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Though it seems to be a point of contention with shop dwellers the world over, the ShopSmith that lives at my place still continues to prove that it’s up to whatever task I lay down before it. I’m close to a dozen projects into since I set it up and it hasn’t missed a beat yet — except for snapping a 20-year-old belt on the band saw.

It’s true that you can get a bunch of standalone tools that do the same job, and there are drawbacks with the all-in-one setup time that is the rallying cry for nay-sayers. However, after an experience with my hand-me-down rig I can say that it does indeed work great if you’re willing to put up with about 3 minutes of change-up period for the different configurations.

Does it work for everyone? — obviously not. It does work to spec and provide a great deal of functionality in a small package, though. If you hunt one down used it’s not a bad bargain and the things you can accomplish from lathe work to the horizontal boring machine are uber handy to have around the shop. Hate if you want to, but it’s a great piece of gear we love having access to.

ShopSmith [Shopsmith site]


20 Responses to TM’s 2009 Favorites: ShopSmith Mark V

  1. Mike47 says:

    I totally agree. I use a Mark VII, admittedly one of the worst designs that Shopsmith ever came up with, but I love it’s adaptability and small footprint. I added the bandsaw, and it instantly became my little shop’s most useful power tool.

  2. Flabby Boohoo says:

    I said it before, and I’ll say it again… there is no way that table saw can be useful with such a small table. you would need crap loads of support, in and out feeds.

  3. Mike47 says:

    Flabby: It’s all in what one considers “useful”.

  4. fred says:


    In our cabinet shop we don’t consider our Unisaws useful for handling sheet goods – so we have a vertical panel saw and a sliding table saw with a scoring blade for the first pass.

  5. ShopMonger says:

    Flabby, I think that it takes some getting used too, but use a really small tabled table saw and it can be done, the size of the table is not the reason cuts are accurate. For ripping, the length of the fence is more important, and on the ShopSmith it is easy to add a shop made fence to the existing fence. Infact i know a lot of pro woodworkers who use this. Any of course a lot of hobbyists. It is all in the mind of the beholder…

    I have all the stand alone tools, and would still die to get a mark v.


  6. Dusty says:

    I am in total agreement. The Mark V is a well engineered machine that is capable of handling all reasonable demands placed on it.

    It does consume some time for change overs but when I go to the shop it is for relaxation. I try not to be in a hurry.

    Its’ real value to me is “a complete woodworking tool” in a small space. Even though I have limited space, I have a full complement of wood working tools at my immediate disposal.

    AND, I can still buy repair parts if they are ever needed.

  7. Bill says:

    I have my Grandfather’s 10ER (~1954) which I mostly use as a lathe and horizontal drill press, though it spent a year as a dedicated boxjoint machine during a burr puzzle binge. The change-over time between functions is a good opportunity to brush out crap and wipe the ways. The 10ER only has 3 speeds; too fast, faster and way too fast. I roughed out a 15″ disk on the bandsaw, fastened it to a 5/8 bore pulley and trued it on the ShopSmith to give me the largest driven pulley that would swing over the ways, and the slowest speed.

  8. Ralph Livingston says:


    The Shopsmith pictured above is the older model 500, which is no longer produced. (It’s still fully supported by Shopsmith however.)

    Around 20 years ago they introduced the model 510 and a few years later the 520. These models incorporated many serious improvements, which included a much larger table and “floating tables” that further increase the working surface. Also upgraded is a completely new fence that locks both front and rear with “T” slots for jigs and fixtures. We could actually take the older 500 above and upgrade it to the latest version. Many of us have done that.

    I work in 1/2 of my garage space, 225 sq. ft. There is no way that I could squeeze in separate tools that perform all of Shopsmith’s functions. If I did have separate tools, I would spend as much time shoving them around as it takes to do change-overs on my Shopsmith.

  9. paganwonder says:

    Lucky enough to have a shop full of stand alone tools which I truely enjoy but if I had to work in a single garage bay, the Shopsmith would be my tool of choice- it is one of the most reliably precise tools I’ve used, and the price is right compared to the price of quality individual tools.

  10. Alec says:

    It’s refreshing to hear a fair and balanced review of the Shopsmith. My 1960 Mark V 500 is the main tool in my 200 square foot shop. The breadth of woodworking I can do in such a small space is due entirely to the ingenius design and precise performance of the Mark V and it’s high quality add-on tools. Changeovers are a non-issue as they really take no measurable time of any consequence. One has to plan the order of operations to maximize efficiency, and planning when woodworking is always of great benefit! The one truly valid criticism of the Shopsmith that I’ve heard is that it pretty much renders the shop into a one man operation. You can’t have one fellow at the saw and another at the lathe. But since my shop is primarily my own domain, it’s not an issue for me. Shopsmith is a great company. The fact that they are hanging on in a business that has a hard time competing with foreign imports when times are good much less in this trying environment, speaks volumes to the commitment they have to pleasing their customers. It’s a darn good tool! Alec

  11. Doofus says:

    What’s a good price for a Mk V with all the bits? There’s one on my local Craigslist for just over a grand.

  12. paganwonder says:

    Doofus- good price if it hasn’t been hit by a car or stripped of accessories, or stolen from someone else. As always – “Buyer Beware”

  13. Pezdad says:

    Love my Shopsmith – the quality of my work went up 100% as soon as I bought it.

  14. Doug says:

    Good review. Let me put another spin on it. Most people agree that the tablesaw is the weakest part of the MK5. BUT – It is at least as good as the $150-$250 tablesaws that many folks bring home from the BORG. In other words – at least good enough to get started. Later, you may choose to get a stand alone saw – and you will still have a great lathe, sanding station, vertical/horizontal drill press and optional bandsaw/beltsander/etc…

    I already had a pretty good tablesaw when I picked up a used MK5, so I have never used that function of the tool. Yeah the table on the old model 500 is small for a TS, but I bet my drill press and 12″ disk sander have a bigger table than yours… And yes, 1 1/8HP is underpowered for a TS, but it is pretty fantastic for a drill press, belt sander, disk sander, quite good for a bandsaw and not too bad for a lathe. Did I mention that all functions are variable speed?

    I bought my used MK5 instead of getting a midi-lathe for about the same price. It has a 16″ swing, 34″ spindle length and never-need-to-mess-with-belts variable speed. I picked up a used speed-reducer and can now slow my lathe (and all other accessories) down to 100 RPM. Plus my lathe came with a tablesaw, drill press, 12″ disk sander, drill press, horizontal borer, 48″x6″ beltsander and a bandsaw that cuts through 6″ hard maple like butter. Hopefully my point is coming across…

    Doofus – $1000 is OK if it has everything and includes at least two major accessories (beltsander, bandsaw, jointer). If it is just the MK5 I would pass and wait for a better price.

  15. Cameron says:

    As soon as I can put a little money aside, I’ll have my eye out for a used one. Browsing on Craigslist, I see some of these go cheap.

  16. Ralph Livingston says:

    While there are many good comments above, There appears to be a perception that the Shopsmith’s weakest mode is as a table saw. Yes, it is “underpowered”, as are all other table saws on the market that are designed to operate on a common household 120V 15 amp circuit. All saws in this class will bog down in heavy ripping operations. It’s not fair to compare the Shopsmith with more powerful saws that require electrical services not usually found in the common household garage.

    Wait a minute tho…….the Shopsmith, as a saw, has a couple of advantages over all the rest in it’s class – the first advantage is variable speed. If you dial the speed down from 3600 rpm to 1800 rpm you double the cutting torque at the saw’s teeth. Because you are not gaining HP, you must reduce your feed rate accordingly, as in taking 20 seconds to feed your board instead of 10 – no big deal. You can rip boards that other home type table saws can’t. A second advantage is the fact that blade changes in the Shopsmith are slam dunk easy. This is not the case on most common table saws where a “general purpose” blade is seldom changed. Thus, on the Shopsmith, I can select a thin kerf ripping blade if this is what is called for, further enhancing my sawing.

    The variable speed is also useful to avoid burning on sensitive woods such as maple and cherry. Cutting these woods is a tough task for many other saws. I can even reduce the rpm’s down to the point where I can cut sheet plastic without having it melt.

    You can even get highly precision sawing accessories for your Shopsmith from companies like Incra and Kreg. Perhaps the Shopsmith, as a saw, is not quite as “weak” as some would presume.

  17. Jerry says:

    Good point Ralph. I use the Mark VII in my shop primarily as a table saw for mainly ripping operations. Don’t think I want to try 4×8 sheets on it or anything. Had it about 9 years now. Its got its quirks and a little rust but still cuts. I think it was built in somewhere around 63. If I were looking to buy a shopsmith I would probably go used. Seems most new things these days don’t last nearly as long.

  18. Ben Eby says:

    anyone who has ever owned one of these knows they are a great tool. I am actually a cnc machinist by trade and I have one I use for plastics and it works great, everything on it is heavy and cast – no plastic parts, the bearings are replaceable- they just don’t make them like this anymore

  19. Truxton Case says:

    I have to comment on the Shopsmith MKVII, It is by far the best design of all the shopsmiths. The table tilts both ways as does the the entire unit. The motor is reversable and more powerfull so the MKVII can be set up as a shaper with the head stock under the table. The four tube design is very ridgid, the end castings are made from solid titanium. The headstock moves along the way tubes with a hand crank. The plastic linear gear tends to break, I had mine replaced with steel at a machine shop. The MKVII was ahead of its time and was too expensive for the market when it was made. My MKVII is still running strong after 50 years. If the headstock ever blows I will replace it with the new shopsmith computer controlled variable speed reversable headstock just introduced by shopsmith.

  20. Don Jones says:

    Bought 510 recently and couldn’t wait to get rid of it
    They look great but once you start using them that opinion soon changes As a table saw which is 75 percent of the usage for most people they are in my opinion useless The
    Table is way too small so you need to use the wings so the fence bumps over the joints When you need to change blade height you have to disassemble the wings then raise the table then reassemble the wings and this is no 1 minute change as I’ve read elsewhere. I can’t even imagine trying to use this as a drill press and lifting up that large head stock when you can buy a good bench drill pres for a $100
    Am I wrong?

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