One piece of advice when looking for a jointer, look at the biggest that you can afford, then buy the next one bigger.
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A Bit of Advice
I’ve owned a handful of jointers over the years as I’ve grown from a garage hobbyist into a 4,000 squarefoot shop as a professional furniture maker. If I can offer a single piece of advice when you’re in the market for you next jointer, it’s this: get the biggest one you can afford, and then consider going for one size above that. My ultimate decision led to the purchase of the Format-4 Plan 51L jointer.
Most hobbyist woodworkers and even young professionals consider the primary role of the jointer to be edge-jointing wood for panel and tabletop glue-ups. Face-jointing is, however, an equally, if not more important function of the jointer. In contrast to a planer, which produces an overall even thickness, a jointer creates a flattened surface out of a warped and twisted, rough-sawn board.
Rough Around the Edges
The bulk of the rough lumber I bring into the shop ranges in widths between 8” and 11”. In order to flatten the boards on my previous 8” jointer, I had to rip anything above 7.5” in half. Or, reduce it down to 7.5” before face-jointing. This meant I STARTED out with a lot of 4-5.5” wide boards, wasting a lot of material right off the bat, and ultimately ending up with finished boards between 3.5-5” wide. Narrow planks just don’t have the same impact on a tabletop as wide planks do. As a result, I ended up relying on my supplier to surface the first two sides (S2S) and I would use my jointer primarily for edge-jointing.
At first it seemed logical to make just one step up to a 12” jointer, the next incremental size up from the 8”. But every now and then I see 13” or 14” boards, and even 18-19” boards, as well as small slabs. I’d hate to miss out on an opportunity to use those really spectacular boards intact. Since I’m finally at the point in my operation where I can start to make longterm machinery purchases, I decided to go for the biggest, heaviest, most powerful jointer with the longest bed I could afford, hence I have absolutely no regrets about my Format-4 Plan 51L purchase. You can land a small Cessna on this thing.
It’s Here – The Format-4 Plan 51L Jointer
My Format-4 Plan 51L Jointer arrived on the same dedicated truck as my Exact 63 (talk about service). My actual machine was on display in the Felder showroom in Delaware and since it matched the exact specifications I wanted, they happily packaged this one up and sent it my way. The wait for these two machines was very short.
Related Article and Great Review: Felder Format-4 Exact 63 Thickness Planer Review
Just like my Format-4 Exact 63, the Plan 51L was carefully packaged, so it arrived without damage and maintained its factory setup. The fence was true 90º at the stop and the infeed and outfeed tables were exactly coplanar. It’s one thing to imagine what a 10’ long by 20” wide jointer bed will look like in the middle of your shop, but it’s a completely different experience to see it in person. It took some time to adjust final placement of the Format-4 Exact 63, Plan 51L, and the Felder K940s 12’ Sliding Table Saw. All three machines work together as a system and making sure you have room for your maximum possible usage on each machine can be tricky. They each weigh between 1,800-2,500 lbs.
Don’t Let the Magic Smoke Out
If you plan to wire your own machine plugs, here’s a quick tip: check the schematics before plugging anything in. The colors on my L2 terminal leads were different between the planer and jointer according to the documentation, so I called technical support to confirm this was correct before attaching the high leg of my 3-phase power to the cord. You do NOT want to stick the high leg on the wrong terminal, because some of the electronic components are single leg to ground for 120V. Felder’s tech support system is easy to use. The technician was friendly and personable. He pulled up my machine’s actual information by serial number and answered my questions according to my specific machine.
I added a Felder F-48 Power Feeder for this jointer, but unfortunately the mounting bracket was on back order, so I had to wait on their next container load from Austria. I went ahead and set up the machine to use without the power feeder for the time being.
I’d Like to Take His Face… Off.
Imagine feeding a 12” wide board through your planer without an infeed or outfeed roller: just your muscles against a cutterhead. Sound fun? This is why power feeders are great on large jointers. I did surface a few boards on my new Plan 51L before receiving the power feeder bracket. I found that the last clean pass is the hardest. You can do it, but it’s a workout. Once the bracket arrived, I dropped everything on my plate to get the feeder set up.
With the Felder F-48 Power Feeder mounted, surfacing and edging extremely wide and/or long boards is really no struggle. It only takes one person to safely manage them on their faces or edges, against the fence. Especially with the power feeder’s consistent pull, the Silent-POWER cutterhead really stands out. I’ve run boards as wide as this 18.5” piece of 12/4 maple and as long as this 16’ 8/4 ash board by myself with ease.
Take the Edge Off
When edge jointing with the F-48 against the fence, you do run into board width limitation around 12”, give or take, because of the mounting bar, but there are two solutions: straight-line rip on the K 940s Sliding Table Saw, or swing the F-48 out of the way and edge manually by hand (and I’d recommend with a partner). The EURO comfort planer guard really stands out when you’re manually edge-joining on the Plan 51L. You can pull the fence closer to you for a safer position to handle the boards against the fence, and rather than the planer guard sticking out 15” into your path, the EURO comfort guard folds down and out of the way. This is an absolutely brilliant feature.
12/4 or 3-inches
I work with a lot of 12/4 rough lumber, so one thing I want to mention is the 3” height limitation of the planer guard. Technically, 12/4 is 3”, however a rough board that bows up will apply upward pressure on the guard as the power feeder pulls the board across the cutterhead. So I usually slide the EURO comfort planer guard out of the way for the big boards. Your hands stay clear of the cutterhead when using a power feeder as it is, so it’s not an unsafe method, just worth noting.
The power feeder adjustment system is easy to use. It seems to allow infinite adjustment within the outfeed table parameters. The basic three positions are vertically, against the 90º fence, horizontally against the outfeed table “wheels out”, and horizontally against the outfeed table “wheels in”. The “wheels in” position gets you closer to the fence to use as a guide. This seems to be the most common position for face-jointing boards. From this position, you have to rotate 180º as well as tilt it up 90º against the fence for edging. This change in orientation requires the wheels to turn in opposite directions, which is why the “2-speed in each direction” reversible switch on the F-48 Power Feeder is pretty convenient.
Although mine is set up in the middle of the room, the parallelogram fence design of the Format-4 Plan 51L Jointer allows you to position the machine much closer to a wall than traditionally possible on a jointer of this magnitude. This is a huge selling point, depending on your specific shop layout. The Power-Drive infeed table height adjustment is also a standard feature on the Plan 51L. Initially, I considered this a luxury, but I actually find it to be a significant time-saver for dealing with really rough boards. It’s so easy to lower the table for a bigger bite. I find myself using this feature much more frequently than manually adjusting the table in the past.
Down a little lower on the machine, there’s another hidden feature: the Plan 51L has an easily tiltable infeed table for convex and concave results on edge-jointing. Depending on the type of work you do, this can seriously help you tighten your glue seams. I also love that each of my Felder and Format-4 machines have emergency shut off buttons that deactivate the machine. In addition, they also have an on-machine breaker underneath, hence the breaker completely kills the power to the machine.
Bottom line: get a bigger jointer than you think you’ll need. You will not regret it. In my opinion, if you’re looking for a quality European machine, you’d be hard pressed to find a better value for your dollar than the Format-4 Plan 51L Jointer. What you get is build quality and elegant design on par with the Martin equivalents at a significantly more appealing and easier to swallow price tag. My close friend whose shop is 3 miles from mine has the comparable Martin machines and I’ve used them quite a few times. I decided on Felder/Format-4 and I have no regrets.
Click to find out more info on the Felder Format-4 Plan 51L.
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