Upgrading a Delta 50-760 Dust Collector with an Oneida Super Dust Deputy

One of the problems with canister filters is that they work really well, and an air filter’s job is to remove particles from air.  Sounds silly to say it, but after you install a canister filter on a dust collector, you’re going to find yourself having to clean it, especially with a single stage dust collection system, and cleaning it is definitely no fun.  It’s better that those particles are in the filter than in my lungs, but it’d be even better still if they were in a nice easy-to-empty bin, which is where pre-separators come in.

InstalledThe Oneida Super Dust Deputy is small cyclonic pre-separator that can be installed between dust producing machines and a dust collector to reduce the amount of dust that reaches the filters.  For some reason that I have difficulty understanding, some people get really intense about dust collection, so just to put things in perspective, here are my goals and parameters for installing this:

  • I’m reasonably satisfied with the performance of my existing dust collection system when the filters are clean.  It’s definitely not up to commercial air quality standards, but I use a very good dual cartridge respirator when I feel I need it, and I blow the dust out the door whenever the weather permits.
  • My main goal is to not have to clean my filter so often and slow the gradual loss of airflow that occurs as my filter loads up
  • Having spent all together too much time reading about this stuff, I’m well aware that I’m never going to get perfect separation efficiency or pull enough air through this 4″ system to meet industrial air quality standards – I’m taking the middle ground here and reducing dust, not eliminating it
  • Since my shop is small, I am having trouble justifying (and squeezing in) a “proper” dust collection setup, but it’s pretty likely that if I ever end up in a larger space, I’ll be bumping up to a 3-5hp setup because my pipe runs will be longer and this system won’t be able to keep up with that level of static pressure loss.

Here's the collector with the canister installedSince I’m trying to reduce cleanings, and this is very difficult to measure in the short term, this article isn’t a complete review – I’m going to have do a followup post at some point to cover my experience with the performance of this setup.  However, what I will talk about here are initial impressions and the process that I went through to integrate the Super Dust Deputy into my setup.  My starting point is a Delta 50-760 dust collector that has been upgraded with a canister filter, and which I have piped to my various machines with 4″ sewer and drain PVC pipe.

The first problem I had to solve was that the Delta 50-760 isn’t tall enough to fit a dust bucket and a Super Dust Deputy inside the cart.  I decided to make a steel shelf bracket out of angle iron and mount the dust collector body on the wall.  The original tubular steel cart wraps around the blower housing, so I cut up a bit of 4×4 to conform to the radius of the blower housing, and ran some 5/16″ bolts through the 4×4 to secure the blower to the shelf brackets.  Since the blower doesn’t line up neatly with my wall studs, I screwed some 2×4 to the wall to provide a solid mounting for the brackets.  Since the separator should nearly eliminate chips getting to the filter, I drastically reduced the size of the collection bag underneath it.  This arrangement has two significant bonuses:  my compressor fits underneath the left side of the dust collector, and the leg of the cart no longer obstructs my table saw as much, so I can rip a few inches wider without having to move the saw.  The new home for the compressor  is definitely welcome, as it never really found a permanent home before and was always in the way.

The shelf bracket and wooden adapterOneida Air Systems sells fibre and steel drums that can be used with their dust collectors, but my dealer didn’t carry them or anything similar.  I used a plastic garbage can of reasonable thickness so it wouldn’t collapse under the suction, and I took some 1/2″ melamine particle board and cut a couple of circles, one to fit inside the rim, and one to sit on top.  I screwed them together with the centres aligned, and along the edge, I used some 3/8″ thick closed cell weather stripping to create a gasket.  In the centre, I cut out a 6″ hole with my jig saw and bolted the super dust deputy directly to the melamine.  The bolts Oneida supplied were a little too short for the full inch of melamine, so I supplied my own.  I was not impressed with the thin piece of weather strip that Oneida supplied for this joint, so I used some of the remainder of what I bought.  The garbage can isn’t tall enough to reach the bottom of the cyclone, so I have it blocked up on scrap 2×4 bits to compress it against the gasket and keep the seal.  There is just enough play in the connections to lift it slightly and kick out the 2x4s to lower the bin.  I’ll probably improve that setup at some point.

Connecting it to my pipes was a bit time consuming.  Some say that a bit of straight pipe on the cyclone inlet helps with separation performance, so I redid a section of my piping to provide that.  This had a nice side benefit of making my table saw’s blast gate much easier to reach, but also required me to re-arrange how I store some items on the wall.

Unfortunately, in my effort to squeeze as much into as little space as possible, I mounted the dust collector too close to the garage door, and when I tried to open the door, it knocked the canister right off the machine and jammed the door.  These pictures were all taken before I completely disassembled the whole thing and moved it 3 inches to the right.  Measure twice, install your dust collection system once.  D’OH!!!

The Super Dust Deputy itself looks pretty nice.  The paint is nicely done, and there aren’t any sharp edges on the outside of it.  I found some burrs on the sheet metal inside, but that’s really not somewhere you’re going to be sticking your hand much.  The inside of the cone is very simple – there is no “neutral vane” or air ramp inside.  It’s pretty much just a cone with a top, a bottom flange and a couple of pipes.  The joints are sealed with caulk, and the caulk was wiped over the paint near the seams, but since it didn’t adhere to the glossy paint, it rubs off pretty easily.  Oneida has been doing this a long time, so I will trust that this is adequately sealed, but it doesn’t leave me feeling good about durability or that I would have had any difficulty building something of the same quality myself.  Another thing that diminished my impression was the user manual.  Now, this isn’t a complex device, but the user manual they supplied seems to be for their smaller shop vacuum Dust Deputy product.  In a 22 page user manual, only one single page addressed the actual product I bought.  Considering all these factors, the CAD $285 plus tax that I paid for it seems a little hard to justify, and it will have to prove itself quite effective over the next year for me to feel truly good about this purchase, but I will definitely give it a chance.

The inside of the test pipe showing the pitot tubeInstalling a pre-separator costs you air flow.  There is no way around this fact.  But then again, a clogged filter costs more.  So to get some sense of how much airflow I was losing, I decided to borrow some ideas from Matthias Wandel’s article, Characterizing the cyclone.  Specifically, I built a simple manometer and pitot tube with 3/8″ flexible copper tubing, that I bent into a shape that would let me insert it into a scrap piece of 4″ PVC pipe, and I used hot glue to hold it in place.  My Manometer is just a length of clear 3/8″ ID vinyl hose that I slipped over the end of the pitot tube and formed into a U shape on some scrap melamine using zip ties.  The air flow in the pipe reduces the air pressure in the copper tube, which in turn reduces the air pressure in the clear vinyl hose and sucks the water up the loop a little bit.  I used blue food dye to make it show up better in the pictures.  The distance that the water is pulled up the tube indicates how much air pressure there is.  With some math and a couple of additional setups, you can use pitot tubes to calculate the air velocity and static pressure, which can in turn be used to calculate the total air flow, but I was satisfied with a simple demonstration of the principal without getting into the numbers.

The test setup at my mitre station, saw rolled awayI installed the probe at my mitre station inlet.  My intention here was to read the air intake at a real point of use, and to use as close to the same setup as possible for both tests.  I tested at this same point with and without the super dust deputy installed.  Without the Super Dust Deputy, the collector was connected to the pipes using 3′ of flexible hose and the Y connector that Delta supplies with the 50-760.  With the separator in place, I used a ring of plywood glued around the 5″ inlet on the 50-760 to hold a 6″ length of 6″ diameter hose running to the outlet on the Super Dust Deputy.

Test resultsI’m pretty amazed that such a simple apparatus can tell someone so much about airflow.  It’s so simple that I have trouble trusting that I did it properly, but it seemed like an interesting experiment, and it gave me a way to visualize the approximate change in airflow.  If anyone reading this spots any mistakes I made with this test, please do add a comment below.  I’m not going to make any judgment calls based on this, and I’ll just include a photo of the readings to allow people to draw their own conclusions.  The photo shows the manometer with the dust collector running with the separator installed.  The readings are marked in pencil.

My over-all feelings about this upgrade are a mixed bag.  I bought it because I didn’t want to go to the trouble of building a separator myself and I didn’t want to get a full-blown cyclone right now, but I do want to save time cleaning filters.  However, the total cost of this upgrade including tax, hardware, brackets, the Super Dust Deputy itself, the garbage can was around $500, plus the 4-5 hours of work setting it up, re-configuring my pipes and storage.  I’m hoping that as I keep tabs on the performance of this over the next six months or so, I’ll be able to say that it saves me a lot of time and keeps my airflow going strong, which would make the whole thing worth while.

Pros:

  • Incremental improvement – compared with replacing my whole system with a “proper” cyclone, this is much faster and cheaper
  • Recovered some floor space that was wasted by the original 50-760 cart
  • Recovered some rip capacity on my table saw that was obstructed by the 50-760 cart
  • If it works, my airflow should remain more constant and cleaning should be reduced

Cons:

  • Lost a little bit of airflow
  • General fit and finish left me feeling like the price is a little high
  • Setup was time consuming and this is really a component in a system that you are expected to design and build with only general guidance

So at this point, I’d estimate that I’ve spent somewhere around $1800 on my dust collection installation including the pipes, hardware, machine, materials, filter and separator, and probably 40-50 hours, but not counting time spent researching things.  I guess this may explain why people get so uptight about dust collection, because while my current setup does seem to be more or less meeting my expectations at the moment, I’m pretty sure that this isn’t going to be my final setup, and the price difference between a “proper” setup and what I have right now isn’t as much as one might expect.  I guess they’re just trying to help people avoid the expensive upgrade cycle that I suspect ends with a full blown cyclone system in many cases.

But then … who knows when they start out with a woodworking hobby that they’ll eventually be willing to spend that kind of money on something they’re not really sure they need in the first place?

Posted in Product Reviews, Shop, Woodworking | 1 Comment

Laguna LT14 SUV Review

The operator's side

The operator’s side

I recently decided to upgrade my band saw from my 1HP General International 14″ steel frame saw to something a little bit more robust.  The old one was a good saw and if I had a bit more space, I would have kept it around and dedicated it to a 1/4″ blade for cutting templates and curved parts.  The biggest issue I was having with it was that it just didn’t have the horsepower and capacity I wanted for deep cuts like resawing and cutting bowl blanks.

The Laguna LT14SUV is a compact band saw with a whole lot of power and plenty of capacity.  When shopping for this saw, I compared against 14″-18″ band saws from all of the major manufacturers available in Canada, and this saw won based on having all of the features I was looking for.  I was looking to purchase a band saw that I won’t outgrow.

More or less in order of frequency, I use my band saw for:

  • rough-ripping solid hardwood
  • resawing
  • preparing routing templates usually in plywood or MDF
  • preparing bowl blanks
  • cutting small parts I don’t feel safe doing on my table saw
  • shaping curved parts

Setup Process

My saw arrived bolted to a particularly heavy pallet and in good condition.  I didn’t find any cosmetic or functional problems.  The setup process is pretty straight forward and with some careful manoeuvring, I was able to complete it alone (although they definitely recommend having a helper – actually they recommend a fork lift, but I don’t have one of those).  The steps were:

  • mount the motor
  • install the mobility kit
  • mount the table
  • installing the gas strut for the table tilt mechanism
  • install and level the table insert
  • install the blade guides and blade

The instructions were adequate to get me through all of that successfully. Only minimal adjustments were required to things like the fence scale, the tilt cursor, and the table’s 90 degree stop.  I didn’t need to make any adjustments for blade drift or tracking.

Shipping grease I gave up on.

Shipping grease I gave up on.

Getting all of the shipping grease off was a real chore.  It was applied neatly, thoroughly and generously.  I alternated between WD-40 and Varsol, based on how accessible the goop was and it took a good hour or two to get it to the point where I gave up.  I got the vast majority of it, but there’s definitely still some there.

The user guide clearly states that “all machines require the minimum of a 30-amp circuit breaker” [sic], but mine arrived pre-wired with a 220V / 20A plug.  I found that a little odd and decided to try it out on my existing 20A circuit before messing around.  Running it on the 20A circuit has not given me any trouble at all, and the motor rating is 12.8A.

Physical Characteristics

This saw takes up basically the same space as my old 14″ band saw, but with twice the resawing capacity, and triple the horse power.  Huge win.  The 18″ saws I compared it with were all 6-10″ deeper, which would have posed difficulties for me with my current shop layout.  I’m sure I could have figured something out, but I’m quite glad I don’t need to.

The paint is pretty much flawless, and the castings look good to my untrained eye.  All of the adjustments operate smoothly enough, and the parts have a good weight and feel to them.  Nothing caught my eye as feeling particularly cheap on this saw, and I didn’t find any surprises like sharp sheet metal edges.

Massive iron wheel hides a sturdy tension mechanism

Massive iron wheel hides a sturdy tension mechanism

This machine is solid and runs quietly and almost vibration free.  Given the massive iron wheels that it has, they must have done a really good job of balancing everything.  The levelling feet included are also quite solid, and when properly levelled, it doesn’t move around unless you really want it to.

The operating height of the table is clearly intended for straight cuts in big, thick boards.  At just 36″ off the ground, this will take some getting used to.  Because my floor is sloped quite a bit, I needed to elevate the saw by 3/4″ to prevent my workbench from getting in the way of ripping longer boards.  Fortunately, the majority of what I do with my band saw is pretty convenient to do at 37″ off the ground, but I could definitely see this being a consideration for users with back problems who spend a lot of time cutting out band saw boxes.

Blade

This saw doesn’t include a blade in the purchase price.  The blade length is 125″, so all my old blades went with my old saw, and I bought a 1/2″ Laguna Swedish silicon blade to get started, rather than springing for their carbide tipped blade.  I figured it would be a fairer comparison with my old saw to use a silicon blade, and 1/2″ is my go-to general purpose size, because it can usually cut the curves I need and does a reasonable job at ripping as well.  The Laguna blade is a little pricier than the brand I was using before, but the weld seems to be considerably better, which is pretty important with the ceramic guides.

The Fence

The fence

The fence is rock solid.

The included fence has two positions, high and low, allowing the fence to get closer to the blade and still have the blade guard quite close to the table.  I can’t see myself ever bothering with that, but it’s nice that it’s there.  There seems to be minimal provision for adjusting for drift, but I haven’t tried that out yet, because I haven’t encountered any drift.  It’s not very tall, and I’m probably going to have to add a taller fence for resawing past about 6″ deep.  The fence mounts on a round bar, and it can be removed from the saw completely by tilting it up to get it past the blade, then laying it back down on the table to slide it past the mounting post that holds the round bar in place.  Even though the fence only mounts on the operator’s side of the saw, it is very rigid.

The fence mounting rail has a measuring tape graduated in inches and centimetres with good crisp graduations.  Calibrating the measuring tape was pretty easy using the included tools, but it was off by almost as much as it could be out of the box.  The graduation markings are very clear, but the scale suffers from parallax as you sight along the face of the fence because there is a pretty big gap between the bottom of the fence and the tape.  This doesn’t bother me as I tend to leave things a bit oversized for later planing anyway.

Ripping

This saw rips 4/4 hardwood like it’s not there.  I’m sure this is partly attributable to the fact that I have a pretty new blade on it, but it’s cutting as fast as I can feed it by hand without being completely reckless.

A log that was cut vertically

A log that was cut vertically

Resawing hard maple and walnut is smooth and steady.  I’ve tried it up to 10 1/2″ deep in hard maple and the saw had no trouble with a reasonable feed rate.  That was the widest dry hardwood I had on hand to try.  It felt like the limiting factor was the gullets getting loaded up, so it might be valuable to have a coarser pitched blade for those cuts.  The deepest cut I’ve made with the saw so far was to saw a 10″ diameter log, 13″ long in half along its length – again, it didn’t hesitate even the slightest bit.  Cutting that log in half was clearly not a challenge for this saw.  With logs like that screwed to a sled riding in the mitre slots, I’m sure this saw will easily cut bowl blanks smooth and straight enough for excellent contact with a face plate.

I had to colour in the ridges to make them show up on camera

I had to colour in the ridges to make them show up on camera

The quality of the cut I get with it varies based on my feed rate.  If I push it as fast as it will go, score marks are clearly visible, but aren’t excessive.  If I take my time, I get a surface that could easily be finished off with a few strokes of a finely set plane or some 80 grit paper on a random orbit sander.  Taking my time through the cut, I had to colour very lightly with a crayon to get the marks to show up on camera, and that was with a 3 TPI blade – I fully expect that a finer pitched blade will cut through dovetails that are ready for glue.

Crosscutting

This saw has two mitre slots that fit my table saw’s stock mitre gauge quite nicely.  Which is a good thing, because Laguna didn’t sell me a mitre gauge with this saw.  I guess if the choice is between “include a throw-away mitre gauge and charge more” and “don’t bother at all”, they made the right choice there.  The throat on this saw, being a 14″ band saw, is slightly less than 14″ at 13 1/4″.  It will do all the crosscutting you’d expect to do with a 14″ band saw.

Blade Guards and Guides

One of the big questions I had about the Laguna ceramic guides was, “what about the sparks?”.  Yes, you may see an impressive shower of sparks.  At first, they were much more frequent and dense – almost like using a bench grinder if I pushed a cut hard.  Now that I’ve been using it for a couple of months, they have reduced considerably.  I now only see a few here and there.  The user guide says that this is normal.

Blade guides with table insert removed

Blade guides with table insert removed

I find the blade guides are fairly finicky to set up and some of the adjustments require Allen keys.  Laguna supplies a fairly reasonable set of keys and a convenient little rack for them to hang from underneath the power button so they’re always at hand.  I’m pretty sure the adjustment will get easier with practice.  Nothing was so awkwardly placed as to be inaccessible, and the guide blocks seem nicely made.  Changing the blade requires removing the yellow blade guards on the guide post and below the table, which is a little unfortunate, but not difficult.

The blade guide travels parallel to the blade out of the box on my saw, but the user guide includes a procedure for correcting the alignment if it doesn’t.

The table insert has levelling set screws that weren’t too hard to adjust.  The insert itself seems a little thin to me, but I guess we’ll see how well it holds up over time.  It has a clip that holds it in place under the table that I had to bend a little to get to work correctly.  The clip is mounted on a spring, and twisting it is supposed to catch it on the underside of the table casting, riding up a bevel on the clip.  However, the bevel wasn’t quite steep enough out of the box to ride up the edge of the casting.  A little twist with the pliers and it now works perfectly.

The blade guides raise and lower on a rack and pinion round post and locks in place with a screw against a flat spot on the post.  I can’t figure out why band saw manufacturers do that – it’s a recipe for misalignment, and I can see the blade guide assembly twist slightly as I tighten the screw that locks it in place.  On my saw, the blade guide assembly’s tension is a bit loose in the middle of the adjustment range, and it has a tendency to drop when I let go of the hand wheel to tighten the locking screw.  This is a minor irritation that makes adjusting the guide height a two handed operation.  I’m going to try and find a way to adjust the tension on that at some point.

Blade Tension Mechanism

The tension lever is easy to operate.

The tension lever is easy to operate.

The blade tension mechanism on this saw is one of its best features, and none of the saws I compared it with had anything close.  On my old saw, the “quick release” lever was a cam lever about 6″ long that bears down on a metal washer on top of the saw’s frame, and operating it took quite a bit of effort.  By comparison, the release lever on the Laguna is long, comfortable, and smooth.  Applying and releasing the blade tension is effortless.  The tension dial is also easy to operate.  The tension indicator is something new to me – I learned to adjust tension by plucking the back of the blade and listening because my old saw lacked any indication of tension, so I have more or less ignored the fact that there is an indicator there.

My one comment about the blade tension mechanism is that it would be really nice if future versions added a micro switch to cut the power if the blade tension is not applied.  Some competing saws already have this, and it’s a great idea.  I’ve started the machine a couple of times now with the tension released because the lever is on the back side of the machine from the operating position.  You can easily see if it’s released or applied if you look, even from the operating position, but I haven’t yet perfected the habit of looking for it.

The Brake

The fact that this saw has a brake was a big attraction for me.  Hitting the brake pedal shuts off the motor and putting your foot down slows the wheels.  Left to its own devices, this saw takes what seems like an eternity to spin down.  The wheels are so heavy that even pressing pretty hard on the brake, it takes 3-4 seconds for me to stop it.  I’m not really in the habit of using the brake itself, but I do tap the pedal to shut the machine off, and it’s nice to have that brake there when a little offcut gets stuck in the table insert.  Waiting for it to spin down on its own to remove an errant offcut would be a bit frustrating.  I do find that I use the brake a bit more often when I’ve got the blade guides wide open – seeing 14″ of running blade exposed is a bit unnerving.

Tilt Mechanism

The tilt stop is on the right.

Facing the outfeed side of the saw, the tilt stop is on the right. It swings down to the right when it is not needed.

The table on this saw is generously sized and heavy.  The trunnions are beefy and solid, and the tilt mechanism has a geared adjustment knob with a gas spring strut to assist.  There are two locking knobs, which are comfortably sized.  Adjusting the tilt is a two handed operation, as the table is heavy enough that it will fall fairly heavily back to its positive stop if you let go of the adjustment knob without the locking knobs tightened.  The tilt control knob is smooth, a little bit small and a little slippery to grip, but it gets the job done.

The positive stop is effective and doesn’t have any play.  When tilting the left side of the table down, the positive stop swings out of the way to allow the table to drop down.  Swinging the positive stop back into position, the table reliably returns to square with the blade.  The cursor on the tilt, like the cursor on the fence, suffers from parallax.  Again, this being a band saw, I doubt anybody expects or requires 1/10th of a degree accuracy here so this is sufficient.

Dust Collection

Dust collects a bit in the door and corner

Dust collects a bit in the door and corner

I am generally happy with the dust collection on this saw.  I never bothered to install the wooden baffle that the instruction manual recommends for the front dust port.  The user guide indicates that the machine requires 1000 CFM, and I’m sure I’m nowhere near that.  So even though I don’t meet the machine’s requirements and I haven’t really taken the time to set it up precisely as prescribed, it’s working alright.  In use, a little bit of dust accumulates on the inside of the bottom door, and a little accumulates around the wiring for the micro switch on the foot brake, but in general, it doesn’t pile up.  It doesn’t look like much dust makes it up to the upper cabinet.

Dust collection has to wrap around the machine

Dust collection has to wrap around the machine

The one improvement I could suggest for this machine would be to put the front dust port on the outfeed side of the machine.  I have no idea why so many band saws have their dust ports on the front of the machine like this, as it pretty much guarantees 180 degree turn to reach the dust collection pipes.  Fortunately, the pipes don’t stick out past the edge of the table the way I have them set up.

One happy surprise was that the ports on this machine fit snugly inside a standard 100mm PVC street elbow.  On the bottom connection, I used a Hold Tite hose so that I could shape it to avoid contact with the motor.  The rest of the dust collection fittings were cobbled together from scraps of hose and fittings I happened to have on hand.  There are two four inch dust ports on this saw, but if you look closely, the airflow on each is restricted to some degree.  Feeding both ports from a single 4″ pipe seems to work alright, but I’m sure a 6″ pipe split to two 4″ pipes would work much better.

Mobility Kit

Laguna was running a promotion on this saw at the time of my purchase that included a lift-bar mobility kit for free.  This mobility kit seems to be common to many European-designed machines, and it is absolutely not for me.  I suppose it works, but in a tightly packed shop like mine, the main reason for needing mobility is to make room for the dozen other things that are getting moved around on a regular basis.  I just plain don’t have space to swing a lift-bar around.  I will probably replace the mobility kit with a more typical mobile base at some point, but for now, I haven’t had too many reasons to move it around, so it’s not doing me any harm.  As a matter of personal preference, I would never have bought this mobility kit, at any price.

Summary

I like this saw, and I don’t think I’m going to outgrow it.  This a heavy duty saw with great power and capacity, and it appears to be built to last.  Maybe one day in a distant, probably imaginary future where space isn’t a concern for me, I’ll have an additional band saw dedicated to the little things like cutting curves and templates, but I’m pretty sure that this one will be standing not too far away set up for the heavier stuff that I tend to do most with my band saw.

Pros:

  • Highest resaw capacity in its price range
  • Largest left tilt range in its price range
  • Footprint no bigger than most 14″ band saws
  • Biggest motor in its price range
  • Excellent blade tension mechanism
  • Good build quality
  • Dust collection works pretty well, even with under-spec dust collection
  • Heavy castings

Cons:

  • Difficult shipping grease removal
  • No blade included
  • No mitre gauge included
Posted in Product Reviews, Tools, Woodworking | 4 Comments

Walnut Pedestal Desk

I finished building this desk last weekend.  This project dragged on for a very long time, in part because at times I found it quite difficult to remain motivated to work on it due to various family events and in part because of my day job.  I’m not going to say too much about it and I’ll just let the pictures speak.  A few details about the construction follow the pictures.

Head on

Head on

Three quarter

Three quarter

Drawer front detail

Drawer front detail

This piece is solid walnut and maple, with only the drawer bottoms made of plywood.  The drawers are faced with walnut burl veneer that I applied by heating almost completely dry PVA glue with a clothes iron.  Since this is the desk that I do my day job at, the drawers are on metal slides.  The bottom drawers are sized for hanging files, one side legal format and the other side letter.  I sized the drawers so a vacuum can get underneath easily, and so that I can put my sub-woofer under one of the pedestals.

As someone who types for a living, I find movable keyboard trays incredibly annoying and flimsy, so the keyboard mount is immobile and solid.  The keyboard surface is sized to fit my unusually large keyboard and a mouse.

The desk surface is standard height, which makes my monitor a bit too low, so it’s raised up a few inches at the moment on a little tiny riser I built in 10 minutes, but I am planning to build a riser that will match the drawers and veneer it with some leftover walnut burl veneer.  More on that in a future post.

 

Posted in Projects, Woodworking | Leave a comment

Pallet Coasters

I saw this idea on Woodworking for Mere Mortals, so thanks Steve, these are great.  He posted a video on how he made his versions from real pallets.  Mine are made from maple off-cuts from making the doors on my recent little shop cabinets.

A stack of little pallets

A stack of little pallets

My approach to this was to get a little crazy with scale.  I looked up “Pallet” on Wikipedia and low and behold, they had an extensive article discussing the standards, space efficiency and various design approaches of different types of pallets.  When I saw this, I really wondered who would want to spend their time writing about pallets.  In retrospect, here I am writing about making more or less scale models of them…

Armed with the dimensions of the most common pallets from Wikipedia, I used a spreadsheet to figure out the dimensions of the scaled down parts in thousandths of an inch (to make measuring parts with my digital calipers easy) and I began ripping my maple off-cuts to size on my band saw.  I fed the wood quickly to encourage a slightly rough cut.  There are only two distinct parts in each pallet, so here are the dimensions:

  • Over all dimensions: 4 1/4″ by about 3 17/32″ and 19/32″ high
  • Deck boards: 3/32″ thick by 3/8″ wide and 3 17/32″ long
  • Stringers: 3/8″ square, 4 1/4″ long

I went with two-way pallets instead of four-way pallets to avoid the need for the router operation that Steve did on such small parts.  You can read more about the differences between two-way and four-way pallets on Wikipedia.  It’s very exciting, I assure you!

For this article, I’ll mostly let the pictures do the talking.

The jig

The jig

For assembly, I made a spacing jig to get things moving nicely.  I evenly spaced 3 deck boards along the stringers and cut some spacers out of some walnut off-cuts, then nailed them to a scrap of plywood.  Then, using a square, I nailed a scrap of MDF to align the ends of the stringers.  The stringers are placed around the spacers, with the bottom side of the pallet facing up (the nicer parts of the wood are better off concealed in this instance).

Stringers placed and ready for glue

Stringers placed and ready for glue

The first deck board is glued right up against the MDF fence with hot glue.  After that, I used the pegboard spacers to space the centre deck board and then the left most deck board evenly.  The deck boards were sawn from particularly streaky and variably-coloured bits of wood.  Skewing one or two deck boards a degree to one side when placing them and making the overhang on the ends vary slightly adds authenticity, but subtlety is critical.

A spacer yields accurate spacing for the critical deck boards

A spacer yields accurate spacing for the critical deck boards

 

 

 

 

 

The end and centre deck boards are placed first

The end and centre deck boards are placed first

 

 

 

 

 

The remaining deck boards are filled in by eye - slightly skewing one here and there adds authenticity

The remaining deck boards are filled in by eye – slightly skewing one here and there adds authenticity

 

 

 

 

 

In service

In service

 

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Little Shop Cabinets

I originally started this project with the intention of building a single small cabinet for my router bits.  Having found some inspiration at Wood Magazine, I sat down with Sketchup and worked out a design.

Small Shop Cabinet

Click this image to get the Sketchup model

The Wood Magazine plan is free.  I decided I wanted two smaller doors, and I didn’t want to go to the trouble of tilting the router bit shelves.  I also decided to use Lee Valley’s plastic router bit holders instead of drilling holes into the shelf.  Having tried it out, not tilting the shelves means that accessing the bits in the back is a bit of a pain.  My solution is just to put my most used bits at the front where they’re easy to get.  There are four rows per bit shelf, and each row has 12 bit holders spaced 1 1/2″ apart.

I didn’t take any pictures of the case construction, but there’s nothing really to it.  It’s a plywood case with rebates at each end of the side panels for the top and bottom, and drilled for shelf pins at 5, 6 and 7″ from the top and bottom.  My original intention was to use metal pilasters to allow adjusting the shelf height at 1/2″ increments, and I do now wish I had followed through on that.  The store I bought the hardware at just didn’t have them.

I screwed a plywood sheet to my concrete block wall to make hanging things easier.

I screwed a plywood sheet to my concrete block wall to make hanging things easier.

These cabinets are hung on the wall using a french cleat at 45 degrees.  The french cleat is glued to a 3/4″ plywood sheet, and I screwed through the cleat into the concrete block wall.  The french cleat and plywood sheet making hanging things on the wall much easier, and will result in far fewer holes in my concrete blocks.  I don’t bevel on my table saw because my out-feed table prevents the motor from swinging over the full 45 degrees necessary, so I used my jointer with the fence set to 45 degrees and taking maximum depth cuts to bevel the cleat, leaving a 1/16″ flat on the tip just to avoid having a fragile edge.  I ripped the edge opposite the bevel to ensure that it is parallel.

IMG_1869

Flattening the door face with hand planes

Like my other hanging tool cabinet, the doors are maple frames with white pegboard panels.  These doors are only single-sided though – that one used two layers of peg board spaced 1/4″ apart so tools could be hung on both sides of the door.  I really like white pegboard panels for hanging light stuff like wrenches for my routers and router lift that get used frequently.  The white brightens things up considerably, and it keeps my most frequently used items accessible.  The doors use bridle joints because they’re quickly cut with a tenoning jig.  The pegboard is glued into a groove along the inside edge of the rails and stiles that lines up precisely with the bridle joint – I actually cut the groove first and used that to size the bridle joints.

Cleaning up the edges of the doors

Cleaning up the edges of the doors

The edges of the doors were cleaned up with a low angle block plane, and I used a standard angle block plane to put a light chamfer along every corner.  Almost no sandpaper was harmed in the making of this cabinet.

These are cheap and easy to install

These are cheap and easy to install

The hinges I used are cheap “invisible” hinges.  They are very easy to install and cost me about $5/pair.  They are installed by lining the edge of the door up with the edge of the hinge and screwing them in place.  With the cabinet on its back, line the doors up where you want them to be, and then give the door a light tap over each hinge.  The little dimple on the case-leaf of the hinge will mark the case front.  The door can now be opened and the hinge lined up on the leaf to make pilot holes and install the screws.  Once the case leafs are screwed in, the door reveal can be fine tuned by loosening the screws on the door leaf.  Because the pivot point is in front of the door’s outside corner, these hinges allow the cabinets to be placed directly adjacent to each other, and open up almost 180 degrees (limited more by the door knobs than anything else).  If there’s no adjacent cabinet, these doors can open up to 270 degrees, so they’re a great choice for shop cabinets.  For heavier doors where I expect to hang more tools, I would use piano hinges, but these doors are only going to see a wrench or two and maybe some hex keys hanging on their fronts.

IMG_1878

Installed under my lumber rack and beside the band saw

These cabinets were sized for a particular space.  Underneath, I keep my bits and pieces of plywood for jigs and templates.  Above is my lumber rack, and to the left is my band saw.  The doors don’t interfere with the out-feed area for the band saw, and the depth of the cabinets was chosen to avoid hitting them as I remove lumber from the racks above.  I originally intended to build only 1 cabinet, but since I had space and most of the materials for 3, I built 3.  Two of the cabinets have flat shelves and I’ll probably use them for storing my sanders, sanding discs and hand held routers.

Each shelf holds 48 bits, so there's room to grow

Each shelf holds 48 bits

The shelves for the router bits were made from some leftover 5/8″ MDF that has been sitting around for quite some time.  I ripped 2″ wide strips and marked them 1/2″ from the front and back edges with a marking gauge.  Along the front line, I marked for pilot holes starting 3/4″ from the end at 1 1/2″ centres. The rear line was used to line up the next level.  I placed a strip along the rear line to create the steps and secured it with 1″ brads and glue.  Each shelf has 4 levels.  With the steps created, I flipped the shelf over and used little blocks of MDF to build up the under side of the shelf so that it can sit flat.  Using little blocks at the end instead of using a wider strip of MDF for each step dramatically reduces the weight of each shelf, and leaves space to lift out bits from the shelf below.  I figure that since I’m using up scraps here and nobody is going to be looking at it, I’ll fix it if it breaks.  Seems solid enough though.

Plenty of room to grow

Plenty of room to grow

I drilled 5/32″ pilot holes for #4 screws that fit the router bit holders from Lee Valley.  Those router bit holders come in two sizes, so while I did drill the pilot holes for all 48 bits per shelf, I did not install router bit holders in every hole.  I will buy a packet of each type of holder and install them as I get the bits rather than try to guess at which size of holder should go in each hole.

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Cleaning my Dust Collector’s Canister Filter

The first sign that there was a problem was that my jointer kept clogging up my pipes.  Chips started ejecting from the cutter head instead of disappearing neatly into the plumbing.  Planing a stack of maple boards for some cabinet doors was becoming an exercise in frustration.  Plane a board, unclog the dust collector.  Plane another two, unclog the dust collector.

Now, the experienced among you already know what was wrong.

The second sign was a whistling sound coming from the corner of the shop.  I was confused and alarmed.  I stopped the jointer and went over to investigate.  Putting my hand next to the seal around the base of the canister, I discovered that the whistling was the sound of massive amounts of air blasting between my canister filter and the mounting ring on my Delta 50-760 dust collector.  Confused, I shut off the dust collector and finished my jointing.  I figured that the canister had been bumped out of alignment and wasn’t seated on the ring properly.

This is what happens when you forget to clean your filters regularly.

This is what happens when you forget to clean your filters regularly.

It wasn’t until a few days later that I realized what was wrong.  I removed the chip collection bag and peered up into the inside of the canister.  It wasn’t pretty.  The photo doesn’t quite do justice to how jammed this filter was.  It looked like wavy plaster in some spots.

The filter was actually so clogged that the path of least resistance for the air coming through the dust collector was actually to overwhelm the 1/2″ thick foam rubber gasket at the base of the canister and whistle out from underneath it.

Cleaning this out wasn’t fun, but it didn’t take nearly as long as I expected it would.  Here’s what I did:

  1. Remove the canister from the dust collector
  2. Set it on a sheet of MDF on the driveway
  3. With a shop vac equipped with a crevice tool, run along the top of the cleats to remove the finest plaster-like dust.  Definitely want a bag in your shop vac for this, or you’re just going to load up one filter from the other.
  4. With the top layer of the finest stuff gone, I found that the pleats were holding shocking volumes of larger chips.  This is where that MDF comes in.  I lifted the canister by the open end and and tapped the rim on the MDF to knock the layers of debris loose from the pleats.  The MDF keeps the top of the canister from getting too scratched up.  It doesn’t take much force.  Then, I vacuumed the bottom to remove the fallen chips.
  5. With returns on the tapping method diminishing rapidly, I stuck my hand into the canister and wiped along the pleats with my bare hand.  This shook lots more loose, and again, I vacuumed up the fallen debris.
  6. I then got the air compressor and used it at about 60 PSI to blow the dust out of the ends of the pleats where they’re glued to the canister, because it’s had to flap those areas.
That's more like it.

That’s more like it.

Total effort, an hour and a half.  With all of that, the filter started looking like a filter again.  After re-installing the canister and powering up the machine again, it was pretty clear how much suction I had gradually lost and not noticed.  Suction at my longest run in particular was nearly doubled (unscientifically checked by sticking my hand in the end of the hose).

So how did this happen?  Well the natural purpose of a filter is to load up.  It’s what they do.  The particular filter I bought is a washable, durable filter that can take a little bit of cleaning.  There are cheaper filters out there that if you blast them with compressed air, you’ll easily blow a hole through them – I have a filter like that on my ambient air cleaner, and it’s texture is a little bit like tissue paper.

But more importantly, was the lifetime of the filter and performance between cleanings good?  Yeah, I would say so.  Since installing this filter, I’ve only cleaned it twice.  Now, that first picture suggests that it was well overdue, but as a hobbyist and with my current setup and activity levels, cleaning it out every 5-6 months is probably going to be fine.  We’re looking at something more like a year in that photo.

Now, I am going to be spending some time looking in to adding a separation stage to my dust collection network, because at the very least, the clogging was really annoying and if I can stretch out that 5-6 months to 10-12 months and also make emptying out the chips easier for myself, I’ll be even happier.

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Test Tube Holder

Another project I forgot to post in a timely manner.  I was asked to build this as a gift for a little girl I know, and I simply couldn’t resist the chance to try something different.  This is a super simple little project that can be completed quite quickly from leftovers.  Mine happened to be walnut.

The top and bottom of the rack are resawn from a scrap that was about 16″ long and 1 1/2″ wide, yielding two pieces about 3/8″ thick.  The test tubes were 7/8″ in diameter, so I drilled 1″ holes with a forstner bit along the top, and I dimpled the bottom strip by mounting a 1″ core box router bit in my drill press.  I should have used a plunge router for that instead – there was a lot of chatter.  The feet were band sawn and glued on.  I shaped both feet as one thicker piece free hand and then sawed them in half to get two pieces.

The turned columns are roughly inspired by some traditional examples I found online.  They started out as rough 4/4 squares.  I turned the first by eye and then used it to mark out the second.  They’re not perfectly identical, but they turned out similar enough to satisfy me.  The corner joints are round tenons set into round mortises drilled out with a forstner bit for a fairly tight fit.

The finish is black walnut danish oil followed by wipe on polyurethane.  This is quickly becoming my go-to finishing schedule for walnut.  The danish oil evens out the colours of the walnut a little bit and puts a bit of life into the polyurethane, and the colours in the oil accent the pores of the walnut just a little bit without going overboard.

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Two More Bowls

Here are two more bowls that I made some time back and forgot to post.

The first is made from some leftover white ash that I used in the making of my workbench.  I splurged on some 12/4 white ash for the legs, and the off-cut became this bowl.  The diameter is approximately 10″, and because there were a couple of cracks, I decided not to push my luck when thinning it out, so it’s a little heavy.  It now holds candies on my grandmother’s coffee table.  I believe I used wipe-on polyurethane for the finish on this one.

And this second bowl was a piece of maple burl that I picked up at a local hardwood dealer.  The outside is dyed with aniline dye from Lee Valley and it is finished with shellac and wax.  The photos do it almost no justice.  The walls are just slightly less than 1/8″ thick.  This piece was very well dried and behaved itself very, very nicely – practically no warping at all.  I have another, slightly larger piece of this stuff that I think I’m going to do something similar with, but I’m going to be a little bolder with the contrast of the dye next time.  The form is pretty much as simple as I could keep it, and it is very light and delicate.

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Spalted Maple Vase

I turned this vase in August, 2011 and forgot to post it here.  Better late than never I suppose.  Not a whole lot to say about it.  I scraped the insides out with a Stewart System hollowing brace that I got among the huge pile of accessories that were included as part of my second hand lathe purchase.  The wood for this project was a diamond-in-the-rough auction score.  There was so little interest in it that I had to remind the auctioneer that he’d skipped it.  I got three pretty huge chunks of maple for $2, and as it turns out, there was a bit of nice spalting in some of it.

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Hammer A3-26 Review

This is an amateur woodworker’s detailed review of the Hammer A3-26 Planer-thicknesser.  I usually try to keep my posts much shorter than this, but in purchasing this machine, I wasn’t able to find a lot of commentary or discussion about it online, so I’m hoping the length of this review will be forgivable.  This is written from the perspective of upgrading from a 6″ King Canada KC-150C jointer (a typical Asian import machine) and a 12 1/2″ DeWalt 734 portable thickness planer.

I’ve opened the comments section on this post to allow questions and will make an effort to answer any that would add useful information to this review.

The A3-26 is Hammer’s smallest jointer-planer, with a 260mm width capacity, which is just slightly over 10″.  In jointer mode, the bed length is 1120mm (approximately 44 1/8″). It has a 2.6 HP induction motor.  It is available with a three knife quick-change cutter head or Hammer’s new Silent Power carbide spiral cutter head.  I selected the three knife quick-change cutter head, as the Silent Power cutter head would have added approximately 30% to the total cost of the machine at the time of my purchase.

This review is based on my initial experiences with setting up and testing the machine, and using it for a couple of weeks.  I will post a follow-up review later on with additional thoughts.

As I went through the purchasing process with Felder Group Ontario, the sales representative made it completely clear to me that it was their goal to compete based on quality and service rather than price.  There is definitely a premium charged on these machines when comparing them against Asian-made machinery of similar capacities.  Consequently, my expectations are much higher for this machine than for the Asian-made machines it is replacing.

Setup Process

The one cosmetic imperfection – I couldn’t quite catch the right light

The machine was delivered locally by the Felder Group Ontario service team, and they gave me a very helpful tour of the machine after they dropped it off.  Mine arrived without a pallet, and with the surface protection paper already removed.  The fit and finish is generally very good, but there is a shallow scratch on the outfeed jointer bed near the cutter head.  The scratch is entirely cosmetic, so I didn’t bother raising the issue.  Cleaning it up for use was pretty easy – I used some paint thinner and several pieces of paper towel to wipe down the working surfaces of the light coat of oil from shipping and then I sprayed on some non-contaminating rust inhibitor.  No big globs of goop here.

This machine is suitable for hard-wired and plugged installations, and includes a disconnect switch on the back of the machine, but it ships with a uselessly short cord and without a plug installed.  Electrical connection is left as an exercise for the owner.  Replacing the cord with something useful is more or less required by design, but I was quite amused to find a note in the instruction manual that opening the switch box without permission from Felder voids your warranty.  I made sure to email them for “permission” before proceeding, despite feeling a bit silly doing so.  Changing the cord was very straight forward with the provided wiring diagrams.  If you’re not absolutely comfortable reading a wiring diagram and doing this, you really should get an electrician to set it up for you.

Footprint

Glorious floor space! 24″x24″ of pure gold!

Viewed overhead from a ladder, the footprint of this machine really closely matches its predecessor.

I won’t be able to stack things behind the new one, but I really don’t see that as a loss.

I purchased this machine because I have a pretty tight space, but I wanted a wider jointer and a quieter planer.  There are pros and cons to a machine like this, but first and foremost, this eliminates the need for a separate planer, which frees up a good amount space for me to add another machine in the future.  Space is the single most critical factor in this purchase for me.  Quite honestly, if I had just 20 square feet more to spare, I’d have gone for the larger A3-31 without question.  The A3-31 doesn’t take up 20 extra square feet, but it’s a little larger and I felt that I’d have difficulty moving it and everything else around it.

Side by side, this machine takes up the same space as my old 6″ jointer, but packs all the punch of a much more capable machine.  So this machine’s capacity and performance per square foot is really what made the sale, and it definitely lives up to expectations.

My old planer was mounted on a flip-top tool cart that I built.  This purchase has freed up a spot on this cart.  I am currently weighing the value of having a miter saw in my shop at all (it has been sitting in my basement as part of my “ongoing” renovation project for over a year now and I can’t say I’ve missed it all that much).  So in terms of footprint, I’ve either recovered a space for a small machine like a mortiser or oscillating spindle sander on the flip cart, or I’ve eliminated the need for the flip cart all together.  Mission accomplished.

Edge Jointing and the Fence

The fence on this machine is an aluminum extrusion mounted on a bracket fabricated from steel tube and sheet steel.  In some ways, it reminds me of a Biesmeyer table saw fence with a screw knob in place of the cam lever.  It is fastened at two points to steel brackets that allow adjusting the angle of the fence from 90 degrees to 45 degrees away from the operator.  Loosening the angle adjustment is quite easy, and can be accomplished with one hand holding a bevel gauge against the fence and the other hand on the locking lever.  There are positive stops for both extremes.  Both were very slightly off on arrival, but correcting them was intuitive and took less than 10 minutes.

The fact that this fence is aluminum will likely raise questions for North American buyers used to heavy cast iron fences, even on low end machines.  It seems that opinions about fences vary greatly by continent.  Is the fence adequate?  Yes.  Is it a sturdy as cast iron?  No.  I can wiggle this fence if I choose to.  Using appropriate feeding technique, it stays in place just fine.  In use so far, this has not impacted the quality or accuracy of the cut, but time will tell.  The aluminum fence is considerably flatter and straighter than the cast iron on the old 6″ jointer.  One trivial drawback to the fence itself is that my magnetic Tilt Box angle finder doesn’t grab on to the aluminum face.

The biggest advantage to this design is space.  By a wide margin.  A typical centre-mounted North American style fence takes up a considerable amount of space behind the machine for the bar that allows the fence to come across the table.  The rear mounting bracket for this fence protrudes about 7 1/2″ off the back of the machine, functioning both as a blade guard for behind the fence and a secondary attachment point to reduce wiggle in the fence.  The sales representative said this was done in response to feedback from North American users that want to be able to grab their fences and not be able to move them.  For those interested, the second point of attachment made considerably less difference to stability on on the A3-26 than it does to the larger A3-31, presumably because the A3-26’s fence is shorter and provides less leverage for deflection.

I do have one problem with the fence design, however.  The aluminum fence mounting rail extrusion on the end of the jointer infeed wing is too short.  The extrusion and clamping mechanism has a taper that pulls the fence into a consistent alignment when the clamp is fully engaged on the extrusion.  As long as it’s fully engaged, this works great.  But when positioning the fence at the full face jointing capacity of the machine, the clamp overhangs the end of the extrusion by a little more than 2″, which prevents the taper from engaging completely and doing its job.   If I don’t tighten the knob just right, this causes the fence to tip out of square when tightening it down at its maximum extent.  It’s really only a matter of time before I thoughtlessly end up with an out of square cut as a result of this.  Even if I am careful, the fence is skewed to the right along the length of the table.  That extrusion really needs to be just 2″ longer to support the fence properly across its entire travel, and I see that as a pretty serious design oversight in a machine that is competing on quality rather than price.

As long as the fence mounting clamp is not overhanging the end of the extrusion, it has consistently set and held the fence square, and is very quick and easy to adjust.

Over all, the fence does its job, and I think it’s going to do an excellent job as long as I remember to keep an eye on squareness and remember to keep an appropriate amount of pressure on the piece when edge jointing.

Within the fully supported range of motion, the fence is reliable and consistent

This is what happens if I’m not careful at the maximum extent of the fences travel.  That is a 2mm gap at the top.

This is how the fence attaches when set for the maximum 10″ face jointing capacity of the machine.

(click to enlarge) At the maximum extent, the fence skews to the right about 3/8″.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Face Jointing

I’ve gained 4″ of jointing width, which is a huge plus for me.  Most of the lumber I buy is 6-8″ wide.  Getting good quality wider stock around Toronto is very, very easy (if you don’t mind paying for it), and when it comes down to it, wider boards are more attractive when used for things like side panels and table tops.  So those extra 4″ are going to make it drastically less likely to resort to surfacing and thickness planing with my router, which is very messy and very slow.

The user manual recommends against jointing pieces longer than 1.5M without extension tables (optional accessories available from Felder) or at least a helper.  So I took a piece of 10″ wide, 6/4″ black walnut 6′ long and gave it a go.  That is about as big a piece as I’d try on my own and it was really quite difficult to control.  6′ is about 1.8M.  I’m not really all that strong, so others may be able to manage better.  The result was good, but maintaining proper technique was difficult because of the leverage and weight involved.  I will at some point definitely be adding table extensions for longer pieces.

Realistically speaking, the vast majority of the parts I make are 4′ or shorter, and my shop is designed around the idea of processing that length without having to move machines around much.  In order to joint anything longer than 6′ long, I need to re-arrange the entire shop to make in-feed and out-feed space.  So the capacity of the A3-26 is quite reasonable considering my projects and my general space limits, and I’m sure anybody looking at the smaller machine will be in a similar position.

the jointer depth of cut adjustment

The depth of cut adjustment lever on the infeed side has just the right amount of friction to avoid accidental adjustment and make it easy enough to make smooth adjustments.  Furthermore, it’s accessible and convenient enough that I’m quickly adopting a new habit of actually using the depth adjustment to distinguish between rough and finish cuts, thus making better use of my time.  I never adjusted this on my old 6″ jointer because its capacity was limited by a small motor and adjusting it was less convenient than making multiple passes.

The scale on the depth of cut adjustment for the jointer really only seems to be marked for rough estimation of the depth of cut.  There are 8 graduations, which I presume are millimetre and half millimetres up to the full 4mm cutting capacity of the machine, but it’s not set up in a way that makes it very easy to read.  I don’t hold this against the machine though because really, jointing isn’t about a precise depth of cut unless you’re cutting a rebate, which this machine can’t do.

The European style cutter guard is a little different from a pork-chop guard, but now that I’ve tried it, I like it a lot.  I used to be in the very bad habit of passing my hands over the cutter head on top of the board when face jointing, and this design simply doesn’t let me do that.  This design acts as a constant reminder that that is a dumb thing to do.  Even better, for those times when the cutter guard doesn’t work (it has a 75mm maximum height, which is just shy of 3″), it has a quick release that lets you swing it right out of the way.

The quality of the cut I get when face and edge jointing is very good with these brand new straight knives.  Time will tell how well they hold up.  Deep cuts naturally result in tear-out, but adjusting the depth of cut to suit the task is completely painless.  The maximum depth of cut is 4mm, or about 5/32″.  I really don’t see myself maxing it out very often, but I’m pretty comfortable taking 2mm cuts for roughing.  The manual recommends 1mm for smoothing, which gives very nice clean cuts.

Thickness Planing

Ready for planing

Planing with this machine is an absolute joy compared to the eardrum piercing, screamingly loud racket of the universal motor in my old DW734.  The induction motor really makes a lot of difference, both in terms of noise and power.  The A3-26 has a maximum cutting depth of 4mm.  On the DW734, the maximum cutting depth was 1/8″, but what DeWalt wasn’t so clear about in their marketing material was that it couldn’t handle 1/8″ across the full 12″ cutting width the machine advertised – it had a guard that limited the depth of cut to 1/16th of an inch for all but the centre 6″ of the machine.  When Felder says 4mm, they really mean you can cut 4mm.

This little tear out on walnut with wavy grain is quite acceptable.  This piece is 2″ wide

When taking maximum capacity cuts in hard wood, I have definitely encountered tear out.  The user manual recommends limiting cut depth to about 1mm for the final surface.  I planed some very tricky figured walnut with it for my current project.  Figured walnut is a bit of a torture test for a jointer or planer, so this isn’t even slightly surprising.  On light cuts (about 0.5mm) and applying none of the various techniques to reduce tear out, there was light the tear out that I shouldn’t have difficulty cleaning up.  For a slightly more realistic test, I tried some hard maple with better behaved grain.  Again with heavy roughing passes, there was tear out.  For finishing passes at the recommended 1mm or less cutting depth, it cut beautiful glimmering surfaces with only slight scalloping typical of all good quality machines that is quick to sand out for a finished surface.  If you click to enlarge and look really closely, you can just make out the scalloping on the walnut.

The column has a locking clamp which can be engaged to reduce snipe.  With the locking clamp not engaged, snipe was clearly visible on the planed surface for the last 2-3″ of the board.  With the clamp engaged, it disappeared completely.  This is a big improvement over the machine it replaced.  Locking the clamp down sufficiently seems to be about a full turn on the locking lever.  Snug, but not a death grip.

I’ve lost 2″ of planing capacity by going with this machine.  So far, I don’t miss it.  I gave a lot of thought to this before committing to the A3-26.  With a 10″ jointing and planing capacity, I can book-match panels up to just a little shy of 20″ wide, and I can slip match 3 boards for just a little shy of 30″.  Provided I take care to use biscuits or splines to align the joint, these panels will look great and I’ll never miss those two inches, because the jointer imposes the more relevant limit on my capacity for processing solid rough lumber, and as far as that’s concerned, I gained 4″.

The feed roller engagement lever on the bottom left; the column lock on the bottom right, and the table height hand wheel on top with the height scale.

The scale on the planer is graduated in millimetres and 1/8ths of an inch.  I find that kind of unfortunate and would have liked at least 1/16ths on the imperial graduations, so I’m using that scale only for roughing.  Hammer offers a reputedly very precise “digital” hand wheel which I didn’t buy.  By combining my cheap digital calipers with a little bit of math and the fact that each turn of the hand wheel is 2mm, I’ve achieved fairly precise results.  I think I’m going to give in to impulse and upgrade to a more convenient method eventually.

Dust Collection

The dust collection performs about the same as my old lunchbox planer did – a few curly shavings are left behind

Dust collection seems to be about the same as my previous equipment, which perhaps says more about my dust collector than the gear itself.  A few shavings escape each time I use the machine, both in jointing and planing modes.  The user manual specifies the dust collection requirements fairly precisely and it seems fairly likely that my system doesn’t meet that spec.

Changeover

Change-over time is an inevitable fact of life in a tiny shop.  Even with my old setup, I had to pull the jointer off the wall, set up my dust collector blast gates, joint, then return the jointer to the wall, pull out the planer, switch the dust collector over to the planer, plane the boards, then put back the planer.  Add to this the fact that the planer was on a flip stand that required me to flip it over about half the times I used it, and really, the old changeover process added up.

These nice heavy springs handle most of the weight of the jointer tables

The new changeover process is roughly the same in terms of time, although the steps are slightly different.  To change over from jointer to planer, you move the fence to the front, unlock the table, lift it up, disconnect the dust hose, flip the dust shroud over, reconnect the dust hose, then crank up the table and engage the feed rollers.  Going back to jointer mode, you reverse all of those steps.  The jointer tables lift up together with a carefully balanced assist spring that makes raising and lowering the heavy cast iron really easy and also makes banging it down hard impossible.  The springs make locking the tables down again a two-hand operation, because you need to push the table down and then push the locking lever in to engage it.

I’m sure everyone wonders about the cranking.  Each full turn of the hand wheel is 2mm.  In order to flip the dust shroud from planing to jointing mode, you need the table to be at 170mm.   If you have the table setup at 3/4″, which is approximately 18mm, then you need to crank it down 152mm, or 76 revolutions.  Each individual revolution feels effortless (as long as you don’t have the column locked!), but it’s still a bunch of cranking.  If someone can invent a good quick release planer bed (like a quick release vise), it will likely be a hot commodity, but I see the cranking as a small necessary evil considering the benefits of a combination machine.

On the whole, the changeover takes about the same amount of time that changing over from jointing to planing and vise versa always took for me with two separate machines in my small space.  So changeover is totally a non-issue for me.

One small quibble about changeover though:  the user manual doesn’t mention engaging or disengaging the planer drive rollers in the sections about changing over between jointing and planing.  It’s only mentioned and explained once in the beginning of the manual where they show the control layout, and it’s not mentioned again in the appropriate contexts where it should be used.  It’s very easy to miss.  So easy, in fact, that the Felder service technicians who delivered the machine to me made a point of mentioning it to me.  Failing to disengage the clutch when changing over gradually wears out the internal mechanisms, and I was told that while it’s not a huge deal to replace these parts, it’s easily avoidable.

Motor

The A3-26 has a smaller motor than the other A3 series machines.  So far, I actually see this as a benefit, because it happened to run on the 20A, 220V circuit I already have for my lathe.  The larger 4HP motor on the A3-31 would have required more electrical work that I didn’t feel like doing.  I took some 3mm full width cuts in walnut to see how the motor would respond, and it kept up quite nicely without me having to hold back on the feed rate.

Starting this machine has a few extra steps compared to the machines it’s replacing.  First, you have to unlock the off-switch by twisting it until it pops out, then you push the starter button and hold it until the machine reaches full speed.  This works more or less just like my clothes dryer.  It’s no bother at all, it’s just different.  I like the safety interlock on the off-switch too, but it lead to a few moments of tension during my setup process as I forgot to unlock it and wondered why the machine wouldn’t start.

Vibration

The weight of the machine is quite impressive, and also quite effective at dampening vibrations.  I am unable to perform a nickel test on it because my floor isn’t quite level enough for it to be a useful test, but I’m quite confident it would pass with flying colours.

Noise

When running idle, this machine is drastically quieter than my old DeWalt 734 planer, which is good, but it’s very slightly noisier than my old 6″ jointer.  I’m guessing the increase in noise compared to the 6″ jointer is due to the length of the knives.  When taking a cut, the noise of the cut is mostly dependent on the width of the stock and depth of cut, so it’s not terribly fair to compare this machine against the old, because it’s capable of much heavier cutting than the old machines were.  Over all, this is a significant improvement, because what took 5-6 passes with the old DeWalt planer can be accomplished in 2 or 3 quite comfortably with this, so in addition to being quieter, it won’t go on for nearly as long.  I was previously in the habit of resawing boards to remove anything greater than 1/8 prior to thickness planing to reduce my noise output.  My neighbours and I will likely be pleased with this characteristic of the machine.

Update:  I discovered that the airflow from dust collection drastically increases the noise of the machine.  When I started it with my dust collector turned off, it was at least a 50% reduction of the noise.  I’m going to look in to this further and see if I can tweak something to reduce this while the dust collector is running.

Bottom Line

I’m quite happy with this machine.  If I was making the purchase over again, I’d perhaps give a little more serious thought to the Silent Power cutter head, not because this excellent machine really needs the upgrade, but more because of the improved performance and claims of a further 50% noise reduction that it offers.

The issue with the fence mounting rail being short and not seating properly on its own when the fence clamp overhangs the rail is a minor annoyance on an otherwise very well thought out and designed machine.  In fairness, when edge jointing, you don’t really need the fence to be all the way out at its maximum extent, and an argument can definitely be made that it’s easier to reach if you bring the fence forward for edge jointing.  So it’s definitely not a deal breaker, but I can’t totally forgive this oversight given the premium price tag on these machines.

This machine has impressed me, and I’ll be giving Hammer’s other offerings a serious look in the future.

Posted in Product Reviews, Tools, Woodworking | 9 Comments