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I really needed to change blades on the Shop Smith recently in order to rip hardwood stock, but there were a few issues with that plan. The first is the Mark V takes special 10-inch Shop Smith blades that you can’t just buy anywhere. The other was that my version of those blades had worn out, and the technology behind them isn’t evolving as fast as the rest of the competition. Luckily, Shop Smith provides an arbor that allows a different brand of blade on the machine.

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I’m a fan of ShopSmith products. I love the machine and that you can get parts for it no matter the age. However, there are a few things working against them: the very long-lived nature of the equipment, the cost of new parts, and the most unpleasant guy on the other end of the ShopSmith help line are not helping their account balance much. I’ve personally watched the customer service gent sink over $1,000 worth of business by just being cantankerous and unhelpful not once, but twice. So with that running against them, what do you do? In this case, diversification in the form of abrasives is the answer.

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Shopsmith is the Swiss Army Knife of woodworking. They do almost everything you might need for a woodworking project and a friend of mine has wanted one since the 80’s. Recently he got tired of waiting for the cash to get a new one and began searching for a used Mark V. Ebay wasn’t really a help for completed units, but Craigslist listed about 10 of them in the area in various conditions and states of inactivity — so we started shopping.

One that was freshly hauled out of a local garage showed up in the listings, sporting a price tag of $200. With a heavy dose of skepticism we went to check it out. It was quite obvious this machine had seen better days. There was minor rust on the legs and casing and heavy gunk on the tubes — plus the right base was cracked from someone leaving it in drill-press mode for what looks like decades. All of it needed a good going over. Those were the negatives. But the motor sounded great and there was a giant box with all the pieces, connectors, hardware, belt sander, and scroll saw in it.

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It’s funny how people interpret things in different ways. I was watching Sarah’s House recently. Even though I’m not the target demographic and don’t like most of the designs she comes up with, I do like the way she goes about making them. However, when she went shopping for project houses I had to laugh at the above shot: a Mark V sat quietly in a corner.

Sarah took one look at this room and the dusty SS, and her first thought was how to get rid of it and make the room usable. I would have taken a look at the ShopSmith and concluded it was an omen directly from the cosmos that this house was meant to go to a woodworker. I immediately started backing up the show to see if I could lay eyes on pieces the previous owner had built with it.

The old saying about trash and treasure really is true. Sarah enters a room of wall-to-wall wood grains upstairs from the Mark V and feels shut in. I look at that same space and think how restful it would be to sit in that room and what kind of furniture I could make to compliment the wood that’s already there. I’d also see if I could have swung the ShopSmith into the deal with the house — to each his own, I suppose.

Ever find an omen of shop beauty in someone else’s “trash”? Let us know in comments.

Sarah’s House [HGTV Site]


The accepted wisdom for the last 20 years is that Shopsmith doesn’t roll out new products. The old gear still works great, and no matter the version it’s gotten the job done for over 50 years now. So when a brochure for the new Shopsmith PowerPro computer-controlled headstock arrived in the mail last week, my jaw went slack.

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Slowly but surely, I continue to raise from the dead all the accessories on the old man’s ShopSmith. This weekend the jointer came out of retirement. It took about an hour to disassemble, knock all the rust off, and align correctly, but once it was ready, it fired right up.

The simple fact of it is this is still a great way to get the job done in my shop. I don’t really have the room to set up full units of each power tool station I might need, but this rig works just the same in the end. As many have pointed out, there are better jointers in the world, and you do pay a setup cost in time with each tool swap — but for the sheer bonus of having one, the ShopSmith pays out in spades with each project.

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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]


One of the biggest complaints I hear when the word “Shopsmith” is brought up is cost. It’s true SS products can be a little on the pricey side, but being the cheap bastard I am I can’t bring myself to send the cash down the $80-a-pop hole that is the Shopsmith saw blade product line. That’s where the 5/8” Saw Arbor comes in.

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I mentioned a bit of a problem with my Shop Smith band saw that sprang up this weekend. The rubber tires that hold the blade on the wheels basically disintegrated after about 20 years or so, and the bottom one popped off the saw.

I called Shop Smith and was impressed with the service which was both prompt and knowledgeable. The very nice lady on the other end identified the model number of my saw and told me how I could save some cash by ordering a little differently and sent me on my way.

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Judging solely from what I can gather from the serial number on the headstock, my father’s Shopsmith — now pulling duty in my shop — was built in August of 1984. Almost exactly twenty-five years later it’s still going strong.

I mentioned a while back that my dad’s Shopsmith Mark V came to live with me on super-extended loan from the old man. Read: he’ll have to pry it out from under me to get it back. I left it be for a little while and started to read manuals and figure out what everything did.

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