Space, space, space. That’s the small shop owner’s comeback to the real estate motto, “Location, location, location.”
Most woodworking shops are tight for space. In today’s economy, buying, building or renting more space is probably not a fantastic idea, but getting the most of your currently available space is. Can you replace a planer and jointer with a true planer/jointer? Is it possible to move from separate planers and molders to a planer/molder that will actually do both jobs well? Can a jointer/shaper/molder be joined at the hip?
There’s a solid array of such machines available now, with distributors moving well beyond the traditional, and still available, Felder and Laguna centers. Grizzly is in the fray, as are Woodworkers Supply and Shop Fox. The array of European machines from Laguna and Felder is large enough to be confusing, while most U.S. distributors have stuck with the tried-and-true jointer/planer combos.
These are not the long-available Shopsmith multi-tool, which is still sold and very useful for some hobbyists. The Shopsmith and its imitators all had single motors and were much better at some jobs than others. I always found that the drill press was excellent, the lathe very good and the rest, in my opinion, was marginal. The table saw, in particular, is limited because it uses a tilting table instead of a tilting blade. Caused by the lathe configuration, the saw table is also quite high, giving me an uncomfortable working position.
Pro-style multi-tools don’t offer a configuration with a lathe and a drill press. The only ones that operate with a single motor are the jointer/planers and the planer/molders. You can find a planer, a jointer, a table saw, a molding machine and, occasionally, other tools in a compact, easily changeable setup that is sometimes moderately mobile. Those machines most often have three motors, from three horses each and up. Some combo machines are enough for a start-up woodshop, though, for production work of any kind, the need to break down one tool setup to use another is always a bottleneck.
Generally, manufacturers design the machines so feed paths are similar. Planer/molders, for instance, and planer/jointers feed from the same end. That means easy lining up, no switching ends or sides.
The Grizzly 12" jointer/planer is a prime example. With a 5-hp motor (25 ampere), this single-phase, 230-volt machine (model G0633) uses a three-knife cutterhead (model G0634 offers a spiral cutterhead) to plane, with the wood passing over a planer table supported by a thick, cast-iron column. The jointer table flips up to allow planing action, while the planer hood is also a flip-up style from its under-the-table position for the jointer action. The table size is 12" x 59-7/8", so this machine serves all jointer duties (unless you’re building long doors or similar constructs), while easily covering many planer jobs. At 741 lbs. (shipping weight), it is a massive tool, with enough cast-iron mass to help absorb vibration.
Jet has a nifty tool in this category, too. Its JJP-12 is a 12" jointer and 12" planer, with the customary flip-up table. The cutterhead has three knives. The jointer fence is very large. The table length is 55", while the fence is 43" x 6". The 3-hp motor is a 12-1/2 amp, 230-volt, single-phase power source. The 400 lb. weight makes this a stable tool with low vibration. The dust port is 4" in diameter, while output needs a 400 CFM dust-collector capacity. The stand is one piece steel, the handwheel is large, and the table uses a parallelogram design that keeps the cutterhead close to the table for less nicking and chipping.
In essence, machines such as the above let you flatten one face of a board, then flip the jointer table up, and plane the other side for the greatest parallel accuracy. Grizzly also offers a 10" 2-1/2-hp model.
Another combo or multi-tool example, the Shop Fox W1812 planer/molder, has just about everything you’ll want for a moderately powered molding machine, with an open side that allows for molding elliptical work. Maximum width of the molding is 7", which is also the maximum width of the planer. (For more information, please see the story on Page 22.)
Obviously, these machines won’t take over full-duty planing and probably not all your molding needs. But for smaller shops, and start-up shops, there’s not much better. The 2-hp unit offers variable feed rates, guide rails that ride in T slots for easy adjustment, a 3/4" single pass molding depth, and a good series of cutterhead knives. The base is a single piece cabinet and the shipping weight is 324 lbs.
This open-sided planer/molder design first appeared on the woodworking scene in 1954 from Williams & Hussey Machine Co. Inc., a small New Hampshire company. It was without serious rivals until its patents ran out. Now the W&H and the Shop Fox often go head to head. They are both worth checking out. They are solid machines, both offering the possibility of doing curved and elliptical molding with ease.
European pattern machines
Actually, jointer/planers are also a European innovation, too. Both Felder and Laguna distribute several of each. The European combo tool then goes on into more complex tools that are usually heavier and cost more but provide just about every tool a small shop needs, including table saws with scoring blades and sliding tables, as well as mortisers and shapers.
The primary brands available in the U.S. today are Felder and Laguna. Laguna also brings in Robland, another high-end combo machine (the top Robland carried by Laguna costs more than $13,000).
We’ll emphasize Felder and Laguna here, as those are the brands with the widest range of offerings that may be of use in cabinet and furniture shops.
Laguna’s Platinum 12" 5 function
Laguna’s Platinum 12" is a five-function combination machine, including a 10" table saw with a scoring blade and a sliding table; 12" planer and jointer; shaper; and mortiser. It features three single-phase, 3-hp, 220-volt motors.
The scoring blade is 80mm (3.1"), while the sliding table is large enough to allow crosscutting a full sheet of plywood (maximum crosscut is 60"). Depth of cut is 3" max.
The jointer uses the same 70 carbide-tipped knives in Laguna’s Shear-Tec cutterhead to do its work. The table is 55" long. The shaper has a 3/4" spindle, while the mortiser features a 20" x 8" table. Overall machine weight is 1,600 lbs. This is not quite a full shop behemoth, but it is one hefty machine and needs its own operating area without infringement from other tools or assembly areas.
The price of the Platinum 12" 5 Function combination tool is less than $9,000 (plus shipping). The Platinum 10" 5 Function offers the same tools but drops one motor and arrives at a smaller overall size and weight, as well as a considerably lower price ($5,230). Obviously, the entire unit is lighter in weight, intended for shorter duty cycles and less intense work. It is also still very, very capable.
Felder Group USA.
Laguna’s king-sized import, the Robland NLX31, is a stunner in size, capability and price. It is 91" long, 48" wide and 41" at its tallest point. The NLX31 weighs 1,700 lbs. and is priced at $13,000.
What do you get for giving up that much money and space?
The list starts with a 3-hp 12" table saw, a large sliding table and a 3/4-hp scoring blade motor. The arbor, as in all these combination saws, is 5/8", but the depth of cut has jumped to 3-3/16". Maximum crosscut is 50".
The planer has a 55" table with a 3-hp motor that gives a maximum depth of cut at a smidgen more than 12". The cutterhead is a three-blade style. Flip the lid, and you’ve got a jointer, a 12-3/16" capacity model, with the same 55" table, and 1/4" depth of cut, again driven by a 3-hp motor.
The shaper uses a 3/4" spindle, with 5-1/2" of vertical spindle travel. Maximum cutter size is 7". There are four speeds: 2,900, 4,000, 6,000 and 7,500 rpm.
The mortiser has 8" of horizontal travel, 4" of vertical travel and can cut to a depth of 5". Chuck capacity maxes out at 5/8", and the table size is 8" x 17".
Felder CF 531 and CF 741
Felder has been in the U.S. since 1984, during which time it has grown to import three combination tool lines — the 500, 700 and 900. They also import the Hammer line.
Felder’s CF 531 comes in two configurations, as the plain-Jane CF531 and the CF 531 Professional. The essential difference seems to be the inclusion of a sliding table with the professional model, along with some heavier duty bits and pieces.
The CF 531 features a 12" table saw that offers a 4" cut. The saw blade is supported on both sides to reduce flex problems and can be used with a dado head. A scoring blade is optional. The jointer/planer uses one of the three 4-hp, 230-volt, single-phase motors. The planer and jointer width is 12", with a two-knife cutterhead as standard (a four-knife and Versa cutterheads are also available).
There’s a major difference between the Felder and Laguna shapers. The Felder has a tilting shaper spindle (90 to 45 degrees) and a 1-1/4" spindle diameter, with 3-7/8" available under the spindle nut. It uses cutters up to 7" in diameter. A mortising table is optional.
If you decide to move to the professional version, the four-knife cutterhead becomes standard, while the 9" fence opening allows larger cutterheads. A 14,000 rpm spindle is now available as an option. The sliding table is attached (or will be when you’re set up), allowing cuts 81" long. There is an outrigger support for the table. The mortising table is still an option. The weight of the professional model is 1,740 lbs., while the standard one weighs 1,600 lbs.
There are three configurations in Felder’s 700 Series, two of them listed as professional. We’re not going to detail all the bits and pieces in the 700 Series, but let’s look at some of the major differences between it and the 500 Series models.
Felder’s 700 Series Combination machines include the CF 741, CF 741 Professional and the CF 741 S Professional.
Some changes appear small, such as four springs under tension that help raise the jointer table. In a long work day, that can be a large feature. The jointer is a 16" wide tool, so the tables are very heavy. The base model CF 741 has a two-speed feed for the planer, along with a digital-cut height indicator. The shaper has a 9" table opening, with speeds of 4,500, 6,000, 8,500 and 10,000 rpm. The table saw has a 51" cut length sliding table, along with a micro-adjustable fence. Like the CF 531 units, the working height of the 700 Series is 35", but the weight has now risen to 2,240 lbs.
The professional version adds a four-knife cutterhead to the jointer, along with a jump to 5-1/2-hp motors. Electric height adjustment is now included on the planer, and the sliding table is now 81" in cut length, with an outrigger for support. The weight is 2,440 lbs.
The S Professional is pretty much the same as the basic pro model, except that the slider is now 98" long.
For more information
In our list of combo machines from several makers, we make no pretense of having covered them all, or all about any one. There are simply too many variations on the combo or multi-woodworking machine theme to allow that kind of coverage. With both Laguna and Felder in the full-bore category of combo machines, there’s also a list of options that will leave your eyes bugged out for a week after looking it over.
If you have any need for the more complex combo machines, we suggest reading everything about your categories, from basics through full-load options, checking prices (any prices listed here are subject to kicks in the teeth from rising and falling economies around the world, including our own). Talk to the people you’re buying from. They’ll work with you. Be as careful as you would with any other $8,000-or-more shop tool investment.
This article originally appeared in the April 2009 issue.