May 25, 2016

The Journey of a Thousand Miles Begins With a Single Cut

Woodworking with a ShopSmith

How it started

A few years ago I got really interested in learning woodworking, and was living in a house that had space for a shop.  While I was really excited, I had absolutely no idea where to start.  I also didn't have a whole lot of time or money, so I spent quite a while in the, "Won't it be cool when..." stage of this hobby.  I'd spoken with some of my friends about my plans, and acquired a couple of small tools, but I still had no idea what to do.

After a few more months, a friend sent me a link to a CraigsList post for someone selling a ShopSmith.  I'd never heard of this tool before, but the pictured item looked really cool!  Unfortunately, the seller was really bad about returning calls, so I did a little more looking around on CL and found another one for about $500.  I picked it up later that day, and began my foray into woodworking.

What's this?

The unit I purchased was a 1956 ShopSmith Mark V from the Magna corporation.  For those not familiar with the ShopSmith, it's a very versatile 5-in-1 woodworking combination machine. Check out their website for detailed information:

In a nutshell, the main unit is a 10-inch table saw, 12-inch disc sander, horizontal boring machine, 34" lathe, and a drill press.  There are also several accessories and special purpose tools (SPTs) that can increase the overall functionality.  While it was missing the lathe tools, safety kit, and upper and lower saw guards, it did come with the bandsaw SPT, as well as a box of extra accessories.

After playing around with it a bit, reading the manual, and browsing a bit on-line, I realized that, while my unit worked okay, it definitely had some problems.  Alignment was a huge one, and I discovered that from the fact that I could not get square cuts on my stock, even with the table set at 90 degrees.  And the table was TINY.  I started to think my purchase may have been poorly thought out, but reading through their site, I learned that there was an upgrade path that every Mark V (5) could follow.

I attended a demo at a Lowe's a few months later and ordered the first major upgrade: The 520 table system with pro fence.  Once this arrived, I followed the (pretty clear) instructions, and was pleased with the new VERY large amount of table space, blade guards, and a really nice fence.

While waiting for the table upgrade to arrive, I had found some plans for a pretty nice lumber and sheet goods rack.  I got the plywood I needed for the job, and started measuring, marking and cutting.  This where I ran into the next problem.

What now?!

While making long rip cuts, the saw would bog down, and regularly stop.  This was a serious problem, as I'd have to move the table carriage out of the way, remove the saw blade, put on the sanding disc, and manually rotate that disc while move the speed changer down to slow.  Then I could put the blade back on, re-position the table, and begin cutting again.  After consulting the troubleshooting chart, it seemed that my motor may be bad, so I upgraded from the old 3/4hp motor to the new 1-1/8hp motor.  This helped, but I still had a problem with cuts bogging down.  I thought about it some more, but for my birthday, my mother-in-law offered to replace the headstock with a newer one from ebay that had been refurbished.  That sounded good to me!

The new headstock arrived a couple weeks later, and it was fantastic.  Now I was able to work!

Moving forward

That about covers the backstory of this blog.  Moving forward, I'll be talking about different projects and what skills I'm learning/improving as I complete them, pitfalls I encounter, and weirdness/cool stuff that comes up in the shop!


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