Monday, March 21, 2011

Sears Benchtop Jointer Review

Here's a little product review for my new acquisition. I was looking around for a jointer to help make some of my small-batch production schemes easier on the elbows. Hand planing gets tiresome if you're doing eight of the same thing.

Space is always an issue. My shop is as small as some walk-in closets. Machinery has to be compact and portable. This limits me sometimes to "home handyman" items. That being said, I look for good value.

This little jointer is from Sears in the USA. It isn't available in Canadian retail locations, but ordering online was easy - Sears is using an online customs broker which means I don't get hit for duty fees at the time of delivery. That's a nice touch. It arrived within a week.

This model (351.217890) has a 4-1/8" capacity. Small? Yes. But that's wide enough for my purposes. The main feature that drew me to this machine was the lapped granite bed and fence. The major failing with all these little benchtop machines is warped castings. The customer feedback on this one was five stars. I felt safe taking the plunge.

Assembly was quick - just screwing some brackets in place and affixing the fence. The fence pivots to 45 degrees, a feature I'm not likely to use so I screwed things down firmly at right angles. What do you know! - It was both square and flat. The depth adjustment had me scratching me head until I discovered the locking knob on the back side of the machine.

In this price range, there's no hoping for a fence that slides across the bed. If I was edge-jointing 3/4" stock continuously I might devise a plywood arrangement to slip over the fence and move the cut forward to prevent all the wear happening in the same location on the blades.

I took it for a maiden voyage using some Douglas fir scrap. The universal motor whines in the usual fashion but at least the cutter head is belt driven.

There seems to be an onboard impeller that sends the shavings flying . I'll need to buy an adapter to perfect the fit between my shop vac and the dust port.

The lines on the face of the board are from rough planing. The joined edge came out dead straight over 15". I was pleased.

Time for something more challenging. Here's a neck blank about 3-1/2" (88mm) wide. It's Honduran mahogany with some ribbon figure and a twist in the grain.

Two quick passes - I'd set the depth of cut for a shallow bite, using the supplied push blocks for safety....

And voila! Shimmering clean. There are a couple of little burnish marks from where I'd neglected to wipe the shipping oil off the edge of the machine. The 29" board came out nice and flat.

And now the ultimate test. A rough-sawn ebony fingerboard. It too posed no problem. I rushed the feed a little when doing the edge, magnifying the problem inherent in all rotary jointers. That wave can make for less-than optimal glue joints which is why I'll always clean up a joined edge on my shooting board to ensure perfectly smooth glue-friendly surfaces. It's nice to have the machine to do the bulk of the rough work though!
All in all, my first impressions are very favorable. I can't speak for durability, but out of the box this is a tool capable of fine accuracy.


  1. Overall, would you recommend it. I have a small shop as well and build acoustic guitars too. Since i'll be using ebony and other hardwoods like mahogany I need to know if this is a good product for me. (Good enough at least) Cleaning up the scarf joint on the neck especially.

    1. I would recommend it for the person who is doing small-scale work. It works well on ebony and mahogany. As for cleaning up scarf-joints, I wouldn't recommend doing that task on any jointer. The registration surface is very short and all endgrain! It's hard not to rock, and dangerous. That task is better done on a stationary belt or disk sander.