Spindle Moulder

Been a long time since I even thought about spindle moulders.  Last time was when I was lamenting the fact that router tables are the poor cousin of the primary workshop machines.  That situation has not changed significantly in the intervening years, although some companies have come out with some pretty nice aftermarket versions.

There are some router tables around – cast iron tops, no motor, some fence that looks like it hasn’t changed in design since the ’30s.  Whoever designed them I’d seriously question if they were a woodworker, let alone if they used the table they came up with.

The spindle moulder is the machine the router table should have been, and there is quite the range.  The reason I wrote them off before is if it came down to a router table or a spindle moulder, the router table won simple because of the range of bits that I have.  Yes, you can fit router bits in a spindle moulder, but they have a top speed of around 10000-12000RPM.

A router table can reach 20000-25000RPM whereas a spindle moulder typically only gets to 10000RPM.  That is fine for the much larger spindle moulder cutters, but is slow for the small diameter router bits.  Perhaps not as restrictive as I once considered.

However, I now have a couple of different spindle moulder cutters from Toolstoday.com and they are quite spectacular.  I’m looking at them and thinking that it would be really useful to to be able to use them in the workshop and therefore the whole spindle moulder concept has reemerged.

There are a few definite advantages to a spindle moulder (although you’d have to ensure the model chosen had these- no point getting a machine and missing out on the very advantages possible).

Other than the overall size, moulding cutters etc, a spindle moulder is not restricted to the one direction of rotation.  If the item you are working on would be better approaching the cutter from the other direction, this is achievable.

Secondly, you are not restricted to working with your cutter (or router bit) perpendicular to the table.  A spindle moulder can be set at an angle, thus significantly increasing the range of profiles that are possible by presenting the cutter or router bit at an angle to the work (or rather, at an angle that is not 90 degrees!)

I am sure there is more to the whole concept, but I don’t have that real insider’s knowledge of the machine (yet).  However, there is another machine that I will in all likelihood be getting a lot more familiar with before even the potential of having a spindle moulder surfaces…..more on that if things come together…..(intrigue….)

In the meantime, these are the cutters I have that I will be reviewing shortly, and both are really piquing my interest.

cutter1This one is a planing head, and is about the size of a fist, or a slightly shorter version of a jointer head.  The difference between it and a jointer head is that bearing at the base.  You can use this head to surface a material that isn’t flat – it will follow a template, and that makes it like the offspring of a jointer and template copying bit.  Why be restricted to making something smooth and flat, when it can be smooth and curved?

There is a lot of similarity between a spindle moulder and router table – some tasks could be done on either.  But I wonder how the quality in finish changes between a very small diameter router bit doing a finished surface, and the much larger moulder cutter doing the same with a significantly shallower angle of attack?

A template copying bit looks like a baby, or a toy alongside this surfacing cutter.


This is not the best photo of the Profile Pro, but it gives you an idea.

cutter4 There are HEAPS of interchangeable cutters for it.

cutter5Appears to be around 140 different profiles available, plus blank cutters so you can get your own made!

While looking this up on the Toolstoday.com website, I came across some other cutters for the spindle moulder, such as this variable width groover.

cutter3And again – remember these can be used in a reverse direction if that is a better direction of approach for the work.

Some cutters (such as for the Profile Pro) are high speed steel, others are replaceable carbide.  Either way, there is no excuse not to have a sharp tool.  They are easy to remove and resharpen, or can be rotated (or disposed and replaced very cheaply).

So the spindle moulder has raised itself up into my awareness again, as a very serious workshop tool.


My Drum Sander

Unsurprisingly, I have begun mentally (mostly) dusting off some of my machines, reconsidering their place in my workshop (and not just where they will go, but whether they belong).  For the most part, they will simply translate from the old workshop to the new, but in some cases, I haven’t been 100% content, and these will receive closer scrutiny.

One of these machines is the drum sander.

Now I don’t have the most expensive drum sander on the market.  Actually (excluding home-made versions), I think I probably have the cheapest.  Even so, at $840, it isn’t an afterthought either.  I can buy a cheap cast iron tablesaw for that sort of money, so you’d expect a lot to be packed into a small package at that price.

Carbatec Drum Sander

Carbatec Drum Sander

I’m not denying that the drum sander isn’t a useful tool – having had one for a few years now (over 4), I have put quite a bit through it, and have found it does work pretty well.  It could be improved, and I’ll get to that in a second.

Firstly, location.  Since having it in my workshop, I have had it perched on top of my thicknesser.  A bit higher than desirable, but still workable, and as both machines had similar requirements for infeed and outfeed, it proved a pretty good space saver.


This only works if your thicknesser is the larger version, with a fixed head and rising and falling table.  Otherwise you’d be lifting the weight of the motor and thicknesser head, and the drum sander combined!  However, it is time it got its own stand.  There is one made for this unit, and although I am not a fan of bolt-together pieces of angle iron as a commercial solution, for $70 it wasn’t too pricey, and it ended up proving to be a pretty robust design, so I can live with that.  The space underneath isn’t going to be wasted either – just have to make a storage unit that fits.

The next issue is the method by which the paper is secured.  At the free end, it is pretty straightforward – a springloaded clip that holds the paper against the underside of the drum.


It is the other end that has been bugging me recently.  I just have not been able to get the paper to secure.  Initially, I had a look at the clamp at the other end, and it didn’t push against the drum – that was a concern – what had gone wrong with the clamp?  A stop into Carbatec to look at their display machine, and it was the same – the paper does not get held against anything, it is just a bit of a torturous path to hold it in place.  So it is the length of the sandpaper which is the problem – the piece I have is too short.  Must be old stock or something – and the supplier was scrimping on the length of paper supplied.

Now I have had a close look at the clamping arrangements, I’ll cut my own to be longer, and see if I cannot get it resolved.

I do find a lot of burn marks on the drum – and that I have worked out is primarily a lack of adequate dust extraction.  If a dust buildup occurs between the drum and the workpiece, it burns, sticks, burns more, and the paper is quickly toast (pun intended!)

Guess there is no way around this really – have the correct feedrate for the timber and the grit, take lighter passes, and good dust extraction.  The large oscillating Jet may not have such a problem, but otherwise I’d expect this would be a pretty typical complaint?

The final area that I looked at is the one where the most criticisms are leveled at this machine. The amount of flex in the head.  If you lift the open end, you can detect some movement relative to the bed.  In operation, this equates to the machine not operating the drum parallel to the bed, and therefore creating a wedge shape, rather than simply making the board thinner.

To now, I have compensated for this by a few strategies:

1. rotating the work each pass
2. taking lighter passes when nearing the final desired dimension
3. feeding the work in closer to the support when nearing final dimension
4. finishing passes by not adjusting the height, and feeding the work through a few times, each time therefore becomes a lighter and lighter pass, with less and less deflection.

While in Carbatec looking at the clamping system, I also spent some time comparing this drum sander to the three Jet models.

There were some interesting outcomes.

jetn628900Not only is the drum quite short (and therefore not a lot of length to load up for deflection, but note how far apart the two bolts are holding the upper structure to the base.  It is a good amount of area resisting any rotation of the head around that joint.

JET-2244OSCNot sure if this is exactly the one looked at (wasn’t looking at the stand!), but the main point of difference here was a cast iron base which the head is attached to with a wide attachment area.  Very hard to get any movement here!


This had less movement than the Carbatec model, but still significantly more than the other two.  The bolts attaching the head to the base are quite close together, and the base is angle iron, not cast.  And there is movement.

The Carbatec model looks to all be cast, but the main members of the base are angle iron.  Furthermore, the bolts attaching the head to the base are very close together.  Add these together, plus what flex there is in the attachment bolts and the cast iron, and there is deflection.

If the attachment point could be reinforced, and the attachment bolts (both at that junction, and where the head connects to the height riser) were replaced with high tensile bolts, I may not be able to eliminate all the flex, but I bet I could significantly decrease it.

A mini project to work on!

Enter, the Router Table

Taking the first components off to the next stage of the process involves the router table, and the rail & stile plus raised panel bits.

Cutting the interior profile

After some test cuts, the router table was set up to run the rails and stiles through the first router bit.  I use MagSwitch featherboards to hold the timber against the router table fence. They are so easy to position, and hold fast to the cast iron top of my router table.  Make you think it fortunate my router table is cast iron, but it came about in the reverse order.  I made the router table out of cast iron so that I could use MagSwitches on it.

Woodpeckers Coping Sled

After changing to the complementary router bit, it was time to cut the end grain of the rails.  If you ever wonder how to remember which is which, think about rails being horizontal.  They certainly are for trains! The stile is the other one.

The Woodpeckers Coping Sled is awesome for this task.  It holds the rails perfectly, and perpendicular to the direction of travel.  If I had taken more care, I would have used a sacrificial backing.  Probably should have – hardwood tears out a bit too easily. I’ll make sure I do when cutting the doors for the sink unit.

I just checked – the coping sled is still available from Professional Woodworkers Supplies.  They now have a mini one as well, but given the full sized one is on special, I’d still go with that one (the one pictured above).  There is so much more with this one, it is worth the difference.

Sanding the panels

After removing the panels being glued up in the Frontline clamps, I used the Festool belt sander to do a final flattening (including removing any glue squeezeout).  The large sander weights 7kg, and when coupled with the sled means you can hold the handle, and, well, hang on – letting the tool do all the work.  The work is clamped up using brass dogs on the vice, and dogs in holes in the table.

Panel bit

Once sanded (not the final sand – more a sizing sand than a finishing one), it was back to the router table, this time with a raised panel bit.  I don’t have a raised panel bit with a cutter for the back yet, so have to adjust it manually. This is not the final pass, but an intermediate one to check fit.  Best to do the crossgrain first, then the longgrain.

Panel bit

This is a monster bit – pretty much at the limit that a router can (or rather should) drive.  The run at the slowest speed still gets a decent tip speed.

Test fit

A quick test fit showed I was close, but still needs another pass to get it there.  Looking good though.  Will look even better when I do the 3D routing into each panel!  Once that routing is done (next session), then I can glue the panels up.

Thicknessing undersized stock

One thing I have been surprised with so far, is the lack of waste.  I’d always try to use timber to maximise yield, but there is always waste.  So far I’d not have enough offcuts to fill a 10L bucket – the yield is exceptional.

Even these thin panels that were ripped off the 19-20mm thick boards.  They will be perfect for the back of the units.  I wanted to run them through the thicknesser, but it just doesn’t go thin enough.  To solve that problem, I clamped on a sled.  The boards would not feed initially, but with a quick rubdown with Sibergleit, the boards fed through smoothly and easily.  I wouldn’t do this with any timber, or to go too thin, but it will get you out of trouble.
So a good session.  Progress seems slow, but this is always the slow part of any project.  Once the items are cut, and some preliminary joinery done, it usually flies together.


Some good news and bad news.  The good news is that I am documenting sessions on video.  Bad news is I am not planning on releasing the video until the project is complete!

Right Said Fred

It’s crunch time. With the router table that is.

I spent some time yesterday getting the table together properly, drilling the final holes to join each wing together (some holes were missing – fell out in transit).  It didn’t go well.  The machined plate (the one I had with the insert hole cut out) had serious warps – stress relieving both the original stresses once the webbing had been cut, and the results of heat from the machining process.  The warping was both longitudinally, and laterally, and even after all the care in bolting the sections together trying to take out as much as possible, it was still excessive to the point that I finally thought that the only solution will be abandoning the project.

This morning I went through my options – more machining (where?), alternate plates (wrong shaped cavity), abandoning the drop-in plate (undesirable, but one real option), abandoning the cast iron top altogether and going with a Pro Router Top from Professional Woodworkers Supplies (most likely final solution), and a bit of a stab-in-the-dark – firing up the belt sander.

This may not have occurred to me, except for the recent Hall Table course at Ideal Tools, and Terry’s enthusiastic use of the belt sander in production woodworking.  I don’t have a 7kg Festool, only a cheap’n’nasty GMC with a small contact area.  Oh well, you work with what you have.

Nipped off to the hardware store for some new belts for it – 40, 80 and 120.  I fired up the 80 grit initially, but it wasn’t achieving much, and when I got too close to the newly machined edge of the cavity, the belt caught and ripped itself off the sander.  Bugger – ok, change to a 40 grit (significantly aggressive looking thing) and go again.  I blew one of the 40 grit belts as well, and was going to throw them in the bin until I remembered the Blowfly – I can use the cloth-backed paper in the blowfly and at least get some more use out of it.

I treated the top in the same way as you would flatten a wooden tabletop – just a lot harder.  Sanding, sanding, checking, sanding – hmm – seems to be working.  Using a straight-edge to check progress, and testing the insert in place (sanding was only done with the plate removed).

Sanding the top flat

Sanding the top flat

The 40 grit did cut significant tracks into the top, and they will take some removing, but that will happen over time (hitting it with 80 grit ROS each time I condition the top until it is scratch-free).  But actual progress was being made. The top was finally becoming flat.

Sanding Sanding Sanding

Sanding Sanding Sanding

I then hit it with the ROS, first with 40 grit, then 60, then 80 (although I needed to do more with the 40 grit realistically).  Would have gone longer, but the ROS shredded its mounting pad.  So that was enough to call the sanding evolution quit for the day.  I then gave it a quick polish, so it was a bit protected.  Used a paraffin wax block, then instead of the normal kitchen green scourer, I decided the Spider should put in an appearance.  Boy did that save some elbow grease!

Spider for Top Regeneration

Spider for Top Regeneration

So that is where I got to – there is a lot to do with the table, but the top seems to be a go.  The base is still a long way from an optimum solution.  In the meantime, I used the router in the forward position for a different job.

Table in Use

Table in Use

Sure is nice having a functional router table again!

Dusting off the Router Table

It has been a rather long process, and I’m not (quite) there yet, but at least the top is well in the final straight.  I’ve a few holes to drill and that is about the last step in the process.  The top is about as flat as I can get it (there are some commercial versions out there, but you certainly pay for the privilege).  It could be machined even flatter, but I’ll wait until the router table is recommissioned before making any further decisions about what it may still require.

Drilling Holes in Newly Machined Top

Drilling Holes in Newly Machined Top

Speaking of recommissioning, as you can see I have returned the Pro Drill Press Table to operation.  I am going to reinforce the top of the Drill Press Table to minimise any flex, but it is back.

Large, flat router table top

Large, flat router table top

Large flat tabletop, with the insert cut out.  There is the capability to mount 2 routers under this table.

Lookin' Good!

Lookin' Good!

Cast Iron Router Table…Progress!

It has taken slightly longer than I expected (9 1/2 weeks or so all told (sure there’s a movie reference in there somewhere 😉 ) but finally I have the machined router wing back in my hands.

I’ve had a couple of operations performed on it, one quite high risk, so it will be interesting to see if it really survived.  The first was flattening the rounded front edge, so I can butt a couple of the wings against each other.  That was ok, and without particular drama.

The second was removing a large portion of the centre of the wing so it could fit a Woodpeckers Router Lift.  The amount of material removed allowed a lot of stresses in the metal to be released, causing quite a lot of cupping of the top.  However, by bolting through the top into a couple of metal bars to act as brackets to pull the top back into alignment seems to have done the trick.

CI Router top in its new form

CI Router top in its new form

The underside

The underside

So there we are.  Nex job will involve finally bolting it all together to form the ultimate router top, and fit something like the LS 17 from Incra to it.  Build a real base, and then we might be done before taking it for a spin.

When did machine construction go wrong?

One of the regulars sent me this photo of a 40″ bandsaw from a website dedicated to old woodworking machines, called www.owwm.com

Old 1890's Cast Iron Bandsaw

Old 1890's Cast Iron Bandsaw

The gentleman in the photo found this bandsaw in the States on eBay – no idea what he paid for it.  The bandsaw itself is from the 1850s – 1890s, and it is 40″ (the wheel diameter), which gives it a massive throat, and it has a significant resaw capacity.  The thing looks like it weights a ton (and that may not be that far from the truth!), being solid cast iron.

I started scanning through the large collection of other bandsaw photos on the site, just out of interest, and noting the dates I started to see a trend emerge.  The newer the bandsaw, the more likely it was that it was folded steel construction than cast iron (and sure, other aspects such as guarding began making an appearance!)

So the question began to form – when did machine construction go ‘wrong’?  When did cast iron stop being the material of choice?

I’m not necessarily proposing that modern, folded metal construction cannot make a good machine, and the cost difference is phenomenal. Cast Iron also has a bit of a bad rap – when done poorly (in modern, cheap productions particularly, when cast iron is used incorrectly in thin casting as a cost-saving measure, using poor material engineering techniques then it is a curse – castings break easily (cast iron is by its nature brittle, unless correctly heat treated to produce versions such as spheroidal cast iron), but it is still a superb material of choice in many situations.

It’s weight can be a significant benefit, particularly for machine stability, it can be easily machined (but leave welding it to the experts – low carbon steel (mild steel) is easily welded, high carbon steel is not, and needs serious welding procedures written to cope with it.  Cast Iron can be thought of as high carbon steel, with so much carbon added that it becomes a bit of a carbon/cementite/iron mix.  Welding it is a bitch!)

Because of the (micro) voids of graphite in the cast, cast iron has real vibration damping capabilites – an excellent property for a machine to have – reduced vibrations means a smoother running machine and less noise.

Finally, strength – put a heavy cast iron body against one made from folded steel – one has inherent strength from the material, the other from careful design and internal ribs trying to dissipate the stresses / tensions and compressive forces so the structure does not fail.  To get that in cast iron, just make the casting thick enough!

So back to my original question – when did ‘it’ go ‘wrong’?  From the OWWM site, the dates of the real transitions appear to be after WW1, but before WW2.  There were massive technological changes happening around that time, a depression, and so a possible emphasis towards lower cost production.  I’m not an historian, so wiser heads would be able to give a much more considered view, but that is what I am seeing as potential influences on machine manufacture.

I’ll stick with my cast iron machines as much as I can – sometimes the traditional is more than a romantic concept.  Sometimes it also makes good engineering sense!

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