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Craftex CT203 15" Spiral cutterhead planer review

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  • Craftex CT203 15" Spiral cutterhead planer review

    So I finally had some time to jump into this, so I'm going to get at posting the review. As I mentioned in the other thread, this is going to be a "crate to cut" review, so that's where we'll start: The crate

    I have to say that the packaging I'm seeing on the Craftex machines over the last year or two is substantially better than what I experienced years ago.....the crate for this machine was made out of really decent 1/2" ply (saved for future projects ) and 2X2 hardwood corner bracing. The whole crate was intelligently laid out and set up so it not only protected the machine, but was actually easy to get in to.

    To get into the crate, I just had to cut the metal strapping that locked everything together, then remove the top panel. The top was held in place by about 40 smooth shank nails (if you've ever had to open a spiral- nailed or stapled plywood crate, you'll know why I appreciate the smooth shanks!), and it popped off easily with a small pry bar.

    With the top free the front panel popped off just as easily, until I came to the bottom....the bottom is usually the tricky part because you can't really get under the front lip, you can only pry so far in on each side, and it's too hard to reach inside the crate to pry it out that way....amazingly enough, whoever crated this machine was well aware of this issue and the bottom of each panel was held in place by only four nails which were not countersunk....very easy to get out. When I did the back side I removed the exposed bottom four nails *first*, and pulled that side off in about 45 seconds.

    With the panels off I discovered that the machine was bolted to the pallet with heavy gauge steel L brackets, nuts, bolts and washers (also saved for future use) The planer would not move at all on the skid...believe me, I tried. The box you see on the planer table contains two individually wrapped extension wings.

    I opened the bottom of the machine up for a pic. It's not normally necessary to remove this panel as the boxes would be freed as soon as the planer was lifted, but I wanted to show how the remaining pieces were shipped.

    With the machine off of the pallet I started going over it with a fine tooth comb to see if anything jumped out at me either positive or negative.

    My observations:

    I hate the cosmoline-like grease that everybody packs cast-iron in....I realize it's importance, but that doesn't change my dislike for it
    Fortunately they didn't overdo it on this machine. The machined surfaces had a paper/grease layer, and every non-powder coated or painted part had a thin layer...and I mean every part....right down to the screw heads. I found it interesting that every screw head had a protective coat on it, yet none of the surrounding painted metal showed so much as a drop....sure made clean-up easier!

    Finally, I pulled the top panel off to clean the grease up from in there. OK, Truth is that I just REALLY wanted to see the cutterhead. Two quick observations on the head itself:

    1. The machining looks fantastic....check the photos. The surface of the drum is flawless, and a quick inspection of the carbides revealed that the pockets were precisely machined with no room for the carbides to move around (another side note: Unlike a couple of other heads I've used, the design of the head cradles the carbides on three sides, which means I can not possibly screw up the alignment when rotating to a new cutting surface or changing them, and will make the process extremely fast....excellent). Also, the corners of each pocket have a round relief cut, I’m assuming to allow room for expansion due to heat without the carbides binding, and also preventing small amounts of left over sawdust from screwing up the alignment. (Chip deflector removed for the photo...but if you care, it's orange as well )

    2. The carbides are stupidly sharp....just wiping the grease off resulted in several shredded rags and more than a few areas of my hands bleeding. If you are handling them, exercise caution (esp. with the corners)...they'll get ya!

    Well, that's it for now. Part two is going to be cleaning, setting up, the "stuff" in the boxes, Taking some measurements and hopefully an initial test run. Part three will be the fun part.....making shavings and doing stuff I’m not supposed to I'm going to get it done between family-holiday stuff as time allows, so stay tuned.

    If there is anything else you'd like to know or see, just ask.

    I dream of a better world, one where chickens can cross roads without having their motives questioned.
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  • #2

    Re: Craftex CT203 15" Spiral cutterhead planer review

    Craftex Spiral Head Planer

    *Note: What you are reading is a compilation of my personal opinion(s)/experience(s) with using this machine, based on an unscientific and informal series of tests. Some are measured, some are strictly “seat of the pants” observations, but all are to be taken at face value as what they are: An opinion. If anyone owns one of these planers and would like do their own testing/offer their own opinions, I personally would love to hear them.

    *Second note: Some of the things I am doing with this machine are strictly against manufacturers recommendations and some are dangerous (to the operator and the machine) Do NOT try this stuff at home

    As with all things on the web: Your mileage may vary J

    The setup: No pics….and not a whole lot to say… went together easily, all of the measurements/clearances/adjustments were dead on….not a whole lot to report other than two things:
    Firstly, Brake cleaner and paper towels are your friends when it comes to degreasing, and secondly….two gripes. The first is about three little nuts…..nuts that are needed to secure the dust hood…..and the fact that they weren’t there. I HATE missing hardware! I used some others, but it is still irritating. The other gripe is the practice of shipping these machines without a plug on the end of the power cord. I’ve experienced this a few times (with my cabinet saw for example), and it is another irritant for me. Living out here, it’s not like I have a Home Depot a block away, and buying a plug to put on the end turns out to be a job and a half. Craftex: I’ll pay the extra 5 bucks, PLEASE include a 220 3 prong plug with my next machine ;)

    Now the fun part:

    OK, so I got to play with the machine…..the whole “more power/less power required” debate is still up in the air, as I have not found a 220 ammeter to borrow yet, so let’s not go there until I do. I CAN say that the max depth of cut listed for a full width board is 3/32”, and the machine did do that cut in hard maple without issue. It *seemed* like a deeper cut would not have been a problem, but without removing the depth stops from the machine I can’t try it….maybe later on when I have more time.

    So the two big “selling features” of the spiral cutterheads are less noise and dealing with difficult grain. I can tell you that this planer is amazingly quiet….I can literally hear the belts winding over the pulleys as I use it. I think this is likely to the hundreds of small blade impacts per revolution as opposed to just three in a straight knife machine. It is also very smooth…Here I balanced a nickel through 5 start/stop cycles (the machine is running in the pic)

    Figured woods:

    Here, I decided to push things a little

    I started with a crappy piece of 4/4 curly maple and after jointing I ran it through the machine at high speed/max cut depth to encourage tear-out….there was none. The surface showed only the slightest machining marks, and there was no snipe. I ran it through again on the low speed taking 1/16” off, and got a glassy smooth surface with no visible machine marks: Here are a couple of macro shots of the surface of the board.

    I then planed the board down as thin as the machine would allow without issue……

    ……then added an aux. table and decided to see how far I could go:

    ….a little more…..

    …..a liiiiitle more……

    ……keep going…..


    Not bad eh? I’m pretty sure I could have pulled off the last cut if I had glued the sheet down to a carrier board or used a non-figured wood….but it’s way thinner than a planer should go anyway, so I stopped there.

    I dream of a better world, one where chickens can cross roads without having their motives questioned.


    • #3

      Re: Craftex CT203 15" Spiral cutterhead planer review

      Re: Craftex CT203 15" Spiral cutterhead planer review....Part 2

      I did have one more thing to try….see this piece of ash? It’s standing end-grain up…..and I’m going to plane it that way. (NOTE: This board, in this orientation, is far shorter than the minimum length required for safe planning….again, do not try this at home)

      After a pass, here is the resulting tear out on the exit side…..way less than I expected, that’s for sure. I wouldn’t hesitate to feed an end-grain cutting board through this machine after seeing this result.

      Well…that’s pretty much it. Overall I am impressed with the machine….especially considering that it costs the same as many other straight-knife planers.
      The machining is good, the fit and finish were the best yet, and everything measured well/adjustments were precise.

      Any questions, just ask J

      I dream of a better world, one where chickens can cross roads without having their motives questioned.


      • #4

        Re: Craftex CT203 15" Spiral cutterhead planer review

        Re: Craftex CT203 15" Spiral cutterhead planer review....Part 2

        OK, back in

        First up, the door for Bill. Before and after, took about a 16th off in one pass, no issues. I was actually expecting at least *some* tearout on the rails, but nothing



        The end grain:

        First pic is with a 1/8" bevel cut on the exit side (made with disc sander), second pic is a closeup of the finished pass.....silky smooth.


        I dream of a better world, one where chickens can cross roads without having their motives questioned.