Planer Thicknesser - Old one with a helical head?

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27 Jan 2020
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I've just moved house and have tonnes and tonnes of work to do. Built in cabinets etc etc. Also have a much larger workshop.

I'm looking at a planer thicknesser and at the moment it seems like the Axminster AW2260S has good reviews and a spiral head. It's 1500 quid or so...

But I also am looking at older planer thicknesses (start rite etc) and then thinking adapting them with a spiral/helical head. I wonder if I could end up with a nice solid unit for less money, with the same advantages?

What do you guys think?
There are companies in America/Canada which make spiral/helical heads for older machines but they are very expensive from memory a 12" Wadkin was going to cost around £1400 plus shipping, which if you add on to a decent machine is about the same as a new Hammer
It does seem that some of the 10" machine replacement parts are cheaper
A retrofit helical head will likely cost several times more than any secondhand machine you will want to buy, If I remember correctly one to fit a 12” machine such as a Sedgwick MB is over £1000 and you may have to pay import duties to get it from wherever abroad you buy it, then you have to fit it.

In my opinion they are largely a waste of money unless you have a specific need for it which 99% of people do not have. You can buy a lot of planer knives for how much a helical head costs and they aren’t particularly difficult to set up at all despite how many people moan about it.

Helical heads, in particular the ones from the United States and China are also more dangerous than regular straight-knife planer heads as well as they are poorly designed with no chip limiting, this can cause severe kickback and can draw your hand into the block and cause an amputation if your hand accidentally comes into contact with the cutters. You have to buy a CE marked one if you want a safe cutterhead, which would involve buying one already fitted to a machine for sale here such as a Felder or SCM.
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Personally after reading up on it a bit, mainly reviews from users, I would go for Tersa blades. You could probably pick up an older mc as you were suggesting easily enough and the finish is actually better on the vast majority of woods than helical cutters which come into their own on the most difficult of grain patterns, but also I’ve never had tear out on any timber that I’ve put through my Tersa mc.
Have a look at a Minimax FS 350 (single phase 16amp) and congrats on your new larger workshop.
Sheartak costs seem to be roughly 60% of what you are kicking around. A grand Canadian is £570. Sheartak have files on tons of heads they have made and will make ones they haven't made before without any surcharges. You order from Canada and they make the heads in their factory in Asia and I believe send them direct to you. You would have to check by contacting them and then decide for yourselves whether they are what you want. I don't know what kind of import dancing you will have to do. @Woodman22nd on this forum is with them. Get it from the horses mouth rather than relying on me.

What does a chip limiting insert head look like verses one that doesn't? The only ones I recall seeing that might loosely fit your description are the small diameter ones they try to put in portable machines.

ITech 260SS in my view beats them all for number of cutting heads (66) thus quietness and quality of cut, ease of conversion from planer to thicknesser. I’ll post a link to a really useful youtube on planer thicknesser choice when I find it. Paul
Pls look for Rag’n’bone Man on youtube….. but not the wonderful songsmith! There are two relevant videos..first where he contrasts and compares planer thicknesser choices before purchase and a second one where he reveals his final choice. Paul
You can buy a lot of planer knives for how much a helical head costs and they aren’t particularly difficult to set up at all despite how many people moan about it.
There seems to be far more spiral cutter block machines than helical cutter blocks so is the helical block for a more niche market ?

The way to go is with the Tersa cutter block which is how I would have gone with hindsight
Personally after reading up on it a bit, mainly reviews from users, I would go for Tersa blades.

If you think how long these machines have been around then these new fangled cutter blocks with lots of individual cutters might just be a fad, I think some people have realised just what a pain it is to replace or rotate all those cutters when compared to changing the knives in a Tersa block and if you want something of quality then maybe look at older iron heavyweights which do come up at good prices if your workshop floor can take the weight.
I’ve never owned a helical or spiral block pt, but have used one. As far as I am aware (and please do your own research) you often can’t take as big a chomp with them, as they require more motor power to run (something to do with the motor not being able to get back up to speed between knife contacting the component, whereas with the two or three knife options the knife is only contacting for a very brief period)
Re finish. Normal knives kept sharp are really good. Unless you are always working with exotic hardwoods with odd grain patterns or trying to thickness burr etc I’m not sure of the benefit, and as for me this is such a rarity I can gently oversize thickness them then take them down by hand with planes and cabinet scrapers. Or in a pro environment use the old wide belt sander/calibrator..
I do see the benefit re less cost and time changing knives, as they often gather nicks and it is simply identifying one 4 sider and spinning it rather than a knife change..
if you are concerned about the length of time changing knives there is a product that converts most pts or thicknessers to accept a Tersa style knife (not technically a Tersa but does click in and no messing about)
I can’t remember who makes it as I never bought it due to a circumstance change, but it’s basically a knife carrier that lives in the cutter head permanently, and the knives just auto allign into it. So you have to spend a bit of time getting the adapter fitted properly once only.
It is also significantly more cost effective than either a Tersa block or a helical head etc. someone here might remember the manufacturer, and you could search on their website to see if they make a product for any prospective secondhand pt that you were eyeing up ?
If anyone comes up with the answer I for one would be interested!

If you are asking about the quick change blade system that @Sam Kilby mentioned he was probably talking about the ESTA (Bruk, Barke) system. I use them on my old Sedgwick planer and think they are great. There is no setting involved, the blade carrier has 2 little lugs which just sit on the block.

ETSA blades.jpg

A bit of info on them here

Also available from Scott & Sargeant (among others)
I had to fit the esta bruck carriers and disposable double sided blades on my Record PT107 because I just could not get the original knives setup, I tried all the jigs and different methods but could not get it cutting clean until using the esta system which I got from advanced machinery but at £70 for each of the three carriers although the disposable blades do work out cheaper. It is a good retrofit but with better research I would not have brought any machine unless it had the Tersa blades.
For info I spoke to Sedgwick today about adding a spiral/tersa head to an old mb and they ballparked me at about £2500…they said sadly you can’t just swap them in an out it’s needs machining but they seemed happy to do it and it would come with a full strip and service as well.

A lot of money….BUT the used machine I was looking at was £1100 so compared to buying a new tersa or spiral mb off them it’s cheap as chips!
Also just to add…I agree with other sentiments above I think spiral heads are a bit of the newest fad and smoke and mirrors and industry’s way to sell something new.

Yes the finish is nice but when are you ever realistically going to use a piece of wood straight off the planer in any kind of joinery or furniture making which doesn’t undergo finishing afterwards either sanding, scraping or planing….

Also sharp knives and skewing the wood across the block is the method that’s been used for tricky grain since edge tools have been touching wood…

Only real reason I can see for spiral is being a hobbyist in a garage where noise is a problem because they are considerably quieter…