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BUYING MACHINE TOOLS - ASKING THE RIGHT QUESTIONS

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Blog entry by stefang posted 04-23-2013 10:13 AM 1214 reads 0 times favorited 15 comments Add to Favorites Watch

NOT A REVIEW
A couple of years ago I bought this nice disk sander with the trademark ‘Woodfast’. This was once a venerable Australian brand of quality machinery with a full range of woodworking equipment. The Chinese bought the name and it is now a much lesser quality, although not of the worst sort. This looked like a great machine to me. It ran smoothly had enough power, was equipped with a brake, etc. The one thing I forgot to check out was how changing sanding disks was done. This turned out to be a bit of a nightmare as I later found out that the whole table had to be removed to accomplish the task. This entailed removing the dust catcher with 5 screws, disassembling the table 3 Phillip screws and one allen screw and the others with phillips like heads that none of my large assortment of bits and screwdrivers fit, together with an odd assortment of washers.

 photo 0102.jpg

THE POINT
When we buy a machine we usually are able to find some reviews on them and we can of course see the specs. What I have experienced is that it is always the ONE THING THAT YOU FORGOT TO CONSIDER OR ASK ABOUT that winds up becoming a problem.

THE WEAKEST LINK
Many of the moderately price machines are mostly pretty well made, but often they have just a part or two that are poorly made or made from poor quality materials. I call this the weakest link because the rest of the machine won’t function properly without it. A good example is my 18” bandsaw, also a Woodfast made in China. It was relatively inexpensive for such a large machine and I bought it with my eyes open. After using it only a couple of weeks i stripped out the holding screw for the blade back bearing by over tightening it. I am pretty careful with my stuff and I didn’t really force tighten it, but it stripped anyway. The bearing holder with the threads is just a very cheap pot metal. I just rethreaded with a slightly larger thread size and now I am super careful adjusting everything. Another problem is that while the side of the blade is perfect 90deg. to the table, the forward cutting edge is not and though I have use much time trying to align it properly, all my efforts were in vain. I finally gave up and just left it like it is. All that said, I am very happy with the saw as it does everything I want it to very well.

HOW TO AVOID FALLING INTO THE TRAP
The best way I can think about avoiding the worst pitfalls is to make a general checklist of things to consider before making a machine purchase. Even that might not save the day, but at least it is a step in the right direction. I don’t want to make up my checklist before seeing what others think would be relevant. WHAT WOULD YOU INCLUDE IN SUCH A CHECKLIST?

Thanks for reading and for any contributions you might have to the list.

HERE IS THE CHECKLIST COMPILED FROM THE COMMENTS BELOW I will update this as suggestions come in.

1. Are spare parts are readily available, are there are aftermarket add-ons, and is the machine still in production?

2. Is it a brand known to be dependable?

3. What issues have I had with other similar machines that I should watch out for?

4. Does the machine use standard sizes and standard parts, like bearings, belts, etc.?

5. Has the machine been in production long enough to have had the bugs worked out of it?

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.



15 comments so far

View Marty5965's profile

Marty5965

158 posts in 611 days


#1 posted 04-23-2013 10:39 AM

Hi Mike,

Good points, thanks for the heads up. I would think availability of spare parts, is the tool/machine still being manufactured, after market attachments/accessories etc. would also be things to consider.

-- Marty, Columbus, OH, learning every day....

View Jim Jakosh's profile

Jim Jakosh

11550 posts in 1771 days


#2 posted 04-23-2013 12:16 PM

Hi Mike. I have found that same thing on a lot Chinese made tools. they are basically pretty good, but they went cheap in one or two areas. If you are able to beef them up there it will run good and last a long time. what I don’t like is buying a Chinese made machine for a lot of money and still having to rebuild it in places.
I have been buying Grizzly tools and they are made in China, but they seem to be designed well and made well. I have not had to make any modifications to keep them running like I do on Harbor Freight tools.

I did have a few Jet tools and they are priced right up there, but I had to work on them in places they should have been stronger so I scratched them off my buy list for anything.
....................Jim

-- Jim Jakosh.....Practical Wood Products...........Learn something new every day!! Variety is the Spice of Life!!

View Dave's profile

Dave

11177 posts in 1506 days


#3 posted 04-23-2013 12:35 PM

Mike I have a tendency to buy a cheap model first then wear it out. That gives me the knowledge to ask “What do I want in the type of machine?”
Check lists are great.

-- Superdav "No matter where you go - there you are." http://chiselandforge.com

View BertFlores58's profile

BertFlores58

1646 posts in 1588 days


#4 posted 04-23-2013 12:41 PM

Mike,
Additionally, we must think after sales…. belts consummables, bearings…. etc… are they standard to be replaced. I have two machine… planer and air compressor… i could not buy any belts… it is normal for us to cosider errors in allignment because we are accurate. I just pity those who do not know both checking and readjusting them. Thanks for this… this is a very good point for everyone.

-- Bert

View stefang's profile

stefang

13101 posts in 2000 days


#5 posted 04-23-2013 01:12 PM

Thanks guys for your contribution. This is a good start. I’m sure that I and many others will benefit from this. Of course the best way to avoid problems is to buy the best which is normally the highest priced, but let’s face it, not everyone can do that.

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

View Jim Bertelson's profile

Jim Bertelson

3666 posts in 1830 days


#6 posted 04-23-2013 01:40 PM

I finally figured out I could put a TS in my cramped shop space here in La Conner, and bought a Rigid 4512. The price point was right, it wasn’t too big, I could move it readily, and I had a bunch of gift cards for HD. I read the reviews of it, and one of the smaller Grizzly’s. The Rigid is probably more saw than I need here, so getting something bigger and pricier was not really the thing to do. I decided they had been making it long enough that the kinks should be out of it. The reviews went back a ways. So I just about have the saw all adjusted and ready to use. My son-in-law and youngest daughter were here to help with the heavy lifting. I worried about the adjustment issues reported, but those issues no longer seem to be a problem. Same thing with my Delta disk sander. I bought it years after they started making it, and sure enough, the issues seen in the early reviews no longer existed.

I think one of your criteria should be knowing how long the design has been in production. That favors the elimination of defects, but unfortunately, is not a guarantee. Some products have declined in quality over time instead of improved.

And then, of course, there are the “lemons”. No matter what you do, your particular machine may be a dud. That is one advantage of the Rigid machines, there is a Home Depot close to most of us here in the USA. It is easy to return things, and they don’t complain. I also have the Grizzly headquarters just 25 miles from here, so they have become a handy source for wood working items of all sorts.

So I am hoping to cut some wood today and finish my two 6’ x 1’ x 6” torsion boxes that will be a main work surface. I’ll report back how the saw functions….....

-- Jim, Anchorage Alaska

View stefang's profile

stefang

13101 posts in 2000 days


#7 posted 04-23-2013 03:49 PM

Thanks Jim. Congrats on the new saw. The only lemon in my shop is the woodworker and he was made in Wisconsin (old heavy model).

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

View Jim Bertelson's profile

Jim Bertelson

3666 posts in 1830 days


#8 posted 04-23-2013 04:10 PM

I don’t have any lemons in either shop, fortunately. I was trying to get by without a TS at the La Conner shop, but it was just too cumbersome and limiting. And after parking the cars in the garage for a couple of years, it became apparent I could squeeze a TS and bandsaw in. Everything has to be on wheels, however, and be put out of the way when done so both cars fit. That has turned out to be fairly easy, so the little shop is working out.

I think the most common mistake I make is under buying, meaning, I settle for what looks and seems reasonable at the time, and then find I wish I had some more features or capabilities.

Got to make a dust collector adapter, and then the saw is good to go….........

Later…..

-- Jim, Anchorage Alaska

View byrdman61's profile

byrdman61

56 posts in 558 days


#9 posted 04-23-2013 08:17 PM

Good Advice Mr. Mike. Thank You.

-- byrdman61 Slc, Ut

View TechRedneck's profile

TechRedneck

738 posts in 1523 days


#10 posted 04-24-2013 03:47 AM

Interesting topic..

A lot of the tool advise dished out on this site and others is buy the best you can. I have given this advise on numerous occasions. But when I look back on my woodworking journey, I started with a used contractor table saw, band saw and a bunch of big box tools of various quality. Thing was, I learned how to tune them, use them and sometimes hate them. It was the best I could afford at the time and the important thing was at least they got me started.

As my skills improved I began to replace the tools that I used the most with better ones. Half the fun was saving up some cash, doing the research, reading the reviews and looking at them at shows or the store. It is all part of the journey.

I learned how to use and sharpen chisels with a cheap borg set. I still have them however they are now used as beaters. My Ashley Isles are my good set and I appreciate them much more. Some cheap power tools I thought I needed I never use now and am glad that I did not purchase high end to begin with.

Entry level tools are like training wheels or your first bike. Most of us did not learn to ride on a bike with a carbon fiber frame. Later, when we discover we actually enjoy something we get into better gear. I don’t ride much and still have a cheap 10 speed bike hanging in the garage. I am satisfied with it and am happy that I did not decide at the time that I needed a $2000 bike. Same goes for most power tools.

Hand tools are somewhat different. A cheap hand plane would have frustrated me to no end starting out. Most of them are pure crap. I could not afford a new LN or Veritas, however re-habbing some old Stanley planes taught me how to sharpen, tune and use them. My used contractor table saw was fine for what it was and made a lot of projects, however my newer hybrid saw with good blade and DC system is a huge improvement. I started with a referb chop saw (still have it) but now have a nice SCMS. The mortise machine I thought I needed is not used much.

Bottom line is, the cheap tools are like that first bike.

-- Mike.... West Virginia. "Man is a tool using animal. Without tools he is nothing, with tools he is all.". T Carlyle

View stefang's profile

stefang

13101 posts in 2000 days


#11 posted 04-24-2013 10:21 AM

A great analysis Mike, with which I totally concur. I have been woodworking for about 18 years or so and my experience is pretty similar to yours. It is only in the last couple of years that I have become more quality conscious and willing to pay the price for high quality tools. My big bandsaw is the exception to that rule as I just couldn’t justify the cost of a more expensive one at my age and being uncertain of how long I will be able to continue woodworking. I also have not gone to the expense of shifting out any of my other main tools such as my inexpensive 5 function combi machine, but I have purchased a top quality scroll saw, a very good router, a quality battery hand drill and a quality saber saw. I have to say that my high quality tools are loved while the others are just tolerated.

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

View Philip's profile

Philip

1134 posts in 1205 days


#12 posted 04-24-2013 05:53 PM

Fascinating topic. My method at this point in time is:

Q: How much can I afford? A: Nada.
Q: Is there a hand-tool that can do the job? A: Yes, people made furniture without power for a loong time.
Q: Can I make the tool or use something I have? A: Yes, and that is why lumberjocks is so great.

That and slowly build up my shop. It’s amazing what you can do with a saw, chisel and plane- if you REALLY want to make something you can.

-- If you can dream it, I can do it!

View stefang's profile

stefang

13101 posts in 2000 days


#13 posted 04-24-2013 06:57 PM

I agree Phillip, we could get along without most of our power tools, but machines take a lot of effort out of the rough work. That is especially advantageous when you get older. If I were young I wouldn’t mind using only hand tools. Speed may be a factor too for others who have little time but still want to get a lot of things made. That said, this blog assumes that you will be buying a machine, but which one is the question.

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

View Jim Bertelson's profile

Jim Bertelson

3666 posts in 1830 days


#14 posted 04-24-2013 09:30 PM

Phillip makes a good point, and it fits certain people. Just like dbhost has built up a shop with very little money, hot rodding some cheap power tools. But I am like you Mike. If I had to use chisels, hand planes and hand saws, this could not be a hobby for me. Or I would have to stop working at the very least, because of my wrists. And I just get a couple of very good planes, because I can’t take the time or wear and tear on my wrists to tune an old or substandard plane. So I have a couple of Veritas planes at home.

And when you have very limited time, little space, and need good dust control, you start to spend a lot more money per tool, which is what I am doing in La Conner, right now.

So at this shop, I have Veritas planes, just like at home, and Festool small power tools, etc. But I do put up with cheap chisels and keep a Worksharp handy, just like at home. Some power tools here need to be small and light so I can move them readily. So I keep my project sizes small as well.

Well, off to install some flashing on a balcony, and then back to making a couple of shop things so I can start my speaker stands…probably next trip down here. Sun is shining, and it is in the 60’s, a glorious day in the Skagit Valley.

-- Jim, Anchorage Alaska

View stefang's profile

stefang

13101 posts in 2000 days


#15 posted 04-24-2013 09:40 PM

Have fun Jim. We are having a bit of rain these days. Just enough to keep me in the shop, but I’m only cleaning up right now and I have planned to use rainy days this summer to improve my shop and make it more suitable for the type of projects that I am planning to do in the future. Beginning next Fall it will be small projects and I hope lots of marquetry work, but also other things I want to do. This all supposes that I survive the garden work and house painting work this summer,lol.

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

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