Although most tools in the shop do one or more jobs solely on their own, two machines depend on each other to create lumber that's flat, square, and of precise thickness. The jointer flattens one face of a workpiece and squares an edge to that face. And a planer makes the other face parallel and reduces the workpiece to the desired thickness.
Of all the different sizes of jointers, a 6" model best combines affordability with essential features, such as a cast-iron bed and fence and reasonably powerful motor. This class of machine will most often be the first—and maybe only—jointer you'll ever own. To help find a machine for your shop, we tested six 6" jointers head-to-head in the WOOD® shop. Here's what we found.
It all starts with a cutterhead
Jointers come with two types of cutterheads, equipped with either straight knives or carbide inserts, shown above. We chose insert-cutterhead models whenever possible for this test because they machine figured wood with little to no tear-out, and, generally, create less noise than straight knives. The Ridgid JP0610 has the only straight-knife cutterhead, which tends to leave scalloplike cuts across the board. Feed the board too fast, and the further-spaced scallops become noticeable. But slow the feed rate, and the scallops almost disappear.
You cannot do this with an insert cutterhead: As shown below, spiral cutterheads cut shallow valleys along the length of a board. The most shallow ones (on the Jet JJ-6HHDX and Rikon 20-106H) remove quickly with a sander, plane, or scraper. But those created by the Grizzly G0814X required more time and effort to clean up.
Quality of cut varies by machine
We made a 1⁄32 "-deep cut on walnut boards with each jointer's cutters still sharp, then rubbed the boards with chalk to visualize the high and low spots. We've presented these samples from best (top left) to worst (bottom right).
Dull cutters: Resharpen or replace?
Each 1⁄2 "-square insert has four cutting edges. So when one gets dull or nicked, simply rotate it for a fresh edge. These carbide inserts stay sharp much longer than high-speed-steel straight knives. It's unlikely you'll have to replace all the cutters at one time, but if so, you'll spend $120 to $350 for a full cutterhead set. (They sell in 10-packs.)
Changing insert cutters on the Jet and Powermatic 54HH proved easiest. The Grizzly G0452Z comes with a star-shaped hex driver bit, but not the screwdriver handle needed to hold it. The fences on the Grizzly G0814X and Rikon got in the way when changing those cutters closest to the fence.
The Ridgid's straight knives require resharpening or replacing when dull, and resetting them to the right height can be fussy. (See the illustration below to understand the components of a straight-knife cutterhead.) This trial-and-error process takes time, but you'll be rewarded with cleaner cuts each time you do it.
Efficiency = apparent power
The motor represents only one part of the "power" equation that determines how each jointer performs at cutting wood. You also have to factor in the drive belt, ratio of the pulleys, and number of cutters or knives. In our testing, the Ridgid cut fastest; we suspect its straight-knife design gives the motor a brief "rest" between cuts by each of the three knives.
But the Jet nearly equaled the Ridgid's cutting power, leading all insert-cutterhead machines, which require greater effort to feed boards across to make the same cut because there's always two or more cutters engaged in the wood.
By comparison, the Powermatic bogged down easily, taking twice as long to make the same cut as most of the insert-cutter machines. That could be attributed to having the most cutters (42), an underpowered motor, or a combination of both.
Keep it clean when changing carbide inserts
Insert cutters swap easily, but you have to be meticulous when doing it. To ensure the best cut quality and performance, remove an insert and its screw fully from the cutterhead, then clean the mounting area with a wire brush and compressed air. Any dust or debris beneath the insert or in the screw hole can compromise the fit. And, clean any resin buildup on the beveled edges of each cutter when you turn it to a fresh edge. As we experienced several times during testing, debris can elevate the insert slightly, causing it to cut deeper. It also can result in a broken cutter when you tighten the screw. So always keep extra cutters on hand just in case.
Tables: bigger is better
The 6" cutterhead determines the width of the tables (collectively known as the bed), and bed lengths vary by model. A longer bed better enables you to support a long board or one that's not flat, but that adds weight and cost. We like Powermatic's 661⁄2 " bed best.
All of the tested jointers have wedge-bed tables that slide up and down on dovetailed ways; these have no built-in adjustment to make the tables coplanar. To make the tables coplanar if they are out of alignment—all of our test models were coplanar out of the box—you must shim the outfeed table in its dovetail slide with thin metal pieces until it's in the same plane as the infeed table.
With both tables in the same plane, you set the outfeed-table surface even with the top of the cutters to eliminate snipe. This requires precise tinkering with the table height to get it just right. Ultimately, we were able to eliminate snipe with each machine.
You can raise or lower the infeed tables to make a cut anywhere from a thin shaving to 1⁄2 " deep (for rabbeting). Setting a precise cutting depth is easiest on the Powermatic and Ridgid machines, shown below, which had the least amount of backlash.
More jointer notes to know
■ Fences. The fence on each jointer proved flat and straight, and supported work well enough. The fences of two machines travel back and forth via rack-and-pinion mechanisms, as shown above. The others use a more traditional keyway design, shown below. Each fence has stops for 90° and 45° front and back; most needed a little fine-tuning, but worked reliably once adjusted.
■ Power switches. All six machines use mechanical switches rather than magnetic. This means that if the machine should lose power during operation, it will resume running when power is restored. We prefer a switch mounted on a pedestal above the infeed table because it's easier—and safer—to quickly reach the off button. Machines with this feature: Grizzly G0452Z, Jet, and Rikon.
■ Mobility. Both Grizzly machines have integrated casters with a swiveling kickstand. These prevent the potential trip hazard of an aftermarket mobile base that extends into your workspace. The Jet, Powermatic, and Rikon offer mobility kits as optional accessories; you can also buy mobile bases from multiple retailers.
■ Chip collection. Each tested jointer includes a 4" port for connecting flex-hose. We used a 11⁄2 -hp dust collector during testing, and all but one machine excelled at clearing chips. The Powermatic spewed a lot of chips beneath the cutterhead guard and out a small cutout on the operator side where the jointer mounts to the cabinet base. We could not find a solution to this.
The best machine in the joint
If we were buying one of these jointers, we'd get the Jet JJ-6HHDX ($1,500), our Top Tool. It cuts cleanly with good power and has plenty of solid features, including the benefit-heavy insert cutterhead. We'd prefer longer tables, but they work well enough.
It's hard to argue with the performance of the Ridgid JP0610, and at a test-lowest $700, it's our Top Value. Setting the knives can be a nuisance, but this unit works well once that's done.
Download 6" Jointer Comparison Chart