ShopTalk Sunday: New Life for Used Power Tools

Does Ure want a new top-of-the-line PowerMatic or Laguna, or StopSaw to whip out cabinets and have on hand when G2 gets here (eventually) and puts on his “house-building on the off-shift” pants?

But, to tell you the truth, at age 72 even a “convicted tool-slut” (in the Court of Wifely Opinions, no less!), it’s hard for me to get behind buying $2,000 and up cabinet saws.

The next best thing?  Buying used power tools on CraigsList and Offer-Up.

I have several projects from these esteemed sources pending:  The top and adjusters for a $50 Sears radial arm saw.  And the 6″ Delta long-bed jointer finally needed a new 3600 RPM motor (Amazon).

But the price of new power tools is 3-times (or more) what can be had used.

The Power Tool Reality Check

Power tools are – not unlike automobiles, women, sailboats, airplanes, homes, and clothes – all a matter of personal taste.

In  the case of cars, I want solid, dependable but with a touch of style.  So a 15-year old pristine Lexus has been a dandy.  Damn near collectable since it’s among the last of the 330 series made in Japan.

Same is true for power tools.  A lot of them were once made in America.  Craftsman, Monkey-Wards, and ToolKraft in a bye-gone age. Good ones still are, don’t get me wrong:  the brands mentioned earlier, especially.

BUT – as I go into (in detail) in my book “The 100-Year Toaster” –  sales needs of companies often drive counter-productive change.

Miter Saw Rods (or Rails)

One of the best arguments for buying a NEW high-end table saw is that they come with “industry-standard saw guide rails.”

These are presently 3/4 inch wide.

The problem is, a lot of new Asian-made saw product (some Ryobi, for example) and a ton of Sears, especially in their Evolution series come with a 16 MM wide T-rail instead of 3/4″.

I have the 10″ Sears/Ryobi Evolution (prequel) and while I wouldn’t open a cabinet shop with it, it does a pretty good job on every-day house-building and projects.  A bit sloppy on motor run-in.

My “Rockler Problem”

Well, it started when I picked up one of their box-joint jigs.

In the pictures on Amazon, looked like I’d be able to just toss on the knobs and slap it on my vintage, mint-condition mid-1960s ToolKraft shaper. No Mickey-Mouse on this sucker.  1/’2″ bore and a real workhorse when needed.

“Hell yeah!  Mr. Ure will make box joints instead of dovetails because they are faster!”


Rails Didn’t Fit

I called the Rockler support line and they dished out the bad news slowly.  “No, Mr. Ure, we don’t have any of that thinner rail for these.”

“How about for anything?”

“Well, no.  3/4” is the standard these days….”

NOT here and not on the used Power Tool market.  Ton of narrower rails out there.

3D Printing to the Rescue

There were several ways I could go to come up with a solution to this.  One way would be to take the (nice, metal) Rockler rails and go over to the metal-working part of my shop.

Where, I might add, I specifically DON’T have the right tool.  (A man’s gotta stop buying tools sometime, right?)

The right tool would be a metal shaper.  To be sure, I could tool up the small vertical milling machine.  But that would take a lot of careful set-up time.

Hmmm…what would be quicker?  Safer?

Quickly, a pass through the 3D search engine found me a basic smaller (16 mm or slightly under) that worked OK:  Notched and extendable.

Thing is, it was a bit tight (width) and it was for a T-slot and the venerable ToolKraft Shaper has something straight-sided.

Design Engineering

Changing to white PLA for printing, I whipped out a “rough” of what I was after.  There’s a reason to plan on two (and often three “turns”) in the proto-process.  For one, in 3D printing, small differences in scaling between computers and in 3D slicing and print alignments will vary.

So the “first pass” at Ure’s design, versus the 3/4″ Rockler metal rails, looked like this:

That (funky-looking) arrow is where a stove-bolt is inserted (from below).  Stove bolts have angled-bottom heads.  As you tighten them, they want a larger diameter hole.  Which widens the slot in your rail (at last, we get to the arrow part!) and this widens and locks the jig in place in the rail.

A Quick Course in 3D Printing

The reason I get all worked up over my other hobby (besides ham radio, shop projects, hydroponics and gardening, and landsman work) 3D Printing is you can literally make ANYTHING with it.  People who haven’t spent the $250 for a good get-started rig have no idea what they’re missing.

Please visit my site sometime for more.  The world where shipping delays disappear and we print products (and assemble them at home) is nearly here.

3D printers are no different than your everyday inkjet printer.  EXCEPT for two minor nits:

  • Instead of colored ink coming out, melted plastic comes out of the “printhead” (nozzle).
  • And, instead of a printer doing “single path” – it prints, then goes over the same path just slightly higher – and then prints the same thing again.  Over time, the plastic piles on thicker and thicker.  The print bed moves to make room for the added layers.

Over time you can build something of about 8 inches on each dimension of a cube ($250 rig) or on a 12-square 15″ high rig ($500) or a massive 17.5 inches on  a side and 18.5″ high ring, but now you’re looking at $1-kilobuck.

It’s OK, small 3D printers will do a ton…


Assuming you have a good digital caliper (with inches and mm, fractions of inch are useful, too) and an account at, here’s all you do.

  1. In TinkerCAD, drag, drop, and dimension ONE of the parts you need.  At the end of drawing, group the parts, copy, and lay out two or three.  Download as an .ST:L (stereolithography) file onto your computer.  On TinkerCAD my little project looked like this:
  2. When you get the .STL file on your home computer, the next thing you will have to do is “slice it” so that it will print all nice and pretty-like on your local printer.  Please note the Cura slicer will allow you tons of settings.  For proto types, you can use 10 percent “infill” (your part will be 90% air inside) and this may print a lot faster and cheaper than 10o percent infill for the final very.
  3. Stuff this into your properly adjusted (bed-leveling and material loading) printer and watch the magic come out!  Key things in the picture:  I am running Overture “Rock” white.  Which has a little texture to it.  And the reason that the pieces look way off size is they are printing on a “raft.”

I don’t really need to use a raft.  (Extra plastic around the printed piece.) BUT, it will give you a better handle on small print adhesion to the bed.  Since 90% of 3D printing errors occur on the first layer or two of a print.

One way to improve bed adhesion is this marvelous product call Bed Weld you can buy from Amazon.  It’s a thermal alcohol, near as I can figure.  Here’s my “adhesion” tools:

On the left is a proto on the printer.  The printer screen.  A can of electronic circuit cooler.  Since Mr. Impatient can’t wait for the hot printing bed to cool down.  A shot of cooler and stuff pops off like right-now.  There’s the bottle of Bed Weld.  And Mr. Ure’s secret weekend ingredient:  Alcohol!

Yep.  While the shoe-polish type dispenser of the Bed Weld works OK, Mr. Ure’s improvement is to put a tablespoon of denatured alky on the bed (cool at this point) and steal one of these fingernail brushes from Elaine’s formerly “secret” stash!

You work the application of Bed Weld around (sort of mixing it on the glass print bed) and then slowly smoosh it out like varnish on sailboat brightwork.  then you leave while the alky evaporates.  Or, as Mr. Impatient does, simply blow from the side of the printer where there are no fumes, to prevent fire, and light up the print bed to 60-70C which (believe me!) cures out the Bed Weld dead flat and stunningly good for high quality prints with some practice.

Today’s Takeaways:

  • Con the spouse into a brand new, high-end saw.
  • Failing this, get a cheapo used table saw on eBay or C/L.
  • When you’re ready to more than rip and dado, and you want to use anything that requires a “sled” or holding a jig (like on the shaper table) and Rockler doesn’t support the thinner rails, you can:
    1. Con the wife out of a 3D printer (with a used saw, a Creality Enter3 AND a used table saw is still cheaper than  a fancy new saw with 3/4″ rails.  AND you can download and print your own featherboards and all manner of neat accessories.
    2. See if you can find the right sized metal rail.  I have some of that coming, too, since a crosscut jig is in the works, as well.

Bonus Project

Here are two more nifty’s from this week’s play  shop work.

A center-marking tool.  Print the full-sized version to work with a pencil.  And then (in your slicer) print the same jig half-sized on the X (right left) and Y axes (front-back).  Leave the Z axis alone.  This small one is perfect to shove a nail through.

Oh-0h!  Left some evidence in the foreground, there!

Elaine’s stash of four-sided fingernail sanding and buffing boards are just the right thing to take off rough edges (around the print raft) and to quickly polish them out.

Now, time to go check on more prints coming out for additional projects.  Including time machine parts…

Write when you get rich,

17 thoughts on “ShopTalk Sunday: New Life for Used Power Tools”

  1. George,
    As a kid, I was fascinated with the ShopSmith multi-tool (I think they did everything, including making julianne fries). But by the time I had the wherewithal to buy one, they had been litigated out of business.
    Did you even encounter one of these beasts and if so, what was your impression? Worth chasing on CL or Ebay?
    Thanks and 73’s.

    • ??

      ShopSmith is still around { }

      Dad had a Mk-II. It was the first table saw I ever used. He made his own planer/jointer/shaper blades…

      I don’t know if they are still American-made, but were, up through the Mk-V.

      Shopsmith is not a top-line tool, because it is a do-everything, but it is considered a good, “2nd line” or semi-professional tool, and many Shopsmith owners are fanatic WRT their tools (check out the forums…) For people with limited space, it is often the absolute best tool to own.

      A body can plunk down seven grand for a Mk-7 with all the bells, but I’ve seen many a decked-out Mk-V for under $1000. FWIW many of the aficionados consider the Mk-IV as the best version (the bits all interchange, so the lathe head and saw table for the Mk-II will fit the Mk-V, and vice versa.) I’ve seen Mk-IVs on CL for $250…

      • “ShopSmith is still around { }”

        the first time I ever seen one was when I was walking through the mall… they had one set up in the middle of the hallway and there was a guy there going to give demonstrations.. he was going to make a rocking chair.. I sat and watched him for several hours while he cut out sanded and assembled a perfect rocking chair.. the spindles everything it was amazing..
        the other tool was a scroll saw.. in a lumber yard there was a gentleman..( didn’t realize it but his wife and I worked together on the cardiac wing.. one of the most impressive women I have ever met.. and if you were going to have a heart attack.. best do it in front of her LOL you would have a better chance)
        anyway he was taking small blocks of scrap wood and would cut out little animals.. deer moose rabbits bears etc.. and then toss them to the kids in the crowd.. I went home with one of the saws LOL…
        Sears use to do that very same thing except the gentleman there would make wooden toys.. and then give the toy he made to some ones kid in the shopping cart.. all of those things created sales.. dreams and the desire to create..
        I look at the tools I have and think dam it took me thirty plus years to get them.. I could and I know I could open a cabinet shop.. I have gotten rid of the big industrial units.. ( seriously at one time I had six lathes all sizes. now just one with an extension table.. I do regret getting rid of the legacy mill.×5-gen-ii-cnc-router/.) my original dream was to make four poster bed and banisters LOL.. the price of the mill was a lot less back then but even then I could have bought all the banisters I wanted for the price I paid LOL..

  2. Silly thought..on a 3d printer….
    To extend the production area..could a sliding work table with incra jig measurement capabilities…
    Key parts on the production table …just a thought..the other thought was making the printer head on another xyz access controlled extending your work station..

  3. General Electrics NEW “Catalyst” turbine engine uses 3d printing to cut it’s part count quite dramatically. 855 different engine parts in the engine were cut to just 12 by utilizing 3d printing (yes there are still more parts than just those 12).

    GE has been having teething problems bringing that engine to a final stage and to certification. It is just now being hung on an airframe for actual “in the air” testing, something that was supposed to happen all the way back in late 2017 with the first aircraft utilizing it to be certified in late 2018. (Cessna’s new competitor aircraft to the Pilatus single engine turboprop). Now it looks like the engine won’t finally be certified to be hung on an airframe until sometime in 2022.

    The development costs have been a multiple more than GE was anticipating, driven by the 3d production technology change, and are now pushing close to 1/2 Billion Dollars (as I recall they were originally planning on about $150-$180 million) so it is now questionable about GE’s $$ payback on this technology breaking program, but it is still a groundbreaking engine. The engine will have Lower fuel consumption, auto engine control, MUCH longer times between overhauls, and theoretically once it actually goes into production be considerably cheaper to produce than a typical turbine engine.

    The world has been wanting a new technology low to mid HP turbine engine so once the “Catalyst” engine finally hits the market it should show the benefits of using 3d printing for helping to manufacture a high tech product.

  4. Buying used power tools always makes me think of my dad. He was one of those guys who if he didn’t have what he needed he could make it, and if it was broken, he could fix it. He had a 40′ shed filled with all kinds of old tools some of which dated back to great-grandpa, and everybody knew that if they needed a tool, dad had it. The only problem was, dad was the only person that could get the damn things to work!

    • that is the way it is here.. I have emptied the shop several times.. and the kids never buy tools they just expect me to have it LOL.. I realized years ago that I was the one designated to have the tools LOL….If it is a tool that I don’t want to loose I make sure to buy the kids each one.. like my headlamps.. I use them.. so to keep it.. I bought each of the kids and grand kids one.. and even then they get borrowed and never return….
      a favorite one and easy to make.. is a simple spline jig..

  5. My favorite cheap power tool is my Ryobi hand drill. It was free. When I bought the volcano ranch here, I was still working in the big city. The house needed new gutter along one side, so I had a local contractor install it for me. It was a month before I got to the house to inspect again when my neighbor across the road mentioned that the crew left something on the roof. It was a Ryobi hand drill… exposed to the tropical rains and sun for a month. Amazingly, it still worked and held a charge on the battery. And it is still working! I have bought a couple more Ryobi tools and more batteries based on that discovery.

  6. When I needed a rail to do some complexicated crosscut work on my table saw, I just ripped a piece of hardwood to rail width (minus a couple thousandths), then ripped it off the stock at the proper thickness and built the head/jig I needed to fit the job. ‘Took about 20 minutes, counting the boring/countersinking for the brass FHWS. Where your printed rail kicks mine to the curb is, wood is only its cut size at the temperature and humidity at which it was made, and size is terribly humidity-dependent.

  7. In my experience, any tool (such as Shopsmith) that is touted as being able to do everything seldom does anything well. Then there’s the time required to change the machine setup from one function to another, and you have a couple of good reasons to buy standalone tools.

  8. I’ve become a Powermatic junkie. My lathe sold new for ~$8000; bandsaw ~$6000; scrollsaw ~$2700; sander ~$3000, etc. Buying them as surplus, I acquired nearly-new 30-50 year old professional production tools, of superior quality and engineering, 100% American-made using American steel & cast iron, and Baldor, Dayton, or Marathon motors (depending on tool.) Counting petrol to get them (and a U-Haul trailer in one case) I have less than $160 in the lathe, and less than $120 in any of the others.

    Scrappers are my principal bidding competition.

    They buy these tools, load ’em up, and drive to the nearest scrapyard. To “win” an auction, I have to bid beyond the ~$40 the motor is worth, plus the scrap value of the tool, before they go away. With that said, I don’t participate very often and almost never purchase anything south of Oak Ridge any more, so a LOT of very expensive and high-quality tools get purchased for nearly nothing, then destroyed.

    Anyone who doesn’t see “what’s wrong with this picture” really needs to go read George’s “100 Year Toaster…”

    • I’ve seen this happening and rescued a few of those tools from auctions. I may again, but there’s competition out there. Unfortunately, most of them run on three phase juice which most of us don’t have readily available. Yes, we can buy or make “three phase converters”, but they’re generally a hack and run the motors very inefficiently. Regardless, even if it was necessary to mount and wire a good single phase motor into the tool, it’s still worth it.

      • My genset does 3ph, but I never go after 3-phase tools because in a SHTF world, “least common denominator” standards are most likely to either remain, or be able to be reconstructed. Honestly, I’m not beyond building a functional 19th Century mill-shop — just not a priority as long as the Feds are in a position to dictate to localities, whether or not individuals can drop a water wheel into a stream on their own property.

        The big tools are virtually all 3-phase. That’s the reason I focus on Powermatic, and others like pre-merger Rockwell and Delta (back when they were both high-quality and “Made in U.S.A.”), because there was no difference in the build between the production and commercial tools, other than the motor.

        The major issue with purchasing salvage tools is logistics — You rarely have a chance to examine something before bidding, unless you live near Buff’ler, Clevedland, Enginapolis, Minnenopolice, Kansasshitty, B-hammed, LexLutherton, Knoxonwood, Hotlanta, Phoenixxed, or small metro locations in New Mexico (and especially) Texas. Every school and municipality has salvage and surplus sales but most only have a few per year. Cleveland and Indy will rock new 3- or 7-day listings daily.

        My only 3ph purchase was my Powermatic bandsaw — advertised as 120v. I spent $75 to eBay the correct 120/240 1ph Powermatic bandsaw motor, did the rewire myself, and had to get a new set of tires for it, so I actually have about $160 in that tool, but still…

  9. Speaking of big waterborne tools, check out this live stream of the unsticking operation for the Ever Given container ship!

    It’s even better if you can understand the local language, but the video is worth viewing by itself. The next high tide should be the pivotal moment in this event.

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