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When I wasn’t looking

It’s amazing how some tools evolve for the better when you’re not paying attention.

I couldn’t afford a full-size jointer when I was starting out, so I got a small benchtop model. Although it had a 6" width capacity, it really wasn’t much more than a handheld planer flipped upside down and mounted in a base with a fence slapped on it. Too lightweight, too loud (a real understatement), and too short for truly useful work. Still, it did what it was supposed to do as a temporary concession until I could step up to a real jointer.

Once I did get a larger stationary machine, I never thought about those little ones again. Until earlier this week.

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Shopping at my local Big Box for something else, I happened to see a Craftsman 6" benchtop jointer on display and checked it out. Still a pretty small machine, but it was clearly much nicer than the jointer I had three decades ago. Seeing it prompted me to do a bit of research on these guys, and the improvements they’ve made over the years are interesting.

For one thing, these are better-made, beefier machines than they used to be, with more use of cast iron, better controls and dust collection considerations. Some now boast extendable stock supports, spiral cutterheads and variable speeds. And while they’ll appeal mostly to beginning woodworkers or those lacking workspace, I can easily see these being used by pros on jobsites.

There’s no way I’d want to step down from my full-size machine, nor do I have a need to, but I envy woodworkers today who are in the same boat I was in 30 years ago. Whereas my only alternative was a cheap little machine barely worthy of the name “jointer,” today’s benchtop offerings are genuinely useful little tools.

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