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Thread: benchtop mortiser

  1. #1
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    benchtop mortiser

    Going to be purchasing a benchtop mortiser and am looking for recommendations, comments about the one you have, which is the one you wish you had, etc. Does the step up from 1/2hp to 3/4hp really make a difference? (I'll be making mainly craftsman style furniture. When I finish these stupid boxes) Do you ever use the ability to turn the machine 180 degrees to do off bench mortising? What are the best chisels IYHO? Budget wise I have no problem with the Powermatic 3/4hp or other "high end" machines. I've read reviews that put the Powermatic at the top, and reviews that put the Shop Fox at the top. Much more interested in you opinions. Even if that includes alternate ideas regarding different machines, like a horizontal router. Drop your wisdom on me.
    Bill
    I'm not old. I've just been young for a very, very long time.

  2. #2
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    Bill,

    I have the PM benchtop unit and am very happy with it. I know you'll get a lot of advice from others here about alternative methods and I know they'll all be valid. But the mortiser fit my workflow and style very well. Prior to me owning it, mortises were a lot more time intensive.

    I'd say it's not the most precise tool I own as my slider and Nova drill press are more precise. But with good marking and measuring, it's been very good. Repeatability is very easy for me. Build quality for me has been very good and I've had no issues. I make sure my chisels are always sharp.

    I have not done off bench mortising so can't help there.

  3. #3
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    I had the Jet and it was a perfectly nice machine for what it was intended to do. I only sold it because I wasn't actually using it and another local woodworker is enjoying it now. On the subject of chisels, it's important to understand that setting up the chisel/drill properly is the "secret sauce" to these machines performing well. The drill bit MUST be doing the work as no matter how sharp you have the square chisels, they are only supposed to be removing that last little bit of material that the drill bit doesn't cover. There should never be a need to force the tool to create the square hole.
    --

    The most expensive tool is the one you buy "cheaply" and often...

  4. #4
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    Jim - the jet was 1/2hp yes?
    Bill
    I'm not old. I've just been young for a very, very long time.

  5. #5
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    1/2 HP is more than adequate for a bench top machine.

    I have the GI model which is no longer available.

    Look for one with adjustable dovetail ways, a good hold down and vise.

    I recommend the LV premium chisel set, remember to set the bit/chisel gap properly and you'll be just fine.

    I also build mostly A&C furniture from QS white oak............Regards, Rod.

  6. #6
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    I had the Shop Fox 3/4 HP 3450 RPM, double column, swiveling head bench top mortiser for several years. I really liked the actuating handle and it had plenty of power for what I was doing which were typically 1/4" - 1/2" mortises in quarter sawn white oak for craftsman style furniture. I never used the rotating column feature. The chisels that I really liked were the Japanese made premium chisels from Grizzly. They worked very well and were a definite upgrade from the stock chisels, yet more economical than the European made chisels.

    I disliked the fence because it was too tall for many of the legs and rails that I was working with and I had to add blocks of wood to the bottom of the hold down clamp to retain the work. That was a constant inconvenience. Other than that the tool worked as intended and I sold it when I down sized because it was a such a specialized tool that I was rarely using any more.
    Dick Mahany.

  7. #7
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    I have the Jet, bought it used a couple of years ago from someone who never used it. Came with like new chisels, works great, cut a bunch of mortises in 2" white oak recently, I was amazed how well it worked and how easy it was. I'm sure it was due to the very sharp chisels and after reading lots of articles on their use in general, I was very careful it setting it up. All in all, very pleased. I echo what Jim Becker said, tools must be sharp and set up right... Good luck. Randy

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bill Carey View Post
    Going to be purchasing a benchtop mortiser and am looking for recommendations, comments about the one you have, which is the one you wish you had, etc.

    I have the Delta 14-651. At the time, one of them had a tilting head, I think Shop Fox or the General, and I wish I had one with a tilting head on more than one occasion.
    Does the step up from 1/2hp to 3/4hp really make a difference? (I'll be making mainly craftsman style furniture. When I finish these stupid boxes)
    Yes, and no. Mortising takes power to run the bigger chisels, but if you don't have an equal increase in the strength of the machine frame, you might break the machine. My Delta is 1/2HP and it struggles in hardwoods with the 1/2" chisel, and yes, the chisel is sharp.
    Do you ever use the ability to turn the machine 180 degrees to do off bench mortising?
    My machine has not been on the OEM base for over a decade for exactly this reason, and to add an x-y sliding vise.
    What are the best chisels IYHO? Budget wise I have no problem with the Powermatic 3/4hp or other "high end" machines.
    I guess Clico's are, or were among the higher grades, but it's really all in the sharpening and honing of the chisel and the drill bit. They have to be wicked sharp, both of them. A poorer quality sharp chisel, is much better than a higher quality dull chisel.
    I've read reviews that put the Powermatic at the top, and reviews that put the Shop Fox at the top. Much more interested in you opinions. Even if that includes alternate ideas regarding different machines, like a horizontal router. Drop your wisdom on me.
    A chain mortise came up on Craigslist here in New England a few weeks back for not much more than a used Powermatic floor mortiser. It took all of my self control not to buy it that day
    Bill
    If you have the room. a tilting head floor mortise would be a better alternative. The floor model Powermatic also has an X-Y sliding table. I promise you that you will not have a benchtop mortiser long, or do many mortises, before you're searching the internet to modify it to accept an X-Y vise. and gain more clearance under the chisel.
    "The first thing you need to know, will likely be the last thing you learn." (Unknown)

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bill Carey View Post
    Jim - the jet was 1/2hp yes?
    I think, but I sold it a few years ago.
    --

    The most expensive tool is the one you buy "cheaply" and often...

  10. #10
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    Star-M bits are good bits. Lee Valley sells them as their "Premium" bits, or something like that, but they are available from other places too.

  11. #11
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    I must be in the minority, but i had a PM 719 for a hot minute, and cant imagine dealing with something less than that. Maybe you only expect to do 1/4" mortises,and im sure the benchtop would be adequate for that size. The floorstanding powermatic was fine for 3/8 or 1/2", but anything more was clearly asking too much. I dont find light duty HCMs to be particularly fast, easy,or efficient. A router and a sharp chisel will give you cleaner results in about the same amount of time. Ignorantly, i envisioned the 719 to be like Brian's Maka. It is anything but that.

  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by Patrick Kane View Post
    ....Ignorantly, i envisioned the 719 to be like Brian's Maka. It is anything but that.
    Patrick - here's a pic of a Maka that sold 6 months ago for 1,000 bucks. No way. It's all yours. Restoring old tools is not my thing by any stretch. Anyway, appreciate the comment, but I'm pretty sure you are in the minority. I don't support the family doing this, so a machine like that (or even the 719) is probably overkill for what I have in mind. Of course, when I pop for the PM 701 - which is the way I'm leaning at the moment - if I find that you're right, I'll pm you with a pre-packaged "told ya so". But I sincerely hope you're wrong.
    2018-12-19_17h03_17.jpg
    Bill
    I'm not old. I've just been young for a very, very long time.

  13. #13
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    Bill

    To hopefully give you confidence in a bench top mortar:
    Only because you asked did I veer off on a tangent, and bring up a heavier duty machine.
    To put things in the proper perspective, I have done 100's and 100's of mortises with my Benchtop, Delta 14-651 through the years. I've put mortises in Cherry, Jatoba, Wenge, Padauk, Ash, Hickory, and other species I probably don't remember. All done with the OEM chisels that came with the machine. I still have the OEM chisels, and they're wicked sharp. Only the 1/4" chisel has replaced.
    The PM-701 is a beautiful machine that will do an excellent job. You might still want to consider a tilting head mortiser only because Mission and Arts and Craft style furniture incorporate a 6 degree mortise for some of the M&T work, but that can easily be overcome with a jig.
    An X-Y vise takes the bench top mortiser to a different level and it is a modification you should seriously consider. There are many, many, you tube videos, and articles, on how to accomplish the mod.
    I do not regret buying my Delta 14-651 for a single minute.
    I don't believe you'll regret buying a bench top mortiser either.
    Make sure you get a diamond plate and honing cone that matches those chisels. You'll also need some slip stones for the drill bit. Also consider dust extraction. Clearing the waste from the chisel/bit as it plunges makes everything a lot easier.
    "The first thing you need to know, will likely be the last thing you learn." (Unknown)

  14. #14
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    I had a job come up that I needed two more mortisers for, so I bought one of each of these (1/2hp link at bottom of linked page) Woodtek mortisers. Woodworkers Supply is reasonably close to me, and I've had good luck with their store brand, Woodtek machines before. They're also great to deal with for parts over the phone. If you set up a Pro account, it comes with a worthwhile discount on everything.

    I actually like the 1hp one a lot. I chose it over the Powermatic at the time, with both in front of me in the store. The small one requires allen wrenches to adjust almost everything on it, but was fine for my purpose of really small mortises.

    In addition to the cone kit for sharpening the chisel, and bit, I keep an X-fine diamond paddle close at hand, and hit the outside of the chisel once in a while in long runs. The chisel can develop a burr after a lot of use, and makes it much more difficult to withdraw it out of the mortise.

    I can get the Star-M sets a lot sharper than regular sets, and this is one of those jobs where sharp helps a lot.

    The Star-M chisel and bit sets come with long drill bit shanks, so they can be customized to different machines. It's nice to have the bits exactly the right length, so they can be seated all the way home in the chuck, with no risk of getting pushed up into the chisel with obvious bad consequences that can happen more often than you might think.

    https://woodworker.com/1hp-bench-top...su-138-224.asp

    The Powermatic used to come with a clamp against the fence like the 1hp Woodtek has. They did away with it in favor of the rollers. I like having the clamp for precise positioning, but you have to be careful because it has so much power that it can push the main fence back out of position. I'm pretty sure that's why Powermatic did away with it, but with a light touch on the wheel (take the crank handle off) it's good to have.
    Last edited by Tom M King; 12-19-2018 at 8:42 PM.

  15. #15
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    Bill, I've have the PM 701 for 4-5 years. It's a very well-made tool but I don't use it that much. It's not what I expected. When drilling a long mortise you have to finagle it along by alternately easing the hold down, sliding the wood and bringing the hold down back down. It's probably me but I find if the hold down isn't snug, the chisel bit is harder to pull back out. The rollers aren't all that much help in sliding the wood along either. But don't put a lot of stock into what I say other than it's a very well-made machine. I just don't like fighting the wood along.
    “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness..." - Mark Twain

    Diapers and Politicians need to be changed often... Usually for the same reason.

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