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In the February 2011 issue of Popular Woodworking Magazine (PWM), we discuss differences in carbide cutterheads – some shear as they cut, and some have carbide knives that meet the wood straight on. There are only a few choices, but there are many differences. I learned a lot while researching the article.

This past week while in the PWM shop with a bit of free time on my hands – it was the days between Christmas and New Years – and because we promised a video on changing out a three-knive cutterhead with a staggertooth head (a Byrd cutterhead from Byrd Tool Corporation to be exact), I set up the video camera and pulled mechanic-type tools from the tool chest so I could swap the cutterheads.

The process was much easier than I had anticipated – the change was quick and without problems.

The results are astounding to say the least. There is a dramatic reduction in noise and the surfaces left on boards straight from our planer are killer. While the video is about 12 minutes in length, the change-out time was just more than three hours. It might just be the most productive three hours I spent during 2010, with dividends reaped for many years to come.

Sit back and take a look at the video. Chances are you’ll want to find a few hours during the new year to make your shop time more productive.

— Glen D. Huey

Here’s a book and an article that provide additional planer and cutterhead information:

Woodworking Machinery Basics Jointers and Planers (click here) demonstrates how to adjust knives to compensate for small nicks, discusses table parallelism adjustments and much more.

Setting Jointer and Planer Knives by Robert W. Lang is an article to download that gets your blades installed the right way and gets you back milling woods quickly.

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Here are some supplies and tools we find essential in our everyday work around the shop. We may receive a commission from sales referred by our links; however, we have carefully selected these products for their usefulness and quality.

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Showing 6 comments
  • Joe Ledington

    Great content, all the hand tool stuff is wonderful, but this is really something that is not giving enough attention, Thanks Glen and Pop WW for putting this together. I would love to see more content like and the Delta saw rebuild you guy’s do a great job Thanks

  • Alan Schaffter

    A couple of things not mentioned that I hope will be in the print article:

    1. The cutter head inserts are made from solid carbide and therefore brittle. Take extra care handling a segmented spiral head.

    2. All segmented spiral heads are not the same. I have an old 20" planer whose journal diameter is bigger larger than the newer breed of 4-posters- the cost of a replacement segmented spiral head for my machine is over twice the cost of one for a four poster.
    3. The price of gear oil from most woodworking machine manufacturers is way out of line with the price of gear oil available elsewhere. These machines DO NOT use special or exotic oil. Please provide info on replacement oils.
    4. If you have an older planer and never replaced the journal bearings, now is a good time to do so.
    5. Most Autoparts chain stores have free loaner bearing pullers. Don’t try to remove bearings without one!
    6. Segmented spiral heads make much less noise than straight blade journals, however . . .the noise of a spiral head increases dramatically when you turn on the dust collector. than the

  • dave hunter

    I purchased a 6" jointer with a spiral cutter head a year ago, and was so amazed, that when I saw a 13" spiral head planer came on the market, I pulled out he pocketbook and picked one up! Both cost more that the standard cutter heads, but like most things, you get what you pay for…The finish cut quality is amazing, and if I need I change a cutter head, it takes only a few minutes to rotate a new cutting surface into place. Being a weekend warrior, the time it saves in finishing as well as maintenance justifies the price!!

  • Chris Friesen

    Isn’t it a bad idea to leave the nice sharp carbide edges of the cutterhead sitting on a chunk of cast iron? Seems like you’re just asking to chip an insert.

    Anyways, I got a pretty sweet deal last year on a 15" planer with spiral insert cutterhead. Works very well, but you still need something to follow up afterwards for final surface prep.

  • Bill Melidones


    In my small shop I have the DW 750. And while it does a great job, I wanted something a bit more robust.

    While at the Marc Adams School last year I got to use the Powermatic 15HH planer that have the spiral cutterhead with inserts, While making light cuts the machine noise was louder than the cutter noise. I kept stopping to check to see that we were actually cutting.

    When I got home I made plans to buy one myself. It took a year and a half to save up, and I’m very pleased. It costs a bit more than the traditional 3 knife cutter head, but the noise, the cut, and overall performance are worth it IMHO. I would recommend the spiral head to anyone considering changing over.

    The title to your e-mail is "New Cutterhead Might Make Chris Sell His Planes". Without question the new cutter head is super, and a real improvement. But I rather doubt we’ll be seeing any more of Chris’s planes being sold on his blog any time soon
    (unless he has plans to do more shop improvements at home).


  • andy

    I changed out my 16" planer in 2008 with a Byrd Tool head… it was one the best things I ever did. I also changed out my jointer shortly after… they do have some minor issues but it far exceeds straight blades. IMO.

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