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Used Machines


What is the best source for used industrial quality woodworking machines? What is the best way to evaluate the functionality of used machines?—Peter Breu


Dave Emerson replies: Most of my used heavy-duty machinery I’ve bought from Bob Rougvie of Woodshop Machines in Bow—603-228-2066. I believe Brentwood Machine is handling such machinery again—800-582-7229. On older machinery especially, check for bearing play. Don’t buy “as is” unless you like working on machinery. It is best if it was in use and sounds good.

David Lamb replies: The “best source” on old machines is to use a reputable dealer of quality machines such as Boshco or Brentwood. There are many others in New England. These sources are not the cheapest, but at least you’d have someone to go back to if there is a problem. Buying for price is always iffy if you have little experience in buying these items.

For cheap, go to liquidation sales, auctions at factories, or try Craigslist, and other online sales locations. These can result in good opportunities, but can be subject to hidden problems.

Seeing is always the best for buying and spending a few thousand $$ on a good machine. If its cheap enough, a couple hundred bucks can get you some solid iron that you can invest a few more into and still have gotten the machine at a reasonable price. Don’t forget to be aware of the motor and its electrical requirements. These older/larger machines are three phase and sometimes 440 volts. Ask questions and also bring straight edges to check flatness of table tops before plunking down the cash.

These days a good 36˝ bandsaw can be had for $400–$500. How good a deal is that! Hands down over a cheap imported 14˝ saw if you have the room.

Peter James replies: If you are interested in older heavy machines, one of the best places to get lots of good information and also purchase machines is the Old Woodworking Machines web site. The URLs are and Several members of the Guild are active on the forums. If you visit the site you can check out the member’s addresses and contact some of those that are local. The site also has a classified section. Click on the “BOYD” (Bring Out Your Dead) at the top of the page. Woodworking machines, either new or old require tuning and maintenance to get the best results.

Older machines that have had industrial use may have wear that is not present in a machine that has only had hobby use. If you are not mechanically inclined and really want to get involved in used industrial quality woodworking machines, I would suggest that you make friends with someone who is. Paying one of the few vendors in used machines to work on a machine in your shop will quickly eat up any savings over buying a new machine with a warranty.

If you feel that you are up to doing some work, but need guidance, the OWWM site will help. There are videos and Wiki articles on many machines. Most older machines will need bearings and belts as a minimum.

Jon Siegel replies: Many of the machines in my shop are over 100 years old. These are the machines I rely on for my work. Although lacking some modern conveniences and safety features, they are built better than most machines manufactured today and are simply a joy to use. The people who made these machines would not be the least surprised to learn that 100 years later, we are still using them every day—because that is what they intended when they designed and built them.

I have restored dozens of antique machines, especially lathes—some for myself, and some for friends, and even for the American Precision Museum in Windsor, VT. I have my own machine shop, and this helps with repairs because I can make bushings, plane worn surfaces, and make special screws or fittings to adapt modern tooling to old machines. It is an amazing feeling to take a 100 year old machine, give it the restoration it deserves, and know that you have granted it lease on another 100 years of service. In the 22nd century, someone like you will get the machine and do the same thing again. Visit the Old Woodworking Machines/Vintage Machines web site, and you will see that there are countless people who do machinery restoration.

Here’s what to look for when considering buying an old machine:

  1. Are all the parts there? Obviously you cannot simply order the parts from a catalog if the company has been out of business for years. Missing parts will have to be made from scratch, and this can be expensive—but frequently similar parts from modern machines can be adapted.
  2. Are any parts broken? Look for broken or cracked castings and evidence of sub-standard repairs.
  3. Belt driven machines can use a wide variety of motors. You can decide what motor and/or speed control you need for your application. Of course, if the machine is direct drive (such as a radial saw), then you need to determine if you can provide the type of current required.
  4. Look for evidence that the machine was cared for and not abused. Do the adjustments work smoothly and feel like they have been lubricated?
  5. Any machine that has been outside in the weather for a long time is probably not worth restoring.

If you take on the project of restoring an old machine, here are some things to help you along:

  1. Find a good machinist.
  2. Learn about motors, switches, belts and pulleys, and the new variable frequency drives (VFD’s) for motors, that allow variable speed, reversing, programmable acceleration and deceleration and more.
  3. Understand that old machines require constant attention to lubrication.
  4. Understand that while you may be saving thousands of dollars, you are taking on a big project. Ask yourself if you love fixing machines? If so, this may be a perfect fit for you and your shop.
  5. Understand that old machines do not have many safety features, and this means the responsibility is on you to use extreme caution when operating them.
Tags: Tools