Joint Maker Pro
When Bridge City Toolworks released the original Jointmaker Pro a number of years ago, people were skeptical. But, as the reviews started rolling in, most people stated that it was one of the single most accurate ways to make cuts in wood. As a hand tool nut (this is technically a hand tool, right?), I knew that this was a tool that I needed to try out, and see if it really was worth the price of admission.
FAMILIAR FORM. As you can see in the photo above and on the next page, the Jointmaker Pro v2 will look familiar. If you slap a round blade in there, along with a motor, you’d have a table saw. The sliding table on the JMPV2 looks very much like a cross cut sled that you would use on your table saw. In fact, the two aren’t very different. Instead of a round blade and a motor, the JMPV2 has a thin (.4mm) pull-saw style blade that’s raised and lowered between strokes.
The JMPV2 works by placing a workpiece on the table, and pushing it forward through the blade. The blade is slightly higher at the rear than the front. Between each stroke, you raise the blade slightly. With a little practice, you get the rhythm down pretty quickly — push, pull, and one crank. It can take between one and 30 motions to cut through a piece of stock; it
depends on what stock you’re cutting and the blade pitch.
THE NITTY GRITTY. Before we talk about putting the JMPV2 to use in the shop, let’s dive into some of the features and adjustments on the saw, starting with the blade. The pull-saw style blade is available in four configurations, which are basically variations of teeth per inch and rip vs. crosscut. The blade is held in a clamp in the middle of the saw. The clamp mechanism is adjusted up and down via a handle on the front of the saw.
BLADE PITCH. The cutting action of the saw works because the rear edge of the blade is set to be slightly higher than the front. This pitch is adjusted with a knob under the far side of the blade. The amount of pitch depends on what you’re cutting. For example — a thin piece of stock can have a higher pitch, and make a through cut in one motion. To cut a thicker, or harder, piece of stock, the pitch needs to be lower to allow the teeth to clear out the sawdust between passes.
HEIGHT & TILT. While we’re talking about stuff under the table, let me mention that there’s an included depth stop that you can use to set a repeatable blade height. This is useful when cutting things like dovetails.
Another useful feature is that the blade tilts up to 45° both left and right. A series of included flip stops allows you to set repeatable angles.
SLIDING TABLE. The sliding table on top is one of the more interesting features. It’s seperated into two parts (left and right), and a fence connects them. The standard fence and stop blocks have angled faces that hold the workpiece down. Also included is a flat-faced fence. Loosening a pair of metal brackets allows you to angle the fence (they move independently) to make accurate miter cuts. Bridge City does offer an upgraded fence for the JMPV2 that includes additional features.
After you’ve done a little setup on the JMPV2 (there’s only a few knobs and such to put on), you’re ready to make your first cuts. As with any type of straight cuts, you’re either looking at cross cuts or rip cuts.
CROSS CUTS. Making cuts across the grain is pretty simple. You start by setting the pitch of the blade. The adjustment knob under the blade raises or lowers the back side of the blade. For thin, square stock (1⁄2" and under), you simply adjust the rear of blade to be 1⁄32" above the workpiece. For wider, thicker, or dense stock, I found raising the back of the blade 1⁄16" seemed to work well in most scenarios.
Once the pitch is adjusted, you can set the blade height. You want the front teeth on the blade to be below the table. Then, it’s as simple as pushing the sliding table forward, across the blade (left photo below). To keep cutting deeper, simply pull the table back, and raise the blade height by one turn of the adjustment handle. Then, it’s a rinse and repeat until the cut is finished.
RIP CUTS. The process to make a rip cut is nearly identical, but I found it was better to use a less aggressive pitch for these cuts. At least, using the standard blade that comes with the JMPV2. The dedicated rip blade would probably give a better result.
With most rip cuts, you’ll only be able to use one clamp block. But to be honest, even making a cross cut, I found one clamp block was enough. You’re also limited to about 6" long pieces for ripping (lower right photo).
One of the biggest benefits of the JMPV2 is that it makes a very precise cut. The ultra-thin blade and hand tool nature of it means you can get extremely accurate results. Of course, this means that cutting tight-fitting joinery is one of the things this tool excels at. It is labeled the Jointmaker, after all.
TAILS FIRST. Cutting dovetails starts by laying out your dovetails as if you were hand cutting them. Then, you adjust the blade angle to match the angle of your dovetail. In the left photo on the next page, that angle is 10°. With the straight fence installed, you can lineup the blade with your layout lines and clamp it in place. I found an F-style clamp to be the best here.
Now, you simply cut the tails, cranking the height handle between each pass. The included depth stop can be used to ensure that each cut is exactly the same depth. Instead of resetting the blade angle to the opposite direction, I simply flipped my workpiece around to create both sides of the tails. Before chopping away the waste, you can reset the blade to 90° and cut the outside shoulders (main photo, previous page).
PINS NEXT. With the tails cleaned up, pins are next. Here again, you’re in hand-cut mode, meaning you’re going to need to transfer the tail shape to the pin board. After that’s done, you can adjust the fence on the JMPV2. To do this, loosen the knobs on the back of the fence and angle it in relation to the blade. Use a bevel gauge and set it to match the tails.
Now, you’ll want to spend your
time making sure you line up the blade with your transferred layout marks. This is where you should take full advantage of the JMPV2 being a hand tool — take your time, and line the blade up in the proper location. Then, you can make the cuts, again adjusting the blade height knob between passes until you reach the full depth.
Cleaning up the waste on the pins can be a little tricky. The ultra-thin kerf requires a fret saw to saw out the majority of the waste before fine-tuning with a chisel waste. Alternatively, you could chop out all of the waste. In either case, if you’re careful, the results speak for themselves.
THE SKY’S THE LIMIT
As you can see, the JMPV2 lives up to its name. It works extremely well for cutting joinery, but there’s some other areas where it excels. Two examples are shown below.
THIN, REPEATABLE CUTS. The laser-thin kerf of the pull saw blade works very well for precision cuts. In the top workpiece below, the kerfs are spaced out 1⁄8" of an inch apart. Combining these cuts with an offset series on the opposite face leaves you with a piece of stock than can easily be bent into nearly any radius. Something like this would make the perfect front for a curved box to
The tighter the kerf spacing, the tighter the workpiece will bend.
While making cuts like this would be much easier with the upgraded fence (it has integrated stops) offered from Bridge City Toolworks, simple spacing like this can be done by placing a piece of masking tape on the sliding table and marking a line. Then, it’s just a matter of scootching the workpiece until the just made kerf lines up with the mark.
MIND-BOGGLING CUTS. Another benefit of the thin blade is that you can make cuts that would be extremely difficult to do by hand. One example can be seen in the lower photo. To create this series of decorative ridges would require a specialized router bit. With a standard table saw, the thickness of the blade kerf wouldn’t allow you to create thin, sharp details like this. With the Joint Maker Pro, it’s no problem. It just takes a little bit of planning and some sneaking up on the cuts.
Being able to use the Joint Maker Pro for a couple of months gave me some pretty good insight into how it works. There are a few things that I really like about it, and a few things that I wish came standard.
MY WANTS. First off, for the Joint Maker Pro to be ergonomic to use, it needs to be set up at around waist height. Unfortunately, I had a hard time coming up with a solution to this, but finally found a set of sawhorses that worked. In my opinion, the stand for the Joint Maker Pro should probably be a standard feature instead of an add-on.
Another add-on that I think would bring the JMPV2 to the next level is the optional fence. I have only the standard fence for it. And it works okay. However, when it comes to making some of the complex and repeatable cuts that you really want the JMPV2 for, I think the Precision Fence System would be handy.
Of course, both of these wants are available, they just cost a little more. And, if you’re spending the price for the Joint Maker Pro (currently, around $750), shelling out more money for the fence and stand is a harder pill to swallow.
MY LIKES. Initially, I thought I would walk away from the JMPV2 thinking it was a fun toy, but that’s about it. Honestly though, I really enjoyed it. I could see how someone would use the Joint Maker Pro in their shop. Now, it’s not a perfect substitute for a table saw, and it doesn’t claim to be. But what it is, is a tool that makes extremely accurate cuts, with all the pleasure of a hand tool experience.
IS IT RIGHT FOR YOU? So, should you, as a woodworker, buy one? That’s a hard question to answer. First I would ask a couple of questions. Do you like the hand tool experience? Do you enjoy making smaller projects that you can really show off your precision? I know if I concentrated all of my woodworking endeavours on small projects like boxes, humidors, jewelry boxes or the like, then absolutely, the Joint Maker Pro would have a place in my shop.
Yes, it’s an expensive tool. And believe me, someone will be upset about me talking about a tool this expensive. Regardless, what I will tell you is that there are no tools in my shop that gives me the same level of precision as the Joint Maker Pro. If you can imagine a cut, and see a layout line that you’re trying to cut to, the Joint Maker Pro will allow you to make that cut accurately, and with confidence.