Wednesday, September 26, 2012


As readers here may know, I bought a new jointer recently. This jointer came with a detailed instruction manual and parts book:

Even though I'm well aware of how to operate a jointer, I made a point of reading through every page of the manual. It goes with my other habit of staring at the machine for extended periods, not quite getting sometimes that it's mine.

Technical manuals are something I'm a bit familiar with, especially in recent years through my efforts to publish the TAJCD essay volumes and leading various carpentry projects on the online study group by way of technical writing and illustration. So, looking through Martin's manual, I thought to myself that while the machines themselves enable one to 'experience perfection', as the company's marketing materials put it and my own experience confirms, the manual didn't quite convey the same perfection in English. Now, compared to an awful lot of machinery manuals out there, which if, say, were translated from Japanese or Chinese in a cursory manner, can be well-nigh indecipherable, the Martin manual was pretty good. However I could tell that it was not produced by a native speaker of English, as there were numerous grammatical, spelling, and word-choice problems present. Not that some native speakers of English don't have their own challenges with language fluency, as this gem of a sign so clearly points out:

That really is too funny! You know, it's really not possible to make up stuff like that. OMG!

Anyway, I wrote Martin company headquarters in Germany a letter and brought this matter of the slightly wonky English in the manual to their attention and offered to edit the manual for free if they would send me an MS Word document that I could edit. Several days went past - almost a week I guess and I  was thinking it was maybe unlikely that they would respond at all. They don't know me from a hole in the ground, and probably no one else has mentioned such a problem. Heck, most machine buyers probably don't even read the manual or wouldn't care about such things.

Well, this morning I was surprised to receive the following e-mail from Martin's managing director Uwe Schiemann:

"Dear Mr. Hall, First of all, thank you very much for your kind, encouraging mail about the T 54. I have surfed the internet und found your slideshow. It makes me feel happy to believe that some of those beautiful objects were made with the help of MARTIN machinery. We really appreciate your critical comment about the English version of our owners manual and your generous offer to review the document. You can use the following link for downloading the file onto your computer. -----------------------
 Please use right click to save the file to your hard disk. We have been using the services of a professional translation agency for quite some time. Obviously we have to review the results more critically. Once more again, thank you very much for your support. With best regards Otto Martin Maschinenbau GmbH & Co. KG

Uwe Schiemann
(Managing Director)

So, that was pretty cool I thought. While he many not have realized that I haven't used my new jointer to make a whole heck of a lot -yet - it was nice to know he had looked me up and found this site. And so today I've spent a good few hours working on editing their T54 manual into a slightly cleaner, more readable English version. Probably I'll have it done in a few more hours. It's kind of funny to think about what sort of things one can fall into sometimes, and I will say that I appreciate any company that takes the time to actually respond to people and is responsive in such a way that demonstrates they care about the small details. I tend to think that the way in which the small details are handled is largely the way the big picture stuff is handled too, and that definitely seems true with Martin Woodworking Machines.

Just thought I'd share that with y'all. Thanks for coming by. I should have the next installment in my review of Des King's book on shōji out in the next day or two. 

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Shaken, not Stirred

The Great Hanshin earthquake, or Kobe earthquake, occurred on Tuesday, January 17, 1995. It made rather a mess of things - more than 6400 people lost their lives, and about ten trillion yen ($100 billion) in damage was caused, 2.5% of Japan's GDP at the time.

The strength of this earthquake moved the ground 7 inches horizontally and 4 inches vertically. Buildings and structures of all types suffered tremendous damage, as the following collection of photos illustrate:  


Kobe, an industrial manufacturing center, was a part of Japan firebombed into a wasteland by the US in WW II, and had been rebuilt in the post war period fairly hurriedly - you might say that corners were cut in certain instances. Despite the normal Japanese fastidiousness, and their vast and sophisticated use of concrete generally speaking, the expressway support columns had lacked certain key pieces of rebar reinforcement:


Seems like it has plenty of rebar, judging from the photos, but I think not enough horizontal banding was the issue.

Older buildings, constructed before the 1980 promulgation of a national building code for Japan, suffered from insect damage in the timbers, lack of shear bracing, and in some cases had been retrofitted with heavier tile roofs that exceeded the design for the structure as originally configured. In a report entitled Lessons in the Strengthening and Reinforcement of Historical Buildings from Rescue Projects Following the Great Hanshin Earthquake, Professor Nobuo Ito said:

"In the case of shrines, the collapse of the one-bay Nagare style Yakujin Honden of the Rokko Hachiman Shrine is worthy of note. The way in which it had collapsed, just as if its legs had been kicked from under it, makes one think that it was thrown off balance in an instant and the body of the building was crushed by the weight of the roof. There can be little doubt that, as Dr. Kuroda has reported, the main cause was that the roof covering had been changed from cypress bark roofing to heavy classic roof-tile, but it is thought that the rather unbalanced Nagare roof form was also a contributory factor."

Few owners chose to retrofit older structures with uprated bracing systems, regardless of code changes, as there is a cultural preference in Japan to demolish and build anew when it comes to most houses, rather than do retrofits. And these things do cost money after all, and severe earthquakes in the region were relatively uncommon.

While houses of all sorts of construction types, traditional and modern, and varying materials - concrete, brick, stone, 2x and ply, and timber-frame - were trashed along the primary lines of seismic activity, the Pre-fab and 2x construction industries were quick to take advantage of the sudden need for new buildings in the greater Kobe area - and elsewhere - and advertised their systems in part by showing pictures of failed traditional structures. As traditional structures are considerably more costly to build anyhow, a usual disincentive in any market, this marketing campaign turned out to be one of the proverbial nails in the coffin of traditional building in Japan. The industrialized building approaches thereby gained a greater foothold in the Japanese market, a trend that has continued to this day. 


This earthquake demolished homes of 200,000 people. Professor Ito, in the aforementioned report, noted that damage was most devastating in wooden buildings with:

  1.  poor foundations and sills
  2.  insufficient diagonal bracing
  3.  inadequate connecting elements
  4.  insufficient areas of solid wall
  5.  heavy roofs.
Looking specifically at two kinds of traditional Japanese architecture, Ito first considered thatched roof farmhouses:
"Among other things, in the earth-floored area (doma) of farmhouses, posts are close together and the surrounding walls are more or less continuous, making this part of the house comparatively strong, whereas the reception rooms (zashiki) at the other end of the house are more open, with fewer walls and posts. For this reason, it is reported, there was a characteristic trend for damage to be concentrated in the reception rooms.
Another point that has been noted with respect to farmhouses is the strength of thatched vernacular houses. The Kosaka house, in Ashiya, was one of the few thatched farmhouses still surviving in the area of severe shocks, and it suffered only slight damage. The center of gravity of a thatched vernacular house as a whole is low. Moreover the whole roof frame is a flexible network held together with rope, and as a result the roof frame can evade earthquake forces, making it highly earthquake resistant."
And then he looked at Japanese traditional detached houses characteristic of Kobe:
"In the Kansai region, where there had been no earthquakes for a long period, countermeasures against typhoons had been given priority. The use of comparatively heavy tiled roofs, despite the light eaves detailing and the wide south facing openings, seems to have been an adaptation to cope with such local climatic conditions. Sukiya houses of the kind referred to as modern Japanese-style houses were built in large numbers in Hanshin area until the last war. These houses developed as if each were competing to be the most delicate and the least enclosed, but it cannot be denied that, with their lack of solid walls and ill-balanced layouts, they were ill-conceived for an encounter with an earthquake on this scale."
A final point Ito makes in respect to traditional architecture, a plus and a minus at the same time, concerns relative repairability:
"With the kind of vernacular houses mentioned above, there is a need to inform widely that one of the advantages of the traditional method of building is that, even in the case of severe damage such as cracking of the walls and inclination of the posts, it is possible to repair the structure. Craftsmen known as house pulling carpenters (hikiya daiku) make a profession of moving buildings, but they can also undertake this kind of straightening of the frame of a building. Since they can easily correct a degree of inclination of the structural frame that ordinary carpenters would regard as hopeless, we have come to appreciate their true worth in the aftermath of this earthquake. In the Hanshin area there are no longer any such craftsmen, and it is deeply regret that there are not more hikiya daiku."
The Japanese have taken steps to thoroughly analyse buildings and their performance in seismic events. In 2003, a massive structure, the Hyogo Earthquake Engineering Research Center, aka 'E-defense', was completed:


This structure is purpose-built as a giant test bed for entire structures. And when I say 'bed', I mean a huge mobile bed is inside this building, atop of which structures of various types are built, and then evaluated by subjecting them to movements approximating seismic events. 

Here's a video clip, or three, to show what goes on when the shake test occurs:

Another traditional frame, completely bare:

Here's a pair of completely traditional, fully-detailed houses, and here the test is at 100% of the seismic force of the Hanshin Earthquake:

There are several approaches being taken to making structures more resistant to earthquakes. One approach is to make the structure as rigid as possible. Another involves sophisticated rollers or springs in the foundation to dampen uplift and sideways shifting loads. The traditional Japanese approach has evolved over a long time to produce structures which behave flexibly in earthquakes, like the proverbial willow shedding the load of snow by bending while the oak has its branches snap off under a similar loading. The difficulty in making design decisions in this area is balancing the cost of making a structure more resistant to earthquakes against the likely frequency of the event. Few would want a structure to withstand the worst earthquake likely in 1000 years, if the building is unlikely to last more than 150 years otherwise. And given that many parts of Japan deal with typhoons on a more frequent basis, trying to design structures to perform well in those conditions only complicates the picture. Then there are tsunami - how would one make a structure, other than some sort of bunker, that could resist the sort of wave seen in the recent disaster in Japan?

Culturally, the Japanese have developed a sort of fatalism about such things. Expressions such as 'shigata ga nai' (nothing can be done") and 'shoganai' ("it can't be helped") are common in everyday conversation, and, some would say, more-or-less representative of philosophical outlook. Even 'sayōnara' literally means, "well, if it must be so." There are many other examples in the Japanese language where fatalism is expressed, far too numerous to mention here.

I think it is intriguing though to see the 'E-Defense' structure and the willingness to put building systems under reality testing. While it can't be cheap to do this sort of thing, hopefully some highly useful data will come out of those tests perhaps showing new ways forward in building design and construction, and potentially saving lives in the process.

Thanks for coming by the Carpentry Way. Comments always welcome.

Friday, September 21, 2012

This Just Sucks! (II)

I'm still working on getting my shop's dust collection system up and running. In the previous post in this short series I had mentioned obtaining the bulk of the parts I needed from a company in eastern Massachusetts called Dustpipe. Once I had received the initial shipment and had strung up some piping, I had a better idea how to complete the system. I also elected to move some machines around as I worked to incorporate a new jointer into the shop. The new jointer, weighing 2650 lb., was not something I wanted to move around very often, as you might imagine.

The first shipment from Dustpipe had contained some anomalous parts, and was missing some parts. I sent some new drawings, with the parts I needed highlighted in red, and the new shipment arrived about a week later. I waited all day at the shop for the UPS truck to arrive, only to find upon return home that the order had been dropped off at my house - even though the packing list and invoice clearly showed my shop as the 'ship to' address. Okay, whatever, mistakes happen. This shipment, based on the packing list, was not quite what I was looking for however. The most important part, a reducing lateral, appeared to be missing. I was not what you might call delighted, and I picked up the phone and called Dustpipe. However it was 4:15pm, and they go home at 4:00 apparently. And it was a Friday, so I knew that I would have to wait several days if I was to see the part I needed.

There is another company in the area selling dust collection piping: Air Handling Systems, based on southern Connecticut. I phoned them and found they were still at work at 4:15pm. I  described the part I needed, and asked if they might have one in stock. The fellow I spoke to, Curt, looked on his stocklist and said they had one on the shelf. So, in interests of resolving the piping work as soon as possible. I ordered that fitting from Air Handling, along with a couple of other bits and a piece of flex hose.

Later that evening I opening up the large box from Dustpipe in my living room to see what it contained. To my chagrin I found that the parts inside did not correspond precisely with the packing list, and worse yet, the reducing lateral I had just ordered from Air Handling, which I thought was absent from the package based on the packing list, was in fact in the box.

I figured it would all come out in the wash, and the worst case would be that i had to spend some money to ship unwanted/un-needed/unused parts back to either company. I also thought it would be interesting to see how the two company's products, apples to apples, as they say, compared.

Today my shipment from Air Handling arrived. Unlike the Dustpipe shipments, in which the fittings were simply tossed in a box and taped up, the parts were actually packaged with some paper and cardboard to protect the parts:

Here are a couple of small spun reducers wrapped up in paper:

At the bottom was the reducing lateral I had been waiting for:

So, pipe is pipe, right? How different can a couple of dust piping fittings be from one another, since both are steel, both connect to spiral pipe, etc.?

Well, let's see....

In the above picture, the Dustpipe product is on the left, and the Air Handling product is on the right. They look pretty similar, don't they?

Some differences were immediately apparent - the Air Handling lateral was completely welded along the seam - every seam:

The Dustpipe lateral was spot welded around 2/3rds of the junction, and the inside portion simply folded and tucked under:

Here you can see down the Dustpipe lateral, note how the folded over bits of metal simply interfere with a smooth flow inside the pipe:

The Air Handling lateral, as it is welded, is much stronger and completely smooth so it will flow better:

They two pieces seemed to be of a different gauge of metal as well. Here's the thickness of the Dustpipe lateral's sheet metal:

The metal in the Air Handling lateral is 40% thicker:

Again, this makes the Air Handling part stronger and more durable.

Another curious thing came to light as i compared the two parts - the Dustpipe lateral did not have the 6" outlet I wanted, rather it had a 7" outlet, and they had supplied a sleeve and a 7" to 6" reducer to make it work:

So, the Dustpipe people had slung together whatever they had on hand to technically fulfil my order, even though i never requested such a conglomeration.

Putting the bits together, you can see in the lower portion of the photo that the Dustpipe assembly ends up being considerably longer than the correctly-made parts from Air Handling Systems:

The welded lateral from Air Handling costs about $141. The Dustpipe lateral costs $111.00, but then add in the 7/6 reducing taper for $23.50, and something for the connecting sleeve, and the cost is pretty much the same. I think I know which one I'll be sending back. In fact, now that I've seen the quality difference, I'm wishing I had gone with Air Handling Systems stuff in the first place. Live and learn. If the price difference was significant between the two company's offerings, that would be another story, perhaps, though I would tend to buy the better made thing in any case, if I can swing the purchase.

A few hours work and I was able to fit the reducing lateral into place;

The pipe now extends over to my bandsaw and shaper:

Here's the connection at the shaper and bandsaw:

At last my jointer is hooked up, save for one last custom reducer I need down at the machine's dustport:

I'm also waiting on a lateral connection so that I can hook my router table into the system:

Of course, I'm only dealing with Air Handling Systems from now on.

I picked up a sheet of BalticBirch ply and made a quick little storage cabinet to keep tooling in. The lower portion of the cabinet, which has 2 shelves tossed in, is visible in the above photo.

Here's the upper portion of the cabinet, where I am putting together a storage rack for router bits:

A closer view shows I've got most of the 1/2" shanked bit in place. I need another dozen or so plastic mounting pieces to get all the 1/2" bits on the wall, which I have obtained from Lee Valley:

Better to use the plastic mounts than drill holes in a wooden block to mount the bits - that's a sure route to having the shanks get rusty over time. I'll also be placing my 8mm and 1/4" bits on the wall in a similar fashion.

All for now. Have yourself a great weekend and thanks for visiting! Two years later, check out part III

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Wood Hunt'r

Probably like many folks in the business of working wood, I find regular visits to the lumber yard both exciting and depressing at the same time. Exciting, for reasons obvious to any lover of wood as a material, and depressing because of how rapidly one can observe changes in the wood supply, for the worse. While Albert Bartlett remarked once that, "the greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability to understand the exponential function," I think that as woodworkers we have an opportunity to see firsthand how our wood supply can drastically change in short order. Is this a manifestation of exponential growth in action?

It seems that if you are at the yard one day and see the recently-arrived 'X' species, fabulous boards of good width and length and with clear grain, and think, "oh, there lot's of that to be had, so I can wait a bit" - you can be sure that the next time you are at the lumber yard the pile you once saw will have dwindled precipitously to a few scraps, and what has come in to replace it is noticeably narrower, shorter and of poorer quality - if any comes in at all. Sometimes it is as if you can tell that 'they' just got to the end of the logging road or something like that, and inevitably one regrets not obtaining the wood of species 'X' when the 'good stuff' was on the shelves.

In truth, the picture isn't  quite so neat and tidy affair as some sort of exponential supply/demand curve. In fact, the global economic slowdown has manifest itself in the wood supply business as a contraction in supply. One would normally think that a decrease in demand would lead to a overflow of supply on the shelves, and dropping prices, but this is not so. Those that cut trees and supply logs have learned from past experiences with economic slowdowns to conduct their affairs a little differently than one might expect. In such a situation, those who have the logs tend to sit on them rather than cut, as they are unsure of sales. Those that wholesale the material tend to want to clean out their existing stock rather than bring in new wood they might have trouble selling. And finally at the retail end what one sees is a drying up of supply and decrease in quality.

Then couple this with wars breaking out in certain areas of the globe - war being somewhat of a constant among the civilized and primitive alike - and one can see a shortage of supply even when plenty of logs are available. It's obviously hard to move logs out to port when the road may be mined. Then there are those species which have been essentially logged out of existence and are now banned for trade, with more species being added all the time.  And this happens both domestically and in exotic locales. I remember the moonscape of Vancouver Island very clearly - one of the clearest examples on earth of the results of unsustainable cut rates for a couple of hundred years.

There are other factors also affecting the supply of a given species. Climate changes which lead to differences in insect pest populations have devastated softwoods on both sides of the North American continent. Introduced pests, both insect and fungal, have wiped out certain trees - the Elm and the Chestnut being to obvious examples. In an online piece written for Fine Woodworking Magazine, Jon Arno describes changes to the domestic Black Cherry supply over the years, and the factors which contribute to that:

"In the lumber trade, cherry logs are where you find them, and being able to find them in sufficient quantities to meet demand seems to wax and wane from generation to generation. Because we rely on nature to replenish the growing stock, and because cherry is not a particularly well-adapted long-term player in the species mix of mature forests, the supply of this wood is cyclical. Once cherry performs its role in nursing fallow land back to its natural forested state, it tends to die out. As a result, the supply of cherry seems to follow times of turmoil in human history: It begins to become plentiful about 80 years or so after large areas of land that have been cleared by logging, devastated by fires, or abandoned as farms are allowed to naturally reforest. For example, it has been suggested that the ample supplies of cherry we enjoyed during the mid- to late 20th century were in part the result of the Civil War, which caused large numbers of farms to go fallow when so many soldiers failed to return to work the land. Whether this tale bears a germ of truth or is just a romantic embellishment, there is definitely a correlation between how we manage land within cherry's native range and how much of this fine cabinetwood we will have in the future. As forest management practices shift from clear-cutting to selective logging throughout our hardwood forests, we can count on an ever-diminishing supply of cherry. Because of this species' extreme shade intolerance, cherry saplings do not do well under the relatively undisturbed canopy of a forest that is being managed via careful selective cutting."

Another factor affecting supply is fashion and its fads. Interior designers will suddenly get on an Anigre bent, or a Wenge fetish, and the supply of that wood will suddenly be gobbled up. Another factor is the increased use of veneer in factory produced pieces, and this has accelerated the consumption of the material.

So, it remains a complicated picture, but it's also a simple story: for the most part, the woodworker faces a reality that each time they go to the lumber yard, in most species, most of the time what they will find is inferior to what they saw the last time. I've certainly noticed this, time and time again, and if I have learned one thing, it is this:
                                carpe lignum
What I mean by that, and I realize my Latin may not be the best, is 'seize the wood'. If you see something you like, buy it. It almost certainly won't be there the next time, and if you held off just for the sake of saving a few bucks, you will likely regret it once you see that material become unobtainium, soon to be sold on a 'by weight' basis rather then by board foot.

I picked up a fabulous piece of Makassar Ebony (diospyrus celebica) in San Francisco back in 2004. A beautiful stick of wood with loads of whispy tan streaks, about 48" long, 4/4 thick, and 11" wide. I paid $100 for the stick. In the intervening years I have kept an eye out for more of this wood, thinking that if only I could obtain a couple of similar pieces I would have enough to build a cabinet. No such luck. While the odd slender little piece does crop up here and there from time to time, the wood is not particularly available to buy. It seems that the Chinese are buying up most of the supply, which is also the case for Cocobolo (dalbergia retusa).

A few months ago I came across an ad for some wood in Rochester NY, which included Makassar Ebony. Apparently the seller was a retired GE engineer who had a hobby of wood turning and was now too old to continue his engagement in that pursuit. I phoned them up and expressed interest in what they had and eventually received a list of all the wood they had for sale, which included more than a dozen pieces of Makassar, one being a 2"x11"x110", a size virtually unheard of these days. I then asked for photos of the material, however the seller's wife was also quite elderly and in failing health herself, and the wood was apparently too heavy to move to take pictures. Then I learned from a phone call that someone had been by and had bought some pieces, which set off the alarm bells. I asked them to ascertain if the big stick of ebony was still left and after they confirmed that I sent them a deposit of $100 to hold it until I could come by and take a look. At this juncture, the elderly couple were to set off for their annual stay in Chatauqua NY and wouldn't be back for a couple of months. They assured me they would hold the wood for me.

Time came last week when I expected they were back from their sojourn and I made, or tried to make I should say, contact again. I tried to set up a time to visit, but that didn't get too far. I figured they were older and didn't get on the computer too much, so, what to do? By accident, I made contact with their son, who lived in NYC, and he was much more knowledgeable about the wood they had on hand and agreed to make the drive up to meet me there. I rented a van, got some cash out of the bank, booked a hotel room and set off last weekend with my wife.

It's a 6 hour drive to Rochester from my place. About 4 hours in I decided to ring up the son just to check in and let him know where we were at. Then I learned that he had forgotten about our planned meet and was still in NYC. My astonishment turned to relief when he said he could get his sister to meet us there in his place, and though she wasn't knowledgeable about the wood, he would liaise with her on the phone as we looked at the pieces.

We got there at the appointed time and the sister came out, along with her 77 year old father, who looked me square in the eye and said, "hello, my name is John, pleased to meet you." He seemed personable enough and in apparent good health so I was wondering why he had stopped working wood.  I surveyed the scene, which was a residential garage. Boards of various kinds were stacked in piles and leaned up against the back wall. I was looking back and forth to see the piece of Makassar I was chasing, but I didn't see it anywhere. It's the sort of wood that would be fairly easy to spot in a pile, given its distinctive appearance. Puzzled, I started looking through the stacks a little more thoroughly, to no avail. I then asked the sister if she know where the piece of wood upon which I had put my deposit. Phone calls and flurried activity followed, and about 15 minutes later it emerged that the piece of wood was no longer there.

I was starting to get a little cranky at that point, having driven 6 hours to get there to find this exciting news, however I then learned that affable John had some very good reasons for giving up bowl turning: he suffered from both Alzheimer's and dementia. Further conversations with the son on the phone revealed that someone had likely come by and creamed the pile of wood, dealing with John who probably gave most of it away, probably with a innocent smile on his face. Or possibly someone simply ripped him off and shoved a few token bills in his hand, I don't know. In any case, the wood I had come to get, with much anticipation, was long gone. That's the way hunting goes sometimes, you win some you loose some, yada-yada. I managed to find a few boards that were worth having, negotiated a price with the son, paid and left. They were very sorry about what happened, and I suppose there is some irony to the fact that after having carefully saved those precious boards for many years, forming a nest egg to be re-sold in retirement, the turner's dementia and memory challenges led to him giving it away for pennies or having been taken advantage of by some unscrupulous buyer.

I think I should have hopped in the car as soon as I saw the ad for the wood months back, but of course, the sight-unseen aspect makes it tough to justify a 6 hour drive.

I've realized that the furniture I most admire -Chinese Ming furniture -was made from woods that are virtually unavailable these days, and that for even those woods which would be fairly reasonable substitutes for what the Chinese used, the supply is getting quite constrained to say the least. Many of those species are banned for trade so really the only way I can get my hands on them is by finding people who bought such lumber 20, 30, 40 or more years back and have it squirreled away in some shop or storage locker. So, the hunt continues, and, as Elmer said, be vewy vewy qwiet!

Friday, September 14, 2012

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.