Hollow Chisel Mortiser Decision

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Forum topic by DGar posted 07-07-2014 05:57 PM 2102 views 0 times favorited 22 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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40 posts in 1848 days

07-07-2014 05:57 PM

So I got some $ for my birthday and am in the market for a mortiser. There are two CL options on the table, and I’m torn. I have $250 to spend, so option B would require a … let’s say “delicate” conversation with the boss. I have a pretty well outfitted shop right now, and I could probably make do with out one, but I hear that they’re great to have and make mortising easy. The question is whether the big boy is worth the extra cost. Anyone out there upgraded from a benchtop to a floorstanding and can comment on whether it’s worth it?? Both come with a single chisel bit, so I’ll need to buy a set of bits regardless.

A. $150 for a lightly used General 75-050 (non-tilting head). Actually rebranded as a “Northstate”, but it’s the same machine.


B. $400 for a lightly used Jet JFM-5, which is a rebadged PowerMatic 719T.

Thanks for any advice!

-- "Those who are not dissatisfied will never make any progress" - Dr. Shigeo Shingo

22 replies so far

View ibewjon's profile


38 posts in 2787 days

#1 posted 07-07-2014 06:09 PM

do not own one, i use a mortising attachment for my drill press, but from what i have read, the bent handle on the first is easier to use, where the straight handle puts more wear on your wrist.

View ChefHDAN's profile


1062 posts in 2843 days

#2 posted 07-07-2014 06:22 PM

I’ve been cruising CL waiting to get one too.
I think the 1st question is real estate, do you have the space to give up on the floor for the stationary. the 2ND would be frequency of use.
In my world, I would go with the bench top because I like to keep my car in the garage over the winter months and don’t have room for how much use the floor model would get. BUT, I have a REAL hard time walking away from DEALS like that Powermatic, The X/Y table is supposed to be OH SO great for making the mortises, and the hold downs and adjustment on the less expensive bench tops is usually the most common complaint.

-- I've decided 1 mistake is really 2 opportunities to learn.. learn how to fix it... and learn how to not repeat it

View bigblockyeti's profile


5111 posts in 1715 days

#3 posted 07-07-2014 06:31 PM

I too have been looking for a decent used one, at largest like your option “A”. I have used a smaller steel city one and I liked it. There is a very similar Delta on CL about an hour away that looks like it’s never been used for $125. Given how much I’ll use it and how much space I can dedicate to another tool, that’s as big of a machine as I can currently justify. It’s a good enough deal that I suspect I could get most of my money back if I were to upgrade in the future to something the size of your option “B” if I found myself wanting/needing more capacity.

View Loren's profile


10373 posts in 3642 days

#4 posted 07-07-2014 07:09 PM

Do they both come with chisels?

I have a Powermatic 719. It’s quite a sturdy machine. I think
$400 is not a bad price, used. The primary advantage is
speed however. You’ll still spend the same amount of
time tinkering with settings and getting the work clamped
no which you choose. The Powermatic burns wood
before it slows down, so it has more than enough power
for common hardwoods. The other probably does too.

The 719 is the only hollow chisel machine I’ve used so
I can’t compare its minor annoyances to a benchtop

View DGar's profile


40 posts in 1848 days

#5 posted 07-07-2014 07:18 PM

Thanks, everyone!

Loren – what are the 719’s minor annoyances in your experience?

-- "Those who are not dissatisfied will never make any progress" - Dr. Shigeo Shingo

View OggieOglethorpe's profile


1276 posts in 2104 days

#6 posted 07-07-2014 07:30 PM

I also have a 719 and $400 is a great price for one in top working order.

The quick release clamp is a dream. I appreciate the weight and long, sturdy actuator handle.

The only thing I don’t like about the 719 is adjusting the stops on the X-Y table. Mine uses these little folding paddles, and they sometimes end up in a place that is difficult to tighten or loosen. BUT! It HAS an X-Y table! ;^)

View TheFridge's profile


9444 posts in 1480 days

#7 posted 07-07-2014 07:35 PM

Better to have and not need it than need it and not have it I say.

-- Shooting down the walls of heartache. Bang bang. I am. The warrior.

View Loren's profile


10373 posts in 3642 days

#8 posted 07-07-2014 07:39 PM

It has these little flippy-tab locks for the stops and they are
all bent. They still work and flippy-tabs are probably the only
good solution considering the tight clearances under the
table. I got mine used. The threads for the handle are
corn-cobbed so it won’t screw in but it still works. The
depth stop requires an allen wrench to change settings.
The clamp is robust but the chisel will easily stick in the
work and pull it up even if the clamp is firm. I’ve taken
to drilling in small depth increments, then moving the chisel
to the side, drilling again and so forth.

View TheFridge's profile


9444 posts in 1480 days

#9 posted 07-07-2014 07:47 PM

Flippy tabs. Awesome word.

-- Shooting down the walls of heartache. Bang bang. I am. The warrior.

View DGar's profile


40 posts in 1848 days

#10 posted 07-07-2014 07:57 PM

I’m not sure that “the boss” will be interested in a discussion about my flippy-tabs if I… wait… what forum is this?

Thanks for clarifying, Loren! Those are good things to keep in mind.

Cessna – How much better is it to have an X-Y table? Is it really a game-changer?

-- "Those who are not dissatisfied will never make any progress" - Dr. Shigeo Shingo

View Woodbum's profile


812 posts in 3059 days

#11 posted 07-07-2014 08:04 PM

I have a Delta benc htop mortise. It does everything I need done. . . so far. Since I don’t use it every day in the shop, the portability is great. I bought it from a guy getting out of the hobby several years ago for a really good price. That being said, if it were my choice, and I had the real estate, I would get the Jet/Powermatic. I’m a firm believer in stationary machines, floor space allowing. For $250 more, you’ll have way more power and features than your extra $250’s worth.

-- "Now I'm just another old guy wearing funny clothes"

View Loren's profile


10373 posts in 3642 days

#12 posted 07-07-2014 08:16 PM

This to consider as well:

I make chairs and I mortise steam-bent parts. These do not
clamp well with the standard clamp. What I often to is
use bar clamps at the edges of the table in addition, or clamped
to the fence. Because the table moves back and forth,
the clamping can be done and the whole mortise done
in one setup. With a benchtop machine perhaps you have
loosen clamps and move the part over by hand every
time you want to make the mortise longer? I don’t know
for sure and have not thought about it, but looking at
the picture above it looks to me like that’s what you would
do. For odd parts like I mortise perhaps some carrier
board could be devised. With the 719 it can be managed
without though, due to the x-y table. Also stops can
be set front and back soo you could drill two parallel
mortises in one setup. I have not tried this exactly
because if you don’t set the front/back stops tight
there is a tendency for the table to creep on that axis.

As in all woodworking operations, pay close attention
to detail and you’ll get a pretty good result with either
model I think.

The 719 may take larger chisels, if the style you want
to build in requires mortises wider than 1/2”

View pintodeluxe's profile


5653 posts in 2807 days

#13 posted 07-07-2014 08:26 PM

As far as the General, I don’t think a face clamp makes much sense on a benchtop mortiser. You would have to loosen it each time you slide your workpiece. You might be able to clamp the workpiece loosely with the clamp, which would still allow it to slide. If you don’t like the clamp, you can unbolt it. The 75-050 tied for the top benchtop mortiser in a recent FWW shootout.
I have the Delta benchtop mortiser, and it is a bit of a pain to keep the stock registered against the fence. It doesn’t have a face clamp or roller wheels to hold the stock tight to the fence. That said, it will make dead accurate mortises.
I would be tempted with the x-y table of the floorstanding model.

-- Willie, Washington "If You Choose Not To Decide, You Still Have Made a Choice" - Rush

View Sawdust4Blood's profile


404 posts in 3016 days

#14 posted 07-07-2014 11:36 PM

Up front I would say that I own a bench top very similar to the General. It does everything I need and I don’t think that I would give up the floor space in my shop for the larger machine. But it depends on the kind of woodworking you do and how often you’re making mortises. When you need to cut mortises (as I was this weekend) it’s absolutely the tool to have but I don’t use it on every project … maybe only 30% of the projects I build have mortise and tenon joints. If I was doing the kind of work that required M&T joinery on every project, then I would see where the limitations of the bench top model would get old in a hurry and I might think differently about the big machine.

One thought you might consider… it’s amazing the difference it made on my machine when I really upgraded the bits to a higher quality bit than the ones that came with it and gave the chisels a really good sharpening. If you won’t be using it all the time, it might be an idea to buy the cheaper one and spend some of the saving on new bits and chisels.

-- Greg, Severn MD

View OggieOglethorpe's profile


1276 posts in 2104 days

#15 posted 07-08-2014 12:32 AM

Cessna – How much better is it to have an X-Y table? Is it really a game-changer?


Think of a drill press… You set a fence, then slide the work. Not so hard, eh?

On a mortiser, you have to clamp the workpiece down. That means without a movable table, you clamp, cut, unclamp, slide, clamp, cut, slide, clamp… With an X-Y table, you set the front / back location and the side stops, then cut, crank, cut crank… ‘till you hit the stops. If you’re doing double mortises or thick mortises, you use the other crank to move from front stop to back stop.

Now, think about either having a movable table with stops, or not, when you have two faces on 4, 6 or 8 identical legs to mortise…

The “flippy stops” referenced by Loren are the PITA’s I mentioned. All 719’s have them, and I’m not sure what else would work, but you get used to them.

My 719, and the other two examples I’ve used, do not require tools to set the depth. They have spring loaded plastic handles, like you’d see on an aftermarket miter guage. Like this:

I think the previous owner of Loren’s broke the handle and replaced it with a standard allen screw.

All considered, I think it’s a no-brainer over the benchtop for $400.

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