the Carpentry Way: New Plane of Reality (V)                                                          

New Plane of Reality (V)

Well a week has gotten by me since the last post, and most of those intervening days have featured time working on the planer or at the very least thinking about working on the planer. It's been a bit of a saga. Hmm, maybe I wouldn't have it any other way?

Wiring is similar to plumbing, in a few different ways. Both trades deal with flow and distribution,  can be lucrative occupations, can be done basically out of a van, and involve fairly complex systems of parts, some of which can be fitted together and some of which can not. Both trades are fairly pleasant activities when installing new systems, but can be decidedly unpleasant or even dangerous when working on older systems in poor condition which may have been improperly installed. I used to work as a foreman in an irrigation company in my tender and impressionable 20's, and one thing I always remember happening was going into the supply trailer in the morning and carefully stocking all the parts I could imagine requiring on the job site. Sure enough, when I got to the site it would only be a matter of time before I discovered some small piece which I had overlooked to bring - a small piece, but invariably an item which was critical to the system being installed or repaired. I find wiring much like that, and kept running into some new development as I installed the parts which would require a part I didn't have on hand. Or where I had thought an existing part was one size and on that basis had obtained items to match it, and then get up close to the part and find out it was a different size. So, lots of running around getting this and that. But finally - finally - I completed the installation of a new 3-phase circuit, using 8-gauge wire in 1" EMT (electro-mechanical tubing). It was yesterday that the last connection was completed.

With the piping in place, I flipped the circuit breaker. Good news as it stayed in the 'ON' position, so the circuit was functional. No fires were breaking out as far as I could tell. Not that I was worried about that, but, as they say, one step at a time. Checkpoint to checkpoint, dotting the i's and crossing the T's. I sidled over to the planer and plugged it in. All good. I checked that the compressor was on and there was 45psi indicated on the back of the machine, and things looked good. I walked around to the front of the machine and gave the master switch a turn to the 'ON' position. I was hoping for lights, camera, action, however nothing happened. It was full-on, still life with planer. A whole lotta nothin'.

So, I decided to troubleshoot and got out my multimeter. It's a newer digital type of meter that I picked up from Radio Shack a few months back, and 99% of the time when I am using it the task is checking continuity using the ohms circuit and the 'beep' function. This time I wanted to measure voltage. I swiveled the clicker dial on the front of the meter over to the 'V' category, for Volts, and proceeded to see if I had power at the outlet. Not only could I not detect any voltage, but the meter was crazily bouncing around various numbers. I decided to go and check on a 115v. outlet I knew to be live. Still couldn't measure any voltage. Wha-?

I dicked around for the next 15 minutes trying to figure out what was going on but just couldn't seem to use the meter to read voltage. I was close to tearing my hair out. I put the meter to one side and looked into other sorts of deductive reasoning avenues I might take. First of all I checked other circuits coming out of the load center to see if they were providing power. They were. Then I swapped wires from my dust collector to the same fuse block for the planer, to see if the fuseblock was working properly. It was. Still, without a means to measure voltage, there wasn't much I could do to investigate further. Then my neighbor Joe showed up. He's working on a 15' wooden dinghy build next to my shop area. I told him about my frustrations in trying to read voltage with my digi-meter and he mentioned that he had a multimeter kicking around. It was one of those old time units with the Bakelite plastic case and the analog gauge. My dad used to have one just like it. It worked. A few moments later I was able to establish that the new circuit functioned perfectly and that I had three powered legs, 120v. each, coming into the back of the machine. I also had power at the master switch on all three legs, and when the switch was snapped to the 'ON' position, there was power on the output side of the switch as well.

I went home as I thought it would be jolly helpful to take a look at the wiring diagrams for the machine. While at home I discovered how to get my multimeter to operate properly - I merely had to push the same button, oh, about 6 times in succession to set the meter to read AC volts in the correct range. It came as a relief to learn that I had a perfectly functional multimeter and had not lost my mind.

Today, looking at the electrical section of the planer cabinet, I could see that one of the primary overload protectors was not hooked up at all. Funny how you can't see the unfamiliar object very well at first. But then, I'm a guy and sometimes have trouble finding stuff in the fridge - items which my wife can locate in a matter of seconds. It was right in front of me of course. Biology and evolution have made me the blind monster that I am, what can I say?

Here's the front of the machine with the electrical access door open, to give you some idea:

If you look at the picture more closely, you can see at the top of the opening there is the transformer. Below that is the main overload protector for the motor, called 'FS-1'. It wasn't hooked up at all. Now having eyes to actually see, perceptual blindness fading slowly but surely, I realized that the wires from that protector had been re-connected to a smaller overload protector which basically hung off of the wiring harness and was spliced in with wire nuts. It was obvious that this other protector had been spliced in after the fact, and was not an original factory install. I'm starting to believe those stories about the Carib Indians not being able to see Columbus's ships.

Speaking of wire nuts, I made the mistake at the electrical supply store the other day of asking for them by the name which they are often referred to in Canada: marettes. Yep, got the blank stare from that attempt, but at least didn't have anyone burst out laughing at my 'crazy' English.

Now that I was armed with a functioning multimeter and the relevant wiring diagrams, I could tear into the problem. The overload protector which had been spliced in was thus removed:

Then of course I hooked the original overload protector back up, which was a slightly awkward job, especially since my right shoulder is still healing from surgery and I don't have full use of my right arm yet. Got 'er done though.

I also realized I had to re-wire some connections on the back of the motor, as it had been converted from 230v to 460v by the previous owner. I took the large metal cover panel off the front of the planer and could access the motor's electrical box easily. Swapped over the connection to the original configuration, and buttoned that up once again.

I thought I had gone through everything, so I closed up the machine again, plugged the receptacle back in, and went around to the front to turn the master switch to 'ON', expectations running high. Nothing happened.

I opened the electrical access again and had another look. I found that there was a contactor unit which had a sort of push button on it. I pushed the button and to my surprise the motor came to life. A glance told me that the head was turning the wrong direction, so I went to the back of the machine, unplugged the power and swapped a couple of leads to obtain the correct orientation. Back to the  access hatch, I confirmed I could turn the main motor on, and shut it off, using the internal contactor, but that was all. I then started measuring voltage here and there and soon discovered that the transformer wasn't putting the correct voltage out. I peered a little closer at it and could just make out some writing on top which indicated one slot was for '460v' (which had a wire hoked up to it) and an adjacent slot which said '230v' (which had no wire connection. Aha! I swapped the wire over from one to the other. I closed up the access panel and flicked the switch:

Eureka! It's alive! I could move the table up and down, and turn the machine on and off. The variable speed could be adjusted. I fired up the dust collector and shoved some pine into the machine - it planes! That means the Tersa head appears to be okay!! I am so relieved, I can't tell you. Well, actually I AM telling you. Whew!!

Note the above digital setting of 2.625". The setting can be adjusted in 0.001~0.002" increments using a push button. I ran a piece of pine through at the above setting and then put the calipers on it to see how accurate it was:

 If it can reliably plane to +/- 0.005" I will be quite pleased.

What shocked me about the planer was how quiet it is, both when idling and when feeding wood. I don't need to wear hearing protection, and I mean that. I'm not talking about toughing it out, it is seriously quiet. The dust collector is far noisier. I've never used a planer before that was so quiet. The cut quality was also excellent. After running some pine through on an angle left and right a few times, just to be sure to seat the knives, I ran some Jatoba through and it planed it perfectly and without giving any indication that it was any sort of struggle, which is a far cry from my Makita shoebox planer.

Here's a look at the back of the machine, showing the small GMC compressor I have hooked up:

And here's a look at the dust collection piping - this hook-up required cladding a metal column in some 2x6 lumber, taking what looked to be an hour or two of work - attaching dust piping and electrical to the column - and turning it into more than a day of futzing about:

The power cord for the overhead light which you can see transiting across will be wired up a bit more cleanly in the next day or two.

And last but not least, a view from the front, to show the happy pairing of SCM S-630 planer and Hitachi CB100FA bandsaw, both with stout construction, digital readouts and more than adequate power:

In the above picture the S-630's table is about as low as it can go, which is indicated to be a hair over 11.875". The table condition was excellent, and the bed rollers operate smoothly and are easy to move out of the way. I will rarely use them as I invariably employ dry material that has been faced on the jointer. They might be handy sometime though. The green panel on front with 'scmi' written on it is the one that you remove to access the motor's electrical box.

At long last the fundamental solid wood machining operations of jointing and planing are well accommodated by my shop's equipment.  I'm very happy to have cleared this hurdle. Now I'll be on the hunt for a tablesaw, and then a shaper. If work continues to go well for 2013 I should be able to obtain a saw in the next 10 months. We'll see.

Thanks for coming by the Carpentry Way.