the Carpentry Way: Buttoning things Up?                                                          

Buttoning things Up?

A month or two back I managed to a acquire a 2000 Martin T20 shaper with sliding table. It was a couple of weeks later that I managed to get power to it as the main load centers for my shop space were in the process of being replaced with new by the landlord.  When I finally got power to the machine, a 45 amp capable service line, everything turned on and seemed to work fine. I wasn't expecting anything different as I knew the seller, Ed Papa of Simantech Inc. and his fine reputation, so I expected the machine to be ready for service.

Well, I guess I should qualify the expression, everything worked just a little bit. There was one thing that didn't quite work like I thought it should and that was the digital readout. Actually, there are two digital readouts of the spindle position:

Could use a cleaning I guess. The upper one is termed the 'absolute dimension height' and the lower one is termed the 'relative dimension height' in the Martin maintenance manual for the machine. Both readouts are active when the spindle is raised or lowered by the up/down buttons you can see to the right of the readout. If you push the 'reset' button, the upper readout will reset to zero, regardless of the height of the spindle.

The lower readout however, was bugging me as I couldn't reset it to zero, and the number in the display had nothing to do whatsoever with the spindle base height or any cutter I might place on the spindle. What use is the lower readout if it cannot be reset or calibrated to some known position?

I did a little digging around and learned that there was a calibration unit available, designated T2004, with which one could zero the readout when the cutter on the spindle came perfectly level with the table top. I contacted Ed and asked him about this calibration device and whether he could confirm that it was necessary for resetting the lower counter. Ed's a busy guy with lots going on and hasn't worked on a shaper of my 'vintage' for a while, and, as best as he could recollect, he agreed that I was correct in my thoughts about the calibration device. So I ordered one and it happened to be in stock in North America. A week later it was in my hands.

The T2004 calibration device is a heavy chunk of machined aluminum billet. It has a push button on the top, and a pad on one end of the bottom which acts a a sprung button to register the cutter against as it is raised up to the table height - as you can see here:

To connect the T2004 to the machine I had to drill a hole through the front of the control panel for the cable. Many of you with woodworking machines can, I'm sure, relate to the trepidation that comes with the idea of drilling holes in otherwise unmolested machinery for any purpose. Of course, I could access the inside of the control panel and was sure that the hole wasn't in line with any electrical equipment, but it was still a little nerve wracking. In the first picture I show above, you can see the strain relief connector for the calibration unit's cord installed just below the digital counter.

I wired the unit up to the digital counter as instructed, and turned the shaper back on. No crackling, smoke or blown fuse - always a good sign. The calibration unit did not come with any instructions, so I was left to figure out how it worked. It only had one button, how complicated could it be?

I found that if I pushed the button and depressed the plunger pad on the underside, a green light would come on - you can see the light bulb just in front of my finger in the above photo in fact. Cool! It seemed to work, but after getting the green light did the lower counter reset? Nope. I tried this, I tried that. No change to the lower counter.

So, I got the number for the tech person at Martin in South Carolina, Al Briggs, and dropped him a line. He's only been at Martin for 2 years, so he wasn't personally familiar with my machine, and he had never seen or installed the T2004 calibration device. It's not a common option and i think newer machines must have the calibration function built in to the touch screen. Not sure.

I told Al what the situation was, and he said he would contact Martin in Germany and see what they had to say. The next day, We were in touch again and he asked me to perform some electrical tests on the digital readout using a multimeter, as recommended by headquarters in Germany. This I did and reported the results back to him. It appeared that when the calibration device was activated, power, a bit over 12v. DC, was being sent to the correct terminal on the readout. So that seemed to be a good sign. Al relayed the results back to Germany.

Then the tech guy at Martin Germany, Manfred is his name, suggested that I check the 'parametric functions' on the readout. I was somewhat familiar with these, as the SCM planer I have also has various parametric functions which, unfortunately, can only be accessed on the inside of the machine. That means, for example, that if you want to change the digital readout from inch measurement to metric measurement, you have to remove bolts and the front control panel to access to appropriate switch. Not what you would call an intelligent design. But that's SCM.

The Martin readout's parametric functions are accessed from the front, without having to open the machine up, which is much more sensible. But accessing the parametric functions - how is that done? Manfred sent me an instruction sheet with 7 or 8 steps detailed, all in German. I don't happen to read German, other than the odd word like fledermausgauben (a type of dormer), gesamptkunstwerk, or treppenwitz, the German translation of the French l'esprit de l'escalier. Great for casual party conversations, but little else - ahem!

I emailed Al and asked him what I was supposed to do with this German document. He said he'd translate it for me. Now, Al doesn't speak German either, so his method was to use Google translate. He sent the results to me a few hours later. They were partially intelligible, but you know how it is, miss one key word in a sentence and you can lose the meaning almost entirely. I could see that certain words in the piece that Al sent had not been translated at all, which either meant that they were fairly rare or esoteric words which were not in Google's database, or there was some other issue, like misspelling. I decided to have a go with Google translate and soon enough I discovered the problem: Al had not been able to input those accented Latin letters one finds in German, and without them, using 'O' instead of 'Ö' for example, and the translation software chokes. At least Google translate can do a half decent job with German, as it does have some close ties to English in certain respects, unlike trying to translate Japanese into English, where one quickly discovers it is all but useless. Fortunately my computer allows for easy insertion of accented Latin, so i was able to obtain a much more complete translation.

Anyway, section one of the document read:

 Which Google translated as:

For parameterization for the hidden keys, hold the up/down buttons together for 3 seconds.Then appear in the upper display the parameter number (starting from P01). The lower display shows the current value of the parameter.

--> Sounds good, but WTF are the 'hidden keys'? I assumed that the translation on Google must be slightly amiss. The only up and down keys I could see were the up/down buttons to effect raising and lowering of the spindle. With that idea in mind i went to the shop and tried following the instructions, to no avail. I wasn't able to access the parametric functions on the readout. At this point I was beginning to wonder if the readout was defective in some way, even though it did provide a readout otherwise.

Getting back in touch with Al, I told him how I'd re-translated the German document, had followed the direction and yet had no luck whatsoever with getting the parameter function to activate. He said he'd talk to the people at Martin Germany again and see what they had to say.

The next day I received a message from Manfred, by way of Al, with a rather interesting annotated photo of the digital readout:

It turns out it actually does have hidden buttons!? 'X' marks the spots where they are located. You've got to be kidding me. I was incredulous. How is someone supposed to know where hidden buttons like that are located? You can't feel them on the face of the display -they are indeed hidden.

I went back to the shop and tried pushing the front of the display in those two indicated locations and voila! the parametric functions came on to the display! It's alive!!

I checked the 10 different parametric functions, noted the numbers shown on the display, and relayed this information back to Al, who then relayed it on to Germany.  The news came back the next day that all the function values were as they should be.

That wasn't the news I was hoping for I guess - I was thinking that one of the values might be out of whack and with a simple reset of some particular parametric value all would be well. Such was not the case. At this point it seemed that the calibration unit was working fine and the digital readout was working fine. And yet, no reset of that lower readout was accomplished by any of the steps, measurements, confirmations and many days of back and forth communications across the Atlantic. Was there nothing to be done? Just live with it?

I asked Al what the next step might be, if there was one. He again contacted Germany. The next day they got back to us and wondered if I was using the calibration unit correctly - and described the steps one follows to make use of it. They were the same steps I had followed previously, however I said I'd go back to the shop and double check. I did so, and took the added measure of photographing each step so there could be no misunderstanding. I sent those photos on back and waited.

A couple of days later Manfred wrote and said that, wait a minute, the counter which gets reset by the calibration unit is NOT the lower counter, it is the upper counter (!). Wha -?

The entire time I've been working on this problem I have been staring at that lower digital readout, looking to see if it could be reset. As the upper readout could be reset to 0 at anytime by pressing the reset button I hadn't been paying any attention to it. I know - I know - it's only an inch above the lower display, but I'm a guy, and while I can spot an antelope rustling in the trees from 200 yards I have a hard time finding something, say, in the fridge, particularly if it is on the front of the top shelf and right in front of me.

I went back to the shop to see if the calibration unit would reset the upper readout, and, why, yes, it does! Hallelujah! And man, did I feel like a bonehead, not noticing the entire time that the calibration unit was actually working to reset the upper counter.

On the plus side, this functionality at least meant that the purchase of the calibration unit, and the drilling of a hole in front of the control panel were not for naught. That was a relief, and yet... do you reset the frickin' lower readout? Is an act of god required? Do I have to pay somebody off? Should I put black tape over the damn thing?

Later on, I was looking through the maintenance manual (which is not where one would normally expect to find information relating to the operation of the machine), and wouldn't you know it, I found a paragraph or two on the digital readout and its operation. There it mentioned, in a section called 'Re-calibration of height', that the spindle needs to be raised to its uppermost position, at which point the raise motor automatically shuts off and,
If calibration device T2004 will be used, the display B will be calibrated to "0,0"
Oh really? You think after all this hardship, hair pulling and sacrifice I'm going to be fobbed off by some simple explanation like that? Are you kidding me? 

Feeling sheepish, I returned to the shop to confirm whether this magical combo of fully raised spindle and T2004 activation would reset the lower display.

Here's the spindle all the way to the top:

Activated the calibration unit and...

No change to the lower display. The upper one reset to zero of course.

As they say, it's the journey, not the destination. We'll see where this leads from here.

Thanks for coming by the Carpentry Way.