the Carpentry Way: All Hands on Deck                                                          

All Hands on Deck

A couple of weeks back I posted an account of the sale and removal of my Oliver 166 belt drive jointer. I'd had it for sale for several months and had found a buyer who was willing to commit to the purchase and yet allow me to keep the machine in my shop, in use, while I searched in earnest for a replacement.

In the woodworking community there are those who work primarily with sheet goods who may not need a jointer at all. There are those who don't understand exactly what a jointer does and see no need to have one - which is kinda sad. There are those who joint timber by hand tool only. There are those who are perfectly content with a 6" or 8" machine, and indeed, if I were a model maker, or perhaps made small musical instruments or the like, then I imagine I would be fine with a home shop size machine.

At one time I had a Felder combination machine with a 12" jointer built in. The width was great but the length short, the tables cupped, and the fence poor. Starting what was to become a dangerous trend, at least as far as my finances go, was the $1000 that went in to re-grind the jointer tables. After I sold that machine I went for a couple of years without a jointer, either jointing by hand plane or paying a shop down the street to joint and plane stock for me. The Oliver 166 was purchased on short notice for the Ming Table project, and while it got me through, it was not exactly what I wanted. It was available when I had need, and the had price seemed right though I had to spend another $1200 on it getting the tables and fence re-ground.

I work exclusively in solid wood and sometimes build larger structures, so a wide and long - especially long - jointer is an utterly essential piece of equipment in my view. Sometimes I wish I lived in Germany where the standard jointer you see for sale is 500mm (20") wide, with overall table length in the 2.6m (102") to 3.0m (118") range. Seems like manufacturing is still hanging on over there, at least to a greater degree than in the US and Canada, and there is next to no hobby wood shop market as the 6" and 8" machines don't seem to be listed for sale all too often. I did seriously consider going over to Germany and bringing back a machine or three, possibly importing a few and re-selling, but decided it wasn't the best plan in the end.

I've been watching the N. American woodworking machinery market fairly intently for the past 6 months, and have kept an eye on it for years, on and off. Here, the typical jointer for sale is 6~8" wide, designed for the home shop (which doesn't mean you don't see them in professional shops too), and one comes across the occasional 12" or 16". Machines bigger than 16" are decidedly uncommon over here, and I'm not exactly sure why that is. It's like the curious planer thing in the US, where you can find monstrous planers 30, 36", 44" wide yet which only open to allow a 6" thick piece (in some cases 8") of stock through. The typical European or Japanese planer might open 'only' 20" (500mm) or 24" (630mm), but will allow a 9"~12" (230~300mm) tall stick of material to pass through. I haven't been able to get a decisive answer as to why the American planer evolved as it did.

Anyway, back to jointers. I didn't want to buy another antique. While I like tinkering on machines to an extent, I have grown absolutely tired of doing so with woodworking machines.  I simply want my woodworking machines to do one basic thing: work accurately and repeatably. Well, I guess that's two things, and it sure seems like an elusive combo. In a way, like a smoothly-operating bicycle, I want them to be nearly invisible so I can better enjoy the experience otherwise. I wasn't looking for a re-build project, and I wanted high functionality. I wanted a long machine, and from what I have been able to ascertain, like the curious American planer in a way, where 6" table opening seems to be some sort of 'limit', the American style jointer length tops out at 96". You can find old Porter and Oliver jointers up to 30" wide, but they remain the same length as the 16" machines - 96". Again, not sure why this arbitrary limit exists, but it does.

The only US manufacturer of industrial jointers that hasn't been sued out of business, gone bankrupt, or moved operations offshore is Northfield. They are to be congratulated for hanging on. They do make a 16" and a 24" jointer, but as I noted in a post from several months back the design of this machine remains stuck in the mid 1940's. While for some the 1940's might represent a pinnacle of technology, I was looking for something that has moved along a bit. By this I am not referring to foundry technologies of cast iron fabrication, but fence deisgns, modern cutterheads, etc. . And Northfield, it would appear, mostly stays in business due to US government purchases under 'buy American' clauses - the price of the Northfield equipment is on a par with the most expensive European machines, which makes them a tough sell in the US market otherwise I would say. General Manufacturing, a woodworking machine maker in Quebec, managed to survive, I do believe, selling to a similar institutional market, like schools, that for some reason 'bought Canadian'. That's all in the past now: General have recently discontinued selling their domestically-produced equipment and are only going to be selling their off-shore produced equipment from now on. They call this 'consolidating' their operations, and I quote,
“to increase efficiency by combining all Canadian operations under one roof and by eliminating non-profitable SKUs from our product mix.”
"Non-profitable SKU's" would be those domestically-produced pieces, like the 12" and 16" jointers, etc.. I expect that their General International line were out-selling the Quebec-produced machines by a certain multiple. I imagine some may be wringing their hands that yet another domestic manufacturer is closing operations, yet I wonder how many of those hand-wringers would have been willing to buy a new General jointer for $15,000? If they're not selling enough of the equipment, and staff aren't willing to take a massive pay cut, they will go out of business, plain and simple.

Anyway, even if General still made the 16" jointer, it remained narrower and shorter than I was looking for, so it wasn't on my list.

After my Grandmother passed away a month or so back, I received a small inheritance which made it possible, combining with the money from the sale of the Oliver, to buy any jointer made, now or in the past. That was exciting, let me tell you. But like anything, when one has 'X' dollars to spend, the choice is there - buy one item for 'X', or buy several items for 'X' - and we all have different ideas about what makes the most sense to us. I decided to consider the range of possibilities open to me at this point in time.

Six months ago there were lots of used jointers for sale. There are still lots of jointers for sale, however not much in the segment in which I am looking. I would be happy to buy a used jointer, however pickings have been slim in the past 3 months for some reason. So, I started making calls to new machinery dealers and comparing products. In a 20" jointer, the options in North America narrow down to Italian machines and German machines. Italian machines, made by variously SCM Group, or Casolin, or Casadei (which is now owned by SCM), are less expensive than the German machines, represented at this point in time in North America by only one company: Martin. Let me say that I've I've been drooling over the 4 'crown jewels' (jointer, planer, sliding saw, and shaper) of Martin for years, but they seemed a distant mirage in certain respects. I held out hope that i might be able to afford a used one someday.

The question is: was an Italian jointer going to be sufficient to my needs? It certainly was going to be cheaper -  as much as half as cheap as the Martin at the same overall size.

I looked at the SCM 520 Nova and their top-of-the-line L'Invincible jointer, which is also 520mm wide. The two machines are about $6000 apart in price. The differences are accounted for by the L'Invincible having a slightly longer infeed table (1720mm vs 1550mm), a nicer cast iron fence with Aigner pull out fence for thin stock jointing, and a polished table surface instead of Blanshard ground. Also the L'Invincible has a fancier Suvamatic blade guard, motorized raise and lower of the infeed table, and a control desk up around face height. Both the Nova and the L'Invincible come with a 4-knife Tersa cutterhead. I couldn't quite see a justification for the $6000 price gap there, especially since I had no interest in the control desk feature. The extra length was appealing. I was giving this model some serious consideration, but then learned that it was special-order only from Italy and I wouldn't be able to get one until November~December.

I guess SCM Group North America doesn't figure on selling too many of the L'Invincible product line, which includes a 24" planer, as they don't stock them. I spoke with a guy up in Vermont who has an older L'Invincible jointer - he figures it is one of only 4 L'Invincible jointers of that vintage in North America. What comes with 'special order only' is that if I ever were to need parts, they can be sure to be 'special order only' as well, and find that prospect less than appetizing. So, that machine was struck off the list.

I was thinking hard on whether the SCM Nova520 was  going to work for me or not. The 1550mm (61") infeed was a good bit longer than the 48" I had on the Oliver.  The 4-knife Tersa knife head was exactly what I wanted. The fence looked a little sketchy however. But the price was less than half the Martin. So I thought hard and long.

Then I had the good fortune of making contact with Mike Shahan at Woodshop Specialties in Rutland, Vermont. They were recommended to me as being machine re-builders of the highest order, and Mike has many years of experience in the business. They also sell new machines, like Casadei and Martin. Mike, unlike most salespeople you deal with, knows the machines from the inside-out, at the detail level. Having rebuilt and serviced so many different machines over the years, he knows things. The people you speak with at the machinery sales end of things can only point out model features and prices to you - really not much different than if you were to read the product brochure. From talking with Mike, who shared his knowledge freely, I decided against the SCM products in this case.

That left only one option: Martin. In case the reader is unfamiliar with their machines, here's a short video describing their T-54 jointer and T-45 planer:

Kind of hypnotic, I find - how about you?

I got in touch with a company based on Long Island NY by the name of Simantech. The owner there is Edward Papa, the son of the founder of that business. A very decent fellow to deal with, and he has a good reputation in the woodworking community. After speaking with him I learned he had a new T-54 jointer in stock, and it was configured exactly as I preferred:

-extra-long infeed table of 2m (78.75")
-4-knife Tersa head
-no above-table control desk

I went down to visit the Simantech showroom a couple of weekends ago. I had never seen any Martin equipment in person before, and I was, well, favorably impressed. The machines are physically larger than they look in pictures, for one thing. The revelation though was when Ed turned on a Martin shaper so I could see it run. I was about to ask him if he had any ear-pro, however I was shocked to find that when the machine was on it was super quiet. And ZERO vibration. This was a paradigm shift for me. I had always associated 'woodworking machines' with 'hearing protection' before.  Not to say that running wood through might necessitate some hearing pro, but they really are shockingly quiet in operation. I looked over the jointer. We talked price some more and he made me an offer that, as they say, I couldn't refuse. I said I'd talk it over with my wife and get back to him.

This is not an inexpensive machine. In fact, I've never dropped that much money in one go on a single object in my life. My LandCruiser has bled me for a bunch of money to be sure, but well, we all have our vices. I woke up a couple of mornings later from a stress-dream about spending that much money. But then I thought about it some more. While some might never justify such a purchase for a small shop based on a lack of through-put to 'pay for the equipment' in this case I was viewing the situation as how best to treat me Grandmother's legacy. Did I want to buy a machine that might cause me to have some small regrets, or which might need replacement 10 years down the line? How does this purchase compare, as an asset, to buying an average car of the same price in terms of lifespan and slow depreciation?

Well, I didn't have to think too long and hard about it - I bought the machine! The way I see it, I've got a solid 20 years of woodworking ahead of me, likely my prime years as a craftsperson, and I want to be using equipment which doesn't hold me back at all. I think I've found it, in so far as a jointer is concerned.

Today was delivery day, 10:00am:

With the truck backed into position, Ed uses his special Martin pallet jack (it's extra narrow to fit under the jointer) to bring the machine down the truck bed:

Safely in past the threshold:

A few minutes later and we had it parked in place and level:

Next Ed connected the three phase leads:

If you look in the electrical box to the upper right, you will see two coils - those are for the motor braking, which can be set to a specific amount of braking time. You can also spot, tucked inside the box to the right, the wiring booklet, which details troubleshooting procedures. Very thorough.

I cleaned the tables with denatured alcohol and then sprayed some Bostik Topcote™ to seal the surface and repel rust:

It's a fine view looking down the deck of the carrier:

Did I mention that the infeed table is nearly 79" long?:

A look at the slotted lips around the Tersa 4-knife head, which are for cutting noise:

A closer look at the cutter head:

The fence slides effortlessly due to the fact that it is carried by the frame, suspended above the table, and running on four horizontal grooved bearings:

It's funny how the fluorescent light makes the machine look green when it is actually blue.

Here's a look at the simple control desk mounted on the side of the infeed:

On the left there is the raise/lower button, then the button for the stock feeder, the emergency stop, and the normal start/stop.

A look under the infeed table now at the mechanism which adjusts the infeed tilt to make concave and convex cuts if desired:

On the table top, here is where the table tilt is read:

The extra long infeed table is made by grafting on an extension piece:

After the extension is fitted, the entire table top is ground/planed at the factory - thus the extra long infeed is a factory only option and cannot be retrofitted later.

 Lastly, looking further into the infeed, we can see the 160mm (6.3") dust port and the motor which accomplishes the raising and lowering of the table:

On the outfeed side there is also an adjustment screw for the outfeed table height:

Here's a look at the fence mechanism - the tall lever is to loosen or lock the fence in terms of in and out position:

To the side of the lever is a 19mm steel plate, which is where one would mount a stock feeder. I'm not sure if I will get a feeder or not. We'll see.

Here's the lever for locking and setting fence tilt, along with the protractor gauge:

I decided to throw a try square on there to see how things were out of the box, so to speak, and DEAD NUTS is the word:

I'm not used to the jointer fence being square without some sorta struggle or futzing.

Here Ed is giving me a run-through on removing the Tersa knives - the brass bar is used to tap on a wooden wedge which thereby loosens the sectional gib bars:

With the four gib bar sections knocked loose, the brass bar is flipped over and you use a hook to pull the knife out:

You can also see near the end of the brass bar one of the grease zerks for lubricating the cutter head bearing, and the other two guide bearings for the fence lateral transport mechanism.

The knife slides out, is reversed (they are two sided and may be re-sharpened one time only), and then reinserted:

Once all the knives are slid back in, all you do is turn the machine on. Nothing to tighten. The rotation of the cutter-head is what locks the knives in place. It takes less than a couple of minutes to change all the knives and get back to work, which I appreciate after having spent so long fiddling with the older systems.

The depth-of-cut scale:

The machine is delivered with a set of chrome Tersa knives installed, which are fine for softwoods. Also provided is one full set of knives, choosing between HSS or M42 - I went with the M42:

In the picture above, at top is a package of two dummy knives (so that the cutter can be run in 2-knife mode instead of 4-knife if desired), then in the middle the M-42 knives. Below that are some Tersa carbide knives in a wooden package which I obtained for a current project. Those were not what you would call inexpensive so I'm glad they were a billable expense. I have a mountain of teak to work.

The T-54 also comes with tools:

The brass bar and wedge are on the left, for the Tersa knife removal. Then there is a large key for the electrical box, and a metric hex wrench for taking the safety guard on and off. Then there is a small double-ended spanner, a small Allen key, an oil gun for weekly lubrication, and at the far right a factory grease gun.

Of course a full manual and parts catalog are included:

I also obtained an Aigner extension table for the outfeed. Unfortunately the mounting template was not included in the shipment so I will wait until next week before I mount it. This removable extension able allows me to joint long sticks with ease and makes for an overall jointer surface length of more than 14' (4.3m).

I'm still waiting on some parts for the dust extraction to be fully connectable, however i did make a test cut on a chunk of pine beam. The test of a jointer's overall accuracy and flatness is whether the jointed piece will be so flat that surface tension on the outfeed table makes it feel like it's slightly sticky. I took a pass, eager to find out if I had this kind of machine at long last - and oh yeah, baby's got game.

I'm totally pumped! I'm, to put it one way, done with jointers now - I've reached the top of the equipment mountain, and the view is looking good. I wrote Ed a check for a scary amount of money and helped him re-pack his truck and off he went. I spent a while just staring at the new machine, trying not to hurt something from grinning too much. I can't quite believe it somehow.

You know, every naval vessel needs a name, and western convention has it that it be named after a woman. Well, in honor of my Grandma and the legacy which permitted me to acquire this piece of equipment, meet 'Gladdis'.

Thanks for coming by the Carpentry Way.