Browsing the WMH tool catalog is like walking through the ultimate well-equipped shop: it’s hard to find anything they don’t have. You’ll see every imaginable configuration of sanders, table saws, band saws, planers, drill presses, jointers, dust collectors, mortisers, shapers, vises and clamps, variously sporting the justifiably famous JET, Powermatic, and Wilton names.
“We’re pretty much category killers,” admits Steve Erbach, the director of the woodworking group. “Take lathes, for example. We make everything from a little pen lathe that weighs 40 pounds to massive 900-pound Powermatic wood lathes, and a whole lot in between.” It’s fair to say that if you need it for woodworking, odds are they make it.
And they’ve been making it for a long time. Take JET, for example, a company that got its beginnings almost half a century ago in Tacoma, Washington. In 1958, a scrap iron dealer named Les Sussman created Tacoma Equipment Importers and started importing hoists, material handling equipment and some metalworking tools. His JET brand name soon encompassed a wide range of woodworking machinery as well. The name changed to JET Equipment and Tools in 1989 when Walter Meier Holdings Company became its parent company. A decade later, they bought Performax and Powermatic, and in 2002, a merger with Wilton Tool resulted in a new name; the WMH Tool Group.
What is unusual is that, although they are a venerable company with a long and respected history, they refuse to rest on their laurels, and instead are constantly improving and redesigning. “I think over the years we have shown ourselves to be the leading innovators in woodworking tools,” Erbach told me. “Over the last three years, we’ve come out with over 30 new products, and introduced nineteen new woodworking tools at the AWFS in Las Vegas this year alone.” (AWFS, of courser, is the industry shorthand for the Association of Woodworking and Furnishings Suppliers’ huge trade show.)
Come take a peek with me at a few of the innovations on just four of the new entries; a long bed jointer with insert tooling, some outstanding new parallel clamps, a state-of-the-art mortiser, and a monster of a lathe.
What’s the worst routine maintenance job in the shop? For me, it has always been changing and setting up jointer blades. For years, I’ve prayed that someone would offer a jointer with pop-in, self-locating insert tooling, like the knives in my portable planer. JET has stepped up to the plate with just such a tool: their six-inch, long-bed jointer.
In addition to convenient front-mounted adjustment wheels, the jointer’s three-knife cutterhead boasts double-edged insert knives with positive registration holes. Forget all that tweaking and measuring to set the blades. These knives simply bolt on with machine cap screws and are automatically positioned in a fraction of the time. When they get dull, flip them over to expose a new, sharp edge, and you’ll be back to work in just minutes.
JET’s new line of parallel clamps, made in their own factory, are loaded with clever patent pending innovations that make these some of the easiest clamps you’ll ever use. Oversize jaws with high impact, glue-resistant, anti-mar faces afford a large clamping surface area, and can exert up to a half ton of 90 degree clamping. On the bar itself are reference markings to facilitate quicker clamp setup and a moveable end stop for repeat positioning.
The head, which is reversible for spreading as well as clamping, incorporates a quick release that operates with a convenient trigger and a cushioned, ergonomic handle. Screw-in posts let you quickly mount each clamp via the benchdog holes in your workbench, and optional Cross Doc ® framing blocks let you assemble four clamps to create a fixed frame for square glue-ups.
“The Powermatic 701 Benchtop Mortiser is the ultimate benchtop mortiser made in the world,” Steve Erbach told me. “The whole machine is very intuitive, and no tools are needed for any adjustments. It has a rack-and-pinion controlled head that rides on dovetailed ways, and features a positive in-line depth lock that, unlike many offset locks, actually works.” A large handle can be mounted for either left- or right-hand operation, and the T-slots on the base accommodate adjustable bearing-mounted guides that allow easy lateral movement while positioning the wood firmly against the fence.
Mounted on the back are a diamond-impregnated cone for hand honing your chisels to keep them sharp, and a tool holder for storing them. The hold-down, which adjusts all the way to the base for thin stock, is sturdy enough so that the wood won’t lift up on the return stroke, but perhaps the slickest feature is a set of bushings that act as a built-in gap setter to create the ideal bit-to-chisel clearance.
Erbach calls the 3520B lathe “a vast improvement over the 3520.” This 650-pound monster has a two-horsepower motor, a 20 inch swing, and 34 inches between centers, and it’s loaded with clever innovations. For starters, there’s a digital readout for its infinite variable speed motor, which goes from zero to 3,200 rpm. The top of the head has been flattened to accommodate a convenient tool pad, and the headstock is chamfered to allow better access to the back side of a mounted bowl.
There’s a spindle index for fluting and fancy turning, an offset toolrest for greater tool post adjustment, a brass tipped sliding drift hammer that won’t mar centers, and a tool caddy on the side for the hammer, wrenches, and centers. Two rear supports hold an outrigger that mounts on the back of the tailstock and headstock for quickly measuring diameters when turning duplicates. If that isn’t enough, there’s even a covered storage compartment hidden in the tailstock.
The PM2000 Powermatic Table saw does everything the old Model 66 did, but comes with a host of bells and whistles to boot.
As I said, that’s just a sampling of some of the innovations in store. Browse the JET and Powermatic websites and dealers and you should have no trouble generating a very respectable wish list. After all, Christmas is coming up fast.