 4×4
After four sets, the recommendation to charge battery before further use was ignored and a fifth set was begun. Eight 2-in holes were drilled. The drill’s performance was marked by frequent stopping with a single beep indicating the battery was flat or the machine was overloaded. On the ninth hole, stoppages were so frequent that further progress was useless so I called it a day.
Drill Performance – Plenty of Power
With an appropriately charged battery, the C18 had plenty of power in both the “torque” and “volts” sense of the word.
When the 2″ hole saw would bite in low speed/high torque mode, there was no stopping the Festool C18 from making it clear which was stronger: its motor or my wrist/arm. Switching to high speed for hole saw operations resulted in fast cuts with the C18 occasionally stopping with a single “Beep” which indicates an overload. After being battered by the C18 in low gear, I am a big fan of stopping due to “overload” and here’s why – if a hole saw is going to jam in a cut, something has to give. I’d rather the drill stop with a happy “Beep” so I can reorient the cutter instead of getting kicked. This is actually a safety benefit given the weird contortions I sometimes find myself drilling in – a kick can throw my hand or arm or twist my wrist painfully.
After the rigors of the 2″ hole saw, it was not surprising that the C18 drilled 1/2″ holes without flinching. Holes were drilled about 75% of the way through the 4×4 without clearing chips and pushing the spade bit with force. The C18 never issued an overload beep with the spade bit.
Recharging this battery took about 2 hours and 15 minutes. When the battery was inserted into the charger, the charger reported its condition was too hot to charge. The 2:15 time includes the amount of time the battery took to cool down.
Festool reports the time to full charge is 70 minutes. I ran a second battery until the indicator showed a single flashing LEDs. The battery was cool and inserted into the charger. Charging took about 97 minutes. The take-away here is if a 70 minute charge time is to be achieved, follow Festool’s recommendations and charge a battery as soon as it reaches the single flashing LED stage.
The Festool C18 Drill is a versatile, multi-functional, smart workhorse of a cordless drill. Four chucks permit several practical setups for anyone who uses bits with hex shafts extensively. Cabinet makers and wood workers will love the features, precision, and control of this set.
The only feature that may throw off the Festool newbie is the Centrotec compatibility. Just remember that the included Centrotec bit holder still allows you to use your standard bits. After using the Festool C18, I can recommend it as the only cordless drill a serious woodworker will need. As expected, the Festool C18 comes at a premium price to pair with its outstanding precision and innovative features.