Which Manual underpinner to get?


Jul 13, 2006
North Massachusetts
I want to get a manual underpinner. I am only building frames for myself as I am an Artist, so maybe 150 frames a year or so. Been using the clamp method for quite a while, as I used to carve and gold leaf after joining. Now I want to cut the time and effort and join prefinished. I am considering the Fletcher 5500 or the ITW VN machine. I cut slightly wider mouldings average 3"to 3 1/2" or so. The Fletcher has me concerned that it goes to 3 9/16". I have heard the double clamp is good on those which the ITW does not seem to have. Looking for recommendations. Thanks.
I have an old fletcher(3rd hand, or so) and it worked great right up until It broke the main staple/pushing shaft where there is a big HOLE(for something to go thru thats needed). a minor design flaw as this ones 12-15 yrs old....called fletcher, sent the parts(oth pieces) in, they replaced, back in business...still keep it around...never know when them new fangled air things er gonna quit!
Ive used a pistorius...like how you can positiion the 'shoot' on the fly(not in a specific place/spot like others)..
BEST advice....go USE it, alot!!!!(before you take it home)--and shop for a 'good' price on it!
If you already have compressor get a small auto(so much nicer than manual)--if you buy this used BE VERY CAREFUL---they are rugged BUT they have alot of little parts that can get flakey...find out if anyone in you area can fix whichever and get them to check it out(ideal situation)
Well welcome to the G.

I have a couple things here. The first machine, the Fletcher, is this the one still being made? Or is this the discontinued model? I would not buy anything that the company has chosen not to make. The company now is has teamed up with Valani and Italian company to mke their new machines. When you buy discontinued, at some point it is going to get harder to get the parts.

Mitre Mite Itw-Amp has a great line on pnuematic ekuipment. I have used the VN4 and the VN42 for about eight years combined. I really like those machines. I will say that I have not used the manual machine that they offer. I do agree that the double clamping method that this machine offers is great.

If I were looking in the manual direction I would consider the second heavily. The other machine I would look at would be the Pistorius. I have seen them and they look nice and simple to use. With all use them first and see what you can do. If you want any info get in touch with the companies. Or better yet go to the Atlanta show or NY show to check them out. I think there is a NY show in October now, a small one, but maybe you coul test drive them.

Hey CeeFive (if that is your real name),

Welcome to The Grumble.

We’ve been using a Pistorius VN-J for nearly twenty years without problems. Easy to use, virtually no maintenance (‘cept lubrication), and joins corners neatly.

Check out the Pistorius site.
Thanks for the warm welcome.I am still leaning in the direction of the manual unit as I have heard that it allows a little more leeway if you have trouble with one of the mitres not wanting to cooperate. When I was leafing, I just joined with glue, clamps and trim head square drive 3 1/2" screws and leafed right over the corner joint. Now with the chop stock I have to try to get these mitres as perfect as possible and am much more concerned with quality than time.Sometimes I can paint the sides like some traditional hand leafed frames and get away with it, but having the V-nailer will eliminate having to do that or putty the holes which would be unacceptable to alot of my customers. It seems I still have to coax sometimes with the old bar clamp to get them tight. Must be discrepencies in the moulding. Anyway, who sells Pistorius, and do they have clamps on them? It does not look like it.The ITW machine seems to be at the top of the list for me at this point. The ONLY thing that got me interested in the Fletcher was the double clamp, but I don't like the width restriction on that machine.Your input on this is greatly appreciated, as I would like to get a machine sooner than later, so a show may not be an option.Thanks.
The Fletcher 5500 is made in Italy by Pilm, a company well known in Europe, as are the 5600 and 5700 models. The 5600 is similar to the 5500, except it is pneumatic instead of foot-pedal operated. Only the pneumatic 5700 has the double vertical clamp feature.

The 5500 is completely different from the previous Fletcher manual underpinner, which has been discontinued for some time. IMHO, the 5500 is a far better machine than the older design.
Your framing experience will serve you well in this decision-making process, but it seems that you would like to know more about the design features of the machines. I suggest you learn all you can, avoid a hasty decision, and select the machine that best serves your needs. Spend that money wisely.

I have not used the manual ITW machine (made in italy by Alfamacchine), but my understanding is that it is very similar to the Pilm/Fletcher 5500. Do you know the width limitation on that machine? I don't, but I wonder if it is similar to the 5500. A friendly framer asked me this week to join a 4" frame for her, because it would not fit in her ITW model VN2+1. Isn't that model the pneumatic version of ITW's manual underpinner?

DecorExpo-Atlanta trade show is our industry's largest, and it's only two months away. Unless you are in a huge hurry, I suggest you consider buying there. What you could learn by actually using the machines at the show might enable a better-informed decision. You surely would save money on the price of the machine, and eliminate the shipping cost if you can drive it home.

The show would be informative in other ways, and fun, too.
The Fletcher 5500 has a 3 9/16" width max and the ITW has something like a 5 1/8" max. How important are those double hold down clamps?
Check out Cassese. There are many patented design features that are superior to other brands. This company invented the vee nailer.

Try them all out including this brand and see which one joins better!
I got a "Benchmaster " a few years ago for about $250.00 , with all the stuff. including a frame clamp - works great for a non-production shop. Also discovered recently that a pair of needle nose pliers and a hammer work as well as anything. Glue the frame corners together in framing vise ,when dry use pliers to hold V - nail and tap in with hammer. IF you use "Corner Weld" glue you should able to do this in about 15 minutes.
I think you are looking at this wrong. No matter what V nailer you buy none of them are going to make a badly cut joint work. You need to practice and develop your cutting skills first. If the joint doesn't fit no matter what you try it is not going to look right. It is not in the tool but the hands of the toolmaster!!!!!!!
I feel my cuts have been fine and have not had a lot of trouble in joining except for the case of the twisted moulding or other irregularity. As I stated, I have been joining for over 25 years with trim head screws and then finishing and leafing the frames myself. I now want to do the Chop stock and don't want any putty on my frames. I finish off all cuts with the ITW Mitre sander and have been happy with that. I am just looking for advice to get the best manual underpinner I can get from folks that may have alot more experience with the various underpinners out there than I.