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All of the MiniMax Jointer Planers sold in the USA in the last decade or more use Tersa cutters. These are dual sided disposable Swiss knives (on which the patents recently expired) that slide in from the end of the special cutter head - 3 or 4 knives per head, depending on the model. When the cutter is started, the knives automatically align themselves, and the gibs automatically tighten. If you have manually adjusted cutter knives, this will seem like magic, but it really works. To remove the knives, tap the gibs (the black pieces next to the blade) loose, in about 1/16 inch, and the knives slide sideways (I lightly tap with a mallet and a large flat screwdriver, but you can buy a special brass tapping tool if you can't afford a screwdriver). There is a hole in the end of the casting that the knife comes out... I suggest putting marks next to that hole to show how the blade aligns to go back in. If you get a nick in a blade, the knife can be slid sideways enough to hide the nick. I find the change-over time to be less than a minute per knife - total less than 3 minutes on my machine. Thus it becomes practical to select and change to the best knife for the job at hand.
There are multiple types of Tersa knives:
The patent on the Swiss Tersa heads has expired, so recently there have been competing brands of the knives, some of which are reportedly made in the Tersa factory. Some made in Germany cut the blades to length by burning, leaving burrs that need to be filed off before the knife can be used.
Where can you buy Tersa knives? I have recently found them on Amazon.com. Several people have recommended Tersa Knives Inc. which now prices in both Canadian and US dollars. I have had excellent service from W. Moore Profiles Ltd.. At this moment Tersa Knives Inc. is cheapest in my size but the carbide cutters are only sold in pairs, and my machine takes three. W. Moore Profiles was willing to sell me three, so they won my business in 2008.
With any type of Tersa knife, be sure to mark the "second side" of the blade, so your set will get full use of both sides. I use a magic marker to put a line on each end of the cutter bevel on the second side of the blade. When I put the cutters back in the machine, I always go back to the first side until it is worn out, then I can tell which is the second side of each blade.
Some people suggest putting multiple shorter blades in the head (130+130+150=410), so they can be rearranged if you get a nick. After over 6 years, my 410 mm carbide blades do not have any nicks.
Does MiniMax have a spiral cutter head - with the little carbide squares? SCM does make such a head in Italy, but not for the MiniMax line of machines. Byrd Tool Corp. (byrdtool.com) does make a cutter head that the end-user can install (a half to two day process) to replace the original head on a MiniMax machine. At least one person on the MiniMax User Forum has installed a Byrd Shelix cutter, but several people on the forum who have used both Tersa and Byrd recommend the Tersa.
Denis Kenzior took exception to my observation that some users prefer the Tersa knives. He insists that his Byrd head is better than his Leitz indexable knives - that the Shelix is quieter, makes smaller shavings, and has minimal tear out. I thought this was a discussion of Tersa knives on MiniMax machines, which may or may not have the same cutting angles, etc., but he is welcome to his opinion, and I am willing to share it.
I have a 2 inch high, 3 inch diameter Byrd Shelix cutter on my shaper for pattern routing (with a 3 inch guide bearing - the same diameter as the head). It is far better than a smaller diameter pattern bit in a router for all but the tightest inside curves, but less than I had hoped for with all the hype about segmented heads - a lot of sanding is still required. Even though this gives you almost 5 hp behind the cutter, pattern routing tends to cut deeper, but for best results, don't try to take off more at a time than you would with a jointer.
if you have one of the very old MiniMax cutters with a "normal" set of blades, or have a machine made for another country where Tersa blades were not "standard," it is reportedly cheaper to replace the old style head with a Shelix head than to get a Tersa head from MiniMax to retrofit.
All of the MiniMax Jointer-planers can optionally support a mortiser (smart series is lighter weight unit than the 110 pound elite series mortiser). There are two parts of the mortiser... the Wescott chuck that must be attached to the end of the Jointer-Planer cutter head, and a separate cast iron moving table attached to the side of the machine. If you are buying a new machine, and are not sure if you want the mortiser, I suggest seeing if you can get the chuck factory installed - it is relatively inexpensive. I don't know what is required for mounting (if the connector is always there) but it does screw onto the end of the cutter shaft. There is no consequences of having it on the machine unused, but the mortising table is the big part of the cost, and is easy to add later,
The mortising tables on combo machines are on the "front" of the machine, and the bit turns to the left - "backwards." Some of the Jointer/Planers place the mortiser on the "back" of the machine, so the bit turns to the right. The normal birds mouth bits used in the mortiser can be used in either rotation, but if you decide to try an end mill, be sure to check rotation.
See my tutorial on how to use the MiniMax mortiser.
Since Festool came out with the "Domino" hand held slot mortiser, the question has often arisen about which is better - the Festool Domino or the MiniMax mortiser. Some argue that the one they have is easier to set up (I have the MM mortiser, and consider the setup simple). Some argue that larger mortises can be cut with the MiniMax. Those who have the Domino like it, especially since it is often easier to take the Domino to the work, rather than taking the work to the machine. (I occasionally wish for that feature).
Jerry Work is a talented woodworker, who has a MiniMax combo with mortiser, but he also reviews and writes documentation for Festool. He points out that the smaller Domino (DF500, $825) is designed for furniture and cabinets, with thicknesses from 4 to 10 mm, various widths, and depths 12 to 28 mm. This allows a tenon over 3/8 inch thick and 2 inches long (just over an inch on each side). The new larger Domino XL (DF700, $1,275) is for structural applications, with tenons 8 to 14 mm thick, in several widths, and 15 to 70 mm deep allowing for a tenon over ½ inch thick and 5½ inches long. The dominos (tenons) themselves are not cheap, but I expect I could make tenon stock for the Domino like I do for the MiniMax.
The FS30 12 inch (30 cm) jointer planer was ranked the "Editor's Choice - Best in Class" in both the USA and Europe for several years. It is basically the jointer planer from the CU300 Smart, and can also support an optional mortiser. The cutter has 3 Tersa knives. The jointer has a 52 inch bed. The planer has a single feed speed, and mechanical pointers for thickness. Overall weight is 650 pounds. Today it sells for about $4200.
If you hear of an FS300, it is the same as the FS30 before the attack by a marketing committee - the width in mm rather than cm.
The 14 inch devices have been discontinued in the USA, but the FS35 Smart replaced the FS350. Basically the same capacities, but the specs I saw say FS35 has a two speed feeder on the planer and the mortising kit mounts on the front, instead of the back. Someone with a very old FS35 reports that it is a single speed machine. The simple answer is that all these machines change over time, adding and deleting features so if you are buying used, be sure to check things like feed speeds and type of cutter heads. If you have more details, let me know and I will update this for our friends who are looking at used machines.
Why do I want an extra wide jointer/planer?
Typically the widest cabinet door is about 24 inches - wider than that, and you probably use two doors. A 24 inch door typically has a 20 inch panel. I like to glue up before doing the final jointing and planing, so my ideal machine would handle 20 inch panels.
The FS41 Classic is a new 41 cm (16 inch) jointer planer that sells for $6400, similar to the best selling FS30 jointer and planer. It has a single feed speed on the planer, and mechanical thickness pointers, 3 knives in the Tersa head, a 70.8 inch jointer bed, and overall weighs 800 pounds.
The FS41 Elite is the 16 inch jointer planer, the same as the jointer-planer functions on the CU410 Elite. I hear it sells for $8600. It has mechanical digital readouts, 4 knives in the Tersa head, two speed planer, a 79 inch jointer bed, and an overall weight of 1000 pounds.
I saw a list that had a FS41 Elite S jointer planer in one and three phase versions, which I expect are the same as in the CU410 Elite S combo machines - the three phase machine having motorized adjustments and electronic digital readouts, rather than the mechanical digital readouts of the single phase machine. There are four knives in the Tersa head, two speed planer feed, improved dust extraction, 7 foot long jointer bed, and an overall weight of 1,300 pounds. The prices I saw were about $10,900 for the single phase, and about $12,700 for the more automated three phase machine.
The Formula FS1 has reappeared on the MiniMax web site - an even heavier 16 inch jointer planer combo, that requires 3 phase power to provide 9 hp. There are two speeds on the motorized planer feed, 81 inch parallelogram jointer, 4 knives in the Tersa head, and a net weight of 1,950 pounds. I have not heard the price, but it sounds like a narrower FS2!
The Formula FS2 is a 20 inch Jointer Planer, basically the SCM Nova 520 machine. There aren't many around, but I hear it is awesome, and I covet the width. It is a 2,200 pound monster made with 7/16" thick steel, four speed planer feed with segmented rollers, 5 inch diameter head (5,000 rpm, with four Tersa cutters) with a 9 hp 3 phase motor. However, it has also been discontinued as a SCM Nova, so I will have to dream of the SCM F520 "Class" machine, starting at a mere $18,000, which can even be tricked out with automatic change over - push a button and the jointer lifts pneumatically to expose the planer, which can be left at the previous setting while jointing.
I need your help. I am a happy MiniMax user, but not a MiniMax employee, and have not used all the different equipment. I do not have special access to official information. If you have additions or corrections to this information on MiniMax products, please share it. Please email your MiniMax info to me.
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