Kit and Tools Tuesdays - Axminster aw 128PT Planer archive
Tuesday 11 February 2014
Geoffrey Laycock puts this trade-rated planer from Axminster through its paces and is very pleased with the results
The first thing that strikes you about the mid-sized offering of this planer/thicknesser is its presence. The smaller AW106PT is dwarfed by this bigger cousin, which itself is not much smaller than the largest AW168PT that has a serious 410mm planing width. Recently undergoing the Axminster rebranding exercise, this trade-rated machine looks smart in its grey livery. With a maximum planing width of 310mm and thicknessing capacity of 220mm and 2.2kW motor to match, this is a serious machine capable of heavy work at a very reasonable price.
Four-blade cutterblockUsing a four-blade cutterblock with resharpenable blades running at 4,000rpm provides 16,000 cuts per minute, and later tests showed this gave a very acceptable finish on a variety of stock. Included was some 200-year-old elm (Ulmus procera) recovered in the 1990s from a church demolition. At just under 300mm wide, this provided a real test for the thicknesser, which passed with flying colours. Pushing the thicknessing cut to the limit did show that the 2.5mm quoted by Axminster - 5mm for the surface planer - is possible, but for this width 2mm was mechanically more sympathetic. A piece of very curly grained Indian rosewood (Dalbergia retusa) went through with much less tear-out than expected, suggesting that the four-blade cutterblock and feed speed work well together. The thicknesser bed sits on a single central column, the preferred system, and this was well set up, as on timber 300mm wide there was no measurable variation in thickness from edge to edge.
ConversionThis planer/thicknesser weighs in at 325kg so is not one to move about too much but that mass, which includes heavily ribbed and nicely machined cast iron tables, helps reduce vibration. Chip extraction works well, the 125mm connection - in this case to an Axminster chip collector unit - ensuring little was left in the machine or on the floor.
Conversion from planing to thicknessing function requires the removal of the fence, which then has to be stored somewhere safe. After that, releasing and raising the two planer beds was easy despite having no gas strut assistance. Flip the extractor hood over to provide cutterblock guarding and it is ready to go. In this configuration, flip back the hood and there is full access to the cutterblock for blade changing, involving the common chipbreaker/wedge system, and to the fluted feed roller, anti-kickback fingers and outfeed roller. As the feed roller is not segmented, only one piece of timber at a time should be fed through, which is not mentioned in the manual, but is a vital safety point. Blades are 30mm deep and can be resharpened until only 17mm deep, so have significant life expectancy.
Adjustment of the fenceA simple adjustable scale for the planer cut depth is easy to use but the rise and fall scale for the thicknesser was as difficult to use as on other similarly equipped machines. A digital readout is available and would be recommended as an essential extra. Start/stop controls are placed at both ends of the main body and were no worse, or better, than similar machines. It would be relatively easy to have these controls in a more accessible position, higher and without obstruction â€“ particularly the emergency stop - and it is time designers and manufacturers attended to these basic ergonomic shortcomings.
Adjustment of the fence was the only real disappointment during the test. Fitted to the test machine was the latest slightly taller and stronger aluminium extrusion, appearing on all new deliveries. This moves across the planer beds easily and locks with one clamp while always providing cutterblock guarding on the reverse side of the fence. It has to be secured very tightly to avoid movement laterally, in itself not a big issue. Setting the fence at an angle is not so easy, requiring two Bristol levers to be released and then tightened again after setting the angle you want. Tightening the levers changed the fence angle, so repeated attempts were needed to get an accurate result.
The cutterblock guard was easily adjusted and fully complies with the needs for protection when surfacing thin timber, thick timber
or edge jointing.
All in all, this is a nicely built and finished unit - no rough exposed cast iron anywhere - with an impressive capacity and quality output designed to be used for up to 1,000 hours annually: to save you the maths, that works out as over four hours' use per working day.
VerdictThis planer/thicknesser could be a good choice for a busy smaller workshop, with its bigger brother available for £1,739.50 if the extra capacity is needed. For a home user, it represents serious value for money - if you have the space! Remember that machines like this look compact until you convert to thicknessing mode and need the extra circulation space. Quality of finish was excellent and although tricky to set up, the fence was liveable with - making setting blocks for frequently used angles would make this much easier.
If you are happy with this design, having both infeed and outfeed beds moved to change operating mode, this could be the one for you. You would probably need to spend considerably more to beat this excellent performer.