Combination Machines in Furniture Shops

Furnituremakers share experiences with combo equipment. December 6, 2011

I'm getting ready to outfit an 800 sq ft shop. This is 90% a one man operation. How many of you use combination machines vs individual stations? Would you do it differently with the benefit of hindsight? I'm looking at the advantage of lots of equipment for a relatively reduced price (combo) and fewer dust collection ports. Individual stations require less setup, but at 800 sqft I'm not sure how much I'd be storing some of those off to the side, requiring the same setup time when I need them.

Forum Responses
(Furniture Making Forum)
From contributor J:
I guess the first question is what kind of work you plan on doing. That info can make the decision easier. I build mostly custom furniture, with some built-ins and the occasional kitchen. I have a Felder saw/shaper. The shaper doesn't get a ton of use, but while it is set up, having to recut a part on the saw can be a pain depending on the shaper setup. I know plenty of one man shops who have a combo and make it work just fine. You just have to develop a work flow to avoid extra changeovers, or make extra parts so that when you botch one you don't have to go back too far. I had a 960 foot shop and had a slider, a jointer/planer combo, miter saw, bandsaw, mortiser, sander all with room left over to work. Take your time with the layout, put things on wheels, and don't be reluctant to move something if it's in the wrong place. It takes a while to get it right. Have fun.

From the original questioner:
Thanks. We do the same kind of work. I'm considering the Mini Max CU 300 Classic. But I'm constantly weighing the price for that against individual stations. Your input makes sense.

From contributor J:
If you aren't already, get on the MM users Yahoo group. You can get a lot of input from users of that machine there. I can only say good things about MiniMax and their customer service - it's second to none in my experience.

From contributor K:
If you have a well organized method of work, the combo approach may suit you. 800 square feet is not much, and definitely puts a premium on free space for work in progress - just be prepared to pay for the space in changeover time between functions. I have struggled with combination machines in the past. My new (renovated) one man shop is about 1100 square feet with separate machines and a flexible bench/assembly finishing area in 1/3 of that, which seems barely enough, though luxurious compared to the previous 720 square feet plus loft space. Plan for expansion if possible as your business grows. If not possible, concentrate on dollhouse furniture and jewelry boxes.

From contributor C:
I too am a combo user, or should I say I avoid using some of the functions on my combo because of the setup and changeover issues. I have a European 4 function machine. Itís not a high end one, but for now itís accurate enough.

I primarily use the jointer/planer, which are the main functions I bought it for. It has a saw with an awfully small table and a slot mortiser that I donít use at all. It doesnít take much time to switch between jointer and planer; itís just that occasionally you want to go back to something without changing your settings!

I work out of 500 sq feet and I would buy separate machines, space for them or not! Look at what you do and see if separate machines would work in your space and think about setups and work flow.

From contributor H:
I use a Robland combination machine. It came from Laguna, who now offers their own model which looks good. I have used it for about 6 years and it has been very useful. The table saw and thickness planer get most of the work, and they are worked a lot. I have a large sliding table, but the outrigger is off of it because it takes too much space and I don't process sheet goods. I would replace it with a straight line rip saw and thickness planer because that is almost all I do with it, but just can't sell it. I rarely use the mortiser, except for furniture making, where it works beautifully. The shaper never gets used by me because I don't make moulding. And I don't currently use the jointer because I have another huge one. I highly recommend these machines for a small space if you need more than two of the functions they offer. Now that I've settled in to mainly two of the five functions, I could easily switch it to two separate machines, but then, what if I need that horizontal mortiser one day, or that shaper?

From contributor M:
I have a similarly sized shop and it sounds like I do pretty much the same work you do. I recently upgraded my equipment to a used Minimax slider, SC3W, a new MM16 bandsaw and a new FS30 jointer/planer. I was really concerned with space but I laid it out well and made everything stationary except for the jointer/planer. It is great having the larger machines and I really haven't noticed that much difference in usable space because I can move the jointer/planer around. I too considered getting a full combo machine but I am glad I didn't... I felt that since I needed full access to all sides of the combo machine I would actually lose some space. Now I have the SC3 slider up against the wall and I can move the jointer in and out as needed.