How to Set up a Jointer

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A jointer is a vital machine in a workshop, especially if you want your boards to come out flat and straight. However, in order to be effective, you need to set it up correctly. In this guide, we will show you how to set up a jointer by understanding its individual components. 

How to Set Up a Jointer

Like with any woodworking machine, in order to understand how to set up a jointer, you will first need to understand its different components and how they holistically work to produce the perfect boards for your projects. 

Let’s quickly go through some of the most vital parts of a standard jointer

Components of a Jointer

Let’s look at the most important components of a jointer, what functions these components perform, and how to correctly set them up.

Man using a jointer
  • Elevation Wheels: Elevation wheels support the infeed table, outfeed table, and cutter head. They also allow one to adjust both tables to the appropriate height. However, there are some jointers that come with controls for adjusting the tables. 
  • Infeed Table: This is the table where the board is placed to be pushed through the cutter head. Note that raising or lowering the infeed table determines the amount of wood being shaved off the board. 
  • Outfeed Table: This is the second table of the jointer through which the board comes out from. The outfeed table should be adjusted to the same height as the infeed table and the tip of the knives in the cutter head when they are at their highest point during rotation.
  • Cutter Head: This is the part of the jointer that corrects any board defects before it comes out on the outfeed table. It is basically the most important component of the jointer since it does most of the heavy lifting. 
  • Fence: The fence is responsible for squaring and beveling up the board’s edges. We recommend placing it at a perpendicular position with the tables and the cutter while milling a board. 
  • Guard: This is the part that holds the board in place while it’s being milled. This prevents it from coming off or moving out of place when moving through the machine. If this happens, the board might injure you.

Now that you know the different components of a jointer, let’s look at how to set the whole machine up. 

Step One: Align Both Infeed and Outfeed Tables

Making sure that the infeed and outfeed tables are parallel with each other along the same length is a critical step in ensuring that the machine works properly.  For starters, if either or both of the tables tend to bend towards the end, the board might develop an inward curve while it’s being passed through the cutter head. 

Jointer

On the other hand, if they are high towards the outer ends, the board might develop an outward curve. If the outfeed table is parallel with the infeed table but still lower than the cutter head’s knives, the board might develop a small, hollow cut at the end known as “snipe”.  

Check if the infeed and outfeed tables need adjustments by first unplugging the jointer, then remove the fence and the cutter head’s guard completely off the table. Take a straightedge or a carpenter’s level that is about four or five feet long, and place it on the tables’ surfaces. Make sure that the straightedge is in firm contact with the tables. 

Go ahead and check for any spaces underneath the jointer’s blade. Proceed to lower or raise both tables until they are perfectly aligned, then place everything back. 

Step Two: Align The Fence With the Tables at 90 Degrees

Like we mentioned earlier, it is important that the jointer’s fence is perpendicular to both tables during milling, otherwise, it can mess everything especially if the board needs four square edges. 

Most woodworkers complain that it’s quite a hassle to perfectly adjust the fence. However, there are simple steps on how to do so. First, loosen up the screw that holds the fence at 90 degrees, then loosen the knob that is used to manipulate the angle of the fence. 

Using a spring clamp and two squares, set and clamp the squares at both ends of the fence and ensure that they both are perfectly aligned with the tables and the fence. Go ahead and check if there are any gaps in between the squares, fence, and tables. If there are any, make the necessary adjustments until there are no spaces left.

Man demonstrating how to set up a jointer

Proceed to tighten the knob or control that controls the angle of the fence. 

Remove the squares and spring clamps, then place the squares back in the same position they were and see if there are any spaces. If there are any gaps or movements, repeat the whole process. 

Step Three: Set Up the Blades

Although many woodworkers believe that jointer blades should be set at the same height as the infeed and outfeed tables, that might not be exactly true. 

The ideal height for a jointer’s blades is when you lay a straightedge across the outfeed table and blade and rotate it backward, the straightedge should be slightly lifted and move with the blade about a quarter to an eighth of an inch.

You can also use a homemade jig to set up your jointer blades

Step Four: Test Out Your Jointer

After you have done all those adjustments to your jointer, you should test it out. The best way to do so is by taking two wood boards with the exact same dimensions and milling them through the jointer. 

Then proceed to place them against each other. If there are any gaps in between them, then you need to tune the machine again. 

Conclusion

While it may seem complicated, setting up a jointer is pretty easy. First, you will need to understand how the different parts work together to achieve the overall purpose of a jointer. After that, setting it up is fairly straightforward. Also, remember to handle the jointer with care to avoid injuries

An expert at home repair, remodel, and DIY projects for nearly 40 years. His first experience came in completely restoring an antique home. Completely redone from the inside out, and restored to its original form, the home is a featured design by renowned Southern California Architect Cliff May, considered to be the father of the California Ranch Home. Now Dennis spends his time on fine woodworking projects and tool comparisons.