My lunchbox planer had served me pretty well over the years, but recently as I have started to work with more rough sawn material, and doing a lot more woodworking in general, I came the conclusion that I needed more performance and capacity in a planer. This led me on a research project that involved all the usual suspects. I went back and forth between 15″ and 20″ models, and the various offerings in these categories were strikingly similar to one another. Then I stumbled upon the multi-function machine from Woodmaster Tools, and several things jumped out at me that separated Woodmaster from the pack:The machines are manufactured in the US, which is almost unheard of in small shop woodworking tools these days.The clever design allows the 718 to also serve as a drum sander, molder and gang rip saw (I have always wanted a drum sander but have never been able to dedicate the space in my small shop).
Every time I called Woodmaster, I talked to a person who could answer all of my questions without having to look anything up. A couple of the folks I spoke with actually own and use the same machine as the one I was inquiring about. That is the benefit of dealing with a small company that sells only two primary items; combination machines such as the 718 and dedicated drum sanders.
I went with the following configuration:
Model 718: 18″ capacity with 5HP farm duty motor
Pro Pack that includes sanding drum, gang rip, and molding head
Setup. Fedex brought the 575 pound shrink wrapped pallet to my home using a lift gate. The driver was rolling it up to my garage door on a pallet jack before I even saw him coming. Everything was packaged well, and it was fun to open each box. I was impressed with the heft and obvious quality of each component as I unpacked it.
The 718 came with a DVD that explained setup, operation and maintenance of the machine. While I don’t generally like reading manuals, I found this DVD to be a great resource. Although the DVD is slightly outdated and the machine has been updated since it was made, there are only slight differences between the model featured in the video and the current model, so the video proved to be quite helpful as reference. The operator’s manual is well written and explained everything that I needed as I set up the machine.
Initial setup took about two hours, which was quicker than I expected. Much of that time was spent tipping the machine, installing casters, and propping the 500 pound machine back up. I couldn’t get over the simplicity of the machine, given its breadth of capabilities. Everything is easily accessible, and has obvious purpose. I believe that anything on the machine could be easily replaced if necessary, although given the industrial strength of all components; I don’t anticipate doing much repair.
Overall Design. After doing a lot of research on an upgrade for my planer, I was about 98% excited about the Woodmaster. My only reservation was around the multi-purpose design of the machine. My anxiety centered around the fear that the requirements of so many functions would force complexity into the machine. For me, complexity is the enemy. I was relieved, and in fact delighted, as I took the cover off the machine to find one of the simplest designs of any tool in my shop. There are surprisingly few parts, and the purpose of each seems pretty obvious. Kudos to the brilliant inventor(s) who seemed to share my love of the K.I.S.S. principle (Keep It Simple, Stupid).
Cutterhead Motor. I went with an upgraded farm grade motor which can withstand continuous use. This is probably overkill for my needs, but I have always been a fan upgraded motors. This one is a massive 5 HP (220/30A) American made Leeson motor, weighs in at about 100 pounds, and looks like it means business.
High Quality Machined Steel. All of the steel components, such as planer heads, molder head, accessory shaft, etc. are made of cold rolled steel and the precision and quality are obvious.
Morse Tapered Shafts and Pivoting Bearings. The easy changeover process is enabled by two clever design points. First, the planer head attaches to shafts that include a Morse taper design at the inward end, providing wiggle room when aligning the planer head for mounting. Additional flexibility is a provided by the use of pivoting bearings that support the tapered shafts as well as the accessory shaft. Each bearing is mounted onto a beefy piece of cast iron which holds the bearing solidly into an aligned position and dampens vibration during operation.
Chain-driven Bed Adjustment. Bed height adjustments are made via threaded shafts powered by a gear driven heavy duty chain. This delivers solid slop free adjustments that do not seem to be effected by vibration from motor operation and lumber milling. Nice mechanism.
Heavy Cast Iron Bed. One thing that I appreciate about the machine’s design is that heavy cast iron is used where it adds value, and lighter steel is used where such mass isn’t needed. The machine’s bed is a robust slab of ribbed cast iron. This dead flat durable platform is critical for maintaining high quality surfaces during all milling operations.
Steel Enclosure. The enclosure is made of heavy gauge steel, which is massive enough to minimize vibration, but light enough to remove for occasional function swap-outs. If I find myself having to remove it frequently, I may opt to add the hinge kit which allows the enclosure to pivot out of the way without having to lift it.
Feed Roller. The standard soft rubber feed rollers are unusual for a planer, and strike me as being more necessary for molding applications where there is not as much surface area to grip after the initial pass when some of the material has been removed. The soft rubber grabs well (sort of like high performance car tires) so they are great at feeding stock, but I anticipate having to replace them at some point.
Woodmaster sells replacements for $40, and they appear easy to replace, so I am not terribly bothered by this assuming that I don’t burn through them too quickly. After a month’s worth of heavy testing I do not see any sign of wear. If excessive roller wear during planing ever becomes a problem, Woodmaster sells a serrated steel infeed roller for just this purpose, but I doubt it will ever become an issue for me.
Thickness Gauge. The machine comes with a simple scale that is magnetic so it can be easily adjusted when different bases are used. It is easy to read, but it can be inadvertently moved, so if I find myself needing more precision in calibrating thickness of cut I will probably add the digital readout at some point.
Crank handle can sometimes bump dust hood. One minor nit about the machine’s design is that hand crank used to adjust the bed height can inadvertently ding the dust hood. Once I got the hang of it I was able to minimize this from happening much, but it feels like a minor design oversight.
Variable Feed Rate. One of the differentiating characteristics of this machine is the fully variable feed rate (with a standard machine configuration this is 0-16 FPM), which is powered by a dedicated feed motor and switch. This is critical for using the same machine to perform all of the functions that the 718 offers, as each of these functions can be optimized at a different feed rate, and further refinement can be performed within each function based upon wood species, figure, character, etc.
Let’s Do Some Tests:First up, Planing.The machine shipped with the standard 3-knife cutterhead so I tested that configuration first. The power of the motor was apparent as it plowed through a 12″ wide plank of hard maple effortlessly, which is something that my lunchbox planer would struggle with. I set the depth of cut to the full 3/16″ that the machine allows, which is nearly 5 times the depth that my lunchbox planer can remove without excessive strain. I couldn’t believe it. Not only did it remove the material, but the motor barely indicated any load, and the sound level was only modest whereas I had anticipated scaring the entire neighborhood with such an aggressive cut.
Snipe. The snipe that I experienced “out of the box” was minimal, and through adjustments in feed roller pressure and slightly tipping both the infeed and outfeed tables up, I was able to remove the majority of it, with only about .002″ to .007″ remaining. The little snipe that remains can be easily removed with a random orbital sander for finished projects, and when using it for surfacing rough planks I normally cut a bit from each end anyway so it becomes a moot point.
Spiral Cutterhead. Since this will likely be my most commonly used accessory on the Woodmaster, I installed it next. The spiral cutterhead is a true helical design, where the blades are set at an angle to the work piece so that they are actually taking a skew cut as a blade passes through the wood, similar to holding a hand plane at an angle to shear the material at a more gentle angle.
This design is ideal for planing figured stock, and any other material that might be prone to tearout with a traditional cutterhead. The process of swapping out the traditional cutterhead for the spiral design was straightforward, and I found the manual to be a great ally. Let’s see how we do with 122 cutting edges.
Once the cutterhead was set up, I fed the same maple plank through and it left an amazing surface quality. The surface wasn’t noticeably cleaner than what was produced by the standard knife style cutterhead had left it, but a bit shinier.
Figured Lumber. Spiral cutterheads are known for putting a great surface on figured lumber while traditional cutterheads can tend to produce tearout on these materials. I ran several different figured and quartersawn planks through the planer, and I couldn’t make it gouge the surface with anything that I threw at it. I planed quartersawn oak, curly cherry, birdseye maple and curly birch, and the spiral cutterhead performed flawlessly in all cases. To make it a fair test, I ran the same boards through with the standard cutterhead installed and although I did notice a small amount of tearout on a couple of the figured pieces when using the standard cutterhead, the results were, surprisingly, pretty similar. I believe this a testament to a high quality standard planer head and precision ground blades on the machine, along with infinite variable speed rate that allowed me to slow the feed down to improve the surface quality.
Sound Levels. My lunch box planer screamed at around 100-105 decibels when planing a 10″ wide maple board, and it was the one tool in my attached shop that I could hear from nearly anywhere in our home (which meant restricted planing hours). The 718 with the standard cutterhead planed the same board while producing about 92 decibels, which is a dramatic improvement. With the spiral cutterhead it ran at about 82 decibals, and it was easy to have a conversation with the planer running. With my dust collector running I can barely hear the planer as it operates. Given that my shop is attached to my house and in a suburban neighborhood, my family and neighbors are unanimously pleased with this attribute of the 718, and I can now plane wood any time I want without disturbing anyone’s serenity.
The only downside that I found with the planing functionality is that the feed rate (maximum 16 fpm with a standard configuration) is a bit slower than other planers in its class, which can generally feed in the 20-30 fpm range. I suspect that this limitation is due to the multi-purpose nature of the machine, where the other functions require lower maximum feed rates. In a follow up conversation with Woodmaster they indicated that they can customize a 718 for faster feed rates (up to 27 FPM), but to be honest, if I hadn’t noticed this on paper, I wouldn’t have noticed it at all because it doesn’t feel slow to me. Also, because it allows such a deep cut into the wood, it will make short work of any planing that I need to do in my shop. Given the choice between higher speed and true variable speed control, I prefer to have the ability to slow the feed rate down to deliver a better surface quality on figured lumber or glued up panels. For me, finish quality is more important than raw throughput.
Next Time. In the next segment of this article I will look at the additional capabilities of the Woodmaster 718, including molding, gang ripping, and drum sanding. I will also share some observations about dust collection.
Watch as Paul changes over the Woodmaster 718 from drum sander to planer:
Photos By Author
718P-153 Model 718 with Pro-Pack $2,874
718-SH2 Spiral head for 718 planer $1,125
3875P Farm Duty 5HP motor upgrade $195
WM47T Crown Top 11/16″ x 4-5/8″ $95
WM47B Crown Bottom 11/16″ x 4-5/8″ $95