Helical Cutterhead in a Suitcase Planer

SCTW (Steel City Tool Works) is about to unveil a new suitcase planer that includes its patented helical head. We talked about helical heads being introduced to planers in coverage at 2008 International Woodworking Fair in Atlanta (Click Here to read that article). At the time, SCTW planned to upgrade its model 40200 with the new cutterhead design and expected the price would be near $750. The guys at Steel City decided that price was too high, so they went back to the drawing board to find another design. And that they did.

Model #40200H is Steel City’s 13″ Deluxe Portable Planer. It’s a single speed tool (I never understood the need for two speeds anyway. A planer is not the last step before finishing.) A 15-amp, 120v motor that clearly has enough power to tackle any milling task, drives the planer. I watched as the guys at Steel City ran a nasty piece of wet poplar through this planer. The cut taken was way more of a cut than should be taken in a single pass and the result was very impressive and the noise factor was far less than you experience with a two- or three-knife cutterhead , that’s one of the advantages of helical heads.

Another advantage is the high-speed steel inserts used on this planer, 26 knives in all. With each knife having four sides sharpened and ready for use, you know you’ll surface thousands of feet of stock before any need for replacement arises. If you do happen to mill something that nicks the knives, change the insert is a breeze. And if you happen to damage the head, heaven forbid, the damaged section could be replaced without having to purchase an entire new head because this head is an accumulation of indexed and stackable parts. All that’s necessary is to pull the head from the machine, separate the parts to replace the damaged section, then chuck the head back in position. Try that with a regular cutterhead.

In addition, this machine’s cutterhead travels on four posts , keeping the cutterhead level and stable , and is fully lockable so there’s no chance of the head drifting upward as you plane stock. There are also eight preset thickness settings (from 1/8″ to 1-3/4″) so you can dial in repeatable thicknesses if need be. And dust collection is your call. Choose either a 4″ port or switch the cap from the opposite end to open up a 2-1/2″ port while you close the 4″ end.

Are you waiting to hear the price of this 13″ planer with a helical cutterhead? You know it’s going to be less than $750. The price is $599 + change. Planers should be available in mid-February.

OK. Here’s my question. If you were going to purchase a planer, would you focus your attention on these smaller, portable units with a helical cutterhead or would you be more inclined to add roughly $400 to the pot and move to a 15″ floor model without the helical head? Of course, with another $400 on top of that you could get the larger machine with an upgraded cutterhead. What would you do?

Just a reminder: Steel City Tool Works has joined with Forrest Saw Blades and Empire Manufacturing to extend an offer that was set to expire in 2008. The companies agreed to continue the offer until the end of April 2009. Buy any SCTW riving-knife-equipped table saws and receive a free Forrest Woodworker II saw blade and a free two-ounce bottle of Empire Blade Saver. You save about $130.

Also extended until April 30, 2009 is the company’s Instant Rebate savings program (savings right at your dealer). There are no forms to fill out and no waiting for your rebate check.

- Glen D. Huey

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About Glen D. Huey

Glen Huey is managing editor of Popular Woodworking Magazine, an accomplished period furniture maker and author of numerous woodworking books and videos (as well as magazine articles).

3 thoughts on “Helical Cutterhead in a Suitcase Planer

  1. Bikerdad

    Would I spend the extra pfennigs for a helical lunchbox planer? Yes, if I were buying a lunchbox planer. However, I currently have one, and when I have the opportunity to step up, I’m aiming for a combi jointer/planer, likely with a next-gen cutterhead. Can’t do it now, nor a 15" standard planer, because I don’t have the electrical needed in my rented pad.

    What I’d really like to see though in a lunchbox is an easy method of cleaning the blasted rollers! Show me a lunchbox with helical head AND easy cleaning rollers, and I’ll seriously consider replacing my current planer.

  2. raney

    Nope – not just you. Looks almost identical to my Ridgid. Perhaps Orion OEM’d the ridgid planers originally? I’m pretty sure that’s the case with the Craftsman zip-code saws, which are also very very similar to the SC ones

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