Robland X31 Combination Machine
Frequently Asked Questions
By Paul Jordan
Table of Contents
The Robland X31 is a combination woodworking machine (3hp, 10" sliding tablesaw, 3hp sliding table shaper, 12" jointer, 12" planer and 3hp mortiser) made in Belgium and imported by Laguna Tools in Laguna Beach, California. Laguna Tools is the sole U.S. distributor, and can be reached at 1-800-234-1976.
My machine was manufactured in November of 1994, current specifications may vary. My machine weighs in at over 1,000 pounds and incorporates three identical, 3hp German made TEFC motors. One motor is dedicated to the 10" tablesaw (5/8" arbor), one is dedicated to the combination 3/4" and 1.25" spindle shaper, while the third, reversing motor powers the jointer/planer in one direction and the mortiser in the other direction. Both the tablesaw and shaper make use of the sliding table.
The list price as of this writing for an X31 is around $5,500 to $7,000, depending on options. Current pricing may vary. Oftentimes Laguna will run a "special", throwing in a free bandsaw or other item with the purchase of an X31. In my experience, good used machines are readily available at a decent, usually negotiable price. Depending on age, options and use (abuse), they range anywhere from $3,000 to $5,000. Laguna Tools also sells used machines and usually has specially priced machines in stock (i.e., "scratch and dent"). Call Laguna even if you are searching for a used machine in your area - because of the 30 day money back guarantee, you may find a new owner close by who wishes to return the machine (try to find out why first!). Separate machines of the same quality which provide the same functionality will cost quite a bit more, primarily due to the 12" jointer and the excellent sliding table features.
How does the X31 perform, and would I buy it again? The answers are "extremely well" and a definite "Yes". However, I did not reach those conclusions overnight (after purchasing a disassembled, used machine). It has taken a fair amount of alignment gymnastics and deciphering the original design intent on a few items to get the machine in what I feel is proper working order. I would say it was all time and effort well spent, some or all of which could be avoided by purchasing a new machine. It was far and away worth the price for me, but I don't expect to hear of any repeats of the deal I received.
Hesitations would be few in my recommending the X31, but any prospective owner should be comfortable with sound methods and practices of properly aligning a woodworking machine. Particularly if you purchase a used X31, you cannot be the type of tool owner that gives up or ignores alignment tasks, as you will never get true, flat and straight boards unless plain luck rules the day. Of course, this is true for any machine.
It seems relatively easy to find used machines for sale, which initially might lead one to believe that the machine has a history of unhappy owners. This is perhaps true in some sense (see section on alignment!), however after talking to a few prospective sellers my conclusion is that these folks pretty much fall into one of three categories.
Running into the first or second type of seller, as I did, can be a real (financial) bonanza for the potential owner who realizes what's in store. I did in fact purchase a "used" machine. The machine was one year old, had never been used (not even wired). It was simply disassembled and put into storage. The hitch? The machine was smack in the middle of New York City, and it was completely(!) disassembled (in order to fit into the storage area) with all the parts in various boxes. This meant the lucky new owner would have to re-assemble (and re-align) just about every item, nut, bolt and electrical connection on the machine. And of course there was the risk of missing parts, which is inevitable in such a scenario. However the price was just too good to pass up. The end result of this process is that I am now quite familiar with the internals of the machine.
It's a long story, but I was disappointed in dealing with the Laguna Sales staff. The short version is that after hearing I purchased a "new" machine in parts, they offered to "trade in" my machine on a new (assembled) machine for $4,500. Since my machine was virtually brand new and only needed assembly (admittedly 50 or so hours worth of my time, but I imagine a lot less for Laguna), I thought the trade-in price was outlandish (a "new" X31 in parts only worth $2,000?). Not in my book anyway. Disappointing, but not the end of the world.
Technical support was a different story. While they did not envy my task, they offered to stay on the phone (an 800 #) for as long as I wished and talk me through the assembly. While that was not necessary, it was nice to know it was there if I needed it. Whenever I called and asked for X31 support, "Lou" answered the line, and Lou gets an A+ from me for his help and knowledge. Not only did he answer each of my questions accurately (pretty much off the top of his head), he made sure I had every part I needed for re-assembly (I had to buy about 4 parts). I also spoke with one other gentleman who was very, very helpful. High marks all around for Technical Support.
My used-machine scenario was absolute worst case in terms of setup time and effort (machine in parts, documentation skimpy to none). The complete re-assembly from the ground up took approximately 50 or so hours working by myself (I really did not keep track). Along the way I had to figure things out, take off old Cosmoline and re-lube. I would guess a new machine out of the box should take the better part of a Saturday to get assembled. Unskidding the machine is no problem for one person if you follow the steps provided.
Set up of the machine is pretty generic in terms of setting up any tablesaw, shaper, jointer, planer, etc. You must have the correct tools and measuring devices to ensure alignment. It's a good idea to have done this before on other machines, but the Robland holds no real surprises (with the exception of the jointer tables/planer bed/knives as discussed below). One alignment bonus is that the tablesaw arbor/blade can be adjusted parallel to the rip fence without adjusting the entire tabletop (in fact the tabletop is not adjustable).
The manuals have some decent exploded diagrams (which I put to good use during re-assembly), but quickly can become a source of frustration if you need to know something specific, such as the size of a particular bolt (6mm? 8mm?).
If you are looking for any kind of "how to use this feature" or troubleshooting sections, such as common jointing problems and how to fix them, look elsewhere. Robland assumes you are very familiar with woodworking machines, how to use them, how to set them up and the potential problems in use and operation.
The manuals are not the worst I've seen, but for the purpose of re-assembling the machine or for day-to-day use, they are, to put it kindly, sub-optimal.
The X31 has a footprint of about six square feet when stored. The benefits of minimized space requirements when using the machine are somewhat obvious if you have seen an X31 in person. Simply put, I could not get similar separate machines into my one car garage shop space - which also houses the bandsaw, router table, dust collector, workbenches, etc.
Do not lightly dismiss the "alley" required to manipulate stock. One of the real bonuses of such a machine is that you only need one such "alley" in your workshop, simply rotating the machine depending on what function you are currently using.
The 3hp motors are so good as not to be noticed. They've never bogged down and have cut everything I've thrown at them, up to extremely hard 12/4 old-growth white oak. The motors run on 220v and you'll have to purchase wiring supplies and do your own wiring. A handwritten note from Laguna Tools noted startup amps at 23, so you'll need an appropriate breaker.
The tablesaw has a 5/8" arbor and accepts a 10" blade. My 8" stacked dado set works fine, although maximum width of the stacked blades is about 3/4" due to the dust collection shroud just under the blade. I'm sure this could be modified if needed. Blade height adjustments are made via a shaft and threaded handle arrangement. This makes it much quicker to change the blade height in gross increments, but makes fine adjustments (such as when sneaking up on a tenon cut) a tad more difficult than the more common hand wheel crank. The blade tilts to the right, towards the rip fence.
The arbor itself terminates on the blade side with a threaded hole. A bolt/cap arrangement then screws into the arbor and holds the blade(s) in place. The "cap" portion of the bolt is large enough to act as a blade stabilizer. However mounting a stacked dado set becomes an exercise in hand contortions, since you have to:
This is certainly not as easy as with the more standard threaded arbor/nut setup where you can load the dado blades on the arbor one at a time and then screw the arbor nut on. The X31 arbor itself is robust and very true, runout is negligible.
The older style X31 rip fence hits a real philosophical nerve for some folks, particularly if they are used to a Unifence, Beisemeyer, Vega, or other "beefy" fence. The X31 rip fence is extruded aluminum and goes just beyond the blade, attaching only to a front rail. I have found no problems using this fence, nor has it ever strayed from parallel with the blade. The face on the other fences (crosscut, shaper, jointer) are also extruded aluminum. I found variations in the faces of the jointer fence and shaper fences, but nothing too much to worry about. It would be great if these fences were cast units with ground faces. It's possible to retrofit the newer fence to older X31 models, although at a cost of $395 I'm not sure I see the need to do so. One very nice feature keeps the tablesaw arbor shaft from rotating while you change blades. The 50" crosscut fence is a nice unit, rides with the sliding table, and can be adjusted to come right up to the tablesaw blade or shaper cutter.
If you cut a fair amount of sheet goods, the ability to safely and securely clamp up to a 4x8 sheet of plywood (or a long board for crosscutting) becomes an immediate bonus and you'll wonder how you got along without the sliding table. I had a "Dubby" sled on my prior saw, and there is simply no comparison in versatility, safety and accuracy.
The tablesaw insert is not of a "standard" shape, and a blank from Laguna Tools runs around $50, so plan on making your own inserts. I made four blanks from white oak by first bandsawing a rough blank and then using the stock insert as a guide for a router bit with bushing to get an exact duplicate. These have worked out extremely well as zero-clearance and dado blade inserts.
The jointer/planer unit is very robust and both functions can handle 12" wide stock. They share the same three-knife cutterhead and guard/dust collection hood. The hood sits below the cutterhead when jointing, then flips over the cutterhead when planing. At some point in the past year or two, Robland modified the jointer fence system. I have the "older style" jointer fence system (as shown in the Robland video - the photo above shows the "new" fence), which is put on and taken off fairly often - one of the prices to pay for this style machine, but ultimately no real bother. It retains it's 90 degree setting very consistently.
You can swing the infeed jointer table out of the way with the jointing fence still attached, which helps in those cases where you want to crosscut a board with a short cutoff and then go back to jointing. I cannot comment on the newer jointer/rip fence, although I have heard both good and lukewarm comments. There is no scale on the jointer infeed table, so you must set the jointing depth of cut by sight or using a straight edge off the outfeed table, or some other method. This is no big deal for me as I generally leave it set at one setting.
The height change mechanism for both tables is easy to use and actually rather ingenious. Of course the jointer beds are short when compared to standalone 12" jointers. Longer beds would be useful, but again, this is one of the compromises a combination machine presents. The Felder, a competitive, more expensive machine does have a nice system of add-on tables however. To go from jointing to planing and back, the planing bed must be fully in the down position. It takes quite a few cranks of the wheel (a zillion at last count) to travel the full planing depth, which makes it tiresome to go from jointing to planing and back. This does however force you to think about stock preparation sequence, which is not such a bad thing.
Assuming you face-joint rough boards before planing (and I'm not sure why you wouldn't), it's amazing how useful the 12" jointer becomes, cutting down on the amount of ripping required prior to face jointing with a smaller jointer. Adjusting the jointer infeed and outfeed tables to be in the same plane is a chore for one person, as you must manually move and accurately hold in place the (heavy) tables after loosening a bolt or two. Robland missed the boat here, as some type of fine adjustment mechanism is required. The good news is that the tables should be pretty well set in this dimension by the factory, and if not, this is an infrequent adjustment task. Setting the side-to-side height of the tables is relatively easy via an adjustment bolt. Once set, the sliding table and jointer tables have pretty well stayed put. The jointer tables swing out of the way to use the planer, and both swing back to the same spot no problem.
The Robland-recommended method of changing and aligning jointer/planer knives uses an alignment jig referencing off the cylindrical blade housing. But the Robland presents a real challenge in that the knives, jointer tables and planer bed all must be (should be) in line with each other. Robland provides no good way to ensure this. Since the planer bed is non-adjustable in this respect, it makes sense to align the knives with the planer bed first, which is tricky. Then the jointer tables are adjusted to the knives, which is relatively easy.
Unfortunately, Robland provides no procedural help here, you are on your own. Overall, I'd recommend planning and budgeting for an Esta-style blade system, which I installed a short while ago.
The mortising table is beefy, accurate, safe, efficient and extremely useful. In other words, it's a winner. It uses any variation of a straight router bit (standard, upcut spiral, etc.) and has a very nice chuck (one word of warning - I have heard from two owners with chucks that did not close tight enough. Laguna replaced both chucks.)
One minor issue is that the maximum height of the mortising table is set such that you can't possibly mortise into the table itself. This is a nice safety feature (required, really), but it also means you cannot mortise within about 1/3" of the side of the stock facing the mortising table (you'd have to rig up something to raise the effective table height). A small guard covers the spinning chuck - this guard was too high on my machine (higher than the effective table height, which was a problem) so I had to modify it a bit.
Common practice involves taking the mortising table off the machine if it's not being used since it gets in the way of your stance when jointing. It's heavy to lift and can slide in a few directions, so you must plan out your grip, where and how to store it so that it goes from machine to storage in a few steps while holding your breath and praying against a hernia.
The shaper and associated shroud/fence setup is a well-designed unit. I've used two other standalone sliding table shapers, and the X31 compares very favorably with those $2K machines. The only shortcoming is that the sliding table is much farther from the shaper spindle on the X31 than on the standalone shapers, which means smaller stock must be "moved along" by hand (yuk) or by the sliding table fence - not the sliding table surface itself. At some point I will be looking into a power feeder. The spindle does not tilt, but I have never run into a need for such a feature. Rpm is 6000, which has been about right for me.
If for any reason you need to take the main table top off the X31, it's a major chore. The tablesaw motor/shroud assembly and the shaper motor/spindle housing are each bolted to the underside of the main table, making the entire main table assembly at least 250-300 pounds. During my re-assembly, putting the main table assembly back on the base unit was the only task where I simply had to have help. I'd imagine not many owners will have to do this in the life of the machine, but an engine hoist or at least one strong friend would be most beneficial should the need arise.
On my unit, the planer infeed and outfeed rollers were out of adjustment per the factory specs (the rollers were too low, about 0.030"). This was a major, major one-time job to correct. I would not want to perform this operation again - it was a tedious chore and I was simply lucky when a few items literally "fell into place" at re-assembly time.
There are three dust collection points on the machine, each with 4" outlets. In practice, the actual amount of dust collected is just slightly above marginal (in my experience, using a dedicated, single stage, 1000 cfm dust collection unit).
The tablesaw dust collection is done with a shroud below the blade. I have found small cutoffs have a tendency to fall below the blade, down the shroud, only to clog up the dust collection hose. A fair amount (10%?) of the sawdust simply gets thrown across the table, especially with a zero clearance insert.
After jointing, a pile of chips inevitably remains below the guard/dust collector hood, resting on the planer outfeed roller bracket. I would not advise use of the planer without a dust collector - the pressure rollers will invariably embed chips in the face of the wood. Similar to other planers, care must be taken to leave an unobstructed path for board exit when routing the dust collection hose.
No real collection point exists for the mortiser, so plan to make your own or make a mess. The dust collection port integrated into the shaper fence assembly does an above average job and is the best of the lot.
For older X31 machines, a bolt-on micro-adjust kit is available for the sliding table rails (I understand this kit is standard on newer machines). My machine did not come with this item, so I purchased it from Laguna Tools for around $90.00. In my opinion, this is close to a "must-have" item to get the sliding table properly set up and is a one-time pain to install. Make sure you look for this kit if you are contemplating a used machine. The included "instructions" for the kit are terse to put it mildly, to the point of being useless. I thought Robland might have left out 3-4 pages, but after some investigating I found that was not the case. The installation and use of this kit became a real case of deciphering the original design intent by myself.
A mobility kit option is also available, which I consider overpriced but an absolute must if your space is limited and you'll be moving the machine around.
There are two sliding table sizes - "standard" and "large", with the large table an option. I would rename the standard table "too small" and rename the large table "just right". My unit has the large table.
The Robland X31 has a reputation for being tedious to align and I would generally agree with that assessment, but really no more so that a suite of similar individual machines. I feel the alignment steps themselves are not that difficult, it's just that there are quite a few things to align, aligning one item sometimes affects another setting, and there is not a lot of documented help - you have to devise your own alignment methods in some cases. If a particular X31 machine did not have the micro adjust kit, the only item that actually would be "difficult" to align might be the sliding table.
I'd highly recommend the Robland X31 if you are short on space, are mechanically inclined, not shy about tackling machine adjustment and will utilize at least four of the five functions. In that respect I feel this type of machine simply cannot be beat by purchasing separates. Finding a used machine at a good price would be the best way to go in my opinion, it was a real success for me. There are other, more expensive combination machines on the market, and I might yet purchase one, but I feel the Robland X31 delivers extremely high value for the money.
Please feel free to email your comments, suggestions and/or questions.
January 1999 Update:
Lou from Laguna Tools tech support has worked up a new manual for the X31. I called and requested a copy which arrived less than a week later via priortiy mail. The manual is loose bound in a three ring binder with a Laguna insert in the front. I imagine the manual, materials and shipping added up to a decent amount but Laguna did not charge me a dime. Kudos to Laguna if this is the policy.
The manual itself is a mixture of new and old information. The "old" info is lifted directly from the old Robland manuals. The newer info is well done and useful, including both "generic" topics (like how to align the jointer tables, pretty much holds for any jointer) and specific items left out of the original Robland manuals (like how the tenoning plate is used). All in all it is a good effort on Laguna's part and I commend them for this step. If you have an older machine, this manual is not critical, but is what I'd call a "nice to have".