You Can Never Go Hone Again
By Michael Dresdner
reprinted from 2009 Woodworkers Journal
I sincerely doubt there is a less enjoyable shop maintenance job than resetting planer and jointer blades. For that reason, most lunchbox planers come with disposable blades. That’s great, but what about those of us that have jointers or larger planers that require us to go through the endless annoyance of removing blades, sending them out for sharpening, then facing the nightmare of trying to reset them accurately? For us, there’s Dispozablade®, a system that is fast, foolproof, and possibly most important, affordable.
The story of the company is actually the story of two companies, one here and one in Germany. The U.S. portion begins about two decades ago with Aaron Robinson, a sawmill owner who also did millwork and flooring in New York. At the Hanover show in Germany, he stumbled across Esta-Snied, a company that made a replacement knife system for jointers and planers. It piqued his interest, so he went back to the booth the next day and struck up a deal to import the product to the U.S. and set up a distributorship. With that, Dispozablade® was born, though the official company name is Esta-USA, which explains the website URL (www.estausa.com). Because he was busy with his sawmill business, he sought out marketing help from Dave Dean. Eventually, they split the company: Esta imports the products from Germany and sells them to Dave, who sells them through the Dispozablade® company. Aaron takes care of shipping, tariff, money conversion and other import problems, and Dean focuses on selling and representing Dispozablade® to customers.
“I was born and raised in the country in the rural part of New York state,” Dave Dean recounted to me. “My father was a custom home builder, and we built cabinets at home in the evening. After high school I studied architecture at the University of Miami, but wound up in the home building industry. I used to buy lumber from Aaron, and one day at his place, I saw the Dispozablade® and was amazed by it. Because he was busy with other things, he really wasn’t marketing it well. I decided that something this good deserved wider exposure, because the sad truth is that 90 percent of the machines in this country are run on dull knives, because changing the blades is such a nightmare.
“The initial German system consisted of a knife carrier and a double-edged disposable knife. At that time, it was still based on the idea that you set the knife with the jackscrews or springs that were in your jointer or plane, but you still had to set the knife. The reason it existed was because the German environmental rules were so strict about how to deal with grinding slurry, it was becoming challenging to run grinding businesses. Hence, the idea of disposable tooling became very appealing. “Over the past 15 years, we’ve tried to make the system more user-friendly. First came Posi-Set®, about eight years ago. It’s a set of rare earth magnets that take the place of jackscrews or springs as the setting agent. We simply take the measurement from the bottom of the pocket of your knife head slot to the cutting edge of a properly installed knife. From that, we subtract the size of an assembled Dispozablade® system, and make up the difference with Posi-Set® magnets, which can range from twenty thousandths of an inch to half an inch think.
Once they are in place, they act as both a referenced bottom and a holder for the knife and holder. All you need do is pop in the knife holder set and tighten the gib screws. “About two years ago, Aaron and I we were once again brainstorming about even better ways to set blades. We knew that with some tool heads, the machining of the knife pocket in the head is not necessarily accurate enough, and we needed a way to compensate for that.
In addition, we wanted something even easier to use. We came up with Self-Set®. “Most cutterheads are perfectly round because they are turned on a lathe. Since the outside circumference is a constant, Self-Set® takes advantage of that with a knife holder with integral stops built right into the back of the holder. The stops automatically set the blade holder exactly where it needs to be relative to the circumference of the head. Thus, there is no measuring needed, and in most cases, it eliminates the need even for the Posi-Set® magnets. To replace the blade, you remove the blade and holder, flip the blade over to the second sharp side, and pop the holder back into place. “Each time, the locator edge on the holder will set it perfectly. It requires no measurement, and to be blunt, no skill. It comes out perfect every time. That’s just the half of it; there’s also the speed. As fast as you can loosen and tighten gib bolts, you can have perfectly set knives.
“We are the only manufacturer who makes a system that will retrofit into any conventional machine,” Dean insisted. “All the others require that you buy a specialized cutterhead, and that can get very expensive. With us, it’s substantially cheaper. Anyone who owns a jointer or planer in any size from six inches to 30 inches, and wants easy, accurate installation and sharp knives at their beck and call, should have this system. Our customers range from hobby shops to industrial manufacturers.
“We still sell both systems, and there is a reason. Those machines that take an especially heavy knife, usually older industrial machines, work better with the Posi-Set® system. Most popular hobby and small woodworking machines work best with Self-Set®. “We have dealers throughout North America, but we also sell direct from our website. To make like easier for both us and our customers, the Posi-Set® and Self-Set® versions are the same price. For instance, a setup for a three-knife, six-inch jointer will cost about $223 initially, and a set of replacement double-edge knives, when you need them, will run about 25 dollars. Obviously, that’s a whole lot cheaper than the 600 or 800 dollars that replacement heads would set you back. On top of that, changing a head itself is a huge, difficult, time-eating chore.
“To us, customer service is first and foremost. If our customers have any problems or issues, we work diligently to solve them. The other thing is that we maintain an inventory so that pretty much any order received before 2 p.m. will be shipped the same day. As a result, over 95 percent of our orders are shipped the same day they are received.
Naturally, we also maintain an 800 number (800 557-8092) so you can reach us quickly and easily if you do need to speak to someone in person.” “My advice, though, is to do your research before you buy. If you do, I think you will find that we will give you the most affordable quick-change knife system available.”