Sending it back

  • Advertise with us
Review by Todd Clare posted 01-21-2011 12:55 AM 16925 views 1 time favorited 36 comments Add to Favorites Watch
Sending it back No-picture-s No-picture-s Click the pictures to enlarge them

Note: I’ll keep updating this as things progress. And italic items to clarify my original pronouns to make sure it’s clear when I’m talking about Steel City or Highland, both who are helping me out with the issue as we speak.

My original review (2 stars)
I was excited to order this planer, and found it online at Highland Woodworking for $100 off.

I got it last week, and am really disappointed in it. Although I’d say the fit and finish of it isn’t ideal (stuck on measuring tapes that they put on crooked, feels a little plastic-y) I was still pretty excited as I prepped it for use.

“Clean all unpainted metal surfaces with a household cleaner/degreaser”—Easy enough. When I removed all the packaging, there was a good deal of grease on the tables that had also dripped or run onto the plastic. At least it wouldn’t be rusty… :) After giving it a good, solid cleaning (I’m in an engineering field… I do the details) I fired it off and it sprayed grease across the workshop. After much thought and consideration, I called their Steel City’s support line.

I mentioned my experience and the guy said “Yeah, we have that problem with these all the time. I think they’re too cheap to use those silica bags, and just cheap out with a ton of grease”—agreed! When I asked how to remove it, the solition was to take the housing and head completely apart, remove every one of the cutter heads, clean everything off twice (he said) including wiping the threads of every cutter attaching screw (he said that’s where it hides and will come out for weeks) and then put it back together. I asked him if this is how all their tools ship—do they expect buyers to spend 4 hours taking their products apart, and he said no, this model just “seems to have that problem”. Great.

Did I mention I bought if from a GA company and I live in CO? Not wanting to deal with shipping it back, I decided to postpone the degreasing and check the cut.

Ran the board through and there were noticable, not-sandable grooves—one of the cutter heads was obviously misaligned. Leaving the telltale stripe that they sell as an advantage of the helicalv. three knife head: if there’s a grove, just replace one cutter and not the whole knife.

So I called them Steel City back. He said yep, “while you’re at it removing the grease, just make sure all the cutters are seated fully”. Can I take this to any local service shop and exchange it for maybe a better fastened version? “Nope. And in fact, that groove is normal. It comes with a tolerance of .0004” and will over X board feet move to (some other worse number) etc etc.” Me: But the groove here is much deeper than that. “Take it apart and fix it then”

So now I have this thing. I paid $50 to ship it out here. And (very disappointingly) Highland Woodworking won’t pay to ship the defective product they sold me back, so that’s another $50.

Highland Update: I received the fast and perfect reply below from Highland Woodworking. Seems in my rant about the grease, we didn’t connect on the grooved issue. I remember mentioning it, but I may have been so far into the grease that it didn’t stick out. I want to reiterate here that Highland is doing a perfect job to remedy this and don’t want anyone to associate them with the main issue. It was just a frustration that I sensed at the time not getting it shipped back, but now that we’re clear there might be an actual issue, they’re all about it with their (from everything I read and hear) fantastic customer service.

I was SO CLOSE to buying the Dewalt, but got sucked in by the helical head. Damn.

I’m usually not a brand boycotter, I know how things can just go wonky on an assembly line, and maybe another one would not have these issues, (although it sounds like the grease would be there) but the Steel City customer service “I don’t give a s—-” attitude was really disappointing.

I have one (unanswered) call into Steel City at the suggestion of the guy at Highland to see if they will reimburse me for the shipping to/from. I’m not holding my breath, but all in all, I wouldn’t touch them with a 10 foot, grease covered pole. Buyer beware…

If you feel like calling Steel City (or Highland for that matter) and mentioning that what they did sucked, feel free :) I’ve tried…


Update, now 3 stars

So I got a nice call back from a higher up at Steel City. Although it took them a few days, he was VERY helpful and did a good job to address the issue. His feedback was that the head and cutters in NO WAY need to come out, and that he’ll make sure their phone agents all know that.

He said his “grease trick” was to use non chlorinated brake cleaner. Remove the dust port (really just one bolt) and spray it on the head. Run it with rags underneath and it should come clean, and apparently leave no residue. Run a scrap board through it 2-3 times and it should be good.

I bumped the star on this rating for that, and once I can really run boards, I’ll (hopefully) do it again.

Also to note: I mentioned that I was posting these reviews and that the grease is a common issue here, just something that might not get his product selected by a customer. He said he’d surf the sites and copy the reviews and send those to the factory to get them to try to change how they process the parts, etc. Pretty cool, and from the conversation I sensed he really would do that.


See the Highland Update, above and my comments below in response to the perfect reply from Highland’s owner.

Final Update: 2 stars and sending it back

So I spent the day trying to degrease the planer and fix the grooving issue.

Grooves: It turns out on further inspection, that they were more of a plateau than grooves. There was an indentation (well two) but between them the wood was actually higher than the rest of the planed surface. I messed around with rotating the nearby cutters but it just seemed to move it and never solved it. Assuming that the degreasing would work, I figured it nothing else I’d move what could be the offending cutters (not square? Not perfectly flat? Different thickness?) to the absolute edges so they didn’t have an impact on anything but the widest boards. Onto the grease…

Grease: I took the suggestion of the guy from Steel City and got non chlorinated brake cleaner. Took off the dust collector housing (the inside of which was, surprise, coated in grease). Sprayed the head as I carefully rotated it by hand, trying to avoid cutting myself on the slippery and sharp cutters. I had to go about 3 times spraying, wiping, q-tipping the head to get it as clean as I could. Ran a board and it was still greasy. So I opened it back up and realized that the inside of the cylinder where the cutter rotated was completely solid grease and sawdust. So another cleaning, this time trying to use the cutters to pull paper towels through the space to clear off the gunk. And of course since it ran, the head itself was gunked again… So after that, I decided to run it without a board to see if I could get any residual buildup out. Ran it for about 2 minutes and still got some minor spray on the table, but decided that if I put some dust into the system it would likely contain the residue (like the Steel City guy said) so I started running boards. They came out clean! I was feeling really good and ran a few more to check, and they too were clean. I started putting my pile of rags in the trash and celebrating my victory…

... too soon…

I looked on the table and there were now puddles of grease. After a lot of digging, I found that the housing in which the head rotates has little flutes or vents between the head and the roller wheels. Unable to reach them, I put a qTip up there and it came out coated. As an experiment, I ran the motor for about 3 minutes and apparently the heat (since no cleaner was up there) melted it enough to drip.

That was it. The quality of the plane is suspect and I’d already spent a day cleaning it, and grease started coming out from new, unexplored crevices.

End judgment:
I will still give the planer a rating based on my experience, but I’m sending it back to Chris at Highland given his offer to take it back. I’m going to go with the Dewalt 735 and follow my first instinct. Had it not been a grease ball and had it had the cutters alignable, it likely would have done the job. But given some items on the fit and finish, I still would have been disappointed: Measuring tapes misaligned, the dust collector held by three screws on the top but none on the bottom so it flexes with any pressure from the dust hose, some play in the depth adjustment (and the depth and the fixed depth settings all being off from what they said), etc.

For the same money ballpark, I’m going to go with the Dewalt. I would think from other reviews that maybe I got the one off lemon of the bunch, but that’s all I can base my review on.

Going to be ordering the Dewalt tomorrow from Amazon (I get free 2 day shipping, the price is the best I can find, and looks that Highland doesn’t carry it), but I can say, given the service, I’ll buy future items from Highland, but likely not Steel City.

-- Todd (Denver, CO -- Highlands)

View Todd Clare's profile

Todd Clare

67 posts in 3843 days

36 comments so far

View Tomoose's profile


422 posts in 4232 days

#1 posted 01-21-2011 01:27 AM

Man – that really sucks, Todd. I had just recently read a review of that same planer here on LJ’s and the guy loved it. I think I will go Dewalt when the time comes. Thanks for this informative review.


BTW – We are in the same neck of the woods – I am out in North Arvada

-- “I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it.” Pablo Picasso

View dbhost's profile


5777 posts in 4090 days

#2 posted 01-21-2011 01:42 AM

It amazes me how different your experience with this planer is from that of Brad Nailor… Sorry to hear of your troubles…

-- Please like and subscribe to my YouTube Channel

View Jonathan's profile


2609 posts in 3909 days

#3 posted 01-21-2011 02:09 AM

Todd, I am sorry to hear about the planer, and worse yet, the customer service, or lack thereof that you received from Highland Woodworking.

I hope you can get this satisfactorily resolved.

-- Jonathan, Denver, CO "Constructive criticism is welcome and valued as it gives me new perspectives and helps me to advance as a woodworker."

View live4ever's profile


983 posts in 3868 days

#4 posted 01-21-2011 02:37 AM

Wow. Sorry to hear about this. Based on the limited reviews I had read, I thought for sure this planer was a total homerun. Also disappointed about Highland. Thought they were “make it right” kinda people.

-- Optimists are usually disappointed. Pessimists are either right or pleasantly surprised. I tend to be a disappointed pessimist.

View Brad_Nailor's profile


2545 posts in 4816 days

#5 posted 01-21-2011 03:30 AM

I had the some of the same issues….the oil thing, was a problem at first, but it seems to have for the planer marks, I get very slight almost undetectable lines along the length of the board that can easily be sanded out. The fit and finish on mine seems fine, no misalignment of any decals or non functioning parts.
Here are a couple pictures of a cherry board I planned in a video I posted in my review.

The wider linesare just rub marks…. you cant feel any ridges at all on them. The other lines you see, you can barley feel with your hand, and cant be measured with a caliper. These pics were taken extremely close up, in macro mode with flash to illuminate the marks. I also noticed upon close inspection under a raking light that in fact there are “snipe” marks…I say marks, because, under normal light you cant see them, and you cant measure them with a caliper either, and they sand right out. How does this compare to what you were experiencing?


View Moby's profile


64 posts in 3618 days

#6 posted 01-21-2011 03:49 AM

I just got this same planer and there wasn’t much if any noticeable grease. But I did notice that the styrofoam under the cutter was soaked with grease. I haven’t planed any boards yet but will soon. I’ll post my results.

View Brad_Nailor's profile


2545 posts in 4816 days

#7 posted 01-21-2011 06:55 AM

Moby…same with mine the Styrofoam under the carriage was stained with grease but I wouldn’t say it was soaked. Mine didnt spit grease out when i turned it on, but after I let it sit for a few days after the initial running, it dripped more grease out of the cutterhead on to the base. So far I planed a bunch of short maple and cherry pieces, so it was running for a while, and since then I dont see anything dripping out of the cutterhead. There still is a little lubricant that does come out at the posts..but that doesn’t seem abnormal to me..that is where there should be lube. That piece of cherry pictured above was planed after the planer sat for a couple days..there are no grease stains or lubricant spatter on the wood.


View redryder's profile


2393 posts in 3960 days

#8 posted 01-21-2011 08:29 AM

Whenever I see a tool that is $100.00 off, I always ask my self….why is that???

-- mike...............

View Todd Clare's profile

Todd Clare

67 posts in 3843 days

#9 posted 01-21-2011 05:35 PM

TO be fair, I have now “un grumped” a bit :) I attended the first “wood finishing” class at Red Rocks Community college here in Denver (Hiya Tomoose, Jonathan and I are both in the Highlands, near 42 and Lowell) and remembered that it’s all about the final product, not about the work you do to get there.


I’m still really unhappy with the customer service aspects, but have decided to man up (when life gives you lemons) and open the thing up, clean and reseat the cutters, and give it a go. I’d rather NOT have to do that, and it will definitely influence my decisions for future purchases, but at the same time it does seem like it will be a good tool once I stop pushing all my currently negative energy at it, and it seems like once you dust it off (or de-grease it) people are very happy. I’ll post an update once I have that complete.

Brad Nailor: thanks for those pics. I had those but one straight deeper one that you definitely could catch a fingernail on or feel. My bet is one of the cutters is just slighty off tilt, and by degreasing it, that should solve it.

In with the good air, out with the bad. After I get it fixed, I WILL revise my review/rating to hopefully be better so I don’t (completely) jinx a good tool from being bought, but I’ll leave in my comments and lack of stars for the customer service :)

-- Todd (Denver, CO -- Highlands)

View Sawdust2's profile


1466 posts in 4946 days

#10 posted 01-21-2011 06:58 PM

I’ve been dealing with HW for almost 30 years. Know many of the people by first name.
I’ve called them and advised them of your concerns.


-- No piece is cut too short. It was meant for a smaller project.

View Todd Clare's profile

Todd Clare

67 posts in 3843 days

#11 posted 01-21-2011 08:23 PM

Just updated the review with new progress. Still not out of the woods, but moving in the right direction now.

-- Todd (Denver, CO -- Highlands)

View Jonathan's profile


2609 posts in 3909 days

#12 posted 01-21-2011 09:08 PM

Todd, if you run out, I may still have some NC brake cleaner out in the garage? Let me know.

Speaking of which, it makes sense to use the stuff since it’s so good t degreasing car parts. It may leave a little tiny film, but probably not bad. Might want to run a sacrificial board through on the first few passes, going from one side, all the wat across.

-- Jonathan, Denver, CO "Constructive criticism is welcome and valued as it gives me new perspectives and helps me to advance as a woodworker."

View Todd Clare's profile

Todd Clare

67 posts in 3843 days

#13 posted 01-21-2011 09:16 PM

Jonathan – yep that was the point (and plan) of the guy I spoke with. He said he honestly uses it as a general cleaner and it does make a lot of sense.

I’ll grab some as it sounds to be a useful product but if I use it all on the greaseball I’ll keep you posted :)

-- Todd (Denver, CO -- Highlands)

View Jonathan's profile


2609 posts in 3909 days

#14 posted 01-21-2011 11:20 PM

I hope you’re going to haul it out to the garage or alley to clean it! That stuff will stink up your house in a hurry, plus you’ll have runny grease everywhere. Anybody that does this indoors should put lots of newspaper down under the tool.

I’ll have to remember this when I get the new tablesaw. I’m sure it’ll have a nice layer that’ll need to be removed.

-- Jonathan, Denver, CO "Constructive criticism is welcome and valued as it gives me new perspectives and helps me to advance as a woodworker."

View Highland's profile


5 posts in 4265 days

#15 posted 01-22-2011 12:00 AM

Dear Todd,
A number of our customers contacted me today to alert me about your post on LumberJocks. Customer service is a big deal for us, and though we sometimes goof up, we always want to try to make it right.

I’m so sorry that the planer we sent you has not lived up to your expectations. We’ve sold well over a hundred of these machines in the past year, and to my knowledge the response from our customers has been very positive.

We’ve had a few comments about the grease, but until today it did not seem like a major issue. However it sounds like the factory might have been exceptionally over generous applying it to the machine you received, and I apologize for the inconvenience this may have caused.

I also regret that the information you received from your initial calls to Steel City about how to clean it was less than helpful. We obviously need to add a sticker to the outside of the box offering the brake cleaner solution for removing the grease. I’m sorry we did not already know about that method so that we could have suggested it when you spoke to Phil Colson here yesterday about returning the machine.

I just spoke with Phil about your phone call together. He said he did not remember your mentioning a problem with lines left by the cutters. His impression was that your specific reason for wanting to return the planer was that you did not feel that you had time to clean the grease off, which may have related to your earlier phone call to the operator at Steel City who suggested it would take many hours. I’m very sorry for this misunderstanding. Phil’s recollection is that it did not sound like a case of the planer being defective.

On your LumberJocks post you wrote “And (very disappointingly) Highland Woodworking won’t pay to ship the defective product they sold me back, so that’s another $50.”

Todd, please know that we would be happy to replace any defective tool (or secure a repair) at no additional cost to you, or if you prefer, refund all your expense if you need to return a defective tool.

When I first read your post, I was very alarmed because it sounded like the unfortunate lackadasical response during your phone conversations about how to clean the grease must have been with someone here at Highland Woodworking. Later it was explained to me that those conversations were actually with someone from Steel City. I do hope that readers would not come away thinking that that is the way we talk with customers who call us for help.

We truly value our customers and want you to be satisfied with anything you purchase from us. We’re also dedicated to offering helpful support in using our tools and resolving any problems you may experience.

Todd, if there is anything I can do to help you with your planer, please let me know directly either via email or by phone.


Chris Bagby, owner
Highland Woodworking

[email protected]
800-241-6748 ext. 301

showing 1 through 15 of 36 comments

Have your say...

You must be signed in to post the comments.

DISCLAIMER: Any posts on LJ are posted by individuals acting in their own right and do not necessarily reflect the views of LJ. LJ will not be held liable for the actions of any user.

Latest Projects | Latest Blog Entries | Latest Forum Topics