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The Powermatic PM15 Planer/Molder is a tough, versatile machine that brings high-end capabilities to your shop.
Click image to enlarge

POWERMATIC PM15 15" Planer-Molder

Accuracy, Versatility and Dependability

Text, photos and video by Tom Hintz

Posted - 3-10-2008

Just having a planer in the shop with which to dimension and true lumber at the same time is a wonderful thing for woodworkers. Having full-on molding capabilities in the same machine is not only exceptionally handy, it can save a ton of money over buying pre-made moldings that are often not exactly what you are looking for. The POWERMATIC PM15 Planer-Molder has both planing and molding capabilities and does both very well.

Capacity

In addition to dual capabilities the POWERMATIC PM15 Planer-Molder has a full 15" cut width and a 6 1/2" maximum thickness capacity. That is more than sufficient for the vast majority of projects mortal woodworkers build.

When planing the POWERMATIC PM15 Planer-Molder has a maximum cut depth of 1/8". It also has a minimum material length of just 8". When equipped with molding cutters, the knife shape regulates the maximum cut depth. This machine is designed to make the molding in a single cut.

Tough and Powerful

The 5HP motor is tucked away in the base cabinet but a large door provides easy access.
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The POWERMATIC PM15 Planer-Molder continues their tradition of using quality materials including heavy gauge steel for the cabinetry and heavy-duty cast iron throughout the head and table systems. Long term durability and dependable accuracy are the goal and that has been achieved. POWERMATIC is sure enough about the quality and dependability of the POWERMATIC PM15 Planer-Molder that they cover it with their 5-year warranty - one of the longest in the business.

The POWERMATIC PM15 Planer-Molder features a 5HP, 1 phase, 230V motor that delivers its power through a set of pulleys connected to the cutterhead by three V-belts. Remember that POWERMATIC motors are rated using a continuous duty cycle rather than the smoke and mirrors "peak" or "max developed" claims many continue to use. Many first-time POWERMATIC users are happily surprised by the amount of power these motors deliver.

The motor is mounted within the base cabinet on a pivoting mount that includes the belt tension adjuster. A large door on the cabinet rear provides access to the motor and interior.

The base cabinet has built-in wheels that make moving this 423LB machine easy!
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Moving the 423-lb POWERMATIC PM15 Planer-Molder around the shop is surprisingly easy thanks to wheels within the base cabinet. The rear wheels have a foot-operated locking mechanism that keeps the POWERMATIC PM15 Planer-Molder in place during use.

A large, hinged top covers the POWERMATIC PM15 Planer-Molder cutterhead mechanism. Opening this cover provides plenty of room for working with knives and adjustments, all at a comfortable height. The top locks in the up position with an automatic drop-in latch.

A 4"-diameter dust collector port is built into a shroud on the top of the POWERMATIC PM15 Planer-Molder. The port is angled to the side to keep the hose out of the way of the outfeed table. This shroud does a very good job or removing chips when connected to a decent dust collector. POWERMATIC recommends using a minimum 900- CFM (cubic feet per minute) dust collector.

Table

The full cast iron table (left) is raised and lowered by the cast iron hand wheel (right) that makes tiny cut depth changes easy and accurate.
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The cutterhead of the POWERMATIC PM15 Planer-Molder is fixed so the table is raised or lowered to control cutting depth. The all cast iron table is 15 1/8"-wide by 27 1/2"-long and provides ample support for most work pieces. The table moves on four lead screws, operated by a chain drive system. A knob on the front of the POWERMATIC PM15 Planer-Molder is turned to lock the table in place before making a cut.

An oversized 8 1/2"-diameter cast iron handwheel operates the cut depth system. Each full revolution of the handwheel changes table height by 1/16". That makes very small adjustments easy to make accurately.

An easy to read, magnified cursor over the inch/metric scales on the top edge of the POWERMATIC PM15 Planer-Molder keeps you informed of the cut depth changes being made.

The optional Molding Guide System bolts directly to the cast iron table and makes cutting clean, straight moldings simple.
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The table has pre-drilled holes for installing the optional Molding Guide System (#2253082). That system has adjustable guides to keep the wood tracking beneath the molding knives precisely.

Cutterhead

The cutterhead assembly is housed in a large iron casting that virtually eliminates deflections at the cutters. This heavy-duty construction also ensures long-term accuracy, dependability and smooth operation.

At the infeed side of the head is a row of gravity operated anti kickback fingers. These fingers help prevent the wood from kicking back out should something go wrong under the cutterhead.

On either side of the cutterhead cylinder are the 1 1/2" diameter, rubber-covered infeed and outfeed rollers. These rollers are adjustable for height and spring tension using easily accessible adjusters on top of the cutterhead assembly.

The solid steel, 2 7/8"-diameter cutterhead cylinder has the mass to dampen vibrations as well as act as a flywheel. That mass and the accuracy of its manufacturing substantially increase the stability of the planing knives or molding cutters.

The cutterhead is traditional in terms of the layout (left) but exceptional in its quality materials and manufacturing. Easy to reach and use feed roller adjusters (right) let you fine tune the PM15 Molder Planer for the job at hand.
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For planing the POWERMATIC PM15 Planer-Molder uses three straight knives that are secured in the cutterhead with wedge bars. Jack screws below the ends of each knife simplify adjusting their height accurately. POWERMATIC includes an easy to use set up gauge for checking knife height. With the gauge on the cutterhead, use the jacking screws to adjust the knife until it touches the gauge. That is all there is to it.

Molding cutters are installed in the same cutterhead using wedge bars supplied with them. Single pattern molding knife sets include counterbalancing weights that are secured into the empty knife grooves on the cutterhead to maintain balance of the assembly. Three knife molding cutters that are 1/8"-thick or less an be installed along with the planing knives to simplify the process.

To keep multiple molding cutters aligned with each other Powermatic includes a gauge that attaches to the cutterhead frame. This gauge is adjusted so it touches the end of one cutter so the remaining cutters can be aligned with the gauge. The process is simple but insures that the profile they cut is clean and precise.

Feed Rates

The chain-drive feed system lets you select between 10FPM and 20FPM on the fly.
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The POWERMATIC PM15 Planer-Molder has two feed rates, 10 and 20 FPM (feet per minute). The 20-FPM setting is used primarily for dimensioning stock to speed that process. The 10-FPM rate is most often used for finishing cuts to make use of the cutterhead spinning at 4500 RPM and the resulting 13,500 cuts per inch. The 10-FPM setting is always used when using molding cutters.

The dual feed rates come from a built in gearbox. A push/pull handle on the side of the POWERMATIC PM15 Planer-Molder shifts between the feed rates, in for 10 FPM and out for 20FPM. As with most dual speed planers, feed rate changes are made only when the POWERMATIC PM15 Planer-Molder is operating.

In the Shop

Using the POWERMATIC PM15 Planer-Molder turned out to be easier than I anticipated. I thought setting it up for cutting moldings would be a chore but it is actually pretty easy, and relatively fast. Setup for planing operations is easier yet.

Another point of concern was the weight of the POWERMATIC PM15 Planer-Molder. However, moving this 400-plus pound machine around the shop is almost fun with the built in wheels!

During the evaluation I used several of the available molding knife profiles, including three and single knife sets. Taking a full-depth cut right from the start to cut the full profile was a little unnerving at first but the POWERMATIC PM15 Planer-Molder has plenty of power to handle the task. I expected a rough surface when using the single knife cutters but in oak, walnut, poplar and cherry, they did a surprisingly good job, producing a surface ready for light sanding before finish.

The POWERMATIC PM15 Planer-Molder seems to have plenty of power and applies it smoothly. I didn't use any scientific instruments but this machine seems to be a little quieter than other straight knife planers I have used. Understandably it is even quieter than that when cutting moldings.

See It Work!

Dust collection was also a surprise. Trying to evacuate the debris from under this large top is a major undertaking but when connected to a good dust collector, the dust hood is effective.

Conclusions

The POWERMATIC PM15 Planer-Molder is a well made, nicely designed planer molder that brings both capabilities to your shop. The only real compromise is the lack of steel feed rollers for planing. Rubber-covered feed rollers are necessary for working with moldings. During our evaluation, the rubber-covered feed rollers posed no problem at all. Crucial setup of things like the feed rollers is easy to reach and easy to do. All of the normal setups are simple and easy to get at thanks to the full hinged top.

With a street price of $1899.99 (3-2-2008) the POWERMATIC PM15 Planer-Molder is not cheap. However, being a planer and molder can have dramatic cost savings for many shops. Being able to produce moldings when you want them, in the wood you want and in the quantity needed could pay for the POWERMATIC PM15 Planer-Molder in a surprisingly short time. Throw in being able to use rough cut (cheaper) wood and the POWERMATIC PM15 Planer-Molder makes a lot of sense for many woodworkers, including those with small shops.

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