Antique Tool Market: Issue 1

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This article is from Issue 1 of Woodcraft Magazine.

DELTA MANUFACTURING CO.’s No. 860 8" tilt-table saw, as pictured in a 1937 Delta catalog. Delta was an early pioneer in the bench-top machinery field.

Interested in starting a collection of antique woodworking tools? Here are some great bench-top models that easily fit in a smaller shop. 

By Dana Martin Batory

WE’VE ALL HEARD TALL TALES of spectacular used-machinery coups pulled off by fellow woodworkers: 

“I picked up an 18" double-arbor table saw for $405.”

“That 36" jointer only cost me $450.” 

“A 30" bandsaw for $250? You bet I snatched it up.”

They’re all classic machines, but how many of us actually need – or have room for – a No. 478 Greenlee Brothers & Co. table saw, a No. 1 Yates-American Machine Co. jointer, or a No. 17 Oliver Machinery Co. bandsaw weighing respectively 2,500, 3,850, and 1,300 lbs? Recent additions to my own shop of a 20" x 8" Buss Machine Works planer and a 24" x 8" John A. White Co. planer snagged at bargain prices ($450 and $350) have it almost bursting at the seams. 

Space and practicality might rule out those tempting monster machines, but there are plenty of well-made smaller classics well within the average person’s budget that still fit nicely into a home workshop. A beginning woodworker might also find it wiser to test the waters with these small used machines than to rush out and buy large secondhand production models. If the hobby proves too difficult or if you lose interest, such machines are much easier to dispose of than, say, a giant 48" bandsaw. 

If there was a Golden Age of bench-top machines, it was the 1930s and 1940s. Because of the Great Depression, most major woodworking machinery manufacturers were desperately trying to make up for dramatic sales decreases. They saw their salvation in the still relatively untouched home workshop market. Unlike today’s two or three major players, there were dozens then, all fighting for survival.

Many of the most famous companies like Powermatic, Oliver, Fay & Egan and Yates-American manufactured hobby and/or light-industry machines. Yates-American’s impressive W and J lines were aimed directly at this market. Though smaller, they were usually built as ruggedly as their larger counterparts.

Woodworkers’ first few purchases always tended to consist of a core group of machines – a table saw, a jointer and a bandsaw – which show up for resale most often.

What manufacturers should a woodworker keep an eye out for? A complete list would be too long, so it’s probably easier to name some who basically built glorified toys, such as Herberts Machinery Co., Arcade Craft Tools, and J&H Metal Products Co.

 However, there are three bench-top models I see repeatedly at garage sales, flea markets and estate sales that represent manufacturers who built a wide selection of quality woodworking machinery.

The Delta No. 860 8" table saw

Delta Manufacturing Co. (Est. 1919) of Milwaukee, Wisc., was an early pioneer in the bench-top machinery field. Weighing in at about 50 lbs, the No. 860 8" table saw (which replaced the old No. 318) is a sturdy little machine brought out in 1933. The author has a soft spot for the table saw. I cut my teeth on a late-model 860 bought at a garage sale for $15 – including stand and motor – which I still have.

The arbor was carried on Timken tapered-roller bearings (Timken-Detroit Axle Co. purchased Delta in 1942), and the thread was a modified Acme type. Though more expensive to cut, it gave a better bearing for saw blades and cutterheads.

The ribbed 15" x 18" cast iron table was supported on massive trunnions working in seats in the frame. The front trunnion had a “V” that fit into a V-groove in the seat and prevented end motion. A large crank driving a ball-bearing lifting screw adjusted the depth of cut by raising or lowering the table, which was guided on heavy dovetail bars (gibs) running in dovetail slides milled in the heavy cast iron frame and locked by forcing one gib tightly into its slide with a star wheel.

Another ball-crank handle, which operated a worm gear meshing with a rack under the front trunnion, tilted the table. For fast operation, the worm could be temporarily disengaged and the table swung into any position.

To increase crosscut capacity, an optional 7" x 15" cast iron table extension was available which fitted onto the saw’s front. Optional guide bars made it possible to center-rip a 4' panel. My saw has both.

A combination unit consisted of the 860 and the No. 301 ball-bearing jointer mounted on an open steel stand ($64.30). The unit could also be supplied with a horizontal boring and mortising attachment ($25). A disc or drum sander could also be mounted in its three-jaw chuck, expanding its capabilities even more.

In 1937 Delta introduced the similar No. 1160 10" tilting table saw ($49.85) weighing about 100 lbs. The combination unit No. 1164 ($108.55) consisted of the saw, the No. 654 6" jointer and a steel stand. 

CRESCENT MACHINE CO.’s 4" bench jointer, from a company brochure printed in 1933.

Crescent jointers

The well-known Crescent Machine Co. (Est. 1893) of Leetonia, Ohio, introduced a compact 4" bench jointer in 1916. Built every bit as ruggedly as their massive 8", 12", 16", 20" and 24" machines, it featured a one-piece, hollow-core, cast iron frame. The lower part of the high speed Babbitt bearing housing was cast solid with the frame, ensuring perfect alignment. The bearings were equipped with liners to adjust for wear along with oil chambers and capillary felt, making them basically self-oiling. The cast iron tables rested on dovetailed adjustable inclines provided with clips to compensate for wear.

The jointer was regularly supplied with a two-knife round cutterhead, tilting cast iron fence, automatic guard, and a rabbeting ledge. The belt-driven model weighed 45 lbs with a cutterhead speed of 4,000 rpm. The 90-lb direct motor-driven machine featured a 1/4-hp motor and had a cutterhead speed of 3,400 rpm. Crescent was one of the earliest manufacturers to offer electric motors. A ball-bearing model introduced in the mid-1920s is the one to particularly watch for. A 1930 price guide listed it at $30. A very similar four-knife, 6" model, weighing 105 lbs, was added to the line at about the same time.

THIS AD FOR WALKER-TURNER’S BN725 12" bench bandsaw appeared in a 1936 issue of Popular Homecraft.

Walker-Turner BN725 12" bandsaw

 By 1933, the famous Walker-Turner Co. (Est. 1928) of Plainfield, N.J., had sold over 500,000 pieces of light-duty equipment – table saws, jointers, lathes, drill presses. Its BN725 12" bench bandsaw, part of the Series “700” Driver Power Tools Line, was glowingly described in a 1936 Catalog. “The graceful lines … smooth action … and enduring power of a thoroughbred are apparent in this newest and greatest of Driver bandsaws. And truly it is a thoroughbred … in every sense of the word. It is made of the finest materials and is ‘groomed’ through every step of production.”

The disk metal wheels were factory-balanced and rubber-faced, and ran on four SKF ball bearings. The frame was a one-piece, hollow-core iron casting. The tilting 121/2" x 12" cast iron table was ribbed for strength and supported on cast iron trunnions instead of the cheaper and weaker stampings. It was tilted through a geared control mechanism, and was equipped with a wooden extension, increasing the work surface to 18" x 12".

The thrust of the blade was absorbed by SKF bearings above and below the table, while adjustable guide brackets controlled lateral movement. A blade guard moved up and down with the guide unit.

Depth of cut was 6". Reversing the position of the guide pins in the guides put a slight twist in the blade at the point of cut and made it possible to rip stock up to 41/2" wide. Accessories included a rip fence, metal cutting blade, a special blade for cutting brake lining, and a flexible lamp. Weighing over 90 lbs, the bandsaw was listed at $29.95. In 1937 a 16" bench bandsaw, the BN1125 ($87.50), weighing almost 300 lbs, was added to the Series “900” line.

Based on their vast production figures and the fact the company was in existence for decades, Walker-Turner machines turn up quite often. 

Machinery prices vary dramatically, so all I can give is a general idea. Geography, venue, the owner’s knowledge and his desperation to sell (and yours to buy, of course) are all contributing factors. For the Delta table saw, Crescent jointer, and Walker-Turner bandsaw less motors and/or accessories and in good condition, expect to pay between $30-$50, $50-$75 and $60-$100, respectively.

There are definitely some bargains to be had on high-quality tired iron, but keep in mind that these older machines weren’t manufactured with today’s safety consciousness in mind. So be prepared to add safety features on your own – such as guards and other devices – after buying one of these classics.

Formerly a geologist, Dana Martin Batory is a cabinetmaker who runs a one-man shop (filled with antique machines) in Crestline, Ohio. He is the author of “Vintage Woodworking Machinery: An Illustrated Guide to Four Manufacturers,” published by Astragal Press.

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