To Boldly Go…

Recently I was talking shop with a couple of fellow woodworkers. One of which was bemoaning the sorry state of his current stable of “used…but not abused” machinery.

He, like me, had scoured the various internet sites looking for older “Merrican” iron and had assembled an impressive collection of mostly Powermatic and Delta “Core” machines. Core machines being a table saw, a jointer and a planer.

The idea here is that an aspiring woodworker can acquire high quality machinery at a fraction of the cost of buying them new. To a large extent this idea is both valid and sound in its actual application.  Where things begin to come off the rails is when something breaks on these machines. More on this in a minute.

This friend of mine did himself, and you dear reader, no great favor by starting me down this particular bunny trail of thought. As you may recall from previous posts, this is exactly the type of mental gymnastics that I adore. Adore to the point of obsession. It’s a sickness, what can I say.

This friend has a very similar space and also is interested in the same type of work that I do/plan to do, so we chatted about what I thought a “dream Shop” should be equipped with if the space limitations were the same, and there was a reasonable budget associated with this Dream Shop.


I at first threw out the idea that perhaps duplicating the “used machinery” search and buy method would be best. He nixed this idea because he has recently had several machines require repairs. He quickly discovered several things that were simultaneously heartbreaking and surprising.  First, to our knowledge, the United States no longer manufactures woodworking machines. Not Delta, not Powermatic, none of the traditional U.S. based machinery manufacturers actually cast iron or “make” machines here in the States any more. NONE. ALL of the “go-to” manufacturers source their parts, and to a large degree their labor to off shore vendors.

What they have also done is slowly stop supporting the vintage machinery that is still out there and working in a VERY LARGE percentage of both professional and hobby wood working shops across America. Delta in particular has virtually ceased supporting the old Rockwell/Delta line of equipment. If Powermatic still supports their old iron at all, it is on a limited and very expensive basis. At least that is what I am told.

I should say here that these statements are based pretty heavily on hearsay, and very “light” research on my part and should in no way be taken as “gospel truth”.  I have been wrong before, I may be wrong now, and I am sure to be wrong in future. However, it is pretty widely accepted that all “new” machinery coming from these manufacturers is mostly of Asian DNA.

So, if the playing field is actually much more level than it once was in terms of pedigree and manufacture, if the limitations of space and of budget are the same, the question put to me was “What tools do you choose, and why?”

At first blush I thought the answers would be very simple and that I could just rattle off a bunch of options and that would be that. However, my friend wanted me to take some time and really come up with just what exactly I would choose as my core tooling combination, what manufacturer would I use to provide me those tools, and what was my thought process behind those choices.

That’s a lot of work. I say “work” but really, for whatever reason, it is also one of my favorite things to do as you, dear reader, know already. it would appear my friend does as well….

The modern woodworking shop, either hobby intended or professionally purposed, is normally centered on the task of dimensioning and squaring rough stock.

To this end, one of two machines normally is the centerpiece. Either a band saw or a table saw. Following that, a jointer is needed to create one flat and true face, and one square edge 90* to the fresh face. Finally, a surface planer cleans up the remaining face using the jointed face as a reference. Once those three sides are trued up, it is off to the table saw, or cut off/chop saw for dimensioning the width and length of these boards.

In the next blog entry I will explore the centerpiece of this hypothetical shop, and as that center piece, I choose the table saw.

I will discuss what attributes I would look for, what saws I found that had them, which saw I would choose and why.

After that will be discussions on a jointer, a planer, and several other machines that this hypothetical shop should include.

A little note here, I realize I posted a short series of my own experiences in selecting machines for my own shop at the start of this blog. I actually followed much the same lay out for the series as I propose to do here. The difference(s) are that this series is predicated on a much larger hypothetical budget, and is to focus almost exclusively on new tooling vs. used. So, while initially it may seem like a collection of the same ‘ol, same ol’…it really isn’t as the parameters are much different with the exception of the proposed shop space size and style of working.

Look for the next installment soon.

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