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.


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!

Sawdust and Shavings

I did get into the ‘workshop’ as planned, and churned out a couple of ManSpace signs on the CNC machine (one carved, one bas-relief)


before moving onto what I was actually planning to work on – the start of a rocking horse as recently built by a friend.  He kindly gave me his templates and the plans, so I was able to jump straight into it.

_DSC2478This was about 90 minutes work with a bandsaw and a template copy bit on the router.  Still lots of joining, gluing, shaping and finally finishing to go, but getting to make sawdust and shavings was a palatable relief after so long.

One of the first things I went to do was fire up the generator to try out the 15A tools.  The tablesaw fired up without a problem, but the thicknesser was another story.

It kept tripping the generator out.

Now I am rather confused by this.  The generator is a 6.5KW, so isn’t like it is short of power.  Before the move, the thicknesser was working ok, and I subsequently tried (successfully) to turn it by hand (power disconnected, by pulling on the belts).  So why could the generator not get it up to speed?  It isn’t like the generator wasn’t turning the motor, just extremely slowly under maximum load (with the engine labouring) before the circuit breaker kicked out.

I’m not in a position to be able to test the thicknesser any other way – it is way too heavy to move to somewhere there is 15A available, and I don’t have any currently at the property (at least not accessible (aka oven)). Green steam sucks – anything that needs imaginary numbers to describe how it works is obviously magic. (No, I’m not kidding – you need to understand imaginary numbers to perform some of the multi-dimensional calculations involving frequency and phase-shifts

The voltage in a circuit is 45 + j10 volts and the impedance is 3 + j4 ohms.  What is the current?
E = I • Z
45 + j10 = I • (3 + j4)

7 – j6 amps

j represents √-1 (also shown as i in non electrical engineering applications).

See what I mean?! Once upon a time I used to understand this stuff.  Happy to have brain-dumped it after the exams!)

What it all boils down to, is the thicknesser will just have to wait until the new shed, and the subsequent installation of a power supply.  At least the tablesaw is functional again – even if it wasn’t used for the rocking horse (yet).  The steps followed so far were all managed on the bandsaw and router table.



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!


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!)

Goodnight, Sleep Tight

It took pretty much two months to the day to build the cot, given that we were snatching half a day here, half a day there.

Friday evening was the final push, and we just kept at it until all the final issues were solved (making the side rise and fall, how to assemble it, etc etc).  Took us through to about 12:30 at night, but we got it done.  It isn’t sanded and oiled as yet (that’s a job for the expectant father!) and the final bit of time he has before his world becomes somewhat busier!  Looking back at the earliest posts, and we were a bit naive in our predictions on just how long/how many sessions it would take.  Just Friday night was a bit of a marathon – not that it wasn’t a good time, just that tasks always take longer than planned!  3 sessions?  More like 5 or 6 (really lost track!)

But first I’ll back up a bit, for a quick summary / overview, and then with more detail from the assembly of the ends.  As mentioned earlier, the focus was very much on the planning and construction of the cot, rather than documenting the process.

Session one was getting the bed itself made – the surround and base for the mattress.  Everything in the project was made from Tasmanian Oak, and machined down (and out of) large slabs such as seen here:

Tassie Oak Slabs

It was glued up in a later session (clamped up with Frontline clamps), with a rail under the bed supporting the MDF bed base.  This was also drilled with a series of large holes for ventilation.

Bed section clamped up

Session two involved making the slats (and some testing to get the distances between slats right, so it was even over the cot length.  Again, the actual glueup happened in a later session.

Making the slats

All the rail components

We also resawed, dressed and glued up the pine end panels in this session.

End panels

A month then passed while we both had other distractions.

Session three commenced with a glueup of the various sections.  The bed (as seen above), and the rails.

Rails glued up

Each end panel had the 3D routing done, and the rails for the cot ends made.

Session four was time for the legs to be made.  These were each notched so the bed rested firmly on them, transferring the load directly down the legs rather than through a mechanical joint.  A T Track was routed into the two front legs, using a slot-cutting router bit.

By the end of the day (including some extra work done afterwards), the ends were done.  This is where we pick up the story.

After producing the inserts for the ends (10mm thick pine boards, joined to produce a full panel), routing the 3D pattern into each end, it was time to cut them to their final dimension.  The question is, how to use the tablesaw to cut boards with uneven ends.

There are a whole host of methods promoted, sleds that clamp down on the piece, extension tables either built into the tablesaw (or added on, such as the Triton Extension Table) etc.  Actually, speaking of which, the Triton extension table would have been great for this project, if I had somewhere to actually put it!  This project really demonstrated how tight the shed has become. Assembly, and even moving around the larger components was a real problem.  Could really do with another shed, either to spread the overall load, or to use more as a project area / workbench area rather than the actual timber shaping/component construction.

Back to cutting the panel.  The solution I used was to attach a temporary straight-edge to the board, and it ran along the tablesaw fence, so the opposite side could be cut parallel.

Using a straight edge

In this case it was simply a piece of MDF and a couple of screws into what would become waste.  FWIW, I hadn’t set up the saw at this point, changing the blade to a crosscut blade and then replacing the splitter and guard.

The top and bottom rails were dominoed onto these boards (biscuits could have been used), glued and clamped, then the whole assembly glued and clamped to the legs to form the cot ends.  This was done over a number of days (availability of clamps, and time), ready for the final session.

Assembling the panels

Cot ends

(Yes, I know you have just seen this image – as mentioned, I was concentrating a lot more on the build than on documenting the process! Sorry 🙂 )

Session five – our late night marathon to finish.

A bed takes shape!

There was a lot of bolting and unbolting of the ends as we finished off the various components and steps, and the beauty of the cot is it can be flat-packed when no longer needed.  Just with the ends bolted on, the rigidity was obvious.  An extra stringer between the ends would be ideal, but with a combination of bolts and the corners being recessed into the legs is enough.

The back rail was added, again bolted to the bed itself, and with dominos into the legs.  These were left unglued – more than enough strength left just like that.  In time if it proved necessary, a small hole and a piece of dowel inserted through the leg and the domino as a pin would lock them together.

The final job was getting the front rail so it was functional.

At first it was pretty tight – a roof screw running up and down the track.  With quite of bit of trial and error, sanding the track a bit, adding some plastic tube to cover up the exposed screw threads, adjusting the height of the screws so they run cleanly in the track, and finally lubricating the track with Ubeaut Traditional Wax.  Whatever it was (and more likely a combination of them all), it went from being a bit average, to running as well as any commercial solution.  With spring-loaded catches at the top edge that automatically engage when the rail is lifted, the cot was finished (at least as far as my involvement).  Still needs a bit of sanding and oiling, but other than that, a really successful, enjoyable build.


Side dropped to lower position

The final view

So the cot was done – getting it out of the shed was a mission – we took it out assembled, and it was a rather tight fit (leveraging it around the bandsaw).

Getting it into the covered trailer was also interesting.  Another 5mm in leg length (perhaps even less), and it would not have fitted.  Also in length – it was like absolutely built with the trailer dimensions in mind!

So that’s it – another successful project conclusion.  There is always that air of relief, satisfaction, remorse, disbelief when a project is over.  Fortunately, there is always more timber out there, and so many more projects to build!

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