This is an American No. 444 30″ planer. This is shortly after the machine was delivered to the shop. I traded an old tenoner and an Oliver miter trimmer for it. I have a planer already, an American No 5, but I was intrigued by the 444 as it was the top of the line for babbitted “finish” or “cabinet” surfacers. Plus, the No 5 requires very expensive knives. The 444 is an opportunity to save on tool steel as it uses HSS knives as opposed to slotted knives.

It weighs 5700 lbs according to the catalogs. I was concerned about the chain hoist capacity. I climbed up and found the tag which I had never seen before and determined it to be a three ton hoist. So the crane worked, but I need an extra person on the chain because I am not heavy enough.

I had planned to wait until Winter to work on this but it was so in the way for deliveries and otherwise compelling that I went ahead and started working on pulling the cutter head cylinder out of it in order to get a look at the bearings.


Doing so became rather involved.

This particular 444 is a Direct Motor Drive option. It appears early, perhaps 1910 or so. In order to get a look at the bearings, it was necessary to remove the outside bearing and end bell (dispensed with in later years) and pull the stator. This was when I determined that the stator was not concentric to the rotor on account of the worn bearings. It was in need of adjustment which was provided for by the makers.

The inside end bell was trapped by the rotor. I was not wanting to get involved in trying to pull the rotor, so I lifted the cylinder out with it hanging beside the protected rotor. The cylinder is about six feet long and I estimated it at 400 lbs. It is turned from a single piece. From what I have read, I believe it to be a forging of what was referred to as “crucible steel”. The bearing journals are 12″ and 2 1/4″ in diameter. Rotor and feed pulley appear to have been drilled for balance.

The bearing caps are heavy castings with a very closely machined fit into a cradle containing the lower bearing. Together they comprise a substantial bearing box which is removable to aid in the pouring of babbitt. The caps are side clamped with large bolts and adjustable end to end with a micro adjustment in a bar over both ends of the caps. They require a good pinching finger grip to get a hold of and lift out. They are heavy and will only come lifted perfectly straight due to the close tolerance. It easy for them to bind and for one to lose control of them.

Once I lifted the cylinder out it was clear that I would need to do a lot of work. The outside bearing was badly scored and had a lot of vertical play. The rotor side was full of fine dust and grime. In addition, the surface of the babbitt was pocked. The bottom had been re-poured but very light oil grooves had been cut in which were about gone. Fortunately, there was little rust on the journals.


The outside bearing appears to be original. The oil grooves are very similar to ones shown in catalog cuts. Between the cap and the bottom box was a felt both sides.

On the rotor side, the cap was shimmed with hard shims, as one would for ordinary babbitt caps. I believe this was a mistake made when the lower half was re-poured. The hard shimming prevented any adjustments to be made as per design.


This is the cylinder. It is about 6 feet long and weighs around 400 lbs. On the far side is the pulley for the two speed feed works. It appears to be drilled for balance as does the rotor (protected by cardboard here). The journals are 2 1/4″ x 12″.

I was pleased when I was able to get the rusted knives and gibs (6) out without damaging anything. I studied the gibs for marks for pairing etc but found none. After cleaning them up I scaled them in enough combinations to determine them to be of equal weight.

The knife jacks were missing until a generous fellow traveler gave me a set. Original knife size appears to have been 5/32 x 30 x 1 1/4.


After a very fine emery clean up of the journals I decided to check for sprung journals. The lower of the rotor side bearing had been re-poured and I was skeptical of it. It may be difficult to spring a journal this size, or real easy, I don’t know. But I knew it would be pointless to scrape in a worn bearing if the journal was tweaked. So I smeared it with Prussian Blue, lowered it in and spun it. Pulled it out and found that I had concentric contact. I concluded from this that I was good to go.

In retrospect, a very light touch of the lathe may have improved my results but I have no access to affordable machinists with tools for this size turning.


This is the galvanized appearance which develops after many hours of scrapping. My bearings had contact at one side only which I figured had developed after bouncing around ill adjusted for years. The oil grooves must have been very slight. There is but a faint suggestion of their presence. The holes at either end are to return oil to the reservoir. The wick is removed here for cleaning. This particular pour is of very hard metal which was a pain to scrape.


This is what it looks like after the Prussian has been scraped away. I started going lighter on the sides as my bearing deepened so as to avoid getting too wide which would be real easy to do.

I lowered the cylinder into the bearings at least a hundred times, re bluing every few cycles. I was being very cautious. Next time I would probably be more aggressive at the outset.

An important step was to measure the distance to the bed. I used a block gauge to get to parallel and to stay there as I scraped from side to side.

After many, many hours of this, with my favorite scrapper,

I ended with bearings like this. This has new oil grooves cut into it. The wick now goes back into the center. I bunched it slightly against the floor of the reservoir. Then on the sides, I cut felts like the originals on the other side with v-notched in the at the oil return channels on the ends to fit between this lower journal and the journal cap.

This is scraping one of the caps. I sometimes trade scrapers just to use some different parts of my wrist from time to time. You can see here the two holes where the clamping bolts go into the cap. The fit is very close between the cap and the sides of the lower box. Lift straight or it will hang up. It’s kinda difficult to keep a hold of. Need a good firm pinch. You’ll see.

I’m sick of scraping now. Let’s move on ahead and put things back together. Here is the close fitting cap put back into place. The micro adjusting bars are back in place. the set screw puts the ever so slight touch on the cap to get it just so before firming up the side clamping bolts.

This oil reservoir is referred to as an emergency oiler in the literature. The wicks I have tied in a knot and then each heads to it’s hole (which you can see the other side of in the triangle of oil grooves in the cap above). The plug lower center is the fill for the main reservoir in the lower box. The 1/2″ wick draws from there to the bottom of the bearing.

This machine had been in production for a while before Direct Motor Drive was offered as an option. Adding the motor mount buried the drain for the bearing so I added a line to run under the mount and the gear guard. It also appears from catalog cuts that the outside bell bearing was eliminated in later models than this. I had to replace the bearing here. I believe that as the babbitt wears in, this will need to also be adjusted to follow, which is perhaps part of the reason they got rid of it.

With this end plate removed, it is easy to gauge the centering of the stator. Adjustments are easily made loosening the mount and using the set screws provided.

The 444 has a sectional chip breaker. Mine was rusted shut basically, meaning that the shoes would not move. So I had to take it all apart and clean it up. The shoes ride up and down on the rail. The rail is mounted into radiused carriers on each main bearing box. It floats freely and if drawn all the way up can be removed without removing any fasteners. But it takes two people to do it.

This is a shoe. They are some kind of hardened casting.

Here we are going back together. The set screw keeps chipbreaker referenced to the upper forward feed roll.

Fast forward. Here’s the machine earning it’s keep planing Chinquapin drawer bottoms.

Short movie. Since have made a feed belt guard. Still planning on getting continuous belt for the feed works. The outside motor bell bushing has been replaced which has settled the sound. With several months of use, the bearings are running cooler. I check the rotor clearance from time to time just in case.

I have determined that the pressure shoe is slightly wore in the middle, just like the other planer, so a truing of the shoe is on the list. It is apparent when planing full width parts, slight snipe in the middle of the panel.

New belt guard in place and machine earning it’s keep. It does a great job.

A year later.

The bearings have set in real nice. One re-adjustment. A fellow traveler machine nut made me a gift of knife jacks. A missing detail. The little screw to lift the knife when setting.

My next move with this is to find a suitable stone for the jointer. I don’t really think jointing the knives is worthwhile, but I need to use the jointer at least once. For the education.

020 (1600x1034)


Postcard image of the immediate belt driven predecessor to the No. 444, the No. 4 1/2.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: