Joint Decisions

I decided to move on from my Oliver 166 16″ jointer, and have secured a purchase deposit from a buyer. I’m looking for a slightly wider jointer, a slightly longer jointer, and preferably a jointer with a 4-knife cutter head, ideally Tersa.

Now, at the moment in N. America there is somewhat of a dearth of machines fitting the above description. I look daily, and I look in all the usual spots, and in some not-so-usual spots. The average jointer for sale in North America is a 6″ home-shop machine. There’s a slightly smaller number of 8″ jointers, usually designed in a similar way to the 6″ machines, that is, not very well, and then there are a few 12″ machines to be had. If I was to hazer a guess, I’d say that less than 5% of what’s available are jointers larger than 12″, and most of those are 16″. A tiny number of 20″, 24″, and even 30″ machines rounds out the picture. The vast majority of the 16″ and larger jointers are old hunks of American ‘arn (“iron”), some of which dating back 100 years or more, and often having had zillions of linear feet of stock run over them.

Now, once in a while, when I have drool to spare, I head on over to some German heavy metal sites, chock-a-block with ridiculous jointers. It’s somewhat akin to a religious pilgrimage. In Germany, the typical jointer is 20″, and machines in the 6″~12″ size are a distinct minority. I get the impression that the hobby woodworker market there is somewhat small.

As i look through listings of a couple of hundred beautiful jointers, ranging from dirt-cheap to not-so-cheap, I noticed that jointer deisgns vary by more than one would think. After all, when you think about it, the jointer primarily does two basic things:

  1.  Flattens a surface on a board
  2.  With the first surface flat, an adjacent surface can be made flat and square to it

Not much going on really – one would think the physics of this machine had been long resolved. However, looking at jointer after jointer I notice interesting variations in all sorts of things, and not simply color or size. Take fence placement. On the Oliver, and a lot of the older American tanks, the jointer fence is a 100+lb. affair held onto the outfeed table with a pair of large heavy locking screws. Many of the German and Italian jointers also affix the fence to the outfeed table. Here’s a couple examples:


Martin T-52:

Quite a few jointers however, have the fence connected to the infeed table side:

Hofmann AHW 500:


I could list more makes yet – it appears that the fence attachment to the infeed is the most common one, which I found a surprise.

And then there are jointers in which the fence is supported independently of the tables, in which case the fence pivot mechanism is often centered, more or less, over the cutter head:

Ascom DE 410:

Schelling A-41:


Kölle AH40:

Kölle seems to have changed their design philosophy from the one pictured at the top of this page with this newer machine. I wonder why?

Baeurle AS510:

Casadei DS510:

Dorna F500:

The monsterous Gubisch AL-4:


RGA FC410:

Schneider AFK 5:

Now, I think the Japanese also make some sweet cast iron monsters too, you just really don’t see them much outside of Japan. The typical Japanese jointer is slightly smaller than the average German machine, typically in the 300~350mm width zone.

How do they situate their jointer fences?

The Matsuda MNT-400 goes for the outfeed table position:

Many Japanese jointers place the fence on the infeed side:

Shimohira HA-300:

Shoda 300:

Love the cast iron ‘door’ on the left side pedestal on that one.

Takagi 250:

Yasuhara P-350LDX:

And then there are ones with the fence fixed to the chassis, not the tables, like this Taiyō RH-250A:

Though the fence does not attach to the outfeed table, the fence pivot point, the stiffest portion, is on the outfeed side.

So what to make of this? Which different theories are at work, and why? It’s got to be something other than patents and limitations that arise that way.

It seems to me than the infeed table aligns the work for feeding to the cutter head, and the longer the infeed table the better. There are several German jointers, and one Japanese model that have 1.8m (6′) infeed sides. The infeed table is the one which is adjusted up and down with frequency to change the depth of cut. The outfeed table is generally kept in the same place, which is a hair (a couple of thou) below T.D.C. of the cutter head’s knife circle. It is the outfeed table which is most responsible, I think, for creating a flat reference on the stick. So, for the initial jointing of one board face, as the fence is not involved in the process, it really doesn’t matter much where the fence attaches.

When performing the second jointing operation, jointing a 90˚ adjacent face to the first, that fence position makes a difference possibly. In this operation, the stick needs to be held closely against the fence, which may require some pressure if the stick is heavy and the board wants’ to tilt away from the fence at top or bottom arris. Ideally, you don’t want any deflection with the fence at this time, and this is where having the jointer fence attached to the infeed seems to make more sense. And I am jut now coming to this conclusion as I write this.

The disadvantage to having the jointer’s fence connected to the infeed is that when you lower the infeed table for a deeper cut, the fence may bottom out on the outfeed table. So, either the fence has to be configured with a bunch of space under its edge along the outfeed portion, or the fence pivot mechanism needs to allow for the fence to be re-positioned. A similar problem happens with the fence attachment to the outfeed table – when the infeed is lowered for a heavier cut, the fence ends up with a fair amount of space under it at the infeed side, and this can cause problems in certain situations.

I think one definite advantage to having the fence attached to the chassis of the machine rather than either table is that the weight and position of the fence can have no effect upon the setting of either table. Depending upon how perfect the castings are for the jointer table supports, a little weight shift here and there can cause a table to slightly tilt or tip.

Finally there is one other place in which you will see jointer fences get attached: to the far end of either the infeed or outfeed table. This design is seen on most jointer-planer combo machines and is decidedly a drawback. Such fences, which are often aluminum extrusions come from a company called ‘flexomatic’, if you catch my drift. I’ll never buy another jointer planer machine again having this crappy fence support system.

Thanks for coming by the Carpentry Way. I welcome hearing from readers in regards to which jointer fence design makes sense to them, once any drooling has subsided. Love those big jointers!

23 Replies to “Joint Decisions”

  1. Chris, do you know about:

    Mike Shahan and son Eric do some top notch machinery restoration in ther shop in Rutland, Vt, as well as sell new equipment. Last time I was in his shop he had an Italian jointer the length of my house to go to a customer in Lake Placid, a surgeon amateur woodworker who replaces shop equipment regularly to be up-to-date. Their website is unspectacular but their work is excellent and he might be a good guy for you to touch base with. He knows me as Michael, not Tico.

  2. I find these machines absolutely terrifying. Am I weird for this? I think if I were to use one I would require some sort of power feeder. I don't even know if that would work. Would it defeat the purpose of a jointer by making it act more like a thickness planer? I don't know. Up here in maritime Canada it's hard enough to find a decent table saw, and I only do edge jointing on a small Felder. Good luck finding the right monster. Watch your fingers.

  3. Chris,
    A thirty inch jointer would come in handy. Over a long time I have come to the conclusion that a good shop needs two machines of each when it comes to a planer, jointer, and tablesaw. No need to crank over big motors and cutterheads when doing smaller pieces, but when required, nothing beats power and large width capacity. A better way to have knife sharpness last on the larger devices as well. The same with a saw with the greater power for heavy ripping, and with a smaller precision saw as an available alternative, it is very good accompaniment. There are the very useful Japanese saws with tenoner spindles on the side as well. Thinking about having multiples of machinery in the long run, could effect your decision making, it might be worth considering.

  4. Tico,

    thanks for the lead, and yes, a good contact to have.


    interesting comment. Some people are afraid of cats, doorknobs, nuclear armageddon – there are infinite possibilities of course – and jointers are a machine which strike fear into at least a few folks. I ran the tip of a finger into a jointer several months back, and sure won't do that again. Fortunately the tip grew back. People have different reactions to things that happen to them. My wife was a passenger in a car once that had a fender bender with a vehicle on the right, so anytime we are driving and a vehicle on the right wanders over a bit, she reflexively slams on the 'brake' even though she sits in the passenger seat. I've had several car accidents, even written off a couple of vehicles, and yet I have no apprehensions about driving. Maybe I'm irrational? I think any woodworking machine has the potential to do damage to the human body in a big hurry, but operating a machine in a fearful manner is probably not a good idea. One simply needs to be present, attentive, and exercise due care. and of course understand safe operating procedures, wear appropriate protective equipment – that goes almost without saying.

    As for a stock feeder, I've seen lots of jointers with them mounted, and they work fine in that application. My Oliver used to have a stock feeder mounted on it at one time.

    The Canadian market is different than the US one for big machines, which is different again than the German or Japanese markets. I have a friend on Vancouver Island who note that large jointers (over 12″) rarely appear for sale.


    I'm in full agreement that nothing beats power and capacity when it comes to woodworking machines, and sometimes for smaller bits it would be nice to have a smaller machine. Likewise, for going to site, having portable planers and jointers, even supersurfacers, makes a lot of sense.

    I'm not so sure about having two of every machine, but a lot of shops have two tablesaws, one dedicated to ripping and the other cross-cutting. And I do now have two bandsaws, after all….

    Some of the European jointers, like the SCM machines, have a chuck driven off the cutterhead and a slot-mortising table attached.

    Thanks for your comment.


  5. Adam,

    I don't believe that there is a sufficient reason to be fearful of using woodworking machinery, as long as you understand the correct operating procedures, are attentive, and are clear on the equipment's tendencies whatever you are doing. Injuries are a result of human error, the machine will remain constant when set up properly.

    If you want to do something aside from the basics, and don't know the risk potential, better not to do it and get advice. It should never be a gamble situation. If a person doesn't think that they can always follow proper guidelines and keep the necessary concentration, then being fearful is probably a legitimate concern. Being safe in the forefront of your mind whenever you flip the switch, is the way of the work. You can get into some stuff that might be stretching your comfort zone, but that is something else.

  6. Chris,

    You have already very clearly pointed out the issues of fences and I really do not think it matters. The big and lovely machines you show are all respectable affairs and as long as the fence is straight, heavy and locks like a rock where you set it, they are all alike. The gap underneath the fence has to be the same regardless of where it is fixed. It is just the question of the gap being on the in or out feed, but as the stock has to pass them both, it does not matter. This being said, I prefer it fixed on the out feed table…. Why? This is where you reference the stock as soon as it gets started and theoretically the gap can be made a little less this way. Long tables, the longer the better, definitely makes the operation easier proportionately.
    Just as important is a good cutter that works so smoothly you do not even feel it when you run over it, this is where you have to watch where you are positioning your fingers! I fully understand you Adam, nothing to be ashamed of. A joiner with a dull or bad cutter can be a shakey experience, especially one of the old ones that roars like a ww II fighter plane and you can feel the blast of air when you pass over the cutter.
    Personally I have to get a towel because of the drooling whenever I see one of the Martin SHELIX cutters, but this combo probably cost more money than I have ever seen. You never know though, maybe one fine day…

  7. Per,

    thanks for your comment. From my experience, having a fence that “locks like a rock where you set it” is not so usual, though most of the machines pictured seem to have stout designs. The cast iron fence on my Oliver looks stout, and weighs a bunch, but it will flex 1cm or so when you press a piece of timber against it.

    Fence design issues also apply to the fence itself and how it is constructed. Most larger jointers have a cast iron fence, and most of those are ribbed designs. Some manufacturers have gone to box-section castings (like Northfield and Porter in the US, and Shimohira as seen in the picture above) to counteract tendencies in the ribbed castings to warp over time or to be inadequately stiff. Some manufacturers use a cast iron fence with an aluminum front plate, and others have gone to an all-aluminum fence, and not simply for cost saving reasons, as evidenced on the Martin. A lighter fence is easier to move around of course. I think there is more to the design of jointers, 'simple' as they may be, than first meets the eye.

    I think the gap problem is more of an issue when the gap is larger on the infeed side (because of the fence's attachment to the outfeed) and the stock is not especially large in section. The infeed side is the set up side, so it seems that having an easier time getting the board in the right position. Like you I thought having the fence on the outfeed made the most sense,, but now I'm not so sure. Hofmann jointers are considered one of the best out there on the market, and they mount the fence off of the table and place the hinge (the stiffest portion) on the infeed side. Martin does it differently.

    Clearly, these differences , which you claim don't matter (and may well not matter in practice given an adequately rigid fence), do seem to matter to these different companies in terms of how they design their equipment. It's one thing when designing for economy, as many do, but most of the German machines seen above look to be vying amongst themselves on the basis of quality (as it used to be in other countries at one time).

    I would love to hear from a machine designer to learn what their rationale for placing the table on infeed, outfeed, or off table might be.


  8. Chris,

    You are right about it being interesting to hear the rationale behind the design differences as there must be some. It is just that I have never experienced any difference in use and when such companies as Martin and Hofmann are on the opposite side of the table it does not seem to be an issue easily agreed upon.

    Still I can not remember a situation where the gap was a problem. As you state, during the primary jointing the fence is not used and during the second, the stock is kept upright and should not be able to get in interference with the gap. If jointing stock small enough to get jammed in the gap I would have reduced the chip thickness and thereby the gap, for safety reasons anyway.
    Back when I apprenticed the old guys always told us to never apply pressure to the stock on the infeed table, but only on the reference “outfeed” side so I have never considered any gap a problem.
    But clearly when starting a piece you got to grasp the infeed side, so maybe you got a point. Anyway the fence has to stay where you set it and you are right about a lot of fences not doing so. This leads me to the points I consider the most important in joiner selection: a solid fence, tables as long as possible and very good cutters. I have had to use a lot of too short joiners and really appreciate any chance to use a long one, a really long table almost make up for a bad fence, almost. In combination with some very good cutters the jointing operation becomes so smooth my only consideration regarding the fence, is that it stays where it is supposed to.

    You have got me curious though, I would like to hear from those designers too.

  9. My ancient Porter has a failing where the fence will often go out of square when moved, a weakness in the tilt mechanism. That is something that I would look to avoid if ever considering a jointer purchase again. I probably should have purchased the Northfield for a bit more cash, that was also available at the shop that was going out of business, but the direct drive motor on the Porter seemed a good feature. An error in judgement, I believe.

    One modification that I did do, was drilling a line of holes in both the infeed and outfeed table's throat plates, which quieted the machine down a bit.

    Anybody else ever use the old style Japanese machines where a square two knife cutterhead was common? There are still quite a few in use, planers made that way as well.

    I would probably go for a disposable knife jointer these days, not having to set the knives every time after putting in some sharp ones, wouldn't bother me a bit.

    I don't agree with the logic of telling someone that they have a not unusual frame of mind when fearing a machine, then going on to describing working on one that shouldn't be turned on in the first place. Better save such stories for the grandchildren. It sure doesn't seem like it helps Adam along much in his plight.

  10. Dennis,

    You are right, that remark probably will not help Adam, came to think about it too after I posted. It was meant though to show what kind of machines not to turn on. I only ever did it working in a shop with no other joiners available and every one else used it, probably should have refused.
    Still I can understand Adam and even though it may not seem so, I have great respect for the machines. But as you and Chris has pointed out if the machine is in good order, it is only a question of the operator being attentive to the operation going on. I still have all my body parts and sure want to keep it this way.

    Regarding dangerous machines, at least in Europe the square cutter heads you mention went out of use a very long time ago in all kinds of woodworking machines and were replaced with round cutter heads. Square cutter heads are inherently dangerous because of the alternating gaps it creates when turning and they caused a lot of damage to both stock and people. This is one machine I personally would never turn on. To my knowledge they were actually prohibited.

    Everybody I know use disposable blades in joiners and planers now, including me. I think it is possible to obtain a better finish with the old kind of knives, you can get them to a higher degree of sharpness, but in use they seem to dull a little bit faster than the disposable ones. The disposables are easier to use and mostly I use the machines for straightening and dimensioning and continue to finish the work with hand tools, so the finish I get from the machines is not critical. Even so you can obtain a great finish with disposables too.

  11. Per and Dennis,

    I appreciate the discussion.

    I also find the old style fence mechanism common to porter, Oliver, and Northfield a bit lacking in areas. I always check the face of the fence with try square after moving the fence anywhere, and really, why should that have to be?

    It's probably not all that easy to develop a fence mechanism that allows for easy sliding and tilting and rock-solidness.

    Dennis, does your old Porter have the cored fence, and does it have a longer infeed table than outfeed? I've seen late model Porters like that, and older ones which were not. there are several Porters for sale at any given time in the US. Don't think they exported them anywhere.

    I'm with both of you on finding the quick change knife systems desirable. I'm done with the 45 minute knife setting chore, and done with sending the blades out for sharpening.


  12. Chris and Per,

    I have heard much the same about disposable knives not leaving as good a finish. Perhaps they could be slightly better honed to improve on that? I believe that there is an aftermarket disposable system that can be put into cutterheads that originally weren't designed for it. It occurs that I looked into it once, but for some reason it wouldn't work with my jointer, I can't really remember.

    My Porter has a ribbed cast iron fence with equally long tables. I would guess that it is a pretty early model, from the days when a terminology as simple as, “model 6″, classified one of their products. 12” three knife cutterhead on it. Something I brought with me from the states. I don't know how unusual the direct drive motor is, but it still keeps on trucking. It's an interesting thing about those old motors. My beloved Silver Manufacturing bandsaw, out of the great state of Ohio, though I believe it was originally made to be line shaft powered, someone changed over to having it's own motor. Though the machine is even older, the motor is from the turn of the twentieth century, and it would still be running fine with it's characteristic hum sound, except for the 3 phase voltage drop when hooking it up in Japan, which handicapped the starting torque. A beautiful hand wound motor, quite large by today's standards for three horsepower, and once again a sign from the past about when durability was a large motivation. Unfortunately, I had to switch it out.

  13. One thing more if You are talking about tables. Some maschines with long tables have possibilty to tilt infeed table (change of joint-cup or bow). This is easy and fast way to make corrections. I know that Martin has also this feature, but others…. ? Couple of months ago I bought the green Kölle AH 50(total lenght 3 m) from Germany what You have in the first picture.

  14. Priit,

    thanks for your comment. I have seen that function on the Martin machines and on a few others. There are also machines' like the Northfield Patternmaker's jointer, in which the infeed table can be tilted sideways for putting a draft on certain things.

    Martin's system seems very straightforward to use, both in the older machines and the newer one. So long as the machine can reliably return to dead flat condition without fussing about, it seems like a nice feature to have.

    How much did you pay for the 3.0m Kölle? I imagine around €4000~5000? How do you like it so far? Is the fence rigid and easy to move and tilt? Seems like a very nice machine, from the pictures at least. Lucky you!


  15. Not sure if it's the pattern maker's jointer that Northfield has with the distinct large wooden spoked wheel to raise and lower the infeed table, or just their standard jointer? Like at the helm of a small schooner, a nice touch. A friend had one in the states, and the table changes elevation with a quick easy turn…no bending over or anything.

  16. I paid 2900 EUR and maschine was little used. You have to check Germany-s e-bay. They are sometimes really good offers and You must be fast.
    Company Kölle does not exist any more, but I have got a contact with small company in Germany who is selling spares for Kölle Maschines. If something happens. But this maschine looks simple and probability of failure is minimal.
    Havent used it very much yet to say something to compare with others (I have also Robland). I can say simply it works as I did expect. Probably after longer period I am more clever. But fence is rigid-look the way, how it is built.
    I was tired to have cupped/bowed material with Robland (due to rather short tables), so I needed longer one. Also noise is almost the same or even smaller than Robland (those ribs in ends of tables help to reduce noise).My Kölle has three knives.

    Best regards

  17. Dennis,

    good to to hear from you again. I have been looking at various Porter jointers and their design seemed to vary a lot through the years. The early ones with the clamshell head, babbit bearings and a design a lot like the Crescent, some models with fence on the infeed, most later models having fence on outfeed, earlier models with ribbed fence and later models with cored fence. Late models also have the big 'ship's wheel' for adjusting the infeed height, like the Northfield but without the wooden handles. I found Porters in sizes from 6″ (The Porter Jr.) up to 36″. That was a monster!

    Good idea on drilling out the table lips to reduce noise.


    thanks again for your comment and the information about Kölle. I didn't realize they were out of business, but you're right, not much to go wrong with a jointer. Sounds like you've found a great machine.


  18. Perhaps I should rephrase a bit. I'm not saying the large jointers are any more inherently dangerous than any other woodworking machine. Proper methods of work make everything basically safe. What I'm saying is, the margin for error is much smaller with these larger machines. I would never allow one in a school environment, for example. They require experience and maturity. Of course, in my line of work (wooden boat building) I've found that I really don't need one. Even a six inch jointer covers my needs. I'm mostly jointing curves with a handplane. Now, if we start talking monster bandsaws, that'll be right up my alley.

  19. Chris you would be very happy with the Martin t54, Tersa knife head. Easy to make straight and square. It will pay for itself over the years.

  20. Adam,

    As Chris quickly pointed out, looking at just about anything from the perspective of being fearful, can be an immobilizing factor. Your working on boats elicits a tale about some folks that used to live across the street from me on the Tomales Bay in Northern California. Their dream was to built a boat and sail the world. The fellow was quite a good craftsman, and after spending a number of years on it, they did indeed build an exquisite sailing ship, what appeared to be a wonderful ship in all respects, down to the small details. Came the day of launching and there was much celebration. They headed south to somewhere down in Mexican waters on the shakedown cruise, then would be returning before setting out on their intended main voyage, it was all pretty much worked out. Apparently while down south, they ran into some weather and rough seas, and it turned into a very frightening experience for them. After returning home, they didn't have much to say about it, immediately sold the boat, and moved away inland. Their plans had drastically changed. Some of the experienced sailors in the area felt compelled to make at least a few condescending comments about how the dream had abruptly changed, but mostly it had left a rather strong reaction of incredulity.

    Things like “greater margin of error”, come from a standpoint of being afraid first, when looking at the principles of the machines. None is greater dangerous if you follow the well known rules of use. I would think that most users first look at what beneficial things that the machines can provide, then encompassed within that and at a lower level of priority as to whether to incorporate the device or not, are the cautions. You have to be wise about it.

    I wouldn't hesitate to have a second or third year high school advanced woodworking student use a 12″ jointer, if they were checked out on one, and each student's level of ability and approach could be evaluated on an individual basis, before the ok was given. I've seen some quite nice and fairly advanced woodwork done in high schools.

  21. Adam,

    I appreciate your re-engagement on this topic. A small jointer, especially one with small tables, would likely be more dangerous if one tried to joint wood on it that was large and long – on a large jointer, capacity issues don't come up so often. How would the 'margin for error' be any different? Small or large, the cutterhead is spinning, your feed rate is your feed rate, how does the size of the jointer affect things?

    And I would imagine that when it comes to boatbuilding, though a lot of the work on a boat is curvilinear, there are still plenty of cases where a face needs to be made flat. Simply cutting a curved piece of wood out of a larger board is very likely to release stresses which make the cut piece non-flat along its face. It seems to me a wide jointer is the most ideal for dealing with larger curved pieces which have moved after cut out.


    good to have you comment. I very much agree that a Martin jointer – a T-51, T-52, T-53, or T-54 would be highly desirable. Probably my first choice in jointers. We'll see if I can win the lottery….


    hello again. That was a funny story about the guy that built the boat and then found himself terrified while sailing in a storm. Sometimes the way we dream about things, and the movement forward we get as a result of that dream, runs headlong smack into reality. It's like people investing thousands of dollars going through university to obtain a degree in a particular specialization, then discovering when they are actually engaged in their job later, that they really don't like the actual work.


  22. Chris,

    I tend to hand plane edge joints, like for a table top, after passing the edges over a jointer. I am wanting a sprung joint, that sits flat on the outermost part of the ends, and has a slight gap spreading outward from the middle of the boards, before clamps are employed. Today's adhesives give a lot of strength to an edge joint, but wood movement due to a change in moisture content can spread the ends or cause a crack if the glue pulls the fibers. The sprung joint I believe serves better in that regard.

    My jointer can do a pretty good job giving that result with added downward pressure as a board passes over the cutterhead between the ends, and I think the tables can be adjusted to help give that result as well. Sometimes I get a little high spot before one end, not really sure why. Hand planing gives a great surface for jointing, can eliminate jointer irregularities, and can alleviate twist in the boards when glueing, by adding some reverse twist at the joint, something that a jointer can't do, to my knowledge. Probably hand planing in this manner is a lesser used skill these days, and is somewhat difficult to learn, but the machine and plane can work very well in combination to give exacting results.

  23. Hello,

    You have to go further back in time for the right machine because the ones you picture became to complex with to many movable critical parts. My Kirchner with fixed at right angle, cast iron fence attatched on the feed table is an example of simplicity. It will only flatten and square but that is the basic idea for a joiner. Though the engineering capabilities have improved since before WWII when mine was built the market has changed and there will never be built again a suitable machine for small scale furniture production.


    Don Wagstaff

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