Value of a Vintage Tenoner

This discussion, started by a woodworker who is considering purchasing an old Powermatic tenoner for window reproduction, goes into lots of useful detail about how to get the best from this valuable machine. July 8, 2014

Question (WOODWEB Member) :
I do vintage window repairs and restoration and am researching setups for making complete window sash. I can buy a Powermatic 2A Tenoner for around $3,000. Another shop in town uses an SCMI T130 Class shaper for coping/tenoning. I'm wondering if the Powermatic 2A is worth messing with, or are these machines basically obsolete? I'd like to keep costs down, but at the same time I need a machine that isn't going to burn up a lot of time keeping it in adjustment.

Forum Responses
(Solid Wood Machining Forum)
From Contributor O:
That tenoner is the most unknown and underappreciated tool in the US. I have used the same P-Matic 2-A tenoner off and on for the last 40 years. When the shop I trained in went under, I bought it for $200 (1998)! This one doesn't have the cope heads or a cut-off, just the two horizontal heads. Twelve years ago I bought aluminum insert heads with spurs to replace the original heads for a great improvement.

A year ago, I added two Accurate digital readouts and had a quantum leap in shortened set up times. I also have added a threaded stop to the tenon side for same length tenons with variable length rails. Difficult set-up was the biggest complaint for our broad product spectrum shop. We will make two-three different setups a week and run from two to 40 parts. We also have a T130 for profiling, and coping profiles, but all tenons get roughed in on the 2-A. It cannot be beat for making tenons quickly and accurately, so I would say it is far from obsolete. $3,000 is a good price if it is tip-top shape, with cope heads. Plan on upgrading the. I see these go for $1200 at auctions, condition unknown.

From the original questioner:
Why do you do the rough-in on the Powermatic, and the cope on the T130?
Wouldn't it be faster to do it all in one step on the T130?

From Contributor A:

Tenoners are great machines to have and after having one I wouldn't want to go without it. However, first do you have a real shaper? The reason is, if your debating which machine to go after I would make sure you have a good heavy shaper in the shop first. A T130 is a great machine and 9hp will allow you to turn some large diameter tools. I have made many replication sashes with my T130 and a Ritter table slider. As far as the tenoners the PM 2a would be the last one on my list. They are light and get out of adjustment easily. Find a Oliver or Newman they are built like tanks.

From the original questioner:
I was planning on possibly getting set up for sash work next year. I just became aware of a Powermatic in mint condition and am wondering if I should take it. I have not seen that many around. I don't have a shaper at the moment, and I'll probably want one to run the stick cuts. So if a T130 could do both, and I know it has fast changeovers, I could get by with just the one machine. On the other hand, I don't know what a T130 costs, with the tooling and setup I would need. What would be a good budget for that? I have been watching for used T130's and have not seen many of them. $3,000 for the 2A, and a low-budget shaper for, what, maybe $1200 seems like a pretty reasonable cost. I'm not sure how that compares to a T130 setup.

From Contributor O:
We have cope tooling for about six-seven different profiles, and several thicknesses in each profile, so things get complicated pretty quickly, set-up wise. To change over tenon heads on the 2A would be a whole lot of fiddling I have no patience for. And while the shaper is 9hp, it is a lot of work to do the full 2-1/2" or longer tenon on the shaper. The cope heads are designed for coping more than tenon removal. So we can rough tenons in on the tenoner quickly and remove 90% of the wood, then fine tune the whole tenon and cope in one go on the shaper. 12" wide rails or 1/4" muntins - easy.

We also have an old Rockwell shaper with the interchangeable spindle bearing cartridges, and we have two of those with stub type spindle where a cope knife can be mounted and tenons can be made of any length. This is real handy for the odd job where cope and stick are different from one side of the door to another, or other odd things - like through tenons that are 5" long.

Years ago I had an old Newman rebuilt with new bearing and electrics updated. It certainly was a heavier machine than the 2A, but the copes were still impossible to set. Perhaps today cutter bodies could be mounted with interchangeable indexed knives for different copes, and DRO's at every adjustment. Thickness changes would still take forever, in my opinion.

For what we do, the 2A is the best for versatility and accuracy and ease of set up and operation. The dream machine is a one or two spindle Euro tenoner with numerically controlled raise and lower, with each 12-16" tall spindle loaded with copes of every size.

From contributor R:
This is a very complex subject as you can see from the previous posts, so although I am in agreement with most of what has been said I will tailor my advice narrowly to your original question. I did a lot of restoration work in Charleston SC in the 80ís and early 90ís, much of it replacement double hung sash of various profiles and sizes. Typically Mortise and tenon joints with coped profile at bottom rail bottom sash and top rail top sash and saddle joints at check rail at both sash. Not to mention the mulls, mutins and bars which could open up a whole new discussion on terminology alone.

Details varied, as I had to reproduce what was there, no exceptions and quantities were typically small. I have a bit of experience with an Oliver and Powermatic 2a, excellent machines but overkill for your scenario. I think the heavy-duty shaper is the best solution to your problem for both cope and stick. You will also need a good tenoning table, Martin USA sells a bolt on version which works very well. You will also need appropriate tooling. Back in the mid 80ís I found Wadkin had what was called Tenon disks, which were narrow disks of varying thickness, fitted with corrugated back knives which I could grind on my profile grinder, knives were ground and then stacked on a spindle with spacers and shims to give the desired profile. The large diameter easily allowed the through cuts required at the saddle joints. With a backup board on the tenoning table the exit cut was crisp.

Charles Schmidt sells a similar tool and can grind to pattern your knives if you donít want or canít do it yourself. I used these tools and their grinding service a few years ago for a run of about 40 exterior shutters and it worked beautifully. Many years ago I had a restoration contract for various millwork for an early 19th century house, including a number of replacement sash. I had a good shaper and table but could not afford the above tooling, I ended up buying a couple of the 3 wing molder discs Sears sells for use on a table saw, opened the bore to 1-1/4Ē ground a straight blank for the profile on my 8Ē bench grinder, stacked them on the spindle and it worked beautifully in conjunction with a large diameter dado set also with the bore opened for cutting the slots at the saddle joints.. Not entirely sure what the point of this antidote is, except when you are doing small quantity custom work, doing more with less can sometimes be the answer.

From the original questioner:
That makes perfect sense. Use each machine for what it does best. How does one add the digital readouts? That sounds interesting. I have no idea what those look like, how they work, or how one would retrofit them to an old machine.

From the original questioner:
I decided to buy the machine and picked it up today. It appears to be in near perfect condition and is a 5- spindle machine (upper and lower tenon cutter, upper and lower cope cutter, and cutoff saw). It just seemed like it was too good to pass up, and if I end up with a better approach, I can figure I can always resell it. It looks pretty old based on styling of the electrics. The serial number is 0-1727. Can anyone approximate the age?

From the original questioner:
According to, the serial number indicates it was made in 1960.

From Contributor O:
I'm betting you will be happy with the machine, even if you don't use the cope heads. One thing to know is that when you adjust the height of the heads, you need come up on the threads. That is, if a head is too high, you need to go below where you need to be, and then come up to the dimension. If you have ever tuned a guitar, same thing. This is basic to most woodworking machines, but it is surprising how many never caught this tidbit. You can adjust out all the lash in the threads you can, but the heads may still drop while in use if you do not tension the threads as I described. After 26 years, I put digital readouts on each head, so now I know where I am within a few thousandths, and it has dramatically cut down set-ups and increased accuracy.

From Contributor O:
We used ProSclae DRO's since they have a cable from the scale to the readout unit, and are accurate to thousandths. On the 2A, the readers were attached to the castings housing the bearings, just by the threaded rods that adjust the height - holes drilled and self-tapped. A wood box was made to fit inside the compartment and to provide an anchor point for the fixed end. The readout units were mounted on a wood board just behind the hand wheels for easy line of sight readings. The Proscales are very easy to set and adjust and even hold their settings during a battery change.