The Shape of Things to Come.

Several months back I found myself in the fortunate and unexpected position of being able to purchase what some might consider to be the holy grail of jointers: a Martin T54. I’ve been exceedingly pleased with that purchase, and am grateful to the machine every time I run material over it and obtain flat stock. And that’s all that ever happens, frankly: obtaining flat and straight boards quickly and easily is now more or less routine in my shop.

I had other Martin machines in my sights, including the planer, the sliding saw, and the shaper. With any of the three, it was not likely I would be able to spring for a new machine, and my hopes had been to find a clean, one-man shop-owned unit with a decent range of options, no more than about 15 years old. While I like the older machines, the parts side of things can be problematic, especially when it comes to some of the original factory options, most of which are not available any longer for machines made more than about 15 years ago. Martin will always support you for common replacement parts like bearings, belts, and the like, but technology is ever-changing, and they can’t stock every single thing for every machine they have made. They will sometimes custom make you an older part, but be prepared for sticker shock. Well, I should add to be prepared for that with any of the parts for any European machine.

Also, I was a little bit leery of some of the newest machines as they are getting fairly computerized and automated, whereas I was looking for something a bit more ‘old school’ I suppose. I’m fine with powered raise and lower of a spindle or blade, find I like a digital readout, but when they move into the realm of programming and full automation, touch screens, and the like, I’m thinking the complexity is moving a bit too far, at least too far from my own capacity for servicing the machines. And those electronic parts, when they do crap out, are very expensive.

The ideal of a clean, lightly-used, robust and simple Martin machine is all fine and good, but they don’t come up too often for sale, even in this economy which has been seeing cabinet shops closing in droves. After locating a reasonably priced, lightly used SCM 24″ planer earlier this year, I figured I didn’t really need to consider the Martin planer any more, at least not for the foreseeable future. Other than the SCM’s digital height readout, which is not what you might call perfectly reliable, the machine performs very well and serves my needs just fine. I may fit an accessory linear scale to it to improve that  one ‘glaring’ weak spot, but no hurry on that.

I had been keeping an eye out for a sliding saw, and looking for a particular model and configuration which is not too common in the US. There were a couple available in 2012, however I hadn’t the funds in place then, so it was a case of bad timing.

A few months ago a Martin T20 shaper popped up on the market, and it was pretty much configured as I would like it were I buying a new one. It was a 2000 model, and came from a one-man shop. It had the somewhat rare accessory of a sliding table. The price was, well, not exactly a ‘fire sale’ level, but was reasonable for the machine, given its condition and specification,  and considerably less than a new one would cost, maybe 1/3 the price. Those accessories can really add up. The Martin sliding table for the shaper, while listed at $9800, actually is sold from the factory for somewhere north of $12,000 now. Hence it is quite uncommon to find a Martin shaper in the US that is equipped with this option.  I’ve always thought the sliding table a desirable option to have as it greatly facilitates the joinery for door and window frames, more or less replacing a tenoner altogether.

Business has been solid for the past year, so the possibility to purchase was there. I talked to my wife about it, and she was okay with the investment. Talked to my insurance agent too. What sealed the deal was that the seller of the T20 was Ed Papa, who runs Simantech Inc. in Long Island New York. He sold me the Martin jointer previously and I felt very comfortable with the prospect of doing business with him again. After a few discussions, we came to an arrangement in regards to the purchase and delivery, and today was in fact the delivery day:

Note the color of the machine – it’s blue. The fluorescent lights in my shop, together with my camera’s flash, will make the machine look green in later photos.

Here’s the carrier for the tenoning table – super heavy, taking two people to lift:

The machine comes with a small pattern routing hood, and I obtained a larger one as well, the ‘Bowmould Master‘ (☜link) made by Aigner:

The yellow hood at left is made by the same company that makes the plastic porkchop guard on the Martin jointer and came with the machine. The larger hood is something I added on later. Ed has already drilled and tapped the table top to mount the larger hood, as he has a magnetic base drill press.

Here’s the tenoning hood:

The tenoning hood drops into place on the main table with a pair of threaded pins, and there is a switch underneath the table which is triggered when one of the hood’s pins is tightened down, activating a shut off so the tenoning spindle (1.5″) cannot be operated over 4500 rpm. This is a good safety device, as the machine can handle up to a 350mm blade for tenoning, and spinning that size of cutter at 9000 rpm could be disastrous.

The stock hold down clamp and associated parts for the sliding table:

All these components are really heavily built and ooze quality – such a nice change from what is otherwise encountered. I was surprised at how heavy the tenoning table was – must add 300 lbs to the machine.

The fence for the sliding table is an aluminum extrusion and comes with stops which are designed expressly for European tilt and turn window making – I’m not not sure I’ll make such windows in the future, however the fence and its sliding stops can be adapted to work with other tenoning tasks, and other stops can be fitted:

The fence for the shaper, like the fence on the jointer, is the ‘Integral Fence‘ (☜link) made by Aigner, and is a tricked out bit of equipment to say the least:

The fence has a tiny saw blade cut in one corner, so it was slightly damaged but completely serviceable. I could choose to replace that half of the fence, and Ed gave me the low-down on how damage commonly occurs to the fence – little things, like not tightening a screw adequately, and the fence can creep towards the cutter while its spinning, stuff like that.

One of the weaknesses of most shapers I have used is that the fence sections are not easily made co-planar to one another, or square to the machine table, and require much tedious shimming with bits of paper, etc, and I’m hoping this fence will be better than that. If the jointer’s fence is any indication, it should be good.

The machine comes with a full set of tools, plus grease and oil guns:

The gray plate with the two knobs is part of the sliding table mechanism.

Rolling on in, all 2900lbs:

The stock feeder on the machine is made by Univer, a German company. Sad to say, this company no longer makes feeders. In fact Martin now must source feeders from China as there are no suppliers making them left in Europe. I’m glad to obtain a German-made one and have heard good things about Univer feeders from what researches I have made.

We got it swung around in roughly into position, and we attached the sliding table and related parts:

In this view of the rear of the machine, you can see the fence swingaway mechanism by which the heavy fence and hood can be removed quickly from the table and pushed to the rear:

This is a nice option to have as it eliminates any necessity to wrestle the fence off the machine and put it on the floor, a process which could easily result in damage to the fence and or hood, not to mention a person’s back. The tradeoff with such a mechanism is that the machine can’t be placed close to the wall, as you need room to swing the assembly to the rear. Not a big deal though, as the sliding table already means the machine can’t be too close to the wall.

It’s a big sucker (and it really is blue, I swear!), and it is now part of my shop:

The machine is in excellent condition overall, and Ed gave it a thorough service before delivery, including replacing a drive pulley and the drive belt, greasing all points (good for 600 hours of operation), and touching up paint chips here and there. He even obtained a new machine data plate for the machine as the old one was scratched up and was in fact an incorrect plate from the factory, stating the machine was a T26, which is the tilting version. Even Martin goofs up at times it seems.

The sliding table:

The beam upon which the sliding table travels can be moved in and out, right now it is in its most rearward position. I think there is something like 53″ of travel available. To the far left of the above photo you can see the two oiling ports fitted on the main table’s edge.

Here’s a look at the 1.25″ spindle, and you can see that wear on the inside of the hood from chips getting sucked out is fairly minor, a sign of how little use the machine has had:

Notice that on top of the spindle there is a gray rubber plug. This is the access point for the special tool to remove the spindle. That tool is stored below the table. There is a pneumatic connection, a system called ‘DornFix’, which enables different spindles to be swapped out in a matter of moments. To operate that system, I’ll have to obtain another small single phase air compressor, like I did for the SCM planer (it uses pneumatic rollers) , or run a splitter and extension line from the current compressor. As the air needs is rather minor, the current compressor will be adequate for both machines, so I’ll probably go the route of the splitter and extension hose.

Besides the 1.25″ spindle, I also obtained a 1.5″ spindle for the tenoning function, which can fit 7.2″ under the nut, and a router spindle adapter with 0.5″ collet. I want the machine to be as versatile as possible.

Martin pays a lot of attention to safety in its machine designs, something I appreciate as shapers can be a bit scary frankly:

A view of the 4-wheel stock feeder, which has eight speeds, works forward and reverse of course:

The feeder wheels are a little chewed up, but fine. New ones are around $25/each.

Tonight’s reading material:

A look through the front with the access door swung open reveals the motor and main spindle assembly:

Stored below, at center in the following photo, is the tool used for removing the Dornfix spindles (with safety cutoff switch to register whether the tool is in place or not), and to the left is seen the dedicated switch for use when operating the tenoning table – note the sign indicating to use only 3000 or 4500 rpm with a tenoning head:

Again, I really appreciate the safety features on Martin woodworking machines.

The main spindle housing is beefy to say the least:

The pneumatic brake mechanism is visible to the left. The line going to the spindle housing is for oil lubrication. The bearings have separate grease zerks fitted.

The motor is huge, and puts out 11 or 13 horsepower, depending upon speed setting:

There are two rear dustports, 120mm diameter, and both the tenoning hood and Bowmould Master have the same size of dustport:

I have most of the dust collection mods done already beforehand – I ran out of rivets to complete the last few connections. As before, I obtained the flex hose and dust collection fittings from Air Handling Systems in Connecticut, the only place to buy in the Northeast as far as I’m concerned, as they make fully welded fittings out of heavy gauge steel, and strive to produce a quality product.

The electrical is another story. That’s not in place yet. This machine all by itself needs 50 amp service, and the panel in my shop is ancient and is in the process of being replaced and upgraded. So, I will have to wait until that work is done before I can run the wiring. Given that the wiring run is about 90′ (27m) it’s going to require some hefty cable, probably #6 gauge if I were to hazer a guess, which will be expensive given the price of copper these days. I’ll do the calculation soon enough to figure out the correct wire size and conduit diameter. I’m looking forward to the day I can switch it on and fire it up, and will take some video perhaps, but in the meantime I have a pile of reading to do. It’s a complicated machine with lots of functions and things to learn, but it is one step short of the touchscreen control panel, which suits me fine.

It’s exciting to have acquired a second ‘crown jewel’ from Martin, and I remain in some disbelief that this has happened is such a relatively short time frame. It was only a few short years ago I was making pieces on a sawhorse in my kitchen. This new machine engenders a certain wonderment and disbelief on my part, and I know that the next few times I go to the shop I’ll be a little surprised to see it there. It’s going to take some time to get used to the presence of ‘the monster’.

Looking at the new iron in my shop, I feel a bit like I did when I first obtained the Hitachi CB100FA resaw many years back – a bit daunted by the fact of having such a gigantic machine. It’s kind of intimidating, to be honest. Not quite sure what to make of it, not totally clear on how it all works. Like the bandsaw though, I’m confident I will form a strong liking for this beast in short order. Can’t wait to get it running and making chips!

Thanks for dropping by the Carpentry Way.

14 Replies to “The Shape of Things to Come.”

  1. Hi Chris,

    Nice machine. I know because the shop where I worked for several years had one. My impression is that Martin puts a lot of thought into making the machine safe in working condition. For example, the flip in/flip out fence makes it fast and easy to adjust the fence to prevent work from “jumping in” to the cutter and sucking your fingers in with it. The hold-down/guard that flips out of the way is both easy to use and it actually holds work down without sacrificing usability and it guards the cutter. I found myself using it even for quick little jobs when it might be tempting to cut corners on safety. I liked the manual counters on the fence. Once I learned to use them, it made repeatability a real option.

    A few observations for what its worth… The sliding table was never used to its capacity. It was usually tucked in and locked down as a mere table extension. It just never seemed that convenient, but your mileage may vary as they say. Watch out for power fluctuations. The digital control unit is vulnerable. I hope your power is more reliable than here in Manhattan. The digital readout burned up but everything else worked so we used it “blind” because it didn't seem worth the expense to replace something that fragile.

    Have fun!
    Harlan Barnhart

  2. Congratulations on getting the machine and your good fortune for finding it mate. I'm hoping to get lucky and find a combo jointer/thicknesser of Japanese origin soon as I need one badly.


  3. Harlan,

    much helpful info there – thanks! I do have my apprehensions about parts dying and costing a fortune to replace – we'll see how the mileage works out. The power at my shop seems fairly reliable, though maybe a few percent down in the hottest part of summer.


  4. I love the contrast between the fence/stops and the planing beam that they rest on…. a perfect old and new. Different technologies but both soooo nice. Even the tool kit means business! Keep raising that bar,

  5. Jason,

    good to hear from you! The tool kit is pretty decent, though I wish the oil lube gun was a bit better. The one I use on the jointer leaks and is not the best at actually getting oil into the system – a bit of oil finds the floor sure enough – but talking with Ed about that he said he'd yet to see anything better. It would also be nice to see a metal tool box to store the tools, instead of the card stock box they come in, but, hey, nitpicks to be sure. I'm excited to have this piece of equipment!


  6. Hola Chris esa si es una buena maquina, creo que con tu capacidad le sacaras mucho rendimiento … estoy a la espera de tus magnificos Post, que siempre es una delicia aprender de ti.

  7. Chris,

    For my work I'm looking for a way to shape polyurethane foam blocks (0,3 kg/L) with a 15 cm x 15 cm cross-section and up to 3 m long. The thing is, it has to be shaped on three sides, so I figure it has to be done in two passes. The second pass would need contoured supports assembled to the fence.

    I'm guessing a machine like this Martin would be severe overkill for such a light material. But the parts have to be quite accurate (preferably +/- 0,25 mm) since they are to function as cores in an RTM process.

    We could do this on our 5 axis CNC milling machine, but that would be tie up a very expensive machine for a very simple job.

    So I hope a relatively simple shaper but with a motorized feed could do the job.
    I would be grateful for any advice you could offer…


  8. Roland,

    I don't see why it couldn't be done on a shaper, however the cutter choice would be the key thing. perhaps a good idea would be to contact Styrotec in Germany and ask for their advice as foam milling machinery is their specialty.


  9. Thanks!

    I'll contact them. The tools on their website look interesting, especially the hollow ones. I've seen milling machines with air supply to the spindle to use hollow tools to get rid of the swarf and for cooling. I wonder if something like that would be available on a shaper?

    BTW, have you ever heard of Hofmann shapers []?

Anything to add?

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