Woodworker's Central
Woodworker's Gazette
Gazette Archive 12/11/99

Of Auctions and Rust?
By Marty Escarcega in collaboration with Dave Fleming III, John Hofstad-Parkhill and Keith Bohn.

Most woodworkers faced with buying tools are immediately confronted by the high price of new tools. In some cases this may be because they are unaware of the alternatives to buying new or lack the knowledge of how to go about buying used machinery. Used machinery can be a better value than buying new and there are a number of avenues open to buying used machines. The classified section of the newspaper, the used tool dealer and auctions are but three such venues available. This article will discuss buying machines at auction.

Most auctions that cover woodworking machinery are liquidations of local cabinet shops. This means you should be prepared to carry home some lumber, and probably some hardware (hinges, etc.). In addition, don't overlook machine shop auctions, as they will often carry a Unisaw, bandsaws, and most definitely a drill press or two.

Here are some "auction tips": 1) If at all possible preview the auction, see what's there, look over the machines and inspect them thoroughly. You don't want to be doing this on auction day. (Inspection is often just a couple of hours before the auction, on auction day.)

Some auctions will be dealer liquidations. Clues will be machinery that "doesn't belong", like printing presses in an Auto Shop. Big machinery is usually left "as is, where is", so if your machine doesn't have any obvious source of power, dust collection and the like - look around.

It doesn't mean you can't find a good deal, but the atmosphere is different, likely you'll be bidding against a dealer or dealer proxy to keep a minimum bid up.

INSPECT the machine! Pull covers, turn hand wheels, look at castings, see how many knobs are missing etc. Either shy away from machines with broken castings or only consider their value for parts for a machine you may already have. If castings are rusted or controls don't turn smoothly, table surfaces are rusted up bid accordingly or don't bid at all.

Prepare to get dirty. Bring a flashlight and a mirror for getting way up inside the thing. A good stiff brush is handy for wiping away grime and dirt covering broken castings.

Watch out for machines that have been cannibalized for parts. Knobs and hand wheels can get expensive. Try to make sure all the sheet metal is there. Dust doors etc. Have you ever priced a dust door for an older Unisaw? With the knob it is over $100!

Or you can hold out hope of getting lucky and finding a freebie. :-)

2) The average woodworker should take a tool supply catalog with him to the auction. This helps to remind you just how much a particular or similar machine new is priced at. In particular, catalogs like Tools On Sale/Seven Corners Ace Hardware, A&I Supply or Tool Crib of the North are good reference books because they carry an extensive line of tools. Study this source material well and eventually you can price on the spot.

I think you should do your research ahead of time. You should know the fair market value of a Unisaw before you even leave the house. Most current catalogs won't have much more to say than retail for a Unisaw/Jet/Powermatic. Carrying a catalog might make you conspicuous. Speaking of that, leave your suit at home; put on your dirty sneakers, old jeans and a one-pocket T.

Be aware that many industrial machines are 3 phase, including the larger table saws. Conversion to 3 phase should be considered as part of the cost of the machine up front.

3) Set limits, i.e. what the ABSOLUTE maximum you are going to spend, and stick to it! And be happy with it. Just because your last bid was $325 and a fellow right next to you got the machine for $350 does not mean YOU could have had the machine for $350, far from it. Understand that not everything that sells makes sense. You'll see frenzy for air tools that will boggle your mind followed by a drill press that nobody bids on.

Bring a truck or trailer, there's usually a day or two after the auction for you to pick up your goods. Most auction houses do not provide security; it's your responsibility to get it home once you've bought it. If you win the bid, you've definitely bought it.

There is often a crew available for a fee to help load heavy equipment using a forklift. For the really big stuff, expect to see business cards for a local rigger.

Keep in mind that riggers and millwrights are very expensive.

4) Watch out for really old machines. Older jointers, used square cutter heads, these are dangerous. I recommend you do *NOT* buy such a machine. Many machines of this vintage have Babbitt Bearings. Bearing caps can identify these machines. (Bolts that hold that hold a cap over the bearing). As babbitt bearing machines wear, you remove shims between the machine and the cap. For the average do-it yourselfer, repouring Babbitt bearings and reaming is not within our capabilities.

5) Try and stick with name brand equipment you know. Powermatic, Rockwell, Delta, Delta/Milwaukee, are probably the most popular. They also tend to demand the most at auctions because most folks know their value and parts availability. You will be more likely able to get missing parts for these machines. HOWEVER, there is a remote possibility that the parts are no longer available even for these brands. SO it is imperative that you try and find as near a complete machine as possible.

If you are only interested in a proper restoration using original equipment you may be asking too much. Either resign yourself to waiting to find parts by hook or crook or get over it fast and compromise. Keep in mind that you can compromise for now and get the machine up and running and fit it with the proper parts, as they become available.

6) Hidden Classics and Duds: There are machines that were produced by Atlas, Parks, and YES even sold by Sears under the Craftsman name that are what I call "Hidden Classics". For instance:

a) Parks produced some nice 12" planers. Heavy cast iron machines. Because few people know about them you can usually pick them up for a song. They do have some Babbitt models. If you stumble across one, check shafts for play. DC Morrison still supports Parks machinery.

b) Atlas produced a nice line of heavy-duty woodworking machinery. Atlas was a respected brand. If you find one of these, you can sometimes recondition these machines provided all of the parts are there. Atlas Press bought Clausing. The name was changed to Clausing Industrial. However, Clausing supports the woodworking machinery very little if at all. Sometimes they can provide a user's guide or parts list but parts for these machines are scarce. There have been recent offerings under the Atlas brand name covering their import (Asian) machinery. Atlas made machines for Sears under the Craftsman name. Most notably were the old Craftsman Drill presses.

c) Walker Turner was another fine manufacturer of heavy-duty woodworking machinery. WT's band saws are still sought after. WT also made some nice heavy cabinet saws as well. If you can find a complete machine for a very good price it's worth having in a home shop. WT was sold to Delta and I understand Delta does not support WT machines.

d) Oliver. Their lathes are very heavy-duty machines. They also made table saws and other industrial machinery. However in many some cases they used proprietary motors, conversions are difficult. Oliver also made other heavy -duty machinery. Oliver is still in business.

e) Boice-Crane. These folks made some fine and not so fine machinery. I personally tend to stay away from them. Probably because I have little experience with them and also because my local machinery dealer won't bid on any at auction unless they are at give-away prices. (That tells me something...)

f) Sears. Hey, despite what many say, Sears sold some good woodworking machinery. Their old band saws were nice machines as were their drill presses. Some of their old table saws were also built fairly well. Sears never (as far as I know) produced their own machines. Looking at the machines overall condition/quality will tell you if it's a keeper. Pull handles, turn wheels. If it's smooth as glass then it may be a keeper. Because of Sear's recent bad reputation, most folks tend to stay away from older Craftsman machines. Sears also does very little to support their older equipment. Price accordingly. I bought my father-in-law a old 12" Sears band saw in nice shape for $35!

7) Don't expect to attend your first auction and hit the ground running. You may go a few before you find something worth bidding on or finding one that you can afford to bid on. When the Duke of URLs began his mammoth whirlwind buying spree of the 1998/1999 season he was either passing on or buying too high. By the end of the season there were deals falling into his lap so to speak. This was not by accident; it came by watching and learning. But like McGuire and Sosa we all sit breathless wondering if he'll be able to repeat himself when the year 2000 rolls around.

8) Know your mechanical abilities. If you are going to pick up a rust bucket of a machine with torched holes in its cabinet, like an old Unisaw (see my web page http://members.home.net/escarcega/ww.html) you should have the knowledge and equipment to refurbish the old machine. Perhaps a friend that isn't going to charge you and arm and a leg, to weld, press bearings on and off, sandblast cabinets or glass bead parts. There is lots of elbow grease involved and in my opinion, there is ALOT of gratification in restoring a machine.

9) Once you get home with your new prize its time to disassemble the machine. Use baggies/zip-lock bags etc. Document the disassembly; take pictures as you pull things apart. Lay parts out in the order removed and snap pictures. If you had a video camera you could video tape the disassembly as well and save for future reference. Clean up all parts with solvent use care on sensitive parts like plastics with solvent and some soft metals. Have cabinets sand blasted, weld and repair sheet metal. Primer bare surfaces as soon as possible to prevent rust.

One of the advantages to buying the known brands like Delta and Powermatic are the parts lists may still be available. Have a copy on hand and use it when disassembling.

Evaluate the machined parts, such as arbors, trunions, bearing surfaces etc. Check for galling, scratches etc. If you find a shaft that had a seized bearing spin on it, you will have to have it re-machined or replace it. This can become an expensive proposition. This is why you try and spin shafts, cutter heads etc. before you buy. If you have a press (if not, take the shaft to a machine shop or someone who does have a press), press off bearings, note the location of thrust washers and spacers. These are critical to the machine's tolerances. Take the old bearings to a local bearing supply house. Usually listed in the Yellow Pages under Bearings. You will find that purchasing bearings from the supply house will save you upwards of 50% over buying from the machine's manufacturer. There are cases however where the manufacturer's had bearings made specifically for their machine. Walker Turner was known for this.

There are other outlets for parts as well. Even if you can't get the knob from Delta, chances are industrial supply houses will have a knob that's quite workable. Bearings, belts, bolts, fixtures, you name it's. J&L Industrial supply and MSC will both happily deal with John Q. Public and carry a very broad array of materials, parts and equipment.

Don't forget the net. If you don't have a friend or that ever elusive "local machine shop", try posting on the Rec Crafts Metalworking Internet Usenet Newsgroup as well as rec.woodworking.

With other manufacturers you might be committed into having to buy from them. Say your prayers that they still stock the bearings. Otherwise you may have expensive machining to do or a big paperweight! Refinish your parts before re assembly, polish up bolts, chase threads, polish shafts with extra fine abrasive cloth or 3M pads you may also elect to replace old bolts and nuts. These are the details that add a nice touch to the finished machine.

In particular the 3M #10144NA pads are fine enough to not abrade too much and will leave a certain amount of patina. You should also look into setting up an electrolysis tank for large scale rust removal. In some cases sandblasting may also be an alternative but mask off the machined surfaces. By the way, in some areas there are do-it-yourself sandblasting shops. The local one here charges $1 a minute. Some automotive de-greasers work great for removing grime and a limited amount of rust but use with care. I especially like them for machined surfaces but they can remove the paint from tags and will remove decals. In some cases they will remove paint so use them wisely or only where you can remove the tags or are re-painting. Oh and wear gloves unless you like scaly skin.

Press on the necessary bearings, lube machined surfaces with the proper lubricant, usually something greaseless, I tend to use grease but very lightly. Grease tends to attract the dust, and then you end up with a caked on mess. Replace all old electrical cord and plugs and if you do not feel confident handling electrical work get a motor shop to rewire and replace switches and contact boxes. While you are at it have them test the motor too.

Paint tip: Rust-O-Leum Dark and Light Machinery Grays are almost perfect matches for Delta/Rockwell Machinery. Although at $5 a spray can, it can get expensive. If you really want Powermatic Green and or Gold, you have to go to Powermatic for that paint. You can also get by with color matching at an automotive supply house. Be prepared to spend $100 for a quart of automotive acrylic enamel and its associated reducers and hardeners (CAREFUL with automotive paint DO NOT SPRAY WITH OUT PROPER RESPIRATORS AND IN A WELL VENTILATED AREA! Some of this paint contains arsenic and other VERY harmful compounds!) A good alternative is good old Home Depot or Lowes. Have them color match your part on their computer and have a gallon of oil based enamel mixed. A gallon will set you back under $20! I can be thinned with mineral spirits and sprayed for very satisfactory results and durability.

Install missing safety features. Guards are a must. Please don't skimp here; order the original from the manufacture if at all possible. If not, take the time to make a substantial guard for the machine. A good guard will last as long as the machine and not break off. Remember belt guards as well. Finishing touches are new decals or emblem plates. I must admit I'm pretty picky when it comes to this sort of thing. They are "icing on the cake". But add that finished look.

Buy a set of punches for removing tags set with pins. Usually you can flip the part over and drive them out from the back.

We hope this gives you some ideas and tips. And a dose of inspiration that it can be done. You just have to be "into" the machine at the right price and be educated. Ask questions of other woodworkers on the various woodforums such as this one and rec.woodworking. There are many folks who have "Been there and done that" Don't be afraid to ask questions of them, value of the machine, is it worth the restoration?

* Most importantly, know your own limitations. Financial resources are very limited. It would be a shame to waste them on something you can't fix.

Sometimes restorations approach the cost of a new machine. You can view this can as a pay as you go or as the Duke of URLs calls it, "An Installment program". It allows you to get a very nice heavy duty piece of machinery (Unisaw?) in the end by doing a little bit at a time as you can afford to.

It is reported that the Duke bought his Unisaw for way more than it was worth. But in the long run will have in it the price of a new saw but he has a vintage saw that he adores and as stated above it was bought on the installment plan. Would he do it again? For certain machines, yes, but for others, no.

I'd be happy to answer questions personally but I frequent rec.woodworking and The Gazette too. I think it may be better to pose the question to many people to get other opinions and help you make a better decision or other ways to solve a problem.

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