An old adage among chefs says "Never pass up an opportunity to add flavor." In woodworking, we say never pass up an opportunity to add capacity and power. So when buying a jointer for your shop, we strongly suggest considering a model with an 8"-wide cutterhead. With one of these machines, you'll no longer have to rip boards between 6" and 8" to narrower pieces, face-joint them, and then glue them back together after planing to thickness.
For this cutterhead-to-cutterhead comparison, we tested six 8" jointers: two with traditional straight-knife heads, and the others with helical heads (a spiral arrangement of square carbide cutters), as shown above and below. We expected good things from machines of this caliber and price range, and we were not disappointed. In this test, though, it was the little things that made the difference between the good and the great.
Which jointer is right for you, 6 inch or 8 inch?
Reasons to get a 6" model ($450–$1,500)
* If your budget is tight, you can get a 6" jointer for about 30–50 percent less than the price of an 8" model. In that situation, a 6" jointer is better than no jointer at all.
* If your shop is not wired for a 220-volt outlet (necessary for an 8" machine), get a 6" jointer (all of which run on 110 volts).
* The narrower cutterhead means you'll spend 20–40 percent less when replacing a full set of knives or carbide inserts, compared to an 8" machine.
* A typical 6" jointer requires a smaller footprint, critical if space is tight in your shop.
Making the case for an 8" model ($850–$3,000)
* Get an 8" jointer if you want the capability to face-joint boards up to 8" wide.
* With infeed and outfeed tables each measuring 10–18" longer than those on a typical 6" model, an 8" jointer helps you more accurately joint longer workpieces without adding support.
* The 2- and 3-hp motors deliver more power to the cutterhead, letting you remove more material per pass, when needed.
* If your shop is wired for 220 volts, an 8" jointer will draw fewer amps than a 110-volt motor, extending the life of the motor.
The cutterhead makes the machine
Cutterheads with straight knives have changed little, in terms of design, in the past half-century. But helical cutterheads have evolved greatly since they became available to the home woodworker in the past dozen or so years. In general, helical cutterheads add about a $300–$400 upcharge to similar 6" and 8" jointers with straight-knife heads. (You also can replace the straight-knife cutterhead on an older machine with a helical head for about that same upcharge.)
The helical-head machines we tested provide several advantages over machines with straight knives:
* Significantly lower noise levels. The Laguna MJOIN8012-0130 measured the quietest at 82 decibels, while the General International 80-200L and Grizzly G0656W straight-knife machines peaked at 94 decibels. (See the chart for model comparisons.)
* Four-edge carbide cutters stay sharp far longer than high-speed-steel knives, saving you downtime and sharpening costs.
* Easy cutter changes. Simply loosen a cutter's single screw, rotate it to expose a sharp edge, and retighten. The self-indexing cutters ensure perfect alignment.
* Remedy a nicked cutter edge by rotating only the damaged cutters, giving you a clean cut once again across the head.
* Tear-out-free cuts, thanks to the position and cutting action of a helical head's inserts. That's especially beneficial when working with (pricey) figured wood.
* The narrow cutters make small chips. Long ribbons or shavings from straight knives (especially prevalent on softwoods) can sometimes clog up dust collectors or ductwork.
Power depends on the motor—and the cutterhead
The Shop Fox W1741SW and both Grizzly jointers have 3-hp motors, while the other models are rated at 2 hp. Despite having lower-rated motors, the Jet JJ-8HH and General International powered through 1⁄8 "-deep cuts without bogging down. The Grizzly G0656XW, Laguna, and Shop Fox (all with helical heads) pulled down slightly while face-jointing the same 8"-wide hard maple, but if you seldom remove more than 1⁄32 "—as we do—you won't have a power issue with any of the machines. We tested these jointers on a 220-volt, 20-amp circuit without any trips; if your breaker is rated lower than that, you might need to upgrade it or buy a machine based on its amp draw. See the chart.
Tables provide critical support and control snipe
The longer the jointer bed, the longer boards you can joint—about twice the bed length, as a rule of thumb. The Shop Fox has the longest bed and infeed table (431⁄2 "), with just a 31" outfeed table. That longer infeed table proved valuable for supporting workpieces with irregular faces or edges. The 323⁄4 " tables on the Jet left us wanting more.
When it comes to setting table height, the General International, Jet, Laguna, and Shop Fox machines make it easiest. They all have handwheels (or levers, on the Shop Fox) and locks located on the front or sides of the machines, so you don't have to reach behind to adjust or lock the tables. Backlash in the handwheel mechanisms on both Grizzly jointers made it difficult to completely eliminate snipe on these machines, although we did get it to about .001", which sanded out with a power sander. All machines but the General International have an easy-to-read depth-of-cut scale.
The Shop Fox is also the only tested jointer with parallelogram tables. (See the illustrations below.) Unlike the wedge-bed tables found on the other machines that move up and down on dovetailed ways, the parallelogram tables hinge on two parallel plates. Should the tables get out of coplanar alignment, you can recalibrate them more easily with a parallelogram system. This upgrade typically costs $150–$300 more than a comparable wedge-bed jointer.
Fences should be tall and free
Free-moving, that is. We like the 5"-tall fences on the Grizzly and Shop Fox jointers for the extra workpiece support when edge-jointing. And we like those that move easily across the tables. The General International and both Grizzly machines have rack-and-pinion adjusters that move the fences smoothly. The other three slide manually on a keyway; the Jet and Laguna glide smoothly, but not the Shop Fox.
All of the fences tilt 45° forward and back, with stops for each and another at 90°. All but one worked reliably. General International's 90° flip-stop wiggled too much to rely on it for accuracy; we set the fence using a trusted square instead.
More factors to consider when making a buying decision
* Power switches. The pedestal-mounted switches on the Grizzly and Shop Fox machines proved easiest to reach. Laguna's switch sits at the end of the fence just above table level, a good-enough spot. But we wish Jet and General International could better locate their switches (shown below).
* Mobile bases. Both Grizzlys and the Shop Fox have a built-in "tricycle" base. They work great on smooth floors, but even slight irregularities made the kick-style pivoting caster on all three drop and bring the jointer to an abrubt halt. Laguna's four non-swiveling casters move the machine well enough, but you have to slide it sideways to steer; you secure it in place by hand-tightening locks against two of the casters.
Choosing a pair of winners
All six of these machines performed well enough that you'd be happy with any of them. But the longer tables on the Laguna MJOIN8012-0130 and Shop Fox W1741SW put them a nose ahead of the pack. So Laguna and Shop Fox share Top Tool honors. The straight-knife Grizzly G0656W, a good performer at well below $1,000, earns the Top Value award.
Laguna MJOIN8012-0130, $2,000
Shop Fox W1741SW, $1,700
Grizzly G0656W, $845
Download full 8" Jointer Comparison Chart