Thumbnailer + Hoffmann ?


Inactive Account
May 24, 2002
Raceland, Louisiana
Has anyone tried using Thumbnailer with Hoffmann dovetail bits and dovetail inserts? I looked at price of their dovetails and i thought the price was rediculous, so i exited their website thinking "i'll never buy from THAT place". STUPID ME... i wasn't thinking! The price of W2 13/16" long, for example is $63.00 for a thousand... thousand! When i buy the Thumbnail inserts they are approx. $17.00 per 250... 1000 would cost $68.00. I would come out ahead not so much on saving five bucks, but on the much stronger dovetail inserts! That is why i asked the question... "Has anyone tried using Thumbnailer with Hoffmann dovetail bits and dovetail inserts?" This is probably what i will do the next time i need to order inserts.

Oh... My primary equipment is a v-nailer. The reason i also use the Thumbnailer is for deep moulding and shadowbox mouldings (I always hated to "stack'em...)

ajh, yes, I have tried it. I had the idea after I purchased my Hoffmann so I decided to see what would happen. The bits fit the Thumbnailer perfectly and you use the same depth setting gage as you normally would. It works just like the Thumbnailer normally does.

The only problem is the same one Thumbnailers have always had, the joints, or miters, do not align perfectly. With a Hoffmann, they are always aligned, you get a perfect joint.

The other main attribute of the Hoffmann is you can run really deep mouldings, something a Thumbnailer will not do.

By all means, pursue with the idea. The Hoffmann inserts will not break like the Thumbnail inserts do.

My advise would be to spend the money and get the whole package from Hoffmann, it is more than worth whatever you spend, believe me.

Thanks for the info JRB...

Question: Was the Thumbnailer you tried it on an old version or the later version? I have the old version, looked closely at it, and noticed the that the handles you hold on to and move from left to right to make the cut do not fit tight... there is about 1/16" play in them... which does effect the router cut. To solve this problem, i would hire a machinest to simply drill a 3/8" (+ 1/1000") hole in 2 pieces of stainless steel 3/32" thick by 1" x 1" with a place for two recessed holes on each plate so i will be able to drill and tap two holes in the Thumbnailer. He will only charge me 20 bucks. I do have ordered the later model of the Thumbnailer and if it also has a lot of play in it, i will do the same.

[ 07-06-2006, 11:39 AM: Message edited by: ahohen ]
I have had machinists modify a C&H mat cutter, I also had a machinist make a whole new carriage for a Thumbnailer so it would rout up to three inches deep. It works great and I will sell it for $250.00. I haven't used it in years, since I purchased my Hoffmann. You have to keep everything well lubricated for it ( the Thumbnailer ) to work properly.

Most of the stuff we purchase in our industry is designed by price, not quality. This is the reason the Hoffmann costs so much, it was not designed for our industry, but rather the cabinet making industry, where quality is more important than price.

I don't know why it is, but picture framers are notoriously cheap when it comes to the tools of our trade. If Hoffman had designed their machine for our industry it would probably be made out of plastic and would work about as well as a Thumbnailer.

Having a machinist clean up a new, or old machine, just makes sense and will probably save you time and money down the road.

JRB: I just received a carbide bit for W-2 size inserts and ordered various size (mainly 15/16" long or longer) and i tried it. The joints are perfect... once the inserts are driven in there is not "play" in the joint... it is much much better than the "thumbnails". (The Thumbnail I use is NOT the older version, it is the later version.) Again, i use it mainly for deep shadow box mouldings or thick and wide mouldings because i hate to stack vnails. When i need to purchase new equipment, instead of another Bainbridge Thumbnailer, it WILL a Hoffman dovetail jointer. Thanks for the info. ajh
Glad it's working for you ajh. The Hoffmann inserts will never break, unlike the Thumbnail inserts. Against Hoffman inserts, Thumbnails seem like silly children's toys or a home hobby thing. Myself, I do not think they should ever be used for professional framing.

I've been thinking about my comment about picture framers bing so tight fisted with their money for equipment. I think it is because we do not use our machines like other industries do.

We use our various tools from time to time, some machines can sit for weeks without there ever being a need for them. If you take the cabinet making industry, it's just the opposite, most of their machines never get turned off until the end of the day.

Their equipment gets considerably more use than ours does, so they do not mind spending the money for good quality, long lasting machines. We think $500.00 to $5,000.00 for a machine that will do the job, they think $25,000. is the starting point for a good one.

We see a saw wear completely out maybe once in our career, not so in many other industries.

Breakage of the thumbnail inserts is one of the framing trade myths. It seems that it originated many, many years ago. It's quite possible that at that time the plastic thumbnails were made from could be of a low grade or ... whatever.

I've been framing over 7 years, so have recent/current experience with thumbnails. Because of the specifics of my work responsibilities I analyze damages of hundreds of frames each year. Damages are done to frames during transportation, packaging, hanging, because of the age, etc. I've never seen a single broken thumbnail. In most cases the wood fibers near a mechanical fastener (thumbnail or V-nail) surrender. In some severe cases V-nails are bent, but thumbnails are always intact.

Thumbnailer is a good, dependable machine for a low volume shop. And, as with all machines, user needs some time to master it and also to give some thinking to it. The most important thing is to correctly tune the position (length) of the bit. If tuning is correct, thumbnail could be pushed into the slot with a minor resistance by a finger (not with a hummer).

"The joints are perfect... once the inserts are driven in there is not "play" in the joint... it is much much better than the "thumbnails".


There should be a minor play when using thumbnails. Because some space is needed for the glue. We have had several discussions here on the Board - "What is better mechanical fasteners or glue?" Almost everybody agreed that to get stable, long-lasting joint both mechanical fasteners and glue should be used. The changes in ambient temperature and humidity cause wood fibers to start loosening. The plasticity of the glue preserves the integrity of the joint.

Use vices to get a perfect joint with the Thumbnailer . Put some glue and then align both sides in vices. Put some additional glue on the thumbnail and insert it with your finger or some kind of a "pusher" if the slot is too close to the vices base. Leave the joint in vices for 10-30 minutes depending on the size and the material of the molding. Perfect joint is guaranteed.

Boris Muchnik
Broken Thumbnail inserts is the entire reason I stopped using them. I had gone into a friends office and I noticed several pictures I had framed that had wide open miters. I asked him why he never told me about it? He said he just kept forgetting, and it did not seem all that big of a deal to him.

I replaced his frames and started wondering just how much more of my framing was out there that looked like that. The pictures had looked just fine about a year after I had framed them, it was several years before the Thumbnails broke. I think most people would just shine it on, like my friend did.

I was getting repairs brought in once or twice a year, all broken Thumbnails. It is perhaps true that it is all in the tuning of the Thumbnail machine, but how many framers know just how to do that?

Myself, I will never use a Thumbnail machine again, I am convinced they are junk. Of course, I've only been framing for fourty one years, what do I know?


I know about your super long framing experience
and I appreciate that greatly. That was the reason that I mentioned my relatively short framing experience.

It seems that the frames that you observed with wide open miters:

a) were assembled by inserting thumbnails with a heavy hammer and glue was pushed out from the joint during that harsh assembly;

b) and/or those frames have been hung on the wall incorrectly - hanging wire was very tight, and frames were hung by a single point of suspension...

Thumbnailer is one of the simplest machines in our trade, though, I agree with you that, tuning demands some time and tinkering. We use carbide bits, thus significantly increasing the time between tunings. Naturally, for volume orders we use underpinner.

Boris Muchnik
Sometimes, when a customer brings in an item i framed 3+ years ago, after removing the paper seal, i check out the thumbnails and the moulding corners. Corner are fine... tight fit. One or two of the 4 thumbnails are sometimes broken (but the joint is still tight). To insure no problems in the future, I v-nail all four corners. However, i never had a frame job returned because the corner(s) are unglued and the frame is damaged. Glue is primary... thumbnails are secondary. With dovetail inserts, one is as strong as the other. And, i never drove thumbnails in wrong... they are suppose to be able to be "pushed in" with your thumb part of the way and THEN use a hammer to drive them in the remaining of the way. This is the same way i do the dovetails....
Most of the broken Thumbnails we get in come from Aaron Brothers. I guess they do not know how to tweak the machine either. As far as glue being the primary bond, I have to disagree. Over time, wood continues to expand and contract. Eventually, no matter how good of a glue you are using, it will break down. True, it may last for many years, however, eventually it will succumb to it's environment.

Any old time framer will agree with me when I state that the strongest joint is a properly executed, old fashion "slip join". Adding a good glue, helps even more. I honestly believe that the Hoffmann joined miter is right up their with the slip join or running a very close second as far as strength is concerned. Esthetically, the Hoffmann join wins because there are no nail holes on the side of the frame.

Neither a slip joined miter nor a Hoffmann joined miter actually needs any glue at all, and to me, that is the best joined picture frame.