Friday 27 March 2009
John Bullar puts this baby combi machine to the test
The Robland HX310 is a medium-sized universal (combination) machine. Built in the company's Belgian factory, largely from European components, it combines a circular table saw, planer/thicknesser and spindle moulder in one single tidy chassis. Its newly styled front panel design is being introduced across the Robland range.
Some sharp-eyed readers may have spotted that we examined another Robland combination machine, the NX310, in F&C150. While the model tested here has a slightly smaller capacity for some jobs, it is pleasing to note that it is physically quite a lot smaller than the other machine; by their nature, combis like these tend to be favoured by small workshops where the space they occupy is at a premium. This HX is also around £800 cheaper than the NX so I was particularly interested to see how well it would perform.
SawingThe start and stop buttons together with the motor selector switch are recessed in an operator-facing panel. A dedicated 3hp motor gives the 250mm sawblade plenty of oomph, so it easily handles hardwood stock up to the maximum 85mm thickness which fits under the crown guard.
The sliding table glides like a dream, even when it is loaded up with a brawny slice of tree trunk.
The extending crosscut fence is fitted with a pair of chunky flip-over stops which securely locate the wood with little chance of them springing sideways.
Rip-cutting against the fence is limited to 600mm wide, and if the board was any wider you would need to guide it manually; however, there is no option for a scoring blade to prevent tearout from laminated surfaces. Although it has a panel saw-type sliding table, this is not the ideal machine for someone who has to handle a lot of man-made sheet or laminated stock for kitchen cabinetry and the like.
Peering beneath the sliding table, I was surprised to see the dust extraction port reduces to about half its diameter inside the machine casing; however, considering the small aperture it has to suck through around the blade, this is probably adequate and there was no sign of it choking up during my test.
PlaningTo move from rip-sawing to surface planing you need to remove one fence and replace it with another in almost the same position - it's surprising Robland couldn't have made the same fence do both jobs; otherwise the change is straightforward.
The 70mm cutter block comes fitted with three high-speed-steel knives as standard and a simple alignment tool pretty well removes the need for any fiddly adjustment.
The infeed and outfeed tables are smooth and well levelled with deep ribbing underneath, and the vibration is negligible. Results from the planer were good. Alternatively you can order the HX310 with an optional Tersa knife block.
ThicknessingThe surface planing tables lift out of the way ready for thicknessing, swinging back from the machine in a butterfly-wing action to give moderately good access to the cutter block and steel feed rollers.
Rise and fall of the cast-iron thicknessing table beneath is supported on a substantial central column with a basic height indication on the end of the table. The height was not particularly easy to read or accurate but I always check important thicknesses with a dial or Vernier gauge anyway. The table and cutter were level, providing even thicknessing to within 0.1 of a millimetre across the width of a 180mm board.
Spindle MouldingThe spindle moulder has a fixed-speed drive belt so there is only one speed available on the single-phase machine. The 3-phase version offers half speed by electriconically switching the motor windings from the recessed control panel. This arrangement simplifies the design and probably makes it more robust compared to belt speed changing, but it does mean that big cutters may have to work fast. No tilt is available.
The cast-iron guard and aluminium fence are pretty sturdy and stood up rigidly to the beating they got when making a deep profile in one pass. I couldn't fault the finish, although for fine furniture work I would sneak up on the shape in smaller bites. This is a sturdy basic moulder without some of the finer points found on bigger machines.
MortisingThere is also a slot-mortising option, which happened to be fitted on the machine I tested. This takes the form of a long router-like cutter secured in a chuck on the end of the planer spindle.
The wood is clamped to a small cast-iron table on a sliding outrigger mechanism beneath the chuck.
This system, commonly available on European machines, has never really caught on in the UK; however the Robland mortiser is a particularly sturdy example and anyone taking up the option can expect clean-cut joints from it.
The verdictThe HX310 is a tidy machine, not quite as versatile as its bigger brother the NX310. For example: lack of scoring option means you cannot make a clean cut on laminated kitchen panels and 1-speed moulding on the single-phase version could be limiting if you do a lot of shaping; however, the HX is as rock-solid as the rest of the Robland range.
While owning a combi cuts down the number of machines needed in the workshop from three or four to just one, packing several small machines into one chassis can sometimes result in a bit of a monster. The overall size of the HX310 shown in the manual is 2753 x 1775mm including the mortiser. Without it the footprint is around 2310 x 1775mm. In practice you obviously need more
space each side to slide the table, extend the crosscut fence and walk around the machine. Not cheap, the HX310 is good value.