Spindle Cutters

Headed into Carbatec today to have a quick play with a spindle moulder they have on the shop floor.  Wasn’t in a position to fire it up, but still it was very interesting to explore the machine a bit closer.

The spindle chosen was 30mm diameter, to match the cutters I have from Toolstoday.com

Just taking the spacers off the spindle, and I quickly became aware that the tolerances on a spindle moulder are quite precise.  The two nuts on the top of the spindle have opposite threads, decreasing the possibility that they can work loose.  The moulder is reversible, so this also explains why the nuts have opposing threads.  The reversibility of the spindle moulder is one of the distinct advantages it has over a router table.  (Of course you also have to turn the cutter upside down if you are going to run it backwards, so it is an obvious advantage the cutters do not have an attached shaft like a router bit!)

The first cutter I set up was the Insert Spiral Jointing Cutter.

It has 12 cutters set in a staggered pattern around a spiral – although not a slicing action, this still has the advantage of easy chip clearance, and a much lower power requirement than if it was full width straight blades.  Chippers are reportedly a lot quieter than straight cutters as well.




Each tooth has 4 sides, so keeping blades sharp is a simple matter of rotating the cutter to have a new edge doing the work.  An engraved dot on each blade helps you keep track of which edges are still fresh.

Replacing carbide cutters are also quite cheap if one is used up, or breaks.  I haven’t seen one break myself, on this or on other cutters (I have some router bits that use them), but it is potential if you hit something hard, carbide being brittle, as well as exceptionally hard itself.

They are a great looking cutter, and I can assure you the carbides are sharp (from a bit too personal experience while handling the cutter – just a slight scratch, but a reminder just how sharp the blades are).

untitled-1 The cutter in this case has a wider diameter hole than needed for a 30mm shaft, but reducers adapt the cutter to fit your particular machine.  The tolerances are surprisingly close – not too tight that it jambs on, but you can feel it slip on the shaft without any play whatsoever.

I have set this cutter up with a bearing guide above, but you could also choose to have it below as well if preferred for the particular application.  The fence is somewhat optional because of the bearing, but I would suggest it is a safety feature, preventing work making an undue degree of contact with the cutter (particularly at the wrong angle).  The fence on this particular spindle moulder is very agricultural, and would quickly frustrate me with the various holddowns (sounds like a perfect situation for the MagFence, and/or power feed!)

One of the advantages of this setup over a traditional jointer, is that bearing (called a rub collar in this application) being ‘the fence’ means you are not limited to planing straight surfaces only.  Even if doing straight surfaces, after flattening one face of a board, it can then rest fully on the table when you machine the edge, rather than trying to hold it against the vertical fence of the jointer.

The other moulder cutter I set up was the Profile Pro Multi-Shaper starter set, along with a massive rub collar!  They say it is for arched or cathedral doors, but I reckon it is for cathedral arches!

untitled-3In this case I chose to mount the rub collar below the cutter head.  It spins freely (and is proud of the table), and allows you control over what you are cutting by following an attached template.  Again, using the fence is mandatory, if only for safety’s sake.

Although I am only showing the straight cutters here, there are 7 different profiles in the set, and a whole heap more you can buy (relatively cheaply).  There is also a blank blade set if you want to have a workshop machine a specific profile you require.

To give you an idea of the scale we are talking about here, if you were using a router for this job, this is the equivalent router bit.


That certainly says something doesn’t it!

I am hoping at the show this weekend to be able to fire up one (or both) these cutters, to see the things in action not sure which stand will have a working moulder as yet – Gabbett Machinery will certainly have their combo machine there – hope they are provided sufficient power!


Spindle Moulder

Been a long time since I even thought about spindle moulders.  Last time was when I was lamenting the fact that router tables are the poor cousin of the primary workshop machines.  That situation has not changed significantly in the intervening years, although some companies have come out with some pretty nice aftermarket versions.

There are some router tables around – cast iron tops, no motor, some fence that looks like it hasn’t changed in design since the ’30s.  Whoever designed them I’d seriously question if they were a woodworker, let alone if they used the table they came up with.

The spindle moulder is the machine the router table should have been, and there is quite the range.  The reason I wrote them off before is if it came down to a router table or a spindle moulder, the router table won simple because of the range of bits that I have.  Yes, you can fit router bits in a spindle moulder, but they have a top speed of around 10000-12000RPM.

A router table can reach 20000-25000RPM whereas a spindle moulder typically only gets to 10000RPM.  That is fine for the much larger spindle moulder cutters, but is slow for the small diameter router bits.  Perhaps not as restrictive as I once considered.

However, I now have a couple of different spindle moulder cutters from Toolstoday.com and they are quite spectacular.  I’m looking at them and thinking that it would be really useful to to be able to use them in the workshop and therefore the whole spindle moulder concept has reemerged.

There are a few definite advantages to a spindle moulder (although you’d have to ensure the model chosen had these- no point getting a machine and missing out on the very advantages possible).

Other than the overall size, moulding cutters etc, a spindle moulder is not restricted to the one direction of rotation.  If the item you are working on would be better approaching the cutter from the other direction, this is achievable.

Secondly, you are not restricted to working with your cutter (or router bit) perpendicular to the table.  A spindle moulder can be set at an angle, thus significantly increasing the range of profiles that are possible by presenting the cutter or router bit at an angle to the work (or rather, at an angle that is not 90 degrees!)

I am sure there is more to the whole concept, but I don’t have that real insider’s knowledge of the machine (yet).  However, there is another machine that I will in all likelihood be getting a lot more familiar with before even the potential of having a spindle moulder surfaces…..more on that if things come together…..(intrigue….)

In the meantime, these are the cutters I have that I will be reviewing shortly, and both are really piquing my interest.

cutter1This one is a planing head, and is about the size of a fist, or a slightly shorter version of a jointer head.  The difference between it and a jointer head is that bearing at the base.  You can use this head to surface a material that isn’t flat – it will follow a template, and that makes it like the offspring of a jointer and template copying bit.  Why be restricted to making something smooth and flat, when it can be smooth and curved?

There is a lot of similarity between a spindle moulder and router table – some tasks could be done on either.  But I wonder how the quality in finish changes between a very small diameter router bit doing a finished surface, and the much larger moulder cutter doing the same with a significantly shallower angle of attack?

A template copying bit looks like a baby, or a toy alongside this surfacing cutter.


This is not the best photo of the Profile Pro, but it gives you an idea.

cutter4 There are HEAPS of interchangeable cutters for it.

cutter5Appears to be around 140 different profiles available, plus blank cutters so you can get your own made!

While looking this up on the Toolstoday.com website, I came across some other cutters for the spindle moulder, such as this variable width groover.

cutter3And again – remember these can be used in a reverse direction if that is a better direction of approach for the work.

Some cutters (such as for the Profile Pro) are high speed steel, others are replaceable carbide.  Either way, there is no excuse not to have a sharp tool.  They are easy to remove and resharpen, or can be rotated (or disposed and replaced very cheaply).

So the spindle moulder has raised itself up into my awareness again, as a very serious workshop tool.


Link with the past

After reading my article on line shafts, Evan suggested I look at the following video on YouTube.

It is an excerpt from a 1981 documentary about a craftsman who is still using a water-powered (and line-shaft enabled) workshop from the 1840s.  It is 26 minutes long and does a pretty good job of documenting the creation of a project in this workshop.

The video starts with a bit of blacksmithing, which is interesting in its own right, but the majority of the video is about the creation of a large water trough for cattle, completed in a single day using techniques that are very similar to that a cooper would utilise to create a barrel. A very large barrel!

What I found fascinating, and really very invigorating and inspiring (used enough adjectives here?) is the machines in this workshop are practically no different from those in mine, and many others around the place.  We may utilise electricity rather than water power, but little else has changed.  We would be quite comfortable operating in a workshop of the 1840s, and in turn someone from that era would find ours very familiar as well.  Our links with our roots are not very long at all.

A tablesaw is still very recognisable as a tablesaw, as with the thicknesser, jointer, horizontal borer etc.  It seems the only really new technology in our workshops is the router, and even then it is quite possible the spindle moulder dates back far enough to be included in water powered workshops.  In 1925 they were still using flat-sided cutters, so that is something we can be grateful has improved over time! (Kickbacks would have been common, and incredibly violent).

So have a look at Ben Thresher’s mill, right out of the pages of history, and enjoy as I have, that we are still keeping these traditions alive in our own workshops.  The digital age of woodworking seems to be approaching, CNC, laser, 3D printing etc, so lets not allow our craft and skills to be lost in the way that digital photography has affected (what I call) chemical photography, and what computers and iTunes is slowly doing to music. (Had to end on a note of controversy!)

Some more moulding profiles

 These are some more of the 30 odd profiles available for the Triton 15″ Thicknesser


Episode 22 Triton 15in Thicknesser – Moulding

Episode 22 Triton 15in Thicknesser – Moulding

This is the third of three videos looking at the new Triton 15in Thicknesser. This installment shows in detail using the unit to make a moulding. A fourth video looking at fitting an aftermarket digital height gauge will be available in the near future.

Moulding Blades

I’ve spoken recently about moulding blades normally used in spindle moulders that can also be used in the Triton 15″ Thicknesser.

I thought I’d take a couple of photos of some, to give a better idea what these things are. I’ve also included a ruler, to give a better idea of their size.



These are only a sample of the over 30 different profiles that are available from Triton for the Triton Thicknesser. For those using spindle moulders, or those wanting to fit after-market profiles to the Triton, there are hundreds of designs, from companies like Carbatec.

Have a look at the top photo – imagine a router bit that large!

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