Porter Cable's 557 Plate joiner has built an excellent reputation with woodworkers in recent years. The tool is seen as the gold standard among plate joiners. Many a woodworker sings praise of this particular plate joiner in the forums. Needless to say, I was very interested in using one in my shop. Let's take a look if the Model 557 Plate joiner is all that it's made out to be.
The 577 Plate Joiner
The 557 uses the standard push design all plate joiners use. A fence assembly positions a saw blade over the work piece the slot is to be cut in. The spring loaded motor assembly is pushed the cut. Springs return the motor to its resting position.
The bones of the 557 plate joiner, the fence assembly, bottom plate, and gearbox, are made from metal. This makes the tool incredibly sturdy and accurate. Any possibility of movement and alignment errors is eliminated by the rigid metal structure of the tool. The front face of the tool stays properly aligned with the blade no matter how much abuse the tool takes.
The motor is housed in a plastic body in the grip of the tool. There are no rattles or lose parts anywhere on the tool. The 557 plate joiner feels like it's been built for serious work.
The kit includes a clear plastic plate that mounts on the movable part of the fence. The plate fills in the voids in the fence and creates a larger surface area to rest the work piece on. With the plate installed the joiner is easier to position accurately.
Installing and removing the plate is difficult. It is held in place with fragile plastic clips. Fortunately the tool fits into its case with the plate installed. In my shop I leave the plate installed on the plate joiner at all times.
Setting up a cut
Two components must be set up correctly to make a cut: the fence, and the biscuit size selector.
The fence positions the biscuit relative to an edge of the work piece the fence can grab onto. There are two ways the fence can be adjusted. Firstly, the fence tilts up and down to allow biscuits to be installed in angled stock. A rough scale built into one of the guide arms of the fence helps with setting up the angle. There are predefined stops for 0 and 90, degrees. A set screw locks the angle adjustment.
The second fence adjust moves the fence up and down. The vertical fence position determines the location of the biscuit slot relative to the edge of the work piece. The adjustment is done with a screw at the top of the tool. A set screw locks the height adjustment. Moving from one setting to another is quick and painless.
Once the fence is set up, a biscuit size must be selected. The 557 has a built in biscuit size selector knob on the left of the tool. The operator simply selects the size biscuit he is using, and the tool's depth stop is automatically set to cut the correct slot. Unfortunately the operator must also remember to install the correct blade. Each biscuit type requires one of two blades to be installed in the tool. The biscuit selector knob won't tell you with one.
Overall the fence adjustment and biscuit type selector work very well. Since I use only one type of biscuit in my projects, the #20, I rarely touch the biscuit selector on my 557. The fence adjustment is quick and easy too. The 90 degree depth stop makes most setups a breeze.
Once I dial in my settings and lock them down, the tool keeps the setup throughout the whole workday. There is no need to be gentle with the 557. If will cut the last biscuit slot of the day the same way it cut the first.
Making cuts with the 557 is quick and painless. The forward hand grip makes it easy to correctly align the tool against the work piece. The fence and front face of the tool must make firm contact with the work piece for the biscuit slot to be correctly positioned. If this is not case, the slot can wander a bit throwing off the alignment of the two sides of the joint.
Once the front hand has positioned the tool properly, the rear hand activates the tool and pushes the blade through the cut. Springs mounted on both sides of the tool return the blade to its resting position. The entire operation takes about a second to complete.
The power and speed of the machine are such that biscuit slot in any type of wood can be cut quickly and cleanly. My 557 has never once had trouble cutting slots as fast as I wanted it to. The shallow cuts required for a biscuit are not a problem for the 557; even in exotic hardwood species.
Porter Cable has included a trigger lock. This feature comes in handy when a lot of slots have to be cut at a time, which is a frequent occurrence when working with biscuit. The lock not only accelerates the cutting process, it also frees up the read hand to help with aligning the tool for the cut.
As long as the operator positions the tool correctly the depth and alignment of the biscuits is always perfect. The reject rate on my 557 is practically zero. After learning how to use the tool I have never had to redo a piece. Most of the glue-ups I have made with the 557 needed only light sanding.
The 557 ejects almost all of the dust it produces through a dust port on the right of the tool. Since the blade is almost completely encased during a cut, virtually all dust is ejected through this port.
Porter Cable ships a cloth dust collection back with the tool. It connects to the dust port with a spring loaded clip. The bag does a reasonable job collection dust. Some dust escapes through the top of the tool.
When the bag gets full, dust collection efficiency drops drastically. Most of the dust is ejected at the front of the tool near the blade. If the operator leans forward to look at his cut, the dust blows right in his face.
The solution, as with any power tool, is to connect the 557 to a dust collector with a small diameter hose. In this configuration almost no dust escapes. When run with active dust collection the Model557 plate joiner will probably be the cleanest tool in your shop.
If you choose to stick with the cloth bag in the kit, you will have to be mindful of a couple of annoyances. As the bag gets full it adds a considerable amount of weight to the right side of the tool. Eventually the bag get so heavy it interferes with making cuts.
Emptying the bag is messy affair. A zipper at the bottom is used to empty the bag. Most of the content drops right out, but some dust inevitable gets trapped further up the bag. What results is an inevitable cloud of dust at the trash can.img class="medium left viewer" src="//www.hmres.com/site/images/articles/8b1233cc-bb74-4980-a4c8-80ca.jpeg" title="Porter Cable 557 Biscuit Jointer Review">
The kit version of the tool comes with two different blades; a 2" and 4" blade. Depending on the biscuit size selected one or the other must be installed in the tool. Blade changes, unfortunately, are somewhat of bother.
First the operator must remove the bottom cover to gain access to the blade. This is done by loosening four Philips head screws with a screwdriver. Once the screws are loosened the cover slides out of place and exposes the blade and arbor.
Next the arbor bolt needs to be removed. This is done with an Allen wrench, which is included in the kit. An arbor lock on top of the gearbox locks the arbor in place while the operator loosens the arbor bolt. Once it's off, the blade can be replaced.
A blade change takes a considerable amount of time to complete. Once it is done the joiner's fence must be realigned for the next cut. If you use different size biscuits in your shop, the 557 will place a considerable demand for your time on your shoulders. In a production environment having two Model 557s around is a better solution than depending on frequent blade changes.
The 557 ships in a high quality plastic carrying case. The case is large enough to hold the tool and all its accessories. With the plastic plate installed on the fence the tool barely fits into the case.
The inside of the case is formed to match the outline of the tool. This sets the case apart from the flat, compartmentalized cases used by other manufacturers. When closed the tool is held in place without any movement or rattles. If you regularly use your plate joiner on a job site, the case will serve you well.
As far as I am concerned the overwhelmingly positive reputation of the Porter Cable Model 557 plate joiner is well deserved. It has the right amount of features to make slot cutting quick and easy. Results are reliable and repeatable. The Model 557 is built well and will last a very long time, may it be in the hobby shop or in a production shop.
The Model 557 is not without its quirks. Blade changes are cumbersome, and dust collection without an attached shop vac is poor. None of these problem, however, cannot be overcome. The Model 557 Plate Joiner is the gold standard of plate joiners. You can't go wrong with this one.
- accurate fence
- fast and easy setup
- makes accurate and repeatable cuts at a production pace
- nearly 0% rejection rate
- supports several biscuit sizes
- good dust collection with a shop vac
- sturdy and durable
- carry case made from extruded plastic
- trigger lock
- slow blade changes
- dust bag fills up fast
- poor clear plastic fence cover