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  • Writer's pictureScot Finnie

The pain of buying tools (or anything) in the Pandemic era

One person's 9-month nightmare of manufacturing delays, shipping problems, delivery snafus, damaged machinery, 30 phone calls, 50 emails and having to learn how to measure the accuracy of a dovetail jointer — all for a one tool purchase.

Wooden crate containing jointer making its way up the ramp, being dragged via Chevy truck.
On the way out. The second return from a jointer order making the start of the journey back to Grizzly.

Don't buy a dovetail jointer. Spend the extra money and get a parallelogram design. That was one of my takeaways from the nine-month ordeal I experienced in 2021 with the purchase of a new Grizzly G0856 8" helical-cutter-head dovetail jointer. The irony is that after successfully navigating nine months of problem after problem, I had buyer's remorse on top of it. Grizzly's G0858 parallelogram model would have served nicely. I would also be interested in Laguna's JX|8 QuadTec I.

Before I go a step further, I want to make clear that Grizzly was not the cause of my problems and it stood behind its product. I do have a well-working G0856 in my shop because Grizzly made it right -- twice. But in the areas of the packaging used by Grizzly's overseas manufacturer and the tool purveyor's choice of a freight shipping partner in the U.S., it should make changes.

Grizzly's G0856 8" helical cutter head dovetail ways jointer.
Grizzly's G0856 8" helical cutter head, dovetail jointer. This is the unit that was later determined to be defective.

Anatomy of a 2021 jointer order

It took about six months for the jointer to arrive after I ordered it in early February. There was an unexpected hiccup in delivery at the last minute. The jointer shipped by container ship from Taiwan, and ports around the world were jammed as manufacturing started up again and demand was off the hook. The delivery delay led me to make the mistake of selling my 6" JET jointer in July, about three weeks before the new one arrived. Little did I know that it would be over three months before I would have a safe, accurate jointer again.

The jointer, which comes in two containers, was delivered on two separate days. T-Force, the LTL freight company that Grizzly uses, lost box 1 of 2 and just delivered the carton that holds the base, calling the shipment complete. It took a couple of weeks for them to find it. I called them twice a day until they did. Where had it gone? Nowhere. It was lost on the dock in their regional shipping center about 10 miles away from me.

While this was going on I discovered that the jointer base in the carton, which contains the motor, was badly damaged. Grizzly authorized its return after I sent a brief video showing that it could only stand almost level on three feet. So I boxed it up and T-Force eventually picked it up. Grizzly waited until they received it before sending me the replacement, but they sent it right out in a timely fashion.

Double trouble

Meanwhile, the original top half of the jointer, which ships in a crate, was on the way finally and I received it not long after the new base. I documented with Grizzly that the top of the jointer -- the business end with the two tables, fence, cutter head and dovetail ways -- had broken through the crate and was hanging down through the hole when it arrived. I sent them pics. But did it work?

I put it together with the help of some friends and when I cranked it up it felt wrong with my first test cut. I kept working through the setup procedures and accuracy checks. With a helical cutting head there's no adjustment for the inherent height of the blades. My problem was that when I had the tables at the right height for the blades, they weren't parallel or co-planer. But they were nevertheless within 0.002", Grizzly's specified tolerance.

As I fine-tuned it, the incidences of kickbacks, balking at the tip of the second table, cuts that stopped taking off material about midway through and test pieces that were noticeably thinner on one end than the other diminished somewhat. I decided to live with it for a few weeks. But I found myself avoiding the jointer.

Right at this point I posted a picture of the jointer on Instagram along with a caption, part of which read: "Something doesn't feel right ... cuts are tapered and sometimes it just stops cutting part way along the board. My gut tells me it needs shimming, but when I measure the difference [between the two tables] is only 0.002". It's frustrating to have a new tool you don't trust."

I got a comment reply from @grizzlyindustrial with an apology for the experience I was having and the suggestion that I get back in touch with Grizzly tech support. I realized that I had been effectively giving up. And that's not me. I took the advice and a few days later, I emailed tech support.

Proving it defective

For the next six weeks or so I worked closely with one tech support rep, measuring and refining the adjustments to various aspects to ensure the jointer was set up properly. I'll spare you most of the details. The short form is that I could set the outfeed table to correct height for the cutter head (although the 9 blades were clearly at different heights) but that didn't make the jointer cut well because I couldn't align the tables at that spot. I tried shimming the outfeed table, which helped a little, but there was still a basic conundrum.

I was using a great tool called Multi-Gauge by Oneway Manufacturing of Canada. It let me span the cutter head to measure the differences in the height of the two tables with a dial indicator. It also showed me the difference between top dead center (or highest point) of each cutter and the outfeed table adjacent to that cutter. I already knew from test cuts that the rear of the table cut less off each pass than the middle did. I also knew that either the outfeed table or the blade inserts had varying heights. I decided to record that variance, front to back.

Oneway's Multi-Gauge combines a long, well polished horizontal cast iron with a dial indicator on one end.
The Multi-Gauge by Oneway was the right tool for this job, and many others.

I started by setting the outfeed table to a compromise point at roughly the average "height" of the blades. (Because these measurements are relative, the word height is a bit of a misnomer.) Then I attempted to align the tables using a long straight edge and feeler gauges, making small compromises where needed to get the jointer into its best position. I ran a few test cuts to verify that I had found that best-compromises position. Then I used the Multi-Gauge to check the variances in height between the outfeed table and the highest point of the blade inserts. I measured with the Multi-Gauge base on the outfeed table directly across from the dial indicator at nine positions corresponding with the blade locations. Then I simply subtracted the lowest number from the highest number to get the range of blade heights, which was 0.0055" or 5.5 thousandths. That number was what finally pinned down for tech support that something was wrong with the jointer. Grizzly asked me to send the unit back for repair or possible replacement.

More hurdles to go

Even though I had saved the crate, the bottom side was shredded from the base of the jointer falling through. I had also cut two of the corners off it that had been were obliterated by impatient attempts first to open the crate and later to remove the 300 or so nails driven into it. The crate was made from shoddy materials. I rebuilt the bottom and corners of the crate using heavier weight materials and construction screws. Within a few days a friend and I had loaded the jointer back in the crate and carefully packaged up the loose parts and accessories, sealed up the crate and moved it up my steep Bilco basement egress stairs using a home-made sled, guiding ramp, some thick rope and a 20+ year-old Chevy truck with a V8 engine.

The hole in the bottom of the crate under the original jointer.
The hole in the bottom of the crate under the original jointer.

A few days later T-Force sent a new to me driver for the pick up who refused use to his hydraulic platform lift in conjunction with my truck or a 1,000-lb rated flat-top pull wagon I use for ferrying around heavy stuff. Grizzly had paid for liftgate service, mind you. This driver insisted the jointer be flat on the ground and wouldn't lift a finger to help me get it there. When I positioned it where he wanted it, he walked up to it and in one fluid motion grabbed one end and jerked it upside down -- despite numerous warnings on the crate not to turn it over. He was putting on a little show for my benefit. By this point I am sick to death of T-Force.

A few weeks later I get an email from Grizzly saying that

they were sending a new jointer to replace the one I returned. No mention was made of what Grizzly's techs made of the old one. A few weeks later I learned that it was deemed to be defective.

Can you guess what happened next? Let's just say I wasn't done with Murphy's Law. T-Force lost it. Again. I waited over 2 weeks before calling T-Force and then Grizzly. But it was another two weeks before a very nice person at T-Force found it sitting on the loading dock in my regional T-Force dispatch center. I drove to the dispatch center and they loaded it in my truck. At long last I was free of dealing with this problem.

Does this sound a little unbelievable? As this was ending, PC maker Dell Inc. has its own problem for me. I had ordered a Dell laptop for my son to bring to school. Two months went by. The first month was the time needed for the factory in Asia to build and ship it. After it arrived in the U.S., it didn't arrive here. Dell kept telling me that FedEx had it; FedEx kept telling me that they never received it.

Awaiting the arrival of the new replacement jointer tables, fence and cutter head.
Awaiting the arrival of the new replacement jointer tables, fence and cutter head.

Eventually I got the problem escalated at Dell. Meanwhile the Dell financing I had used was coming due and time was ticking away on my warranty. Finally, the Dell service reps determined at the end of November that it was not sent to FedEx and they didn't know what happened to it. Would I like to wait for a new one to be built and shipped. I think not. They cancelled the order gracefully and my Dell loan disappeared too. A week later my son got a laptop from another well-known PC maker -- in the middle of December!

The pandemic is a good reason to rethink sending all of our manufacturing overseas; the long distances compound the problem. Delays in manufacturing and shipping of goods is a global problem. I am by no means alone in my experiences. Domestic delivery companies are all feeling the pressure as people continue buying online at a furious pace in a favor of staying home. This is no company's fault. But that's little solace to people around the world that just want their stuff.

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