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If you are interested in handsome and strong joinery you already know that mortise and tenon joints are the way to go. Yes, pocket hole joinery is all the rage, and I have three Kreg jigs myself, but when I want to build furniture that will be passed-down to my grand kids I know I'll be making mortises and dovetails.
Try as I might I was never able to get good results mortising with my Mark V. It takes a LOT of force to drive a four-sided chisel into a block of hardwood, and not only does the quill handle suffer from a size problem, but just as you make some progress the table wants to move on ya. This is not a good prize, especially because Murphy's Law dictates that you won't notice that your mortises are not as deep as you planned until some time after removing all of the mortising gear from your Mark V.
My mortiser is a PowerMatic 719, which wouldn't ya know I purchased just months before the 719T with tilting table was released. (Grumble). Before forking out the big bucks for my mortiser I researched all the tabletop units, and I just wasn't going to be able to cut the mortise depths that many of the projects I had planned would require. At the time the market was dominated by Delta, Jet and a couple questionable no-name imports.
As I mentioned in a prior post, I was at my local Woodcraft the other day and at a Rockler a couple weeks back and was amazed at the improvements that have been made in benchtop units. The one that caught my eye was the WoodRiver at Woodcraft, which as a huge base with extensions that expand to 35" in width to support for your stock. This unit has a firm fence and rollers that act as hold-ins to keep your stock firmly against the fence. The fence is made of cast iron and is adjusted with a rack and pinion that reminds me of a mini version of the fence on my Delta jointer.
One of the biggest hassles that benchtop mortisers tend to introduce is caused by very limited access to the drill chuck. The WoodRiver has two HUGE clear plastic doors that swing open for practically unhindered access. Another neat thing about this design is that because the doors are clear they allow plenty of light to make bit changes as easy as I've ever seen.
Another advantage of this unit wasn't obvious from a study of the manual: It's ambidextrous. The two access doors swing open on both the right and the left. Likewise, as you can see from the bottom photo, the lever handle can be mounted left or right. With the switchbox on the left I thought there might be a problem using it on the left, but nope, she worked just fine.
The thing that really surprised me was that it comes with a full set of four chisels and bits and the mortiser has a full 5" depth of cut! Seeing this made me curious, so I measured my PowerMatic and learned that while it has a 6" stroke, all of my chisels are 5" long!
So, if you are in the market for a great looking, reasonably priced mortiser, check the WoodRiver out at your local Woodcraft.
BTW, until Aug 27th this mortising machine is on sale for $234.99 at this link: WoodRiver Mortiser with Chisels and Bits
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If you’re looking at one of the old green planers I suggest you avoid the direct drive version. You can identify these by the fact that the motor is sticking out the side near the top of the unit. Not only will a belt driven planer give you a smoother finish due to the isolation of the motor vibrations, they are also more compact.
I used to own an 18” Powermatic, which was actually larger and about three times heaver than the current 20” version.
Man was that thing HUGE! But I digress.
Bonus features, but not deal makers or breakers would be things like a dust chute, a mobile base or a built in blade sharpener. Killer options are things like a spiral cutter head. These cutter heads are quite and uber-smooth. With a spiral head it’s critical that either the blades are individual carbide cutters, or there MUST be a built-in sharpener.
Look for features like a quick tension release, fence, Carter Guides, etc. but keep in mind that these are readily available as aftermarket upgrades.
Open stands are ok, but an enclosed base is usually an indicator of a larger motor. A riser block means the saw can resaw thicker stock, and for the record, a miter gause is just about as useful on a bandsaw as a chicken with a bicycle. (I take that back! That would be cool!)
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The old green Powermatic drill presses (I don’t know, that looks like the plural of press to me) seemed to fall into to categories: Open belt antique-style press, or massive, variable speed units that could drill a 12” hole through a slab of solid granite! The new Powermatic models all have nice, large tables, enclosed belts, and an a few cases the old variable speed.
My advice is to buy the biggest press you can afford. I know, there’s nothing exciting about a drill press, but there’s also nothing more frustrating than having your project hit the column with the drill bit 1/4” shy of your mark! Remember that a drill press with an 18” swing will drill to the center of an 18” circle, meaning that you can only squeeze a work piece 9” beyond the bit. Tricky eh?
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