Tool review: Biscuit Joiners
Slotting Miter-cut Workpieces
As you see in the photos at right, you cut slots in mitered boards by tilting the joiner's fence to your desired setting. Porter-Cable's fence, our favorite, tilts from 0° to 135° with positive stops at 45° and 90°, as well as an easy-to-read scale. The 135° setting allows you to capture the acute angle of a mitered workpiece for a secure grip [Photo A]. Fences on the Craftsman 17539 and Ryobi JM82K also tilt to 135°, but plastic support plates restrict movement and won't work in stock less than 3/4" thick.
The Makita 3901 and Triton TC9BJM each use an included right-angle attachment [Photo B] that slides onto the fence, which tilts up to 90°. With this accessory attached and the fence tilted to 45°, you can wrap around an acute miter, but both machines proved difficult to use and damaged the fragile wood fibers at the miter's point.
With these two machines and the DeWalt (which does not tilt beyond 90°) we found it easier to cut miter slots by tilting the fences to 45° and cutting instead from the obtuse side of the miter. But to position slots nearer the heel end of the miter rather than the center--where a #20 cut will break through the opposite face--you have to attach an auxiliary fence [Photos C, D]. None of the owner's manuals for these tools mention this, however.
-- Aim for snug-fitting slots. Sometimes a little looseness in the fit between slot and biscuit can help you overcome minor misalignment of mating slots as you create a joint. (The pressed-wood biscuits expand after absorbing the glue's moisture, tightening the fit.) But too often in our tests, sloppy slots led to uneven joints. We'd rather just get it right the first time with a well-machined slot, and the DeWalt and Porter-Cable best delivered these.
-- Plunge with precision. All six joiners feature microadjustable stops for setting the plunge depth for the most common biscuit sizes: #0, #10, and #20. For most woodworkers, those three settings will suffice. Porter-Cable includes a setting (and special blade) for 11/4"-long face-frame biscuits. The other settings are geared more for the professional user than the home woodworker and accommodate 3-3/8" biscuits (for greater strength) and metal knockdown fasteners.
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