One of the most daunting tasks in any woodshop (especially for beginning craftsmen) is sharpening and setting planer or jointer knives. I’ve been making my living in the shop for twenty-some years, and I’m still not really comfortable doing this job. So the first thing I looked for when reviewing Makita’s new 2030S planer-jointer was how their engineers tackled knife installation. I was absolutely delighted with their innovative solutions.
I say solutions, because there are two sets of knives in the 2030S: one for planing and the other for jointing. The jointer is the simpler of the two: just loosen a few set screws and the two-sided, disposable knives slide right out (Figure 1). Installing replacements is just as easy Ð in fact, it’s pretty much impossible to get it wrong. The knives just slide into place, correctly aligned and ready to go as soon as the set screws are tightened. Makita has even built in a drum lock that radically reduces the chances of injury (Figure 2). Just rotate the drum by turning a knob on the exposed end of it: as you do so, a pin slips into place and locks the drum securely while you work.
The only problem I had with this process was figuring it out: the instruction booklet that came with the machine described a much more complicated method that involved using magnetic holders. A pair of holders were included, but they were designed for setting the planer blades. This operation was a little more traditional, but still relatively simple. It was made easier by having such open access to the set plates and knives: the top of the machine opens up and totally exposes the bolts and drum.
Is this a Benchtop Unit?
The top surfaces of all three benches in my shop are 36″ off the floor, the same height as the top of my table saw. If I were to mount the 2030S on any of these benches, the jointer bed would be 53″ high Ð way too high for comfort. The bottom of the planer knives would be two inches lower, which is still a very uncomfortable height. I mounted the unit on a 24″ high stand, which made it just about perfect for my 6′ 2″ body. At that height, the jointer bed was 41″ off the floor, and boards being fed into the planer were just above my waist at 39″.
Getting Set Up
It took about fifteen minutes to remove the factory pallet and plastic that surrounded the unit, and another ten to bolt it to a stand. Installing the crank handle for the planer was a matter of tightening one screw: with that done, I was ready to insert one of two included plastic safety keys and go to work.
The one thing that struck me immediately is how fast the planer table moves vertically. One turn of the crank raised the bed 3/32″, an unusual fraction and one that took some getting used to. Most of the machines I’ve operated in the past have adjusted 1/16″ on a full turn Ð a much easier measurement to keep track of. I discovered on the very first board that the factory calibration was right on the money. That may not sound like a big deal, but I can’t remember a single other machine, gauge or fence in the shop ever being true and accurate right out of the box.
Infeed and Outfeed Tables
Planing long boards safely with a benchtop planer is a two-man operation. Realizing this, the engineers at Makita have added a pair of rollers on the top of the planer housing. The outfeed man can just roll the board back to the infeed man Ð a big improvement on the usual cumbersome exchange.
Long boards were also a consideration in the jointer design. Here, a removable extension table can quickly be locked in place to extend the outfeed table to 30-3/4″ long. That extends the overall bed length to more than four feet, a pleasant surprise on a benchtop unit. Unfortunately, the extension requires support, so it can only be used when the machine is mounted on a bench: the stock machine stand I used offered no support options.
I had a couple of minor reservations about the jointer tables. Being used to a heavy ground cast iron bed, I was a little dubious about the 2030S’s honeycomb base metal frame and its thin, polished steel tops. However, neither seemed to affect the quality of the cut in any way, but a slight wiggle in the infeed table was annoying. The jointer fence was the only real disappointment I experienced in this rather thorough shop test. At 90¡, the fence adjustment across the knives was only 1-3/8″.
So, at its most extended, it still left 4-5/8″ of the knives exposed. That means an operator can’t use the fence to extend the cutter life: as most jointing is done on 3/4″ stock, many woodworkers like to adjust the fence across the knives in 1″ increments to preserve sharp edges as long as possible. It also limits your options when dealing with nicks in the knives Ð you can’t use the fence to work around them.
The fence also fell short of the mark when being set at an angle. This was a very elaborate process. Adjusting the angle requires loosening two hand screws and four bolt heads, then tightening all six when the desired angle is set.
The bottom of the fence isn’t beveled, so at 45¡ there is a 7/16″ gap between the fence and table. And the fence doesn’t have a bevel scale, so you have to set the angle manually with your own protractor, jig or gauge.
Ease of Use Built In
The net weight of the 2030S planer-jointer is 97 lbs. That means it’s a two-man job to move it around. So, for those jobs when you need to bring the planer to a job site, Makita made removing the jointer very easy: just loosen two knobs and lift it away.
That same attention to detail is evident in all aspects of maintenance with this tool. Access to the replaceable carbon brushes couldn’t be easier Ð they’re right under the lift-up hood. Access to the chain that drives the feed rollers is also a snap, and the only maintenance required is periodic lubrication with machine oil.
Dust collection is also easy with the 2030S: a built-in exhaust port can easily be tapped and connected to an individual shop vac or a central dust collection system.
The active part of this shop test consisted of running a number of rock maple and walnut rough sawn boards through the 2030S. Results on the 12-9/16″ planer were quite impressive. Thanks to the 9,000 RPM no-load speed, mill marks (using a fresh set of knives) were virtually invisible. Well-designed feed rollers and generous tables meant that snipe was almost nonexistent.
Feed rate on this model is energetic (34.5 ft/min), but not overly so. Our boards came out with a thickness so uniform that even a 1 mil (1/1000″) gauge couldn’t find any deviation. After about 100 lineal feet of stock, there was no perceptible wear on the knives. Even the noise levels were quite comfortable, a surprise considering the nature and history of similar machines.
My overall impression of the 2030S is that it is a well-designed machine with several innovative features that more than make up for its one design flaw (the jointer fence). I liked all the new twists, from rollers on top of the unit to great access for maintenance, locking knife drums and simple knife replacement. This is a safe machine for beginning woodworkers and a welcome addition to any advanced practitioner’s shop.