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Cabinet Saw Advice -- Which used ones are the best?

jrm200's picture


I wanted to get some advice on whether to stick with my current cabinet saw, or sell it and get another one which will last me a long time.  Currently I have a 3HP, right-tilt Platinum Unisaw w/a  50" Biesemeyer fence, that I picked up for $350 at an auction.  It has been beat up, but with a little TLC it runs okay.  Currently, I'm doing custom "built-ins", cabinets, millwork etc.  -- primarily Shaker.  Hopefully I will graduate to some real furniture when I get more time and experience.  

I have a colleague who is a Powermatic and Northfield fanatic.  He says you can't beat the old American Iron and craftsmanship.  He has a Powermatic 66 (when they were still built in the US) AND a Northfield (don't ask, he has lots of money, time and room).    However, for those of us with a  "normal gig" and who weren't born into a "trust fund",  are there a select few manufacturers to investigate (besides Powermatic)?  I've seen Tannewitz, Davis and Wells, etc.  What are some of the pros and cons of each?   Also, will a beginning to intermediate woodplayer (I don't work and get paid for my stuff) will there be a noticeable difference?  I don't want to be the woodworking equivalent of a 60 year guy who buys a high-end audiofile speaker and can't hear above 10KHz, so I would appreciate some real candor here.  

Thanks for your help.


bones's picture

I'm in the depends camp (post #170528, reply #1 of 5)

My first question is if you have a 3hp unisaw what's the issue?  It should handle whatever you throw at until you get into the 16" stuff.    When you say runs ok, do you mean it works sometimes or has to be adjusted periodically?   Will it not hold calibration?  

For me the old american iron is going to be better just because they knew how to build things to last not to a pricepoint to sell cheap.   I've got a Nortfiedl planer from the 60's and your friends right they are beasts and it wll be running long after i'm worm bait.   Tanowitz is awsome as well.  The old sliders are special.  You need a crane to move it, but it but its awsome.   Machines that have 3 phase power motors are cheap to be had and easy to support in the shop with a phase converter (I run one).   Now lets talk needs.   If you are looking for something to take to a site to do built ins, the beasts would not be the tool I'd reccomend for the job.   Now, I will state I have a grizzly 1023slx that's 8+ years old and its what I could afford and I did not know about the old iron then.  It cuts ok so I can't coplain, but if I were looking today , and if I could find an old machine that would be cool.   If money's not an object, I'd look at the sawstop just for the safety and they are well made.   That all being said and old machine with some new bearings is sweet to have!   

...For that old machine lovers:

jrm200's picture

Clarification of My Initial Post (post #170528, reply #2 of 5)


Good points.  I want to clarify that my unisaw has issues; i.e., it won't hold calibration.  When I move it in my shop to put it away and then take it out again ( I only roll it on its mobile base, no lifting involved to stress components) it sometimes doesn't hold the cut -- not by a lot but enough for me to notice).    There is no jobsite use I don't even like moving it the 9' to put it to bed at night.   

My hope is, which my colleague reminds me of, is the old iron, which weights a ton is solid, doesn't change once you dial it in and would take a truck to run over it before it didn't keep aligned.  I am skeptical of the new stuff because I believe "built to last" is not necessarily to the advantage of the manufacturers.  i do a lot of work with 4x8 and 4x10 sheets of plywood, so i need something solid.  I saw some old Northfield and Tannewitz saws on online auctions sites for under $1500.  They didn't look pretty, but when I had the opportunity to see one in person, all it needed was some cosmetic restoration work,  

You are correct in asking if I have a 3HP unisaw then what is my issue.  It not that I believe unisaws have issues, I just think this unisaw has issues.  I have estimates of up to $500 to completely restore it to spec.  At that point, I have to ask if it is worth it.   Hence, my inquiry about the older saws.    I want the next saw I purchase to last me for the rest of my life that's better than 30 years.

Hope this helps clarify my previous post.

bones's picture

now we are getting somewhere (post #170528, reply #3 of 5)

Ok, now we are getting somewhere.   So you move it and it gets out a bit.  I'll assume you mean the fence.  Might I ask if the bearings are solid.  In otherwords is the shaft have any play or wiggle or do you know its the fence.  May be a simple bearging replacement.  Also I'm going to reccomend you go over to the old woodworking tools site (see my link) register and post your problem there.  Be specific and post pictures. There are some real experts at rehabbing the old unisaws.   Option two is watch the classifieds.  I see regular posts of saws for sale that you are looking for.  Beasts but goodies.  Some restored and very resonable.  Really depends on where you are in the country if its worthwile going after.  I was real close to pulling the trigger on an old mortiser in wisconsin but it was a bridge too far so to speak.   Anyway if you want the problem fixed which I believe you can make that happen, they can do it.  Never seen a colletion of expertise like is there for old stuff.   For doing ply, I'd reccomend a different thought.  Rather than the TS which I think is very dangerous unless you have a slider, go with the festool TS55 and a rail.  You can lay the ply on a 4x4 sheet of solid insulation and cut it on the flat.  The cut is perfect .

...For that old machine lovers:

RalphBarker's picture

For what it's worth . . . (post #170528, reply #4 of 5)

 . . . I think Bones is steering you in the right direction. A minor refurn of your existing saw may be all you need. A better mobile base might help, too. The old Delta caster systems leave a lot to be desired.

jrm200's picture

Thanks for the advice (post #170528, reply #5 of 5)


Thanks for the advice.  I've done a little investigation after reading your reply's and it looks like the Festool w/ the long track will be my best bet.  Plus it will also save me the $$$ and hassle of trying to replace the Unisaw.  As an FYI, I tried the PSI Portable Panel Saw System, which I thought was an inexpensive version of the Festool, DeWalt et al systems.  It was okay, but didn't really do the job for me.

I think this forum is great, because I get pragmatic advice in a timely manner.   Thank you again for all your help.

Best regards,