Canadian Woodworking

Choosing a Six-Inch Jointer

Tool Comparison: Most of us have limited space in our shops, so which jointer should you choose to take up valuable real estate?

Choosing any machine for any size shop is not something that should be taken lightly. You have to consider the way that you work, the space that you have and how deep your pockets are. I’ve taken a look at six-inch jointers at the top end of various companies’ lists because I think most of us have limited space in our shops and studios.

Having a jointer in your shop is neces­sary if you plan on using rough lumber. One face always needs to be flattened before you can carry on with any other operations. A jointer also excels at truing an edge to a face. Now, some woodwork­ers would argue that a six-inch jointer isn’t worth having because of its small capacity. I feel that most furniture com­ponents that I make (with the exception of table tops and cabinet gables) are nar­rower than six inches so I must disagree. I have a six-inch King jointer that has flattened and trued many running feet of hardwood. Anything bigger than six inches will get flattened with a hand plane or I will visit my friend Ron at Rosewood Studio, where there are not one but two 12” jointers at my disposal.

Lead photo by Vic Tesolin;  All others by manufacturer

When looking for a six-inch jointer, there are some things to consider. The most important thing to start with is the flatness of the tables. I’ve been known to walk into tool stores with a straight-edge and a set of fine feeler gauges to make sure that what I’m looking at is flat. A machine designed to flatten material must have flat tables. Another compo­nent that is just about as important is the fence. It too needs to be flat and sturdy. You shouldn’t be able to flex the fence under moderate pressure and the settings for depth and bevel you set should not be movable once they are set. Table length should also be a factor in your decision. Longer tables will technically give you a straighter joint although the size of work that you generally do will be the decid­ing factor. No sense in getting long fences if all you build is decorative boxes. In the end, if space is an issue in your shop, the decision of table length may already be made for you.

One sticking point for me on any jointer is the method by which the in-feed and out-feed tables are adjusted. Personally, I find that I can get more positive response and control with the wheels than I can with levers. I was recently told by a major tool company that they sell around three times more wheel-adjusted jointers than lever types. There must be something to my logic. My jointer model has wheels and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

A new feature that has come out lately is the use of a spiral cutting head that uses individual four-sided cutters, arranged to form a spiral shape around the cut­ting head. The advantage of this cutter head type is that the cutters remove wood in a slicing motion. This type of cutting also requires less power and makes less noise than the typical straight knives. The spiral cutting head greatly reduces the amount of tooling marks left on boards, which reduces the amount of time prep­ping boards for finish. Don’t be fooled, however; you will still have tool marks that you will have to remove before pro­ceeding to finish, despite what you may have heard. The final advantage to spi­ral-type cutter heads is how easy it is to change the knives. All you do is rotate the individual cutters a quarter-turn to expose a fresh cutting surface. I have one of these cutter heads in my Steel City thickness planer, so I can assure you that the concept is sound and a joy … no more horrible knife set-ups!

Some of the models I have looked at here have a range of motor sizes ranging from 1–2 HP. In my experience, a 1½ HP motor seems to do the trick for small jointers like these. My jointer has never bogged down, regardless of the type of wood used and it runs off of a 1 ½ HP motor. The jointers I looked at all require 120 volts, which is standard in most small shops, with some models available with 220-volt conversions. All models shown also have a four-inch dust collection port that is fairly standard for this size of machine.

The last number I would concern myself with is the overall weight of the jointer. The heavier the jointer, the more stable they tend to run. Minimizing any vibrations will provide you with the cleanest cut possible.

Don’t be afraid to get out your straight edges and feeler gauges when you go shopping for a machine. If the display model tables are not up to snuff, chances are the one you get in box won’t be either. Check out all of the points I have mentioned and don’t be afraid to ask questions of the tool dealer. If they don’t have the answers to questions, try going direct to the company. Happy jointer hunting.

You shouldn’t be able to flex the fence under moderate pressure

Craftex CT200

Motor: 1 HP, 110V
Table Length: 55 ½”
Cutter Head Style: 4-row spiral
Approx. Weight: 345 lbs
List Price: $1049

Craftex CT200

King KC-75FX

Motor: 2 HP, 110V
Table Length: 55 ½”
Cutter Head Style: 4-row spiral
Approx. Weight: 328 lbs
List Price: $1099

King KC-75FX

Rikon 20 110

Motor: 1.5 HP, 110/220 V
Table Length: 46″
Cutter Head Style: 3-Knife
Approx. Weight: 264 lbs
List Price: $599

R ikon 20 110

Delta 37-275X

Motor: 1 HP, 120/240 V
Table Length: 46″
Cutter Head Style: 3-Knife
Approx. Weight: 290 lbs
List Price: $799

Delta 37-275X

General Intl. 80-150

Motor: 1 HP, 110/220V
Table Length: 55 1/4″
Cutter Head Style: 3-Knife (Optional 4-row spiral)
Approx. Weight: 249 lbs

NOTE: This jointer is no longer available

General Intl. 80-150

In the end, if lack of space is an issue in your shop, the decision of table length may already be made for you.

Vic Tesolin - [email protected]

Vic is a woodworking instructor and author.

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