welcome to my blog

designing and building with wood channels my creativity and challenges my mind.
This blog is a record of my life in my studio.

The Robland X31

Introduction: how I came to own a Robland X31

I recently purchased a 1990s-era Robland X31 combination tool.  A new Robland X31 with similar options similar to mine will run you around US$13,000.  But I picked mine up from a local high school for a cool US$1,000.  At that price (and frankly for $13,000 as well), the X31 is an unmatched bargain.  

I purchased my X31 for less than 50% of the price of a used 12" jointer, which is just one of the five tools included in the machine. 

What IS an X31?

The X31 is one of a class of woodworking power tools known in the U.S. as "Euro Combination Machines."  These machines combine two or more functions into one unit, saving on space, cast iron, and electronics, and allowing the user to pack a lot of woodworking fire power for not a lot of money.  

Euro combo tools - such as the X31 and machines from Felder, SCMI, and MiniMax,  have never been popular in the U.S., perhaps because square footage is less expensive here, or perhaps because $13,000 is a lot of money for an individual to spend on a power tool.   

It could also be because the X31's combination of features puts it in a weird market space: Euro combo machines like the X31 are typically described as space-saving solutions for the individual woodworker.  But the Robland X31 (and tools like it) are nothing like the America's take on the combo machine, the Shopsmith.  Whereas the Shopsmith features smallish capacities at every tool (8" table saw blade, 10" lathe, 12" band saw) and a modest motor, the Robland X31 boasts more power and capacity than most individual woodworkers' power tools. 

In fact, the X31 features a 12" jointer, a shaper with both 1.25" and 0.75" spindles, a mortising table, a 12" planer, and a 12" sliding table saw, all powered by three independent 3 HP motors.

Normally, you'd find 3 HP shapers, 12" jointers, sliding table saws, and mortising machines in smaller production shops, not in a home shop.  So the X31 features more power and greater capacity than individuals typically need, but its all-in-one form factor makes it unattractive to production shops, which need separate tool stations.  

But the X31 is an excellent choice for the independent professional.  I have found it easy to switch between jointing and planing functions, and my second table saw allows me to keep many of my setups intact over the course of a work day.  The X31 is built to a higher standard than my other "big" power tools, from companies like Jet, Delta, Rikon, and Powermatic.  It is by far the easiest to tune of all my stationary tools, and it stays in tune for longer.   

Check Out This Video Demonstration of the X31

How Does my Robland X31 Impact my Clients?

I purchased my X31 after burning out two routers while cutting raised panels, and having become really frustrated with my 6" jointer.  Now that I have added the X31 to my shop, my clients can expect these benefits:
  1. Better-looking panels made from boards up to 12" wide, instead of panels glued-up from 6" wide boards.
  2. LARGE custom moldings and raised panels
  3. Faster production times and lower labor costs
  4. More mortise-and-tenon furniture

 More Information about the X31

There is a lot of information on the X31 available on the Web.  I used these resources when setting up my X31, and I aggregate them here for anybody looking for a one-stop shop for all the X31 info on the Web.

My Verdict

I couldn't be happier with my X31.  It is certainly a tool for a certain stage or type of woodworker.  For somebody like me, needing to allocate scarce resources like space and cash flow, the X31 delivers professional, production shop capacity and power while remaining in the same price ballpark as Amercian machines designed for individuals' use.

This is a big deal, because there really is no American product designed for the individual, custom maker.  American machines designed for individuals' use (read: hobbyist) aren't up to snuff for the professional furniture maker.  They're hard to tune, fall out of tune quickly, and the parts are designed to minimize materials expense.  The level of quality I desire can only be found in American machines designed for high-throughput environments, or in the European combo machines like the X31.

I recommend the X31 to any individual who expects to be making primarily one-off pieces.  While most professionals would advise novices to "progress" through smaller machines before graduating to the X31's very powerful tools, I don't think that's necessarily the case.  Having gone through such a "progression" myself, I see no reason why I HAD to buy a 1.75hp table saw, 6" jointer, and bench-top planer before selling them all to buy the X31.
If you see one on sale - buy it.  You won't be disappointed.