Old Workshop...

Updated April 2007

In May of 2005 we started preping for retirement. We bought a new place in Pennsylvania in order to sort of 'cash-out' of the more expensive Maryland area. One of the things I wanted in the new place was a bigger shop. Did I get it? Well, sort of. I got a bigger shop, but then filled it with bigger tools. Check it out here.

I have a well-equipped workshop that is pleasant to work in. That is the face frame for the new kitchen cabinet there on the bench. Here's some refinish/repair projects. Carolyn got a $10 high chair to fix up, and that is the piano stool that came with the roll cabinet and piano I sold. I've gone through several iterations of locations and layout, and I'm also on my second batch of stationary machines. I was first in the basement, then to the garage after it was built and now back in the basement again. In the early days I had all Sears stationary machines. Years ago there was a Sears catalog surplus store in a neighboring town. They would occasionally get in one or more of their stationary tools and they offered them for sale at about 30 cents on the dollar. If you checked them over well you could find ones that were complete and unused. There were a couple times when I bought tools there and resold them for a small profit. The Sears tools were inexpensive and in the early days, about the only ones available to a Joe-homeowner like me.

Through the 80's and 90's interest in woodworking has increased significantly. The Taiwanese first offered low-end machinery and now somewhat better quality. Their efforts have put price pressure on the better-known brands. I upgraded most of my tools in the 80's and have only a few of the Sears tools left.

The basement is not real big, about 34 x 30. The foundation for the fireplaces and the utility area takes up 100 square feet and some more space goes to the laundry room. But I get all the rest (and I'm slowly chipping away at the laundry area). It is fully finished, insulated, heated and air-conditioned. The floors are vinyl tile and easily cleaned up. The dropped ceiling has plenty of light fixtures. There are 220 and 110-volt outlets all around the walls where most of the machines are used. As you can see on the plan, the shop is divided in half, with the noisy, dusty, powered stuff on one side, and the set up, design and hand tool area on the other, cleaner side. The pianos and phonographs are on the clean side. The fancy bench for hand tool work is on the clean side along with the set up table.

The dust collection/separator system works fairly well. It gets most of the stuff from the machines that have pick-ups and it works to contain all the dust inside the power tool area. Six inch round ducts run around the shop and over the ceiling to the separator and dust collector in the laundry room. Four-inch adapters and blast gates let me use four-inch hose to the machines. When the dust collector is running it picks up most of the stuff from the machinery. Just as important, it keeps a positive air pressure back into the shop so that sawdust that is not immediately sucked up, is at least prevented from getting out of the shop area. I can sweep the traffic area and push the stuff into a floor pick-up while the collector is running and get most stuff that would otherwise be stirred up again.

The separator is simply a couple of trashcans with some pipe. Obviously the top one separates and the bottom one collects. Five-micron bags on the dust collector work extremely well and nearly nothing gets out. When I'm working, I leave it running for general air filtration. I highly recommend this design. It is much better, I think, than one of those fan things you hang from the ceiling. I keep a pretty close eye on the pianos and phonographs and the dust they accumulate is not significantly different than dusting the furniture upstairs. There is probably as much dust floating around that is from the clothes dryer as from the shop. I periodically use the blower and hose from the HVLP sprayer, to blow off the power tools, towards the floor pick-up in the corner.

The Robland Combination Machine was probably the first machine I purchased during the upgrade from the Sears tools. I had had a Belsaw 12-inch planer (remember the ones with the rubber feed rollers.) and a Sears 6-inch joiner. I couldn't get used to the idea of not having a joiner and planer that were the same size. That is what I was looking for at the show in 1987.

This Robland gadget was not on my list of tools to look at the show. I think Mini-max had a combination joiner-planer that I wanted to see. Robland was in the process of changing the models and I was offered a very good deal for the 10-inch model I have. It was demo unit and was priced accordingly. I like the tool a lot. It is well constructed, has plenty of power with 3, 2-hp motors. Many folks think it is a combination tool like the Shopsmith where you set it up in one configuration only. The Robland is five tools in one; table saw, shaper, joiner, planer, and horizontal mortiser. There are many operations where I run several of the tools together, without changing anything. For example, I can shape a panel, cross cut it, or joint an edge without changing anything. The mortiser can be set up and no other operation interferes with it. Changing from joining to planing requires only flipping the tables over. I use a 5-inch insert cutter head on the shaper. This set of cutters has let me do everything I've wanted so far.

The new ones are, of course, bigger and better; bigger motors, wider planer, bigger sliding table, etc. I sometimes think of getting a new one but my available shop space is pretty small and the bigger unit might just be too much for the area I have it in. The new ones cost a little more than I'm prepared to spend, also. Laguna Tools, in California, sells these things. They'll send you a free video just for asking.

I used the X - Y table from the Robland and some other parts to rig up this router gadget. It's made from a grinder stand, the tilt table from my drill press, some phenolic covered MDF tables, an Elu router, the miter gauge from the band saw, and a pair of calipers to get precise read-outs. This is good for mortise and tenon work, sliding dovetails, etc.

I used to have a little Sears lathe, the one with a tailstock that slid back and forth on a pipe. I had gone to Jenk's in Washington to look at one of the Delta lathes. When I told Jerry, (sales manager, I think) what I wanted to see, he pointed upstairs to the Hegner lathe. "You want a good deal on a lathe" he says, "you can have that thing for half whatever the marked price is. Seems he was having a bit of a tiff with AMI, the distributor, and having just gotten off the phone, he was in a somewhat reactionary mood. I told him I'd need a set of lathe tools and I'd be interested in a package deal. I told him I'd like one of the big Sorby turning sets but I wanted to pay the lowest price I could find on one. They had been marking some of these sets up really fast and I already knew there was a $200 set with a $100 sticker underneath it! Anyway, this Hegner lathe is a nice unit, 3/4-hp motor, 38-inch capacity, 14-inch swing. Belt drive, 4 speeds. Plexiglas faces shields, stand and the little copier. I like the copier. It is very, very precise and among its not so obvious uses is making very accurately size dowels. Accurate dowels are needed for plugs and for the stock for the Beall threader.

I had a garden-variety 1 1/2 horse power Sear Radial Arm Saw. When I was building the house, I had chucked up a huge wire brush to rough up the glued-up beams I'd made for the family room. The saw was the kind that had the cast-in-place tracks and the wire brush vibrated a couple divots into the tracks. The divots didn't really hurt anything but they were an irritant so the RAS was on my replacement list. Black and Decker had just purchased Dewalt and OSHA was chasing Dewalt. Dewalt was cutting costs by having the small RAS built in Italy and the quality wasn't very good. I was having difficulty finding a replacement I liked.

Skarie is the local woodworking equipment dealer in Baltimore. They have a pretty good assortment of stationary equipment and they deal in second-hand stuff they take in on trade. One of the fun things to do at the store is to go through the attic and basement where much of the old taken-in-trade stuff is kept. I was in the market for a replacement RAS and I was in the store in Baltimore. I was poking around in the attic inspecting old lathes and drill presses when I come upon an old Dewalt RAS. The thing was pretty grubby looking and as I looked it over, more out of curiosity than anything else, I noticed something funny about the arbor nut. The nut was made of brass and it did not show any signs of wear, not a mark on it. This RAS was small. It's a bench mount jobber, 9-inch blade with a 3/4 horse power motor. It certainly was not a replacement for the bigger Sears saw. I continued to inspect the little saw and I could see no evidence of any use. The steel blade was rusty but there was no pitch or any build-up on it. I went back downstairs and asked the salesman if it worked and how much they wanted for it. He said it was $420 dollars but he suggested I shouldn't be interested in it. He said the bearings were bad. I was curious as to exactly how bad and so we powered it up. You could hear a clicking sound as the motor picked up speed or slowed down. It was definitely a motor noise but it didn't sound like my idea of a bad bearing. I checked the slides and lock arms and anything else I could think of and everything seemed to work. Everything was very smooth and tight. The salesman had to find a pair of those old saw guard rings before he could sell it to me. I bought it and took it home.

It was fun to clean up. There was absolutely nothing wrong with it. Most of the dirt was just that, dirt. And some chicken poop! I ran the wooden tables through the sander and found they were made of glued up Birdseye maple. After cleaning and reassembling everything, I put a nice Forrest blade on it and it works wonderfully. It doesn't have much power but it is a wonderful miter saw for precise cuts. I like it!

So I added the little 9-inch radial arm saw to my shop but I was still looking for a replacement for the Sears 10-inch saw. I was back at Skarie's about a month after picking up the little saw, doing the same thing, rummaging through the 'museum', upstairs. Way back in a crowded corner I saw another old radial arm saw. I had to muscle a whole bunch of stuff out of the way to get to it. This was another old Dewalt. This one was a 10-inch, 1-1/2-horse power, with a stand. This one was more dirty and a little rusty, and more chicken-pooped then the little 9-incher. I was getting better at looking at this stuff and I went right for the arbor nut. Sure enough, not a mark on it. I was thinking maybe something funny is going on here. I'm careful what kind of questions I ask. Same salesman, same bad bearing story. He wants a little more money for this one and but he says he can't sell it because he doesn't have anymore of the OSHA-required blade guards. We haggle a little and I convince him I have an extra set of guards (like he really cares!) I took the bigger saw home for the same price as the little one. This 10-inch saw required a little more work than the other one. All the nuts and bolts had to be lightly brush and re-coated with a lead lubricant I had. The table on this one was pretty well rotted away so I made another. The multicolored green paint was in good shape on most of the machine. There was some paint chipping off the motor housing. The housing is aluminum. When I got done, this one seemed to be just as tight and operates just as well as the little 9-inch one. This 10-inch radial arm saw is still only a 1-1/2 horsepower. I had hoped to get one with a little more power, but it works well enough. I've been using this one for quite a while and I'm no longer looking for a bigger one.

Another month passed and I was back at the Skarie store. I was leaning against a 16-inch Dewalt RAS on the showroom floor, and the old proprietor says "You know, that saw you're leaning against is more than 30 years old." Wow, it sure looked new to me! He then proceeded to tell me about a guy ( somewhat eccentric) who had lived north of Baltimore. Apparently a bit of a collector, when he died they found his home to be full of tools and boxed sets of model trains. A hermit sorta guy, apparently, they had found one bath tub full of hair where he had given himself haircuts. They found 7 RAS on the property, 3 in the house and the others in various out buildings. None had an any appreciable use. The two I got came from this batch.

I did a little research on the Dewalt saws. I was able to contact some folks in Lancaster before Black and Decker sold off the plants. The two saws I have are model numbers MBF and GWI for the 9 -in and 10-inch respectively. They were made in 1955. The clicking sound you hear has something to do with the starter contacts in the motor and an early attempt at an electric blade brake. When you shut these saws off the blade speeds drops to about half almost immediately but then coasts a long, long time. These are particularly dangerous for that reason. The fact that the saw head extends passed the table and can be run that way is somewhat disconcerting also!

I'm still using my old Sears drill press. It has ten speeds that range from 380 rpm to 8550 rpm. It has a heavy steel bar-type depth stop that will hold under the pressure needed for mortising chisels. I have not seen a better configuration. The high speed will drive a router bit for some applications. All the Taiwan design drill presses I have seen have that little screw doohickey depth stop arrangement that doesn't work very well. (I think Jet has a good one on one of their pricier models)

The Hegner scroll saw is supposed to be one of the best on the market. I have no basis of comparison but it works well. Mine is the model ##MX18V, 18-inch, variable speed model. This is not a high use tool, at least not so far. I use it make patterns for the lathe copier. I used it to make some special brass escutcheon plates for the jewelry boxes I made. I used it to puzzle-out the small snakes. Like many of the other tools, when you need it, you need it.

There's a bit of a story about how I obtained this saw. A friend at work had called AMI, the wholesaler, to inquire about pricing for one of the smaller saws he wanted for his son. For some reason AMI thought he wanted to be a distributor and sent him wholesale pricing. When my friend called back to try to order at the distributor price he was promptly told of the mistake and quoted the regular retail price. Well, there was a woodworking show coming up and I was interested in buying one also. I decided that if I offered to buy some small quantity of the machines, I might be able to get a nice price break. I figured I could sell the extra machines and defray my own costs. So I went to the show, armed with the knowledge of the distributor pricing and approached the booth. I offered that a bunch of us were interested in a quantity purchase and what price would they offer for five of the machines. The salesguy offered something like a 10% discount and I countered with something less than the 'distributor' price. Anyway, after some more haggling we arrived at a sale price equal to the distributor price and I took five of the machines home. My friend took one at the negotiated price and I kept the other four.

The following week I ran an ad in the local newspaper, adding $75 to the price I had paid. When people asked why I was selling them I explained that I was simply trying to lessen the cost of the machine I wanted to keep, by turning a small profit on each of the others. Well, no one even came to look! Two weeks later I ran another ad. This time I changed the story. I told folks that I had purchased the machine at the show and that my wife thought we really couldn't afford it so I was trying to sell it at for just a little less than the show price. I sold all three the first day that ad ran! Everyone needs to feel they are getting a bargain.

My router table is home made. It is made of phenolic covered particle board with a maple frame. I use Plexiglas inserts that I make up myself. The table has holes and Tee nuts so that I can use the fence system from the Robland shaper. It has short legs that fold underneath so I can use it setting on the floor if I need to. Mostly I set it across a couple workbenches as shown here.

The Delta band saw, stationary sander, a grinder, and a homemade buffer complete my complement of stationary tools in the house. The Band saw has the riser block on it for re-sawing and a 3/4-horse motor. I recommend the bigger motor. Dust collection for the band saw is difficult to impossible. I put a hole in the side of the lower wheel door to hook the four-inch hose into. That doesn't work very well. Now I just strap the four-inch hose to the throat under the table with a bungee cord... that doesn't work very well either.

I have a 20-inch Taiwanese planer out in the shed. It is the typical Taiwanese design. Leneave Supply Company markets this one. I bought the planer from them because they supply it with a five horse power motor. The bigger motor is certainly needed to clean all the paint and wallpaper (and the occasional nail, ouch) from the salvage lumber I have been fooling with. The extra horsepower is needed if you do much on full width oak boards. It has a 4-cutter head at 5000 rpm and feed speeds of 16 and 20 fpm. That works out to over a hundred cuts per inch at 16 fpm; pretty smooth! The tool is fairly well made and it didn't cost much. You may have seen pictures of these by other vendors with accordion rubber pieces on the columns. I believe the rubber accordion pieces are there to cover the relatively poor quality of the workmanship on the columns. I cut the rubber off so that I could ensure that the columns stayed properly lubricated and not rust. Since this unit is kept outside in an un-heated shed, I made a large Styrofoam box, which I set over it when I'm not using it. In the winter I keep a 50-watt heating pad inside the box. No rust yet!

I have a usual assortment of hand-held electric tools. They are mostly stored under the cabinets/workbench in the back of the shop. A neighbor and I made the hand-screw clamps many years ago. I made the wooden parts. He welded up the all-thread and tapped the barrel bolts.

There is a Leigh dovetail jig is up there. It is a nice, versatile gadget (no, I haven't bought the mouse-ear rig yet). I like the Elu routers I have, though they are the same as Dewalt. I like Porter Cable stuff. I have a Porter Cable pad sander and their Random Orbit Sander. I still have some of the older Sears stuff: routers, circular saw, jig saw sanders, buffers. There's a sawzall and an impact drill down there too, I think. My tools have been collected over 25 years or more. I shop carefully. I take care of the tools after I get them. I use them often enough to make things my wife seems to approve of. I have a lot of stuff in here, but I figure it is still cheaper than a boat, and I don't need to haul it to a lake to use it! Hope you enjoyed the tour.

The two sheds in the back of the house are part of my wood working shop 'complex'. The little shed on the right is 12 x 16 and is mostly for storing wood. (You can go back to the wood story.) The bigger shed on the left is 24 x 16 and has a stripping system, a spray booth, and my big planer.

The stripping system is a flow-on style. I had a 4 x 8 foot by 5-inch deep pan made from sheet metal. I put a drain in one corner and placed a bucket under the drain. A small pump moves the stripper from the bucket, through a hose and brush and back to the bucket. It works really well. The pan has a 2 x 6 frame around it and a 4 x 8 lid to make it into a workbench when it is not being used for stripping. Not a very exciting picture, but you get the idea. That's the pump on the floor there. It's all pretty simple.

The spray booth is simply a 10-foot wide wall of filters with a couple attic fans behind it and installed in the floor. I usually hang baffles, made of drywall scraps, in front of the filters to extend the filter life. (I finally got around to spraying the roll cabinet.) I'm not too concerned about explosion proof fixtures as I only spray in warm weather when the doors can be left open for a lot of air flow. The fans for the spray booth get rid of the nasty old carcinogens for both the spray booth and the stripping system.