Thursday, August 27, 2015

Buying and Selling (II)

In the previous post on this topic, I made some comments about selling my truck and buying a Zimmermann milling machine. I think the machine is probably crated now and should be shipped shortly. I ordered a transformer which takes the shop's 208v. 60hz. 3-phase power and steps it up to 456/60, and that arrived today. It was made in Canada.

I've been a little unsure as to whether I should get a variable frequency drive (VFD) to convert the transformer output to 380v. 50hz., which is what the machine was meant to run on. Some discussions with people more knowledgeable than I when it comes to running old 50hz machines on 60 hz. have assured me that the machine will run fine, though having a VFD might be handy if I want to dial in specific speeds on either of the machine's spindles. So, I still might obtain a VFD, but for the time being I'll run off the transformer and see how things work out.

One of the odd things about my shop set up, I think - at least it would be thought odd by many other woodworkers I suppose - is that I do not have a table saw. I don't have anything against table saws, it's just worked out that I have acquired other machines first and generally gotten along well enough with bandsaws and circular saws, not to mention hand saws. I have been fortunate along the way to have been able to use other people's table saws from time to time when need be.

Part of the reason I haven't obtained a table saw relates to the type of machine I am interested in, and the relative lack of options in the market. For a long time I have wanted a sliding table saw, a 'short stroke' model (i.e., having a sliding table of 6' (1.9m) length or shorter), with belt drive and capacity to run larger blades when needed-  by larger I mean 16" (400mm) or 18" (450mm).

There are heaps of sliding saws available on the second hand market these days, however nearly all of them are configured for cutting sheet goods. Indeed, many people only conceive of a sliding table saw as a machine for breaking down sheet goods. Since most of these saws are sold primarily for sheet good cutting, they typically have a sliding table which is 8', 9', 10', or even 12' in length. While having the long slide capacity is not especially a negative in most contexts, it does require a fair amount of square footage be dedicated in the shop to the sliding saw, and it gets in the way of using the saw to rip cut. And I really don't have that sort of room available. Well, there is extra room available in the building where I rent space, however there are quite a few columns in the way and no convenient place where such a long saw could be accommodated without completely reorganizing everything in my shop, including the dust collection, wiring, etc.. Most of the sliders on the market are limited to a 12" blade, with just the odd model here and there able to accept a 16" blade. And most sliders come with a scoring motor and blade, which is a feature I have no use for.

So the regular sliding table saw was a less than ideal prospect as far as I was concerned.

I had figured out one option, which is a newer Martin T70 saw, with short stroke table, parallelogram digital fence, and a host of wonderful features available at (considerable) extra cost. Definitely they are well-built machines, however a new one remains more than a little outside of my budget. Well outside, far and off up the mountain actually. Used Martin machines in this configuration are comparatively uncommon. There was one for sale a couple of years back out in California that had been installed and never used, however I didn't have near enough money at that time. Then there was a used one up for sale in Austria in recent months, a slightly older machine in very nice condition, but it was sold by the time I came upon it.

And as the years go by, the price of new Martins continues to climb, pretty much at a faster rate than I am able to save pennies. And when I start to contemplate a $35,000 saw purchase, you know, when I snap out of the acquisition fantasy, well, I start to think in terms equal to real estate investment and mortgages. It's just too much and I really can't justify that sort of expenditure even though I would love to have one of those saws.

The type of saw I am interested in could be termed a joiner's saw, configured specifically for precision solid wood cutting. Several companies used to make such machines. I've looked at a bunch of them, makes like Tannewitz, Northfield, Oliver, and the like. Typically they have 4' sliding tables of cast iron, instead of the aluminum sliders you see on more modern saws. As I write this, there are a couple of good-condition Northfield sliding saws for sale in Massachusetts, one with an unusual 4'x4' sliding table, which would seem to offer some interesting potentials.

The main negative I see to those machines has been their direct drive motors. This means that the shaft running through the motor is also the shaft (arbor) to which the saw blade attaches. As a consequence, the motor body size restricts how high the motor can be raised until it runs into the underside of the table top, and this means that you need to run quite large blades to obtain fairly modest cutting depths. A regular 12" belt drive table saw will cut around 4" depth, but with a direct drive saw you may need close to a 16" blade to achieve that depth of cut. The cost difference between a 12" blade and a 16" is significant for one thing, and there are fewer brand choices in the larger blades as well.

Put a 10" blade in a direct drive saw and you may only get 1" depth of cut, which is useless for most things. Smaller blades have their virtues, having less propensity for run out and flutter and noise, and send less wind and dust your way when cutting, and are quite a bit cheaper to buy, so generally it is preferable to run smaller blades in a saw, and yet nice to have that capacity there for a large blade for those times when you need to cut thicker stock.

Advantages of direct drive saws include their simplicity and superb smoothness, however for me that was not enough to outweigh the disadvantages.

There are also more modern German and Italian short stroke models out there, made in the last 25 years or so, more available in Europe than here, by companies like Ulmia, Griggio, Bauerle, and so forth. They're all belt drive models, and accept the smaller size blades, and they don't generally come with sophisticated cross cut fences for executing precise (non-90˚) miter cuts, and this was one thing I definitely wanted to gain if I were to obtain a sliding table saw. They also generally didn't accept dado heads, as dado heads seem to be verboten in Europe for some reason. In the end, I hadn't come across a smaller European model which was compelling enough to incite me to investigate, purchase and import, though undoubtedly I may have overlooked some gems out there. Timing is everything.

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A month or so back an advert appeared for a Wadkin PP 450 dimension saw on one of the larger classifieds. Wadkin is a British company which started up around 1897, and made a range of machines primarily for the pattern making trade. Their consumer base was therefore more likely to be made up of engineers, who tend to see machine quality differently than most woodworkers, perhaps, and pattern making is an exacting discipline revolving around making one-offs rather than production in quantity. They went through a series of mergers, becoming Wadkin-Bursgreen after buying out Sagar in 1956 or so, and then went though a series of bankruptcies in the late 1980's. There still is a company called Wadkin, but I'm not entirely sure what to make of it and the products are certainly not the same as in (what might be called) the classic era.

The saw was for sale in Indiana, and the price was quite reasonable at $2500. Wadkin saws and other machines seem to have been less common in the US than in other countries which received exports from the company. I'm not sure why that is, but suffice to say I hadn't really come across this saw before, save for reading a bit about it here and there.

Here's a cover shot from a Wadkin PP sales brochure that I shamelessly pilfered from a Canadian woodworking forum, an image originally posted by a certain Jack Forsberg, so you can see the saw's general configuration:


I didn't know much about these saws, however I had assumed from previous glances towards them in the past (online, I mean), that they were like the other saws of their type, that is, direct drive.

However, I then came across another picture which told quite a different story:


(photo from J. Forsberg)

This model was a belt drive! And it can accept up to an 18" blade....

Suddenly I realized that this make of saw might be a suitable machine for my twisted purposes. I did a bit more googling and reading, and came across a rebuild thread out of the UK, where I could see some pictures of the machine's guts, and I came away impressed with what I saw. Here's an example:


(originally posted by 'GK1')

That's a substantial, fully-supported all cast iron trunnion there. They're not screwing around. It's a heavy duty machine, made with care for buyers who cared about the quality, and it is a machine that can be repaired completely if need be. Bearings for the drive spindle are readily available.

So, there was that machine for sale in Indiana, as I mentioned. I contacted the seller and asked him some questions. He volunteered that he owned something like a dozen different Wadkin machines and in fact had two of the PP saws, along with its predecessor, the PK saw. I figured he must really like the brand and must know a lot about them, though the condition of the machine he had for sale was a bit on the rough side. He said that either PP saw he had was for sale. The one shown in the advert had a tilting rip fence, the other did not. Either saw was $2500.

The saw was too far away for a casual look-see, so I had to rely upon the seller to paint a clear picture. I asked therefore for more pictures, which eventually were forthcoming, however they were blurry cell phone camera pics and didn't reveal a whole lot more to me. He stated he would drag the machines out into the daylight and take better photos, and would even take a video, but neither ever happened.

One of the curious things about the machines he had for sale was that they had 1" arbor for the blade. All the Wadkin literature I had seen stated that the arbor size was 1.25", and no other options were mentioned. Further, as Jack Forsberg pointed out to me in an email, Wadkin made special dado and trenching heads for the saw, and those accessories only came in one size: 1.25". It would be odd therefore for the factory to have made the saw with another spindle size and not mention it anywhere in the literature.

Still, it was possible the saws out in Indiana were specially made, but I suspected that they had been modified sometime after being first sold. I can imagine a furniture factory buying the Wadkin, maybe as a used machine, and finding that its larger arbor didn't work with a bunch of 1" arbor saw blade stock they had already on hand, so the decision was made to turn the arbor down to the smaller size rather than obtain other tooling which might prove confusing somehow. It's a theory, what the heck...

I asked the seller why the machines had the 1" arbor, whether it was a US-spec thing or a special order or what. I really had no idea. He wrote back and said, to paraphrase, "all the saws I have seen have had 1" arbors". I thought that answer was mildly evasive, perhaps, but it seemed a little odd that someone with so many Wadkin machines and loads of experience with them wouldn't know what was was going on with the smaller arbor. Either he genuinely thought that the saws had 1" arbors from the factory, or he knew more than that and preferred not to be especially clear on the point.

Then there was the matter of the arbor configuration for mounting a dado head. One of the nice things about a lot of these older pattern making saws is that the sliding table can be removed well away from the blade and a dado head, even as wide as 2", can be fitted. Here's another picture showing some of the possibilities with the Wadkin:


(photo from J. Forsberg)

Notice in the picture that the dado head cuts into the wooden packing strip when it is fitted creating a zero-clearance around the cutter?

The way this works is that there is a 1" spacer behind the saw blade, and this spacer and the flange behind are removed so as to accommodate the trenching or dado head. Here's a cross section of the spindle:




The manual clearly states how the trenching or dado head is to be fitted:

I mentioned to the seller of the saw the piece I had learned about the dado head, an aspect which I found interesting, and told him that I guessed this would mean replacing the wooden filler strip fairly often, which seemed like a minimal bother. He replied, "All of the dado blade width is to the left of the insert. You slide the table left and open the gap for the dado blade and it doesn't get chewed up" . That didn't accord at all with what I had learned elsewhere, and since the dado head in such a set up would be run without a wooden piece to give zero clearance, it seemed a recipe for some tear-out. Who knows, 'YMMV' as they say.

And he supplied a picture of one of his saws (the one he had with the fixed fence that he said he used mostly for ripping) which showed the saw blade sticking right up through the wooden filler, whereas it is supposed to run in the seam between main table and sliding table:


The wooden table packing pieces in the miter slots, visible to the left and right of the picture are there because the metal originals were missing from the machine. His other machine had them though.

Well, maybe it doesn't matter where the blade is when you aren't using the slider and just ripping, but at this point I was feeling at least a bit confused by what he had on offer and getting a sense, slowly, that this might not be the purchase for me. I was getting a bit skittish you might say.

I then inquired if he might be interested in selling both saws, thinking that I could put one together with the best parts and sell the other off cheaply down the line, but that wasn't of interest to him. Fair enough.

By this point I had started looking elsewhere, and that lead me to this saw for sale in the UK:


It was a beautiful machine in top condition, and the price was reasonable, however it had been sold by the time I made my enquiry. Typical.

One thing I really like about this make of saw is the use of wooden insert strips along the line between sliding and main tables. This means one could readily have a zero clearance to the saw blade for reducing blow out below the kerf (and improve the cleanness of the cutting thereby), and that if the saw blade ever deflected in the cut, the only damage would be to an easily replaced wooden part. On the modern sliding saws with aluminum sliding tables, it is very common to see damage to the table lip from deflected blades, and only Martin offers a saw which has a replaceable sliding table lip (not a cheap item mind you!). The wooden lips seemed like a perfect low tech and low cost solution to me.

This Wadkin machine was growing on me all the time, however I wasn't sure I'd be able to find the right one. They haven't been made in more than 35 years, and many are over 50 years old, so a lot of them are missing parts and accessories and are generally knackered. These saws can be rebuilt, however I was looking for a saw I could put to use relatively soon, so it had to be in good working condition.

I kept looking, and by this time had decided to pass on either of the saws from Indiana, and I let the seller know that. He replied and told me that he'd sold the saw anyway, so all good.

Then I found this machine on offer from Scott and Sargeant in the UK:


This machine had a couple of unusual features, namely the extended main table giving 72" of rip width, and the extended sliding table. The main table extension is supposed to be held up by a couple of legs, but they were absent at the time of the photo. The saw seems to be able to support the cantilevered weight just fine though!

Here's a pic from the factory brochure showing these table options:



Turns out that the extended main table was a fairly rare option.

It took a while to get rolling with the communication with the company selling the saw, however over  time they provided many detailed pictures and answered all my questions clearly. What more could you ask for?

I asked for a price and they gave me one, including the charge for crating and shipping. I mentioned a few shortcomings on the saw, and compared it to the one I had just missed out on, offering a lower number on the saw, and they agreed to come down to that price. There you have it, I have now acquired a table saw. Wahoo!!

More pictures:


That is really quite a saw table. You could hold a picnic on it. The extension table, by the way, can be unbolted easily, and the seller will do this for shipping purposes.

The pivoting miter fence, which some call a quadrant, was there along with the extension bar and three flip stops:


The Suva style guard is a later addition to the saw it would appear. Typically these saws with the extended main table came from the factory with a small guard attached to the splitter behind the saw blade, and the splitter with the saw has a hole on top for this purpose.

Blade raise and lower (left) and tilt (right), and footbrake to the lower left:


Another view of the blade guard, which is missing a bit of plastic at the front:


Another view of the sliding table and miter fence:


I think that's one of the table legs laying there under the cross cut fence bar. The seller says both legs will come with the machine. Some of the mounting pin locations for the miter fence on the table look a bit distorted. That is repairable if need be. It looks pretty clean overall.

The motor for this saw puts out 7.5hp.

The machine is being gone through by the seller this week and will also be crated by the seller. They are familiar with export requirements, and the fact that they do the crating in-house means I can save a bit of cash. I imagine it might get shipped in the next week or two.

With two machines about to come my way, I've been working to clear space in my shop day by day. Actually, there is no space in my shop for the saw, however I have negotiated a deal with my shop neighbor Joe to put the saw in his space, giving him full use of it anytime. This saw can be run off the same transformer I'll be using for the milling machine.

It's kind of a lot for me to buy two machines at once, however it puts to full use the proceeds from the sale of the truck, so I feel good about it, and the expenditures, being depreciable assets, help offset my taxes too. And my wife is on board with the outlay, so all appears well. The calm before the storm perhaps?

All for today. Thank you for your visit to the Carpentry Way.