Gazette Archive 9/26/98
The P-C 557
This wide opening also makes it inferior when positioning slots closely to the edge on outside corners. The fence isn't so stiff that when a corner falls into the opening, the weight of the machine doesn't cause the slot to go in at a slight angle. Plan on centering even smaller biscuits at least 1 3/4" from any edge to get the proper support.
Fortunately Porter-Cable gives you an accessory you can slip over the fence much like the spacer which comes with Lamello machines. This slip-on plastic alignment plate is clear and has handy outside indexing marks to outline edges when cutting smaller slots.
If you buy the P-C 557 for it's narrow stock capabilities and do woodworking for a living, order a second one of these plastic plates when you get your machine. From experience with Lamello machines it's safe to say it won't stand up too long to the rigors of commercial woodworking. You also need to remove it for any interior "T" joints as the fence won't fold flat while the plastic alignment plate is in position.
Lately biscuit machines have evolved into sophisticated adjustment mechanisms providing a wide array of possibilities. For the most part these advances don't sacrifice any of the older functionality with the possible exception of the 557.
There are three reasons for continuing the use of gauge blocks with the current crop of biscuiters. If your fence has some play and doesn't lock down completely parallel to the base, a gauge block will fix it. The second reason involves quickly moving to favorite fence heights. When you find yourself returning often to the same depth, make a block so you don't have to mess with scales and the errors which can occur.
The best reason for gauge blocks prepares you for the unexpected. Many times they've saved my butt when I start gluing a job and realize I missed a slot. No big deal if I haven't changed the fence but a real pain if I have. With glue drying on the other side of the joint, there isn't time to fuss with finding the previous position of the fence. A gauge block makes this adjustment speedy and exact.
The P-C doesn't like gauge blocks. It has a screw-adjusting knob for elevating or lowering the fence which not only makes it slow to change, but feedback when adjusting to a gauge isn't very responsive.
Fortunately there is enough play in the screw to get the fence block-adjusted with a little trial and error but this woodworker doesn't like it. Much better is the DeWalt's rack and pinion mechanism which allows the fence to slide up and down easily. If someone were to buy the P-C, it's a snap to remove the adjustment screw...hint, hint.
Speed Layout - Alternatives to Marking
up Your Work
For biscuit machines so equipped, it's possible to join boards 8" or less without scribbling pencil marks on the wood. For jointing wider pieces, only the interior sections need marking. Using the Virutex, I've avoided making thousands of marks over the years saving myself additional countless hours of extra sanding.
It's Not All Bad
This machine also makes blade changing a snap with it's removable base and shaft lock - only one wrench required. There is something under the baseplate called a 'safety lever' which is engaged when you install the small blade but nowhere in the manual could I find an explanation of what it does. I think it limits back travel of the plunging motion but don't hold me to this.
And there is that thing with the little biscuits. If you're making small projects and think you can use the #FF biscuits to secure your joints, the P-C 557 with it's plastic alignment plate might just be the ticket. At least the dust escaping through the top of the machine shouldn't be too intrusive.
For the rest of us, of all the machines I've looked at recently, the DeWalt gives you the most bang for the buck. Heck, I might even buy you one if you can send me an old Virutex I can use for parts...:)
If you have any comments, good or bad, you can send me email.