New machines vs old American iron

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Forum topic by MrRon posted 08-09-2014 10:50 PM 4383 views 0 times favorited 54 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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4764 posts in 3241 days

08-09-2014 10:50 PM

Topic tags/keywords: tip

I know this will get some negative press, but what I have to say is intended to educate and save you some hard earned cash. I direct this thread towards anyone who is just starting out in woodworking and/or has little experience with machine tools. Those who are over the age of 50 and have been active with machine tool usage will probably know what I’m talking about. I have been involved with machine tools most of my life (around 70 years). I grew up with the big name brand machines. My first machine was a Delta drill press around 1946. It wasn’t the most expensive, but it worked flawlessly. I have other machines that date back to the early 40’s and are still in active duty today.

The point I want to make is; anyone who is not familiar with old American machines, will think that newer is better. Naturally the manufacturers will disagree with me, but that’s because they have to make money so they have to sell a machine (any machine). There was a time when you went into a shop and a salesman would tell you everything you wanted to know about ant machine. Today, machine salesmen know very little about the tools they sell. They can read off a crib sheet, but know nothing more about the tool. There are many on this forum who advocate buying used American machines and I am one of them. Critics will say; an old machine may need parts that are not available. That is true to a certain extent, but a lot of parts are generic, like bearings, fasteners, belts. Used parts are available also. Some machines may be very ancient, so parts can be a problem, but not insurmountable. Manufacturers who are still in business still carry parts for older machines. Just the fact that a machine has been in service for a long time is testimony of the quality of that machine. Good examples of machines that are worth considering used over new are the Delta Unisaw, Powermatic’s, Atlas, Oliver, Tannewitz, Northfield. Many of these are hard to find because they are so good, owners don’t want to part with them.

I read most of the forums here and notice the negative comments people have about their newly acquired “iron”. Taiwanese made machines do get good press. I have found that Chinese made machines have many quality control issues, so I would never recommend a made-in-China to anyone. I know you are hyped up and ready to go for that 10” cabinet saw that is only $995, but I would reconsider if I were you in favor of a good used American machine. Not having experience with good American machines, puts you at a disadvantage and victim to those who hawk Chinese machines.

Maybe someday, China will realize that quality control is most important (they do have the capability). When that day arrives, that $995 saw will cost $1600, but it will be a better saw. It’s the U.S. companies that put profits before quality.

One has to realize that machine tools used to be a long time investment. If a machine (like a car) lasts too long, the manufacturer can’t make money on repeat sales and that is the name of the game. The old machines have already paid for themselves over-and-over and they still have lots of life left. You can say whatever you like, but I am solidly convinced the old machine is the way to go.

As a disclaimer, this thread is intended for those who have a serious interest in woodworking and are in it for the long haul.

54 replies so far

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10385 posts in 3645 days

#1 posted 08-09-2014 10:58 PM

Martin is now doing some manufacturing in China I think.

Martin is the best of the best in pro woodworking machinery.

Chinese manufacturers can build high quality goods but they
won’t do it at a low price point.

I do concur however that old machinery can be a real bargain
and i encourage people to roll up their sleeves and fool
around with some old machinery before getting hot to
buy new. Common shop machines are simple and problems
are usually easy to diagnose and correct. In owning perhaps
50 vintage machines over the years I’ve never had to
invest in replacement parts. Usually getting some surface
rust off and doing a little lubing is all that’s required to
get a machine cutting wood.

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303 posts in 1816 days

#2 posted 08-09-2014 11:01 PM

Right on, Mr. Ron!

-- "I cut it twice and it's still too short"

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5811 posts in 2290 days

#3 posted 08-09-2014 11:13 PM

Agree 100%!

-- John C. -- "Firearms are second only to the Constitution in importance; they are the peoples' liberty's teeth." George Washington

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861 posts in 1546 days

#4 posted 08-10-2014 12:27 AM

Totally agree. The best thing I did is fill my shop with old USA arn.

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1177 posts in 1833 days

#5 posted 08-10-2014 12:42 AM

I agree completely, and being someone that is new to the craft, I have tried to acquire well used old american tools, but just haven’t had much luck.

I would kill for an old DP, TS, BS, and Planer if it could be had at a reasonable price.

-- Rob - Indianapolis IN - Learning... one mistake at a time...

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10385 posts in 3645 days

#6 posted 08-10-2014 01:43 AM

Rob, look on There’s a sub-forum there
for selling machines and the heavier and more industrial-class
they are the cheaper they go, by the pound.

There’s a lot of stuff in Indiana.

For that matter, furniture plants are closing down right
and left in the PA area and auctioning of assets. Look

Here’s one closing in Indiana in a couple of days:

View Dark_Lightning's profile


3159 posts in 3106 days

#7 posted 08-10-2014 01:48 AM

I will agree that the old iron is best. I have an old table saw that I bought from Loren, and the table could use some more area (infeed , outfeed, wings), since the original table is small. NOT Loren’s fault. What he sold me is flat within a couple of thousandths. I just need to update what I bought for cheap, is all. That thing is SOLID.

-- Random Orbital Nailer

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1727 posts in 2199 days

#8 posted 08-10-2014 01:50 AM

I also agree. But those companys would not be in business if they were not selling enough equipment.

Powermatic, Clausing, Delta just to name a few would still be making all of the equipment here in the U.S.A. but when WE opt to buy a piece of equipment cheaper and those companys can not keep the workforce busy they all had to do something to stay in biz. Not everyone here can afford to get the real good stuff. I bought a 15 in drill press made by Clausing about 7 years ago. One of the last ones made in here before they had to fine cheaper ways to manufacture. It cost me over 2300.00 Now how many weekend warriors could afford that much for a DP.

At the time when I was buying my equipment I had a damn good job and went for the best, I can not say that now. But I can say I just bought a New Camaster CNC and I also purchased a Edgebander, all made in the USA…. My first priority was to find USA made equipment and I did.

RPhillips, there are still a lot of good USA equipment out there so keep looking. It is worth the time and effort to get one of these machines.

I am proud to say I own a lot of USA made equipment. 90% of all my equipment is USA MADE. A lot of it is fairly new. It just takes a little time and research to find it.

Planer look at WoodMaster or RBI
Delta makes a Table Saw with USA Parts.
Safety Speed makes edgebanders, panelsaws and I think also WB sanders
SuperMax- makes some drum sanders and wb sanders also not all of them are USA made though.

To name a few….

-- What we do in life will Echo through Eternity........

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4764 posts in 3241 days

#9 posted 08-10-2014 04:58 PM

Most if not all of the “USA made machines” are assembled in the U.S. with parts made offshore. Detroit cars use parts made in China. Ford uses parts made in Mexico.This may be OK as long as we keep control of quality. If we leave QC up to offshore companies, we will have problems.

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1068 posts in 3062 days

#10 posted 08-10-2014 05:03 PM

Ron, at what time(era) do you think this took a big nose dive?? I have bought only a few high priced tools new and that was back in the 80’s. My only casualty is my drill press which was a cheaper china knock off. I was able to repair it with a new pulley but its just not as good as new. I’m in the market to replace it and want to have a date in mind for a vintage or used tool. Thanks Pat

-- ***Pat*** Rookie woodworker looking for an education!!!

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10385 posts in 3645 days

#11 posted 08-10-2014 05:57 PM

I’ll also point out that you can buy older machinery from
a machinery restorer and put money in that restorer’s
pocket which will go into his or her local community.

View AnonymousRequest's profile


861 posts in 1546 days

#12 posted 08-10-2014 06:17 PM

Here’s 2 beautiful restored machines. You New York guys should be all over these machines.

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Richard H

489 posts in 1678 days

#13 posted 08-10-2014 06:32 PM

Not to be a contrarian but there are cases where I think newer can be better. Those old table saws for instance are great machines there is no doubt but the lack of a proper riving knife on most of them or really even a halfway decent blade guard that is actually usable day in and day out with normal use is a pretty big downside for me to them. If these features are really that important to you or not is a personal decision and I do believe that used machines is a valid consideration but there are advantages to some of the newer machines as well.

Now when it comes to jointers for instance I would love to have a good old WWII 16” jointer that weighted as much as most cars.

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10385 posts in 3645 days

#14 posted 08-10-2014 07:55 PM

Restoration of Wadkin PK by Jack Forsberg

The saw has a riving knife. It is true many older saws are difficult
to retrofit for riving knives. Most European table saws made since
the 1970s have them I think, though the Wadkin above is
much older. Tannewitz table saws can be retrofitted with
riving knives I know for sure. Any industrial saw where the
arbor travels on dovetailed ways should be retro-fittable.
Designs like the more common Unisaw/Powermatic style
where the arbor pivots in an arc are problematical since
a sort of follower-arm arrangement must be devised for
a riving knife to stay a constant distance from the blade.

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4764 posts in 3241 days

#15 posted 08-10-2014 08:14 PM

BELG1960, my guess would be machines built before 1970 will still have “old school” quality. Once they started to go offshore, quality quickly went downhill. We would see prices increase on the U.S. made machines to the point where they could no longer make them here and stay profitable. That’s when they went offshore. The clue was when the quality of a once revered Unisaw or PM started to become an issue. Machines that were built 50+ years ago were virtually indestructible as long as they were not abused. Parts, like bearings and belts could fail, but the basic quality built into the machine was still there. That Wadkin PK shown in the Loren thread above, is a fine example of an indestructible machine.

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