April 11, 2011

Porter-Cable 557 Plate Joiner - Review

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A number of years ago, we were in a pinch and bought the DeWalt biscuit cutter (we've always called them biscuit cutters and everyone we know calls them biscuit cutters). It's always been reliable and we've never had any real complaints with it. But earlier in the year, we were using the fantastic Porter-Cable Pocket Jig System and it occurred to us that the Porter-Cable biscuit cutter is also highly regarded. We put two and two together and decided we wanted to explore more of this tradition of joining tools that the brand seems to have developed. We were also looking at a massive shelving project that would require hundreds and hundreds of biscuits (over 300 and counting), so we talked to the people at Porter-Cable and they were happy to send us one of their 557 Plate Joiners (aka biscuit cutter) to test out and review.

So for the past month or so, we've been using the tool constantly (and we mean constantly). There's a lot to it so we'll try not to ramble like we usually do....

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First, if you don't know the concept behind a biscuit cutter, do a quick browse of the wikipedia article here. The tool basically consists of two parts; the base which has all of the adjustments, and the motor which can be plunged forward revealing the blade. So in order to use one of these tools, you line the tool up where you want to make the slot by using the adjustments on the base, turn on the motor, and plunge the sliding part forward thus sinking the tip of the circular blade into the workpiece. Once you withdraw the tool, you're left with a nice, clean slot where you can glue your biscuit.

OK, so onward...

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The first difference we noticed between the PC and the DeWalt is that on the PC, the top handle is part of the tool base, but on the DeWalt, it's part of the sliding motor. Once we used the PC, we saw the benefit of their configuration, which is being able to stabilize the tool base while making the cut rather than just relying on the pressure of the tool against the work piece. It's a much better situation and one that gave us a lot more confidence in the locations of our cuts.

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The fence on the Porter-Cable is capable of adjusting from 0 to 90, and then with a slight shift, from 90 to 135. The DeWalt can go from 0 to 90. The practical difference here is that the Porter-Cable is much more equipped for biscuiting miters together.

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The PC also comes with an additional blade, much smaller than the standard one, which can cut size FF slots. These are very tiny ones used for (obviously) delicate situations.

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In addition, the PC comes with something they call an alignment plate. This clear piece of plastic serves two purposes. First, it has reference marks on it for centering the slot on the butt end of a thin piece of wood. For example, if you have a 2" piece of lumber, the alignment plate indicates exactly how to position the wood in relation to the tool in order to ensure a perfectly centered cut. The plate is also the thickness of a slot, so you can cut a slot, attach the plate and cut the slot again for a double-wide opening in case you need two biscuits.

The adjustments on the 557 are all nice and easy to work with. There's even one that micro-adjusts the depth of the slot which is something we hadn't seen before.

And you know what our favorite feature of the 557 was? You're going to laugh, but it's the little nub of handle that sticks out right in front of the trigger. This little piece is perfectly situated for controlling the tool when you're picking it up, moving it around or holding it down at your side. It's a small detail but one that kept making us think, "damn, that's a nice touch, someone was really paying attention."

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The tool is rounded out with a great case, capable of holding plenty of biscuits and all the wrenches and accessories that you'd ever need.

All of this adds up to a very nice tool and one we've enjoyed working with and getting to know these past few weeks. The DeWalt has never done us wrong, but now knowing what the PC can do, our loyalties have shifted.

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So for all of this additional functionality, we'd expect it to be $100 more than the DeWalt, but it's not. It only costs $15 more ($173). And we're not trying to bring the hammer down on the DeWalt here either. Like we said, we've had their tool for years and it's always come through for us, it's just that you can do so much more with the Porter-Cable.

At Amazon.com

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Posted by Doug Mahoney at April 11, 2011 6:38 AM

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