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The Powermatic 54HH Helical Head Jointer has big-buck features in a small shop package, at a reasonable cost. What else could you want?
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POWERMATIC 54HH 6", Helical Head Jointer

High end performance, long-term durability

Text, photos and video by Tom Hintz

Posted - 7-10-2008

Jointers have always been must-have tools in woodworking shops. In recent years woodworkers have become more attuned to their role in creating square projects and clean joinery. POWERMATIC' s 54HH 6" Jointer makes achieving such high levels of accuracy and repeatability much easier.

The Cabinet Down Under

The POWERMATIC 54HH Jointer includes a 21"-wide by 13"-deep all steel base cabinet that adds stability and puts the table surface at a comfortable 32" above the floor. The 1 HP, 1Ph, 115/230V motor (pre-wired 115V) is housed within the base cabinet. The motor can be converted for 230V power.

The base cabinet is sturdy, gives great support and houses a very effective dust collection chute.
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The base cabinet also houses a dust collection chute that directs debris from the cutterhead to a 4"-diameter port on the side near the floor. Throughout the year long evaluation, this dust system (connected to my POWERMATIC PM1300 dust collector) worked exceptionally well.

Helical Cutterhead

The POWERMATIC 54HH 6" Jointer comes with a true helical cutterhead equipped with individual carbide insert cutters and the combination of angles that makes it so effective. The carbide inserts are arranged in spiral-shaped rows. Each insert has a 4" radius ground into the top and is mounted on the cutterhead cylinder to meet the wood at a 14-degree angle. That creates a true shear cut that prevents most of the impact that can disrupt the wood fibers as with most other cutterhead designs. That shear angle also eliminates nearly all of the noise, which can be deceiving at first. The POWERMATIC 54HH Jointer cuts so quietly that at first I thought the belt had fallen off. Not so, it was cutting very nicely, I just couldn't hear it over the muffled sounds of the motor.

The helical head (left) is the real deal right down to the solid carbide inserts that actually make a real shear cut. The inserts (left) have four tough, identical cutting edges, two of which many woodworkers are not likely to ever need!
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That shearing effect means this helical cutterhead produces remarkably smooth surfaces even with odd grain patterns and heavily figured wood. I have intentionally run wood across the POWERMATIC 54HH Jointer against the grain with virtually no tearout or chipping.

Each of the helical cutterhead inserts is made from solid high-grade carbide and has four identical cutting edges. That means that should an edge (eventually) go dull, you simply index it to the next cutting edge! Each insert has a marking at one edge that makes indexing all or any number of them the same way very easy. And, there is no shimming, alignment or adjusting of the inserts! Make sure the insert and its mounting pad are clean and screw it down. It's that simple.

Another bit of good news is that between the durability of the carbide and the low-stress shear cutting action, it is unlikely that anyone this side of a full-on industrial environment will be replacing or indexing the inserts very often - if at all. It is entirely possible that normally active woodworkers may never have to buy an insert. Should a hidden piece of metal actually damage a few of the carbide inserts (those directly in line with the metal) only the ones actually contacting the metal may need attention.

3-Knife Cutterhead (54A Model)

POWERMATIC offers this machine with a 3-knife cutterhead (54A designation) that uses cams for setting the critical knife height. This system is easy to use and once set, eliminates having to re-adjust knife height when changing or reversing them. Each knife is 6 1/16"-long, 3/4"-tall and 5/64"-thick and made from high quality steel. Aside from the cutterhead, the rest of the machine is identical to the 54HH in the rest of this review.

Iron Tables

The cast iron tables (left) are long, straight and make getting a perfect edge or face easy. the unique infeed table adjuster (right) makes tiny changes simple to make. I had no idea how important that feature could be until I started using it.
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The 7 1/4"-wide and 66"-long cast iron POWERMATIC 54HH Jointer tables provide lots of support surface. The tables are precisely machined for accuracy and mounted on dovetailed ways to maintain their alignment. Gib screw adjusters are provided so the user can adjust out any play that might develop years down the road. The outfeed table has a 1/2" by 1/2" rabbeting ledge cast into its edge.

The outfeed table height is adjusted with a handwheel located below the table. A finger-operated gib screw locks the table in position.

Infeed table height is adjusted with a uniquely designed lever system that makes both coarse and fine adjustments height changes easy to make with accuracy. After loosening the handwheel on the side of the machine, the infeed table adjustment lever makes large table height changes. Snug the locking knob down and turning the same handle one full turn results in 1/16" of infeed table height change. When the infeed table is set to the desired height, a thumbscrew on the rear can be engaged to secure it.

The fence itself (left) is nicely sized, very straight and bevels in or out. the mechanism controlling the fence face (right) is tough, easy to work with and stays where you put it.
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Full Function Fence

The 4"-tall by 38"-long cast iron fence has been precisely ground to assure straightness. Most of the tilt mechanism is also made from cast iron, making this system as solid as it is accurate. All fence controls are located at the center of the machine for easy access.

The fence tilts up to 45-degrees in or out with adjustable stops at 90-degrees (vertical) and each 45-degree position. The 90-degree stop is actually a simple flip-out bar that makes releasing or engaging it fast and tool free.

 

If you are like many woodworkers, moving large machines is necessary. The Powermatic mobile base is designed just for this machine and makes moving it around a breeze!
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Mobility

Many woodworkers must be able to move machines around the shop. To that end, POWERMATIC offers the #2042374 mobile base. This base is heavily duty throughout and is made specifically for the POWERMATIC 54HH Jointer. The wheels and locking mechanisms make moving the POWERMATIC 54HH Jointer very easy as is locking it in place for use.

 

In the Shop

Despite your many emails urging me to get this review done, evaluating the POWERMATIC 54HH Jointer took well over a year. During that time I have run who-knows-how-much oak, walnut, poplar, maple and pine across the POWERMATIC 54HH Jointer and it has misbehaved exactly no times. Not one. Also, I am still on the first of the four cutting edges on the original carbide inserts with no loss of performance.

The POWERMATIC 54HH Jointer has turned out to be exceptionally durable and easy to use. The fence system is accurate, stays put when locked down and makes straight square wood. I don't know what else can be asked of it.

The infeed height-adjusting lever is very cool and works as described. Being able to turn the handle for very fine adjustments has turned out to be more useful than I first thought. Making runners for table saw jigs comes to mind. Trying to adjust the infeed table height by a few thousandths of an inch to correct a tight fit in the miter slot is easy with the POWERMATIC 54HH Jointer. I like that kind of ease-of-use and accuracy.

Video Tour!

The dust collection chute and port are at least as efficient as any I have tried. I might have to sweep up a little if I joint a lot of wood but there are no piles of dust anywhere. I have never had the area around the cutterhead load up or show any signs of doing so.

The motor power is far closer to excessive than inadequate. I have never heard the motor or cutterhead slow during a cut. I take cuts 1/8" (or less) deep and use a rational feed rate and the motor handles all that with ease. I like motors that do their job without straining.

Cut quality with the helical cutterhead may be most remarkable. Despite being used extensively for over a year, the wood still comes off the POWERMATIC 54HH Jointer with a finish needing very little sanding. No lines, no chipping and no tearout. It just straightens the wood and leaves a very smooth surface behind. And, it does all that very quietly. People unfamiliar with how a true helical cutterhead works probably won't believe it but I can hear the shop radio while jointing the wide face of a board. I can also joint wood in the middle of the night without getting the evil eye from formerly sleeping persons in the rooms above.

Conclusions

With a price tag of $1199.00 (7-9-2008) the POWERMATIC 54HH Jointer brings true helical cutterhead accuracy and durability to your shop at a very reasonable cost. The long-lived inserts virtually eliminate the expense of sharpening or replacing conventional knives, further enhancing the price. Add the long-term durability and the POWERMATIC 54HH Jointer becomes a very attractive investment.

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