Review By Dean Bielanowski  Triton Website - http://www.triton.com.au


Triton 380mm Planer Thicknesser Moulder
(TPT15)
 Review

By Dean Bielanowski

The Triton MK3 and Workcentre saws have been an Australian success story for the Triton company. In more recent years, Triton has been sold and resold and is now owned by Global Machinery Company (GMC). Since being taken over by GMC, a whole new range of Triton tools have been released onto the market, many retaining the same quality and innovation as the original Triton products.

One of the major new tools to emerge in 2007 has been the TPT15 Thicknesser/Moulding machine. With an interesting design and plenty of features providing accurate results, we just had to grab one and test and review it! We did note however, that unlike other Triton products, this particular unit is being re-badged and sold by several other companies.

The Triton TPT15 Thicknesser Moulder
The TPT15 is quite a large machine, as most 15" thicknessers are. Thankfully it comes mostly assembled, but you would be advised to have a friend on hand to help get it out of the box and to set it up. The entire kit has a net weight of 65 kilograms, so unless you are a bench-pressing adonis, a friend on hand will save a trip to the chiropractor. The tool comes supplied with a pressed metal stand upon which it sits. Assembling this stand will consume the majority of assembly and setup time. About 85% in fact. Once assembled, the thicknesser can be lifted onto the stand and secured with the provided fasteners.

Attaching the crank handle and dust collection bag is really the only other tasks required to complete basic installation. Note that by basic installation, I am referring to setup for thicknessing tasks. As this is also a moulding machine, setup for moulding tasks requires additional time and installation of the special moulding cutters (which we will look at later).

The TPT15 is a solid tool. While it is a mix of cast iron, metal and plastics, all the important components are constructed from the heavier materials for durability and accuracy. This is a professional woodworking machine that should deliver many years of good performance (although this is still to be seen with this new tool).

The cutterhead rides on four solid support columns to ensure the blades remain as true and square lengthwise as possible in operation. Should these require adjustment out of the box, this can be made fairly easily via adjusting screws underneath the thicknesser. Full instructions are provided for achieving this important setup check in the included printed manual.

The TPT15 is powered by a 2.5HP motor which delivers 11,000 cuts per minute via two double edged TCT blades. This motor power has been more than enough for handling even full width hardwood planing, although shallower passes are required if planing full width to prevent motor overload. Shallow full width passes will also provide a cleaner finish on the surface of the material. You can further aid the ability to deliver clean cutting by adjusting the feed speed of the material.

The motor features overload protection circuit, so if the motor does become overloaded, it will trip to prevent motor damage. This is a great insurance feature and should help prevent those smoke disasters that inevitably result in uncontrollable cussing and a big hit on the bank account for replacement or repair. To reset the circuit, an overload button is pressed several minutes following machine shutdown. Make sure you are aware of why the machine overloaded to begin with before continuing, to prevent further overload. In most cases it is because too much material is trying to be removed at once. Decrease cut depth or use the lower feed speed to avoid this. A standard ON/OFF switch with removable yellow safety key provides ON/OFF tool control.

The TPT15 offers 2 material feed roller speeds, so for wider planing or deeper planing passes, the slower speed can be selected for better results. At the low planing speed, the planer feeds material at 11 feet per minute. On the high speed, this is doubled to 22 feet per minute. Choosing the correct feed speed for your material will guarantee best results. You will learn over time which feed speed works best for the materials you are using. As a general rule, I use the lower speed for hardwoods or finish planing, and the higher speed for softer woods or lower depth of cut per pass planing in general. But again, if you are concerned, run a smaller test piece, or just choose the lower speed for harder woods (unless the wood is very susceptible to burning, like cherry). The option to select from two feed speeds is a great feature, but a necessary one, particularly when you use the machine for moulding, where the lower speed is required for this procedure. To change feed speeds, a large orange feed speed adjustment knob is situated atop the motor casing (on the left side). The feed adjustment is made while the machine is turned ON.

The feed rollers are also height adjustable. This is important when using the moulding function. There are three feed roller height settings, which are adjusted at the front lower right of the machine using a special wrench provided with the tool. Setting I is used for general board planing. Setting II is used for moulding cuts, and Setting III is for initial moulding cut passes with larger knives.

The maximum planing width is 380mm (15") with a minimum planing length of the same 380mm (15") value. Planing height maxes out at 150mm (5 29/32") according to the manual. The maximum depth of cut per pass is 2.4mm (3/32"). I have rarely ever planed anything at the maximum depth possible in a single pass on any thicknessing machine. Not only does this put unnecessary load on the tool, but the finish on the board is rarely as good as you can get with multiple smaller depth passes. Sure it saves time, but that saving is not worth it in the long run. I have a rule not to remove more than 1mm per pass on a thicknesser, no matter how soft or wide a board may be. If you need to be taking 2.4mm per pass at once from a board, you would be best to resaw the material on a bandsaw instead. You will be saving your motor, and saving wood, which adds up in dollars over time. Enough dollars to cover the cost of a bandsaw if you do not have one over a year or three!

The planer head rides on 4 solid support columns (one at each corner of the cutterhead). There are several methods for setting planing height. First is the crank handle located on the top of the machine. Winding this either raises or lowers the cutterhead in small increments. A full turn will raise or lower the cutterhead by 1.6mm (1/16"). When I am planing wood in multiple shallow passes, I usually lower the cutter head by a half turn between each pass. This will result in roughly 0.8mm of material being removed each time. If I am working with boards wider than 10" or with extremely dense hardwoods I may reduce this to quarter turns, and for the final finish pass, even less, to provide the cleanest surface possible. Remember also, that in general, shallower passes will also maintain blade sharpness. But I guess you have to balance depth of cut vs actual number of cuts to determine what is best for blade life. In my experience, I have found that more shallower passes beats less deeper passes in the long run to maintain blade sharpness and extend cutting life.

There is a standard depth gauge on the right side of the tool with a marker arrow to provide a guide as to set cutting depth. It measures in both inches and millimeters and ranges from 0 - 150mm or 0 - 6". These are a rarely perfect guide to actual cutting thickness, not just on this Triton, but on virtually any thicknesser, so take the measurement with a grain of salt. For best accuracy, always have a good digital thickness gauge on hand to manually measure as you approach the final desired thickness of material needed. After saying this though, on the machine I have the guide is quite accurate, but you will need to run some pieces through the planer, check them with an accurate and precise measuring gauge, then re-adjust the needle pointer on the scale as required to zero in on an accurate reading. The scale sits on the moulded plastic part of the side cover on the right of the tool. This can flex a little, so I'm not sure how accurate the scale will be if it moves a little after time. Additionally, the actual pointer should have a horizontal top edge. On my unit, this was a touch out of horizontal and I had to slightly drill out one of the mounting holes on it to provide clearance so I can arc it upwards to horizontal and obtain accurate measure simultaneously on both the metric and imperial scale. Not a big deal, but be sure to check yours too!

The second method for adjusting cutterhead height offers faster height change adjustment. The powered height adjustment lever is located on the left side of the cutterhead, just forward of the feed speed adjustment knob. While the machine is running (but not actually planing material) the user can simply push the lever up or down to make faster depth adjustment. No real effort is required to raise or lower the cutterhead via this method as it is a powered adjustment. It's like a hydraulic lifting or lowering action that is really quite cool. The top handle does rotate as the cutterhead moves so be sure to be clear of that. The action is not overly fast, or slow, but it is much faster than I could crank the handle manually. It is a great feature and the operation is very smooth indeed.

The third method of height adjustment doesn't actually adjust the height of the cutterhead, but rather, provides a set of depth stops that works like a depth stop turret on a plunge router (in a way). Basically a depth set knob on the side of the machine allows you to pre-dial in a specific depth setting and the cutterhead will stop at that setting as it is lowered. The depth settings available via this mode are:

  • 1/8" (3.18mm)

  • 1/4" (6.35mm)

  • 1/2" (12.7mm)

  • 3/4" (19.05mm)

  • 1"  (25.4mm)

  • 1 1/4" (31.75mm)

So, if you wanted to plane multiple pieces to say 1/4", you would set the pre-set depth dial to the 1/4" setting then lower the cutterhead until it engages the stop at this depth. Now, in theory, you should have a 1/4" piece of material after planing. This is a handy feature as a lot of woodworking projects require boards of these common thicknesses. The idea is great, but the implementation has room for improvement. Basically, it doesn't appear to be a hard definite stop as you reach the depth mark. It's more of a soft stop with room to play on the lower side of it i.e. you can continue to lower the cutterhead a little further, albeit with extra resistance, but there is still some guesswork as to where the stop point should actually be.

What about if you want to take, say, half a millimeter or 1/32 thickness off a board? Well, the Triton has that covered too. On the front of the cutterhead is another depth measuring device. It uses a steel ball bearing type mechanism attached to a marker arrow and a scale. As the ball is pushed in (upward in this case), the arrow on the scale rises by the amount the ball is raised. So, to take 0.5mm off a board, what you would do is place the board on the infeed table with the front edge of the board sitting under the ball. Now lower the cutterhead and as the ball engages the wood and is pressed upward, the arrow on the guide scale also raises the same amount. Once the arrow raises to the 0.5mm mark (while you are lowering the cutterhead), you have a setting that will take 0.5mm off the board on the planing pass. Now feed your board through the thicknesser with power turned ON and, ideally, you will have removed the 0.5mm depth as set by this method. How accurate is it? Well, it wasn't perfect out of the box. There is a margin of error of around 0.1mm according to my digital measuring gauge, but it appears to be the most accurate measuring device on the tool for fine thickness control. To obtain highly accurate readings when thicknessing timber, your best bet is to use a thickness gauge. A quality digital unit makes life easier. I don't see the inaccuracies of the Triton scales as a bad point of the tool. Sure, it would be great if there were all perfect all the time, but I have yet to use a thicknesser with a manual reading scale that is perfect. Perhaps this is why some companies are now coming out with retro-fit digital height gauges that can be fitted to thicknessers to provide greater accuracy?

Dust collection is another unique feature of the tool. Why? Because, like the fast cutterhead height adjustment, it too is powered. I first used the powered dust collection feature on their new model belt/disc sander, and it worked very well. The TPT15 has an inbuilt impeller in the dust collection corridor coming from the planer head. This feeds to an attached collection bag which is of a reasonable size, but you will need to close the bottom of the bag up. Alternatively, and perferably, you can attach the bag to a larger collection bin/container to collect shavings and debris for larger capacity collection. The bag has a draw-string type securing system designed to fit around the upper lip of a bin edge. So you have a thickneser and dust collector in one machine. This saves running two machines at once, which is great if you have limited power outlets or space to work in.

If you remove the back cover of the cutterhead, which gives you access to both the dust impeller and the cutterhead (for changing blades) you will see there is also somewhat of a collection tray to hold the shavings within the corridor while the impeller extracts them into the collection bag/bin. Since the extraction works all the time (i.e. when the machine is on, whether actually planing wood or not) it has ample time to remove any remaining debris in the system. The airflow is also very high. More like a high speed, lower volume vacuum extractor than a high volume, lower speed twin bag extractor. You could easily use it to dry yourself off after a dip in the pool if you felt like some party tricks, but I wouldn't recommend it!

Moulding Operation
To undertake moulding cutting tasks on the TPT15, you will first need to build a guide jig from MDF (or similar material). There are plans shown in the user manual to build this, although the print is small and you might need a magnifying glass to read them. Luckily, my eyes can still decipher the measurements and plan without the need of other visual aids. You need to supply the MDF for the task, but all the hardware for the jig is supplied for you. It will take probably an hour to make the jig from scratch if you have the right thickness material on hand (12mm and 19mm boards). It is fairly simple, but routing the four slots for the adjustable edge guides will take up some time. Alternatively, you could use a drill press and drill multiple holes to make the slot. I actually did it both ways and they both worked fine. The moulding jig then attaches to the thicknesser bed with clamps that grab underneath the tables (via the small gaps between the folding table and the base) so your jig drill holes need to be accurate here. The jig measures 1 meter in length so it extends from the front of the machine through to the back to provide good support on the infeed and outfeed sides and is designed so that it can guide the material through squarely, and be adjustable to accommodate varying width pieces.

Next you need to install the moulding knives. Two sets of basic profiles are supplied with this tool, each set comprising two of the same cutters. The good thing about installing the moulding knives is that you do not need to remove the planer knives from the machine. I won't go into detail on installing the knives but to say that they are attached and secured using moulding gibs and they are fairly easy to install, although the pictures in the manual don't really provide an ultra clear description. Basically, the gibs are seated in the slot, the mouding blade sits between the flat gib face and the face of the slot milled in the cutterhead, and the blade is hard against the reference point. Spacers are used along the length of the gib so it does not bend when tightening (as most moulding knives are not the full length of the gib). The spacers must be the same width as the moulding knife (several different thickness spacer sets are provided). Then the screws in the gib are screwed outwards from the gib and this causes the gib to wedge the moulding knife between the gib face and the slot face, essentially securing into the cutterhead. Sounds trickier than it is really. Similar to installing planer/jointer knives.

 It is recommended to run the machine for a few minutes the first time you install the cutters and then re-check that they are still secure before actually running material through the machine. They should be checked every few hours of operation following that. However, they will probably not be left in the machine for extended periods of time anyway, unless you plan on using the TPT15 as a sole moulding creating machine. The knives are removed quite quickly, along with the gibs and you can go back to normal planing using the standard planing blades already installed. A number of knife profiles will be available to suit the machine. Alternatively, for custom profiles, you could also have these made by a good machine shop or blade shop to fit the machine with your desired profile.

So, the idea is that you dimension your stock close to final dimensions. Depending on the type and style of moulding you are creating, you might need to make the width the final dimension before cutting it, or make it a little wider if the cut requires a little edge treatment or clean up after the majority of the shaping has been done. Again, all instructions are provided. With that said, the moulding jig you created earlier is used to support the edges of the moulding as it passes through the moulding cutters. As you can imagine, if there were any side-to-side deviation of the piece as it ran through the tool, your profile would not be clean, sharp and continuous, but wavy and inconsistent. So proper tool and jig setup will assure good results. Also consider material density and cutting depth, as most of the same rules apply to finish quality and blade durability as they do with regular flat surface planing.

In Use
Ok, so I think I have covered most of the important tool features and functions above, and any I haven't I will cover here, as they directly affect use of the tool. To begin with, whenever using the TPT15, always wear hearing and eye protection. Dust protection might also be a good idea, although there appears to be very little debris that escapes the clutches of the dust collection system in use. But as we know, it's the dust you don't see that causes the most harm! Hearing protection is a must. The TPT15, like most thicknessers, is a loud machine, particularly once the blades start attacking the wood. There are no specific sound output ratings I could find for this tool, but my guess is that it would be well over 80db, and more like 90-95 decibels in use, if not a little more. Some of this can be attributed to the additional noise the tool makes because of its integrated powered dust collection. But anyway you look at it, using a thicknesser generally means using hearing protection. You cannot really avoid it (unless you wish to suffer the consequences later).

Flat surface planing is fairly straightforward. The feed rollers do a great job of controlling the board as it passes through the cutterhead. The speed is constant, and having the 2 speed option allows a lot more control over the process, and the finish of the piece. In front of the first feed roller is a set of anti-kickback pawls. These are designed to stop a board being flung back at the user if it catches on the blade and overpowers the feed roller input. While I have never had a thicknesser kick back on me, I have heard some stories from those who have, and while not as dangerous in general as a table saw kickback it seems, I have no doubt it is still cause for concern. I did once have a grab and throw on a jointer when the front edge of a shorter stile dipped down into the cutterhead and threw it out of my hands and backward. A bit of a wake up call! I make a rule to always stand to the side of the tool as much as possible so I am not in the firing line of any tool. I cannot comment on the effectiveness of the anti-kickback pawls on the TPT15 (as it hasn't happened yet), but it is good to know they are there and will hopefully prevent a nasty accident should a kickback occur.

The pressed metal stand presents the tool at a comfortable working height. I haven't had any problems using it at the default height, even though I am a few inches over the six foot mark. An extra inch or two higher would better suit me, but you could always make your own sub-base to raise it up if you feel the need to. For the average height person, the tool height is probably ideal. And while we are on the topic of ergonomics, I must say that this machine is probably one of the most comfortable to use. Pretty much all handles and adjustment features are large and comfortable in the hand, affording greater control in my view. The large crank handle is excellent, as is the feed roller speed adjustment knob and powered height adjuster lever. The workpiece rollers on top of the tool allow you to move a planed piece from the rear of the tool back to the front of the tool (or rest it on the bars as you make your way back around). Carry handles at both the top of the tool and the bottom make it easier to move around, should you need to, but a two-person lift is definitely a must. To reduce the footprint of the tool when not in use, the infeed and outfeed tables can raised up like a drawbridge, and small magnets on the cutterhead body hold them up in place. It makes it easier to move to with these up.

In terms of snipe, yes the TPT15 has that too, unfortunately. But, again, most thicknessers do, to some degree. I have found that just about all of them with fold-up/down tables will produce snipe to some degree. Some of the fixed cast iron infeed/outfeed table thicknessers are a little better in this area, but snipe can be reduced somewhat by building a single piece sub-table that runs from infeed to outfeed and secured by holding cleats on either end. The material then rides through on the sub-table, in theory, providing a more consistently flat surface than riding over three different surfaces (infeed table, planer bed, outfeed table) etc. Good support technique can also help reduce this. With good support and a sub-table, snipe can be greatly reduced and almost eliminated on the TPT15. Both infeed and outfeed tables do have a basic height adjustment feature to modify height when they are in the folded down position, so investigate and alight these too for added snipe protection. I found that they needed adjustment out of the box, and once correctly set, the snipe was barely noticeable unless you were looking for it (which I was of course). But a properly set up machine will deliver the best results right from the start, so spend time getting things right, and you will enjoy the tool, and the results even more.

There is no actual manual cutterhead locking device on the tool that I could find, but from my experience with the tool already, I can tell that the cutterhead sits firmly in position, in pretty much any position, and the results indicate that it remains parallel as well, delivering evenly thicknessed boards across the face and edge surfaces.

Changing blades on thicknessers can be a daunting task if you haven't done it before. On the TPT15, the process is relatively simple, well much simpler than some other machines. Once the back cutterhead housing is removed via three srews, access to the blades can be gained. A locking latch will lock the cutterhead in the right position to remove the blades. This is handy as the drum cannot rotate while you are trying to the remove the blade. The blade gib is loosened via the locking bolts and the blade can be removed with the supplied blade removal magnets (they look like two little gauge handles). To re-insert blades, the process is essentially reversed. The TPT15 uses unique double-sided blades that engage on pins on the cutterhead. This means no need to set blades to parallel or fiddle around with fine tuning of blade alignment. Just place them onto the pins, re-secure the blade gib and you are ready to go. A nice feature, although it does reduce accessibility to standard thicknessing blades available on the market. If you have a spare set of blades (recommended to avoid downtime if one set is out for sharpening) these can be stored on the tool in the blade storage compartment on top of the cutterhead - nice feature.

Moulding takes a little practice to get your initial workpieces sized correctly etc and to sort out the planing heights for desired profiles, but once you have that worked out, this is a handy feature that will no doubt be used by any woodworker looking to add decorative trim to a new piece of furniture, or to replace classic trim profiles in period homes or on antique furniture projects. If you were trimming out a new house from scratch, you could literally save bucketloads of cash milling your own mouldings with this machine. Go to your local hardware or home center and check out the price of some of the fancier mouldings and trim!

Conclusion
Overall, the TPT15 actually exceeded my expectations. It is actually much more impressive in the flesh (i.e. when you see one in person) and I admit that I was a little skeptical when I saw the product release photos when it first came up. But now I am a believer. Sure, it is not perfect in all regards (i.e. the measuring scale employed could have been slightly better engineered) but since I use a digital measuring gauge anyway for checking board and piece widths, this really didn't matter to me. Your mileage may vary of course.

I am very happy with the overall build quality, ergonomics and smooth action of the tool. Having the dust collection integrated into the tool saves me a lot of time fiddling with extractor tubes as well (if you don't have them permanently installed to each machine).

I think for the asking price of AUD$999, you do get a lot of tool and features for the money, but as always, weigh up what you need and how much you are willing to spend before making a decision!

The TPT15, in my opinion, is definitely worthy of the Triton name (even if it is not strictly a Triton patented product) and will definitely retain shop real estate space for many years to come!
 

Available to Order through these Companies...
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In Australia
In most cases, the TPT15 will need to be ordered in via the Special Orders departments of these retailers...

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In the USA
Triton Workshop Systems USA/Canada
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Note: The Grizzly G0477 is a re-badged version
of the same machine reviewed here.
 


For more information, or to find dealers worldwide of Triton products, visit www.triton.com.au

Triton TPT15 Photos
All photos copyright onlinetoolreviews.com. Use without prior written permission prohibited


TPT15 set up complete.


Shop is open! Infeed and outfeed tables lowered. Ready to go...


Note the integrated handles on the side and the material roller bars on top of the machine to allow easier transfer of stock from the back side of the machine back to the front.


The cutterhead assembly is heavy duty and very well designed.


Main ON/OFF switch with yellow safety key, as well as the circuit overload breaker switch to protect motor from damage.


Here you can see the feed roller speed adjustment wheel knob, and the powered cutterhead adjustment lever too.


Crank handle up top raises or lowers cutterhead in finer increments.


The pre-set depth dial. Set a final thickness for the planed material, lower the cutterhead until it engages the stop, and away you go.


The manual measure scale in inches (left side of scale) and millimeters (right side).


Need to take 1/32" off a board of any thickness? This feature will help you do that.


The feed roller height adjustment mechanism.


The rear of the tool. Note the grey circular channel extending to the left of shot. This is the dust corridor. Where it meets the black section, that is where the dust impeller is housed.


The Moulding Jig made and attached to the machine.


The TPT15 handles planing of hardwood of all widths without any problem.


It might be advisable to attach the dust bag to a collection bin however! This was the mess with just two passes!


A perfect moulding, first go on the TPT15!

OTR Video!
Watch a video clip (2.5Mb) of the moulding proccess at work

Here I make the last two passes of a moulding usi, the second being the final finish pass with minimal material being removed.


Click on Image to Play video file (AVI - DivX)

 

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