# Archive for ◊ August, 2014 ◊

• Tuesday, August 26th, 2014

Let’s explore a simple method to verify the alignment of jointer knives, which is necessary when changing or adjusting them.

The first goal is to have all of the knife edges across their full widths in a consistent relationship to the outfeed table. The top of the arc of the knife edge should be very slightly above the level of the outfeed table. Secondarily, perhaps after the edges wear down or the jointing performance needs adjustment, the overall height of the outfeed table can be tweaked.

There are several good approaches to dealing with this, some involving dial indicators and specialized accessory equipment, but I prefer a low-tech method. Though well-known, how accurate really is it?

Here is how I perform the test, starting with unplugging the machine. A block of wood, about 3/4″ thick x 1 1/4″ x 4 ½” long is carefully jointed (by hand) and marked with 1 mm gradations. As you can see, I like to label the jigs I make with a description and reminders. It is placed in a reference position on the outfeed table (photo above, at top).

Then, the cutterhead is carefully rotated by hand to allow the knife edge to “grab” the block and advance it through the portion of the edge’s arc that is above the level of the outfeed table. The block is deposited as the edge “lets go” and continues its arc below the level of the outfeed table. (Photos below.) Note that a wooden test block is better than a metal ruler, which the edge doesn’t grab well.

The beginning and end of this arc define a tiny chord of the knife flight circle. The height of this chord is the amount of projection of the knife edge at its highest point above the outfeed table. The test is repeated at three or four places across the width of each knife.

Now let’s correlate this height with the lateral travel of the test block, which is the length of that tiny chord. A mathematical formula involving the Pythagorean theorem gives the results, tabulated below, for the 72 mm cutterhead knife flight circle on the Hammer A3-31.

Knife

Projection       Chord          Chord

(inches)          (mm)          (inches)

.0005             1.9             .075

.001               2.7             .106

.002               3.8             .151

.003               4.7             .184

.004               5.4             .213

.005               6.0             .238

.006               6.6             .261

The method is very accurate! A mere .001″ of knife projection moves the block 2.7mm, which is easily distinguishable from no movement, which signifies no projection.

However, note that the relationship of the knife projection to the advancement of the test block is not linear. The first thou of height advances the block 2.7mm – about 3mm. However, a height difference from .002″ to .003″ only advances the block about one more mm (0.9mm).

Fortunately, I want the knives to be a only about one thou, two at the most, above the outfeed table so all I have to do is see that the block advances about 2-3 mm, or 4mm at the most, and do so reasonably consistently across the blade width, for all of the blades. Indeed, the Hammer manual recommends 2-3 mm of travel.

So, there it is: a low-tech, accurate method. But now, after having analyzed it a bit, I have more confidence in it and can use it more intelligently.

Category: Tools and Shop  | 4 Comments
• Wednesday, August 20th, 2014

This final installment in the series will discuss changing blades in the Hammer A3-31 and some summary thoughts on jointer-planer combo machines. [The entire series can be viewed here.]

With some jointers and planers, changing blades is a tedious chore. Long ago, I struggled with the old spring-loaded jackscrew system on a jointer. Brutal. By contrast, changing blades on the Tersa cutterhead that was in the Inca jointer-planer was almost unbelievably easy and fast. The OEM system on the Dewalt DW735 planer was quite easy, and now with the Shelix cutterhead with carbide-tipped inserts installed, changing blades is practically a non-issue.

The system for changing and adjusting the blades on the A3-31 is very good, though not quite the slam dunk of a Tersa. Each of the three blades has holes that neatly register on bosses on the blade holder, which is secured in a slot in the cutterhead with four hex socket screws using the provided T-handle wrench. (See the photo above.) This is easy to do, though a cutterhead lock would make it easier.

If necessary, the blade holder-blade assembly can be adjusted for height with the four adjustment screws within the holder block. These can be used to make a consistent projection of the knife in relation to the outfeed bed across its full width. Further, the height of the outfeed table is adjustable to set its overall relationship to the arc of the knife edges.

The factory settings, which I assessed when the machine was new and the knives were fresh, were excellent; no changes needed! So, when I installed replacement knives, everything should stay the same, right? Well, it worked out pretty well, maybe actually well enough, but not quite to my satisfaction. Somehow, despite great care on my part, gremlins sneaked in and I had to fiddle with the height adjustment screws to get an a consistent projection across the width. (This is not a matter of a difference in the overall projection related to worn versus fresh knife edges.) The manual explains a simple assessment procedure to help get it right and I am happy with the results. Note that perfection is not necessary for this. By the way, another option is the helical insert cutterhead available for the A3-31 from Hammer.

Here’s the key: the machine performs accurately, consistently, and efficiently. I get the results I need to make high quality things from wood. This is what matters.

In summary:

1. For the reasons explained in this series, I highly recommend a 12″ jointer-planer combination machine for the small shop woodworker.

2. After 2 1/2 years experience with the Hammer A3-31, I heartily recommend it. As with any machine, there are a few shortcomings (for this fastidious woodworker), which I’ve covered, but this is an excellent machine that can be a great partner as you pursue excellent woodworking. I cannot fairly compare it to corresponding offerings from Minimax, Jet, Rojek, Grizzly, and Rikon because I haven’t used them, and I’d bet the \$7,000 Felder AD-531 outshines all of these, but I can say I’m very glad I have the Hammer A3-31.

• Wednesday, August 13th, 2014

Now for a look at the parts and systems of the Hammer A3-31 that can be adjusted and tuned, with particular consideration to the ease, accuracy, and durability of the adjustments.

Jointer beds

When the machine arrived, the beds were slightly out of parallel to each other across their widths (i.e. in twist) – by .006″ over the 12″ width. Not bad, but having seen the potential in the excellent flatness of the beds, I wanted to improve their alignment.

Since the alignment of the outfeed table to the knife arc was fine from the factory, the twist was easily removed by adjusting only the two bolts (see the photo above) on the operator side of the infeed table to make the tables parallel within .001″.

Next, using a long straightedge, I determined that the infeed and outfeed beds were tipped along their lengths toward each other. The gap at the middle was 0.018″. To my mind, this is like have a concavity along the full length of a jointer plane sole and would make accurate jointing difficult at best.

Again, the correction was made by adjusting only the infeed table. This was a more complicated adjustment involving the pair of bolts on the operator side and a pair of setscrews, accessed under a removable panel, on the hinge side. Each of each pair of screws must be adjusted by a different amount. To make a long story short, I did a little trigonometry to prevent having to do it by trial and error. The result: cha-ching! The beds are parallel along their length within .001″.

Unfortunately, the Setup Guide, which covers these adjustments and is available as a pdf on the Hammer website, is out of date (copyright 2005). It references an earlier design of the machine and much of the adjustment parts have changed. Fortunately, Hammer makes knowledgeable technicians available by phone who were generous with their time in helping me understand the machine.

I called Hammer this week in anticipation of this post, and they favorably received my suggestion to update the Setup Guide. The User Manual, included in print with the machine and also available online, is more current and clearly explains assembly, basic adjustments, operation, maintenance, and so forth.

Planer bed

I tested this on a performance basis by planing an 11 3/8″-wide board, and by planing two narrow sticks simultaneously sent into the planer at the outer width of it. From the factory, the planing parallelism was within one thou. Wow! This is adjustable if ever needed.

Digital handwheel

This accessory, which I have found very helpful, was calibrated using the information in the Setup Guide. Reading it takes a bit of getting used to because the numerals indicate decimal inches while the hash mark increments are actually metric that approximates imperial. It is really not a problem though.

Fence

Setting up the fence accurately went according to directions, though it does take some care. To maintain a consistent angle, it is important when adjusting the side-to-side position of the fence in use to hold the sliding bracket down firmly on the extruded track while tightening the knob.

In summary, the A3-31 can be tuned to a high degree of accuracy. There are some finicky steps for those who want to tune it really well. Some documentation is lacking but help is available.

The most welcome feature is that the adjustments hold solidly over time and when converting back and forth from jointer to planer mode. This is invaluable.

Next: one more installment – knife changing and an overview.

• Friday, August 08th, 2014

Let’s take a detailed look at the Hammer A3-31.

When considering a new machine or any tool, I first assess the quality of the key parts that cannot be altered by the user but are accessible to direct evaluation. Here’s how the A3-31 stacks up in this regard.

1. Bed flatness is excellent. Against a Starrett straightedge, the jointer infeed table is within .001″ along its length and .002″-.003″ on the diagonals. The outfeed table is just a hair concave along its length, .003″-.004″, and the diagonals are off by only .002″-.005″. The planer table is within .002″ along its length and .003″ on the diagonals.

This all is excellent, well within Hammer’s spec of .006″, and is an important factor in how accurately the machine can be tuned. Furthermore, the beds are heavy and constructed with thick ribbing, as seen above.

2. The planer feed mechanism does not balk with 12″ wide boards. The steel drive rollers control the board unyieldingly, yet the indentations made by the infeed roller are shallow enough to disappear when the final pass is very light. With good technique, snipe is about as minimal as it gets.

The feed speed is 6.5 meters/minute (21.3 feet/minute), which makes the three-knife cutterhead at 6000RPM produce 70 cuts per inch, typical for jointer-planers in this class. Compared to the DeWalt 735 (with a stock cutterhead) at 96 cpi in “dimensioning” mode and a phenomenal 179 cpi at the slower “finishing” feed speed, the A3-31’s 70 cpi may seem a bit rough but in fact it seems to strike a good balance between producing an excellent surface and working at a good pace.

3. I like the Euro-style safety guard better than the spring-loaded “pork chop” style. I always use paddles for face jointing and it is easy to pass the board under the narrow guard, which is height-adjustable using the knob at the far left in the photo below.

For edge jointing the guard can be adjusted laterally to expose the minimum width of cutterhead. It would be better if the guard was hinged so half of it would hang down when it is adjusted very far toward the user side of the machine – but it’s not in that position too often so it hasn’t been a problem. The hinge feature is present on the company’s higher priced models.

4. Dust collection, as I mentioned earlier, is just wonderful, for jointing and planing. This helps a lot in my small shop.

5. The construction of the aluminum fence makes it very stiff. It is flat within .001″ in all directions and I cannot detect any twist. It is adjusted back and forth by using the knob (to the right in the photo below) and sliding the bracket on the extrusion track.

A slight complaint is that the squareness of the fence to the table cannot be made exactly consistent throughout its full adjustment range and most of its length, probably due to minute errors stacking up. However, the discrepancies are quite small, and by finding favorite locations for the fence, I have had no problem getting nice square edges on long boards.

From the back view, you can see that not much sticks out – only the rear cutterblock cover. For most fence positions, the net depth of the unit is about the same with the jointer beds down or raised.

Other key components that I cannot directly assess seem very good based on indirect observations and working with the machine. Machining and part formation looks neat throughout, with no ill-fitting components. The motor has excellent power and does not get overheated. Hand adjusted parts, such as the planer bed adjustment are very smooth, and the machine runs with that nice low hum suggestive of quality.

The same outfit that makes Hammer machines also makes the much more expensive Felder line. A Felder 12″ jointer-planer lists at over \$7000 (ouch, my hand just cramped up at the keyboard), which is more than twice the price of the Hammer A3-31. I figure that the expertise and institutional experience applied to the Felder line must bleed over into the Hammer line. I’d bet it’s more than half the machine for half the price.

Next: The final next installment in the series will cover tuning and results.

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