I Tawt I Taw a Combo Saw

Combination machines are often underrated, or overlooked when considering workshop machines.  If you have the space, then a machine dedicated to one task must be better than one trying to be all things to all people right?

It is the public gym vs infomercial war all over again, in some minds: don’t buy a machine that can only do one thing, buy this workout zone for home and get 99 functions in 1.  Sounds great, but we also know for these sales pitches, the resulting contraption is built cheap.  After all, you don’t get 1 for 10 easy payments of $99.95, but they will throw in a second one for free, and an exercise mat to boot.

If you have the workshop floor area, why would you consider a combo machine, when 2 or 3 individual machines, each dedicated to the one task must be better.

Well that is not always the case.

There are a number of reasons to consider a combo machine in the workshop.

1. Price

Overall, it will typically be a lot more expensive than one of the machines it is replacing, but add them all together, and the price starts becoming rather competitive.

2. Floor Space

Unless you own the Taj Mahal of sheds, we are all space-poor to one degree or another, and some machines can be combined to minimise their overall demand on space, especially where they can share common infeed and outfeed areas.

3. Increased Capacity

If you buy a jointer, a 6″ jointer is a reasonable price, an 8″ adds about 60% to the price, and a 12″ about 4x the price.

It means as a stand-alone machine, few will be able to justify a 10″ – 12″ jointer.  But if you get a combination jointer-thicknesser, a 10″ or 12″ capacity for the jointer is not uncommon.

It makes me really wonder why the stand-alone jointers of that size are so expensive?  You can buy a 15″ thicknesser for a fraction of the price of a 12″ jointer.

4. Access to machines you otherwise wouldn’t get

A combo machine like a jointer/thicknesser is just that, a couple of machines combined.  But what about the multi-machine combinations?


The MiniMax C26 for example combines a 10″ tablesaw (with sliding table), a 10″ jointer, 10″ thicknesser, a spindle moulder, and optionally a mortiser to boot.

You may be looking for the typical combo of the saw, jointer and thicknesser, which means the spindle moulder and mortiser are bonuses – you may not have planned on buying them otherwise, but who’d say no if they are included?


So let’s look closer at the C26 particularly, as it is one that I saw at my recent road trip to Gabbett Machinery.

1. Price

C26 Stand-alone
10″ Saw w sliding table $5400 $1900
10″ Jointer $1400 (8″)
10″ Thicknesser $1500 (15″)
$2000 (10″ combo)
Spindle Moulder $1300
Mortiser +$500? $860

Ignoring the mortiser, as that price is a total guess, the C26 at $5400 compares very closely to $5200 of the stand alone machines (if you still consider the combo jointer/thicknesser), or $6100 of totally independent machines.  There are

2. Floor Space

C26 Stand-alone
10″ Saw w sliding table 5.2m2 4.9m2
10″ Jointer 1.3m2
10″ Thicknesser 0.9m2
 (or 10″ combo) 0.8m2
Spindle Moulder 0.5m2
Mortiser 0.7m2

C26 footprint 5.2m2 (that includes the area of the sliding table with the arm out at an operational position).

Standalone machines 8.3m2

And this is just the foot print of the machines themselves, not including the typical amount of space you’d leave around each machine for access, or the infeed and outfeed areas, which is significant!

There is no question about it – a combo machine saves a fortune in shed space.

The increased capacity is primarily around the jointer – getting a 10″ jointer or larger is exceptionally expensive stand alone, but not so much so when part of a combination.  The 6″ jointer I have has always been quite a limitation for me – couldn’t justify getting a larger one, but have often found it to be a limitation.

As to machines you wouldn’t otherwise have, that is a personal issue.  For me, I don’t have a mortiser or spindle moulder, so that would be the win from having a combo (not to mention the increased jointer capacity). The other thing I don’t have is the sliding table, which can prove exceptionally useful if you are trying to do a lot of crosscutting on the tablesaw.

So unlike cheap exercise equipment sold on late-night TV, a serious combo workshop machine is something well worth considering when looking at setting up a workshop.  They are not cheap, but as shown, it is comparable to the machines they replace, and they save a fortune in workshop real estate.  As I am discovering with the current shed build, workshop floorspace is worth a small fortune, and being able to save many multiple square metres is worth a lot, much more than the cost of the machine.

The Minimax C26 in particular was from Gabbett Machinery.



Although I put up the small storage shed last weekend, I really didn’t get a chance to actually make use of the space.

Today, I had a crack at trying to sort out the garage (where the majority of my machines are stored).  For a while it didn’t seem to be going particularly well – too much stuff, not enough storage, but slowly, slowly, things began to fall into place.

In the end, the 8m3 shed was filled to the brim – I would struggle to fit anything more in there at all.  And once I got that much stuff out of the garage, it was just sufficient to provide sufficient flexibility to move things around. As far as the decision to go with a shed rather than using a storage unit – I am storing pretty much all that I intended to, and now I’ll have a shed to show for it after the 2 months is up (the intended time I thought I’d need the unit). If it happens to be more than 2 months (every chance the way things always go), then I’ll be ahead on the cash stakes.  Money for jam.

So it is a shed of sorts – not able to handle large materials, but I can access each of the machines in there – the tablesaw, router table, jointer, thicknesser, both bandsaws, drill press, CNC (while I still have it), the lathes, and even the benchtop machines – there is an existing workbench along one wall in the garage.

Sure it is all a compromise, but hey – anything beats the last 5 months!  The thicknesser and tablesaw can only be run off the generator – no 15A power available otherwise.

IMG_4119 IMG_4121

Tomorrow I might even get to make some sawdust.  Exciting!


Shed Layout

Going to throw it out there – if you are interested in helping me design the shed layout, I’d be most interested in your ideas!

To start, these are the shed dimensions.  The location of the roller door is pretty much fixed (won’t fit anywhere else), but all other doors and window can be shifted at this stage.  There needs to be one door accessing the rear triangular area, and I do want a door accessing the back of the shed.

Finalised Shed Design

Finalised Shed Design

Inside, there are columns to compete with, which are fixed in place.  The slab design shows a pillar directly in the middle of the roller door, but I am doubting that is actually needed!  Pretty pointless if it is – if this shed was for a vehicle, you’d have to split the car (or boat) in two to get it inside!



The door in the 9’10” wall only needs to be in one of the two 9’10” walls, move as suitable!

I’ve been using the Grizzly Shed Designer website – if you know of something better, I’d be keen to hear!

This is one design I have come up with, but I’m sure it isn’t as good as it could be.

Shed Layout?

Shed Layout?

So some specifics.  The tablesaw is the TS10L (discontinued), and has a long wing on the right.  It needs in and outfeed, but also room to the lefthand side for long items (at least until I get a Kapex). There is a router table which is about 680mm wide, and 1000mm long.  Infeed and outfeed is across the shorter width, as the Incra LS Positioner extends down the length.

There is a workbench – 1500×800, and the Torque Workcentre 2500×800 (the lathe on top of the workbench represents the overhead arm).

A 15″ thicknesser, a 6″ longbed jointer, a drill press.

There are 2 bandsaws, one a 17″ Carbatec which is used for resawing, and a 14″ Jet for small items (no outfeed required).

A Triton spindle sander, and a disk sander/linisher.  There are three lathes showing.  One is the DVR XP, one is the Nova Comet II, and the third is a Jet Mini, but this one will be used to hold three buffing wheels, so is part of the sanding section.

As far as the rest, I’m not showing any timber storage as it will either be on the mezzanine, or stored elsewhere.  The dust extractor and air compressor will be in a nearby shed, and can either be located in the triangular section (top left), or at the back, or alongside the shed at the right – your choice.  I’m not showing any storage at the moment – either suggest what you will, or have a look at older photos of the workshop to see what I have been using in the past.

So that’s the general scope – questions to refine the issues welcome.  Hope someone can come up with a plan that really works!


The Dado Blade of the Router Bit World

The router table has always been particularly good for cutting a groove, particularly in smaller items (such as making boxes).  The orientation of the blade to the timber for one, the diameter of the blade (vs a tablesaw), the speed of the cutter, the accuracy in setup.

The one frustration I have found is having to accept the width of the groove is limited to the width of the cutter of the router bit, or having to take multiple passes.  Unlike a tablesaw, the concept of a dado blade is foreign to the router table.

Well until now that is.

Toolstoday.com have available a really interesting router bit indeed from Amana Tool.  It is an EZ Dial Slot Cutter, and unlike a tablesaw dado blade stack, this router bit does not have shims, or even need to be taken apart and reassembled.

EZ Dial Router Bit

EZ Dial Router Bit

Looking at the anatomy of the router bit, from the top-down.  The top threaded section is the range of adjustment of the router bit, and there are two types available – a 1/8″ – 1/4″, and a 1/4″ – 1/2″.  Next is the locking nut – once the width of the slot is set.  The knurled knob is the adjustment for the router bit, and is then locked in position with the locking nut.

The blade is next – it is a four-flute router bit, but because of the adjustment, each side of the trench is cut with two of the flutes.  As the knurled adjustment knob is turned, two of the flutes move with the knob, and the other two remain fixed.

A bearing then sits under the flutes – useful when following curves, and other times a router fence is not in use.  Just below that is a section with two flats – this is useful if the locking nut is too tight – a spanner can be fit on this section so it can be undone without having to risk damage to the router chuck or shaft lock.

Finally, the shaft is a finely finished, accurate 1/2″ shaft.  (An inaccurate shaft is either difficult to fit the router collet if too large, or at risk of slipping if too small).

Variable slots

Variable slots

I was working with the 1/8-1/4″ router bit, but the concept is the same.  In the above image, the two opposite flutes move, the other two are fixed.  That dial-in adjustment is remarkably liberating.  Being able to set the width of the resulting slot to accurately match the material that will fit in it (whether that be another piece of timber, a sheet of glass etc), and also easy to add an accurate amount of clearance if required.

The quality of the router bit is obvious, as is the finish that is achieved.

55500-cNot only can the width of the slot be set, but it can be adjusted with the router bit fixed in the router. (So long as you intend to remove more material – too hard to put material back!) Rather than trying to work out the range to move the router up and down again, a test cut or two, a dial-in of width, and your accuracy and flexibility of the table is increased dramatically.

Once you experience the convenience of a shim-less, dial in width of slot for a router bit, you’ll be wishing a tablesaw dado blade was as easy, as infinitely adjustable, and as accurate.

Available from Toolstoday.com


Link with the past

After reading my article on line shafts, Evan suggested I look at the following video on YouTube.

It is an excerpt from a 1981 documentary about a craftsman who is still using a water-powered (and line-shaft enabled) workshop from the 1840s.  It is 26 minutes long and does a pretty good job of documenting the creation of a project in this workshop.

The video starts with a bit of blacksmithing, which is interesting in its own right, but the majority of the video is about the creation of a large water trough for cattle, completed in a single day using techniques that are very similar to that a cooper would utilise to create a barrel. A very large barrel!

What I found fascinating, and really very invigorating and inspiring (used enough adjectives here?) is the machines in this workshop are practically no different from those in mine, and many others around the place.  We may utilise electricity rather than water power, but little else has changed.  We would be quite comfortable operating in a workshop of the 1840s, and in turn someone from that era would find ours very familiar as well.  Our links with our roots are not very long at all.

A tablesaw is still very recognisable as a tablesaw, as with the thicknesser, jointer, horizontal borer etc.  It seems the only really new technology in our workshops is the router, and even then it is quite possible the spindle moulder dates back far enough to be included in water powered workshops.  In 1925 they were still using flat-sided cutters, so that is something we can be grateful has improved over time! (Kickbacks would have been common, and incredibly violent).

So have a look at Ben Thresher’s mill, right out of the pages of history, and enjoy as I have, that we are still keeping these traditions alive in our own workshops.  The digital age of woodworking seems to be approaching, CNC, laser, 3D printing etc, so lets not allow our craft and skills to be lost in the way that digital photography has affected (what I call) chemical photography, and what computers and iTunes is slowly doing to music. (Had to end on a note of controversy!)

Stuffed it up!

So there I was, trying to work out the plans for the shed, and things were just not working as well as I expected, and I put it down to the fact the components I was working with on the Grizzly Planner were not to the same size (scaled) as I needed them to be.

But then I tried a major rearrangement, putting the tablesaw down the back of the proposed shed, and couldn’t get it to fit.  Shouldn’t I have a metre clearance?  So I checked my dimensions.  Then checked them again.  And I finally got it.  The shed was drawn completely the wrong size.  The problem with working in feet & inches, is I don’t know what 96″ looks like (or whatever).  It is not intuitive to me, having primarily worked in metric.

So I then redrew the shed to the right size, and then tried placing in the tools.  Everything looked completely wrong – all the tools have just too much room.  How can that be?  Checked.  Double checked.  I think it is right. WHOA!  Awesome!


This wasn’t a serious effort at tool layout – couldn’t get over how much room there was.  This fits all the tools, and still space for more that I hadn’t included in the initial planning from the previous shed.  And there is still the mezzanine 🙂

Some really interesting progress on the shed front – hope to have an update around the end of the week (or there abouts).

Groove is in the Heart(wood)

The dado blade (or dado set) can be a particularly accurate tool when it is understood correctly.  With a combination of spacers and shims, a dado (or groove) of very precise width and depth can be cut in a single pass.  Unlike a router bit producing a groove, the size of the stock to fit that groove does not have to match the router bit, nor do you have to make multiple passes to get to the required width, or depth.

The tablesaw is also much more suitable for processing large amounts of stock, and long lengths.


Electroblu Dado Blade

The dado set I have been using recently is this one from Amana Tool (through Toolstoday.com)  It is an 8″ dado set, with a 5/8″ bore.  The bore accurately matches the arbor of my tablesaw, so I don’t have to try to juggle washers for each blade and spacer, and means the blade set will produce a more accurate and flat-bottomed groove.  It has most recently also been upgraded to have the environmentally-friendly Electroblu coating, which help mitigate heat buildup during the cut (which has an adverse affect on accuracy – the more heat, the more the blade can warp.  This then results in more runout and therefore a change to the effective width of the cut.)

Click here to see the blade at Toolstoday.com  Don’t worry that the blade is not blue – the photo has not been updated yet to include their latest coating that is now standard on their blades.


Dado Stack Set

It is a particularly nice set, with four 1/8″ spacers and one 1/16″ spacer (or chippers), and a set of shims of various widths.  The outside blades (which must always be used for every cut) are dedicated left and right (as is normal for dado sets).  The blades are not ATB – they are either bevelled left, or right only (depending on which blade it is), with every 6th tooth being flat ground.  They each have two teeth missing – this allows a place for the chipper blade to rest, so that the carbide teeth can overlap without knocking into each other.  The flat ground teeth result in square corners at the bottom of the groove.  Many other dado sets leave a telltale triangle cutout, where the bevel cuts deeper than the chippers.


Inner edge of outside blade

An interesting feature of the outside blades is a raised section on the inside, effectively increasing the thickness of the blade, and when not using any chippers or shims means the two outer blades can rest against each other, again without the carbide teeth impacting.


Chipper Blades

This particular dado set has only 2 tooth chipper blades.  This may seem a disadvantage (the general principle is the more teeth a blade has, the finer the cut), but the chipper blades don’t impact the side of the cut, where smoothness really counts.  Chippers only remove the material in the middle of the groove, so they only touch the bottom of the cut, and with a combination of the quality of the carbide, the angle of the grind and these chippers leave a very smooth finish.  The other really important aspect is the chipper blades have to be exactly the same diameter as each other, and the outside blades.  This leaves a flat-bottomed groove.  If one is over (or under) sized, it leaves a step in the groove base.


Dado Stack

As you stack the dado set, you stagger the individual blades so that the carbide teeth have no chance of pressing on each other.  Other than risking damage to the teeth, if they are pressing on each other, they will distort the effective width of the dado stack.  When using shims, you need to space them out between each of the blades used.  It is a good idea to put the thinnest ones nearest the arbor washer & nut.  That way it is easier to change the finest shims to fine tune the effective width of the stack.  When measuring the width of the blade stack, you cannot simply add up all the width of the components.  The amount of runout of the two outside blades (in particular) (and to a lesser degree, the runout of the chippers) needs to be added to the final width, as does the runout of the tablesaw itself.

This can be determined by trial and error.  Set up the stack for a certain width of cut (adding together the kerf of the outside blades, the chippers and spacers used).  Perform a cut, and measure the result.  This will give the actual width of the cut, and the difference between the two is the runout of the stack and tablesaw combined.


Zero Clearance

Despite the fact I have a 10″ tablesaw, an 8″ dado blade set is more than enough.  There are a number of reasons for this: Unlike a normal blade, the dado set is only ever for cutting a groove (and more often than not, no more than 1″ deep).  There is therefore no need to incur the extra expense of a larger blade.  A dado set is already much heavier than a single blade, and can really push the limits of the saw motor just to get it up to speed, let alone maintain that speed during a cut.  A larger blade has significantly more bulk and mass, and can exceed your saw’s capacity to spin it up.  The benefit of this set, is those 2 tooth chippers have a lot less bulk than other chippers, so this also helps deal with the overall bulk of a dado set.  The other thing is that a dado blade really does not need anywhere near the depth of cut of a standard blade.  It is for cutting grooves, not cutting workpieces in twain.

As far as how this blade performs, it is excellent – but you’ll have to see the associated video (which I am working on) to see the result.  Needless to say, I had a precisely cut dado that absolutely matched the board I was inserting, so the friction fit was beautifully tight.

To get that precision, I took the typically supplied notes on the various combinations of blades, chippers and shims to achieve a standard set of widths, and threw them out the window.  Instead, I came up with a comprehensive set of every single combination possible, in order of increasing width, so I can exactly choose what combination to start with to match the board I am inserting into the resulting groove.  Instead of having about 24 combinations that were provided, my list is just over 3000 combinations.  And because I have it in Excel, it is easy for me to add in the runout of the blades and tablesaw to end up with even more precision.

Out of interest, I have attached the full list below (and below the smapshot of part of the table)


Snapshot of a few rows of the table

Dado Set Combination pdf

The Dado set by Amana Tool, from Toolstoday.com is a worthy version, and well worth considering when looking for a dado set for your workshop.  When the video comes out, you will see just how precise a dado set can be!

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