Machinery for a Small New Shop

Advice on basic machinery choices for a small shop. March 16, 2015

Question (WOODWEB Member) :
My wife and I are moving to Port Sydney and we've found a property with a woodworking shop on the lot - sans equipment. I've got a little business in Toronto and my shop space is a woodworking co-op and it has served me very well. I've been spoiled with big and plentiful floor machines to make my furniture but now I need to make my own way and I'm looking for ideas on how to proceed. To cut to the chase, I have all the hand and power tools I need. What I'm wondering about are the floor machines. Currently I have a bench top Dewalt planer (which I haven't needed to use since the co-op space), and a 6" Craftex jointer(which will work as a weak stand-in). I'm aware of the quality issues of these two pieces of machinery but there it is. Does anyone have experience in setting up their shop with affordable and precise machines? Has anyone every used a Shopsmith? I'm very skeptical of these multi-tools. My new shop is about 800 square feet and my budget is around $5-10K. Any feedback on people's experience would be greatly appreciated.

Forum Responses
(Furniture Making Forum)
From contributor J:
Heh, you should just come over to my side of the big lake and get my old equipment which is sitting in storage until I reconcile myself to letting it go. I just made the opposite move, from my garage in a small town to a shared space in a city. I used a small Oneida dust collector, a nice old 5HP Champion air compressor, an 18" Laguna bandsaw, and a 1996-vintage Mini Max C300 (ancestor of their current CU300 Smart), which is an Italian 5-function machine - 12" tablesaw, 12" jointer/planer combo, shaper and horizontal mortiser.

The combo machine is far, far more robust and capable than any Shopsmith - heavy iron tables, three separate 3HP motors and weighs about 1100 pounds. It's easy to switch from one function to another - hardly takes longer than the time to walk from one big machine to another in the shared shop where I am now. You need to plan your workflow because different functions of the machine share some of the same space and/or parts, e.g. you often can't leave both the tablesaw and jointer set up and walk back and forth between them. Jointer, planer and mortiser are all really nice machines that I miss having access to despite the fact that the shared shop has bigger commercial equipment. The shaper spindle has a router collet on top, but itís a compromise; max RPM is not fast enough for small-diameter bits to work well. I toyed with the idea of having a different pulley custom-made to get the speed up, but never got around to it. The sliding table is smaller than the big 10' commercial slider I have access to now, and the rails that the table rides on are supported by a leg that goes down to the floor, so moving the machine around in the room can flex the rails slightly and throw the slider out of square, so it's a good idea to double-check it before cutting larger panels.

There are bright spots in having your own equipment. Most notably, you don't have to worry about other people dulling blades or throwing things out of adjustment. In the shared shop, I really miss my finely-tuned jointer and planer. Generally I'd suggest you think of multifunction machines as space-savers rather than money-savers. Ignore the actual Shopsmith brand. The big names I'm aware of are Laguna, Mini Max and Felder. (You can probably forget about Felder, too, except for their lower-end "Hammer" line, as they're going to be out of your budget). Secondhand, one of these machines will probably cost you at least $3500.

The biggest differences I notice between the shared space and my garage shop are social, not equipment-related. When I started out in the garage I thought I'd like being by myself most of the time, but it turns out that I actually prefer working around other people.

From the original questioner:
I've started looking into the companies you've mentioned and they are quite impressive. I will miss having all the other co-op members milling about. It's been an amazing time working there.

From contributor O:
I would try to get a good table saw, preferably a cabinet one, a good compound mitre saw and a band saw. These were my main tools besides the planer when I had my shop. Even a cheap lathe that will turn 36" lengths will do for most furniture.

From the original questioner:
Thanks for the input. I have decided to take your advice Contributor O and get just a couple basic stand-alones.

From contributor C:
Get the biggest and baddest planer, jointer, TS, and BS that you can afford. Buy used. If you look at the Machinery Exchange here at WW there are some nice used sliders for sale. $15K goes along ways on the used market these days.

From contributor M:
I have a similar sized shop and budget. I recommend making room in your budget for a high-quality table saw. I bit the bullet and got a Sawstop cabinet saw. I haven't regretted it even though it is expensive - great machine. My friend got his hand in the blade and didn't even feel it when the brake kicked in and saved him from being cut. It didn't even break the skin.