Rockin' the Joint

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This article is from Issue 3 of Woodcraft Magazine.

Rikon’s new 6" jointer offers two speed ranges, selectable power switch location, a closed base and the easiest fence adjustment around.

THE FIRST STEP IN TURNING ROUGH STOCK into usable material is jointing one side flat, and one edge straight and square to the flat side. We lust after 10" jointers with beds like the deck of an aircraft carrier, but there are few projects for which stock can’t be prepared with a 6" jointer and a portable planer. In the last decade the cost of a decent jointer has actually gone down, while the difference between features of imported brands has pretty much become a choice of color.

When Rikon’s 6" jointer arrived for testing, no one was overly excited at the prospect of moving, setting up, testing, and then tearing down “just another import jointer.” At first glance it has the same cookie-cutter look of most jointers of Asian manufacture.

But looks can be deceiving. Rikon has incorporated several features that set this jointer apart from other machines in its price range of $550.

Nuts and bolts

The machine came in two boxes, one containing the enclosed base and motor, the other the jointer body, fence and miscellaneous components. The enclosed base had the 1.5-hp, 120/240 volt, 12-amp TEFC motor already mounted, and the two-step pulley installed on the motor, making initial setup simple.

The jointer and fence are well packaged in fitted Styrofoam inserts. The box had taken a beating, but all components arrived in good shape. My only packaging complaint was handholds had been molded into the Styrofoam to make it easier to remove the jointer body/table assembly – a nice touch, except the handholds were located at the outer ends of the tables where you shouldn’t pick up a jointer. Rikon has assured me production units will have instructions placed inside the packaging for correctly lifting the jointer to prevent damage.

After the jointer is fixed to the base, the front-mounted table height adjustment handles can be installed. I prefer front-mounted wheel adjusters; it’s easier to make precise adjustments with them than lever-style adjusters, and more convenient than under-the-table adjusters of any style.

The power switch and adjustable height tower come assembled, and can be mounted on the left or right side of the base cabinet. Connecting the switch wires inside the cabinet is simplified by color-coded, snap-together connectors. The cabinet comes set up for a right-side mount, but shifting it to the left requires only removing a plastic plug from the predrilled base cabinet and rerouting motor and power cords to that side. 

Rikon uses a flat-ribbed drive belt rather than a traditional V-belt. The automotive industry recognized the advantages of flat-drive belts years ago, and this jointer is one of only a few home-shop machines updated to a flat belt. Rikon provides stepped pulleys installed on both the motor and the cutterhead, giving you the choice of 4,500 rpm and 5,500 rpm cutterhead speeds. This combination of flat-belt drive and dual speed ranges is the most innovative jointer drive system out there. The slower speed is great for heavy cuts when facing rough stock, while the belt can be moved to the higher-speed pulley for smooth finish cuts.

Belt tension is supplied by a large turnbuckle attached to the motor mount. Speed changes are made by loosening the tensioner, rolling the belt to the opposite pulley step on both the jointer and motor, and then tensioning the belt. The tension adjuster works very easily, so you have to be careful not to over-tighten the belt.

THE RIKON FENCE incorporates a rack-and-pinion system for fine cross-bed adjustment, and a gear-driven tilting mechanism.

The fence came assembled and required only setting it on the jointer and installing the main lock handle. This fence is another unique Rikon design. As a general rule, a 6" jointer fence has a handle to lock across-the-bed movement or a rack-and-pinion adjuster, and a locking handle for angling the fence. Rikon uses a rack-and-pinion for primary across-the-bed fence adjustment, but it only moves the fence about half the bed width. For gross adjustments the fence is unlocked and moved in the normal fashion of jointers without rack-and-pinion adjustments. The rack-and-pinion travel is limited by the room required for Rikon to add a gear-driven tilting mechanism, another feature that differentiates this jointer.

Between the rack-and-pinion assembly and the fence is a folding handle that operates the tilt gear, allowing one-handed, accurate angling of the fence. Just think about it: You can actually hold on to your 45-degree square while adjusting the fence to it. This is much better than my old import where you need four hands: one for the fence, one for the square, one for the fence lock, and one to use as a dead blow hammer to bump the fence that last couple of degrees.

Flat and square

To me, a straightedge test is the crucial point in setting up any jointer – if the tables and fence aren’t flat, the jointer can’t be tuned to produce flat stock. Flat tables can be adjusted to be coplanar (flat in relation to each other) by shimming the dovetailed ways where the tables attach to the jointer body, but twisted or bowed tables will never produce consistent work.

Before working on coplanar, I used a straightedge to check the individual tables first longitudinally front, center, and back, then diagonally in both directions. I happen to be lucky enough to own a Starrett 4' straightedge, and used a .005" feeler gauge as my go/no-go gauge. Both tables passed easily. 

After adjusting both tables level and rolling the cutterhead over so no blades were above the tables, I checked the tables for coplanar alignment and found the bed was high in the middle. Bummer. Table shimming isn’t one of my favorite ways to pass an afternoon. 

A quick check of the gib screws on the outfeed table (which I should have checked as part of the initial setup) showed that four of six gib screws were loose. Tightening gib screws is at best a matter of practice and feel, at worst a try-until-you-get-it-right affair. They should be tight enough to prevent table sag but allow the tables to move without binding or jerking on the dovetailed ways. After adjusting all the gib screws on both tables I rechecked the flatness. Again, I could not get a .005" feeler gauge under the straightedge. If there are any published standard specifications for table flatness I have never seen them, but for my own jointer I am happy with anything under .010". This has worked for me for the last 40 years. 

While we are on the subject of gib screws, the upper (third) gib screw on each table is the gib lock. The lock screws have a small metal tab for tightening and the outfeed table lock is located awkwardly under the fence’s mounting casting. I would prefer larger gib lock handles, and the center screw position used as the lock, not the upper. 

I squared the fence to the infeed table at the far right end and the fence was square along its full length to both tables. I had to fiddle (a high-tech term for several adjustments necessary prior to an exact location being fixed) with the 90-degree stop adjusting bolt in order to get the fence to return to exactly square after being moved.

The cutting edge(s)

The cutterhead is a standard three-knife design with jack-screw blade adjusters shared by most 6" jointers, with one big difference – the Rikon design features a hole in the outside edge of the front bearing holder, with three corresponding holes in the end of the cutterhead. To lock any knife at top dead center, just roll the selected blade up until the holes are aligned and insert the locking pin. This is one of those things that should make other jointer manufacturers hit their foreheads and say “duh.” Yes, the knives will still try to move when you do the final tightening, and getting them exactly even will still be taxing, but at least the head will stay exactly where you need it so you’re only fighting one piece at a time.

I’ve always thought of the jointers of the same size, from the reputable companies, as pretty much the same. And why not? Jointers haven’t changed much in the last 25 years, and for good reason. They served the function they were intended for. 

Rikon is challenging that status quo by adding features that are true benefits, not just different color paint. If I were looking for a 6" jointer, I’d stop by a dealer and take this machine for a “test drive” before making any final decisions.

Contact: Rikon Tools, (877) 884-5167          — Tim Rinehart


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