Combo Machines: Yes or No (No Maybe)

In last issue’s eZine editorial, Rob asked what you thought about combination machines. It turns out that many of you own them – and you have opinions.

Like Rob, some of you jointer/planers or other combination machines. – Editor


“I, too, have a JET JJP 12 and love it as well.  That’s the only combo stationary tool that I own in my shop.” – Ken Keating

“I have a MiniMax FS35; this is basically a 14-inch jointer/planer, and I also have the mortising attachment for it. I would say that this machine is the heart of my shop with the table saw running a close second. Every piece of wood in my shop goes over that jointer. I never use the planer feature and only occasionally use the mortising feature, when I do, I use it as a slot mortiser. The jointer though, that’s another story. I buy my lumber rough and go from there, and that jointer is used constantly to edge and face joint lumber. After planing, the lumber goes to the helical head planer.” – Jack Wilson

“I would not mind dual or triple purpose machines.  They are definitely a help to those of us who do not have the luxury of a freestanding 1,200 -1,800 square foot purpose-built shop.  There’s my answer for that.” John Buob

“I have a Craftsman table saw with an auxiliary table that is a router table. I like it since I have limited  space and it does a fantastic job as both a saw and router table without having to move from one machine to another.” – Ed Mlotkiewicz

“I own a Hammer A-31 jointer/planer with silent spiral carbide cutter.  Best investment I’ve ever made, second only to my SawStop.  My jointer/planer saves a ton of time and the silent cutter is so quiet compared to straight knifes. and the cut?  Nothing short of remarkable even on highly figured wood.  The only drawback they touted as I contemplated my purchase was moving the table up/down in order to convert from face planing to surface planing. Really?  When you consider the space and setup for another entire tool, this seems ridiculous. Additionally, the jointing and planing widths match. How on earth do you face plane a 12” board if you own a 6” jointer?  I know.. there are techniques, but let’s face it … not easy. This baby really hugs the wall as well so very little shop space is wasted.   Mine is less than 6 inches from the wall.  It takes only a few seconds to dial the table up to surface plane and back down to joint.  Really is not issue at all.  For me, jointer/planers scream dual purpose and are one of the best dual purpose machines you can own.” – Joe Kramer

“No matter what size shop we have, space is limited. I have a Woodmaster 725 molding machine /planer/sander. It does take 1-2 hr changeover, but if I had a separate machine for each, it would eat up a lot more floor space. My shop  is 1,800 sq.ft., and I still could use more space.” – Terry Allen

Many of you use and appreciate the Shopsmith combination machine. – Editor

“ I have been a woodworker for over 35 years, and I started with a Shopsmith. While I don’t use all the attachments (jointer, jigsaw, belt sander, band saw, disc sander, drum sander etc.), I do still use the band saw, disc sander, lathe, horizontal drill press, and the belt sander. I would never part with it even though I have a complete shop full of tools (table saw, 8″ jointer, 15-5/8″ planer, 20″ band saw, multi-router, drill press, radial arm saw, etc.)” – Steve Busch

“In the latest eZine, you asked what combo tools people have or would consider purchasing. I’ve had a Shopsmith 510 (upgraded to the 520) since 1997. It’s a great machine for a limited space. When I bought it, I only had a contractor table saw and wanted a band saw and drill press. The lathe functionality was a huge plus as I loved turning in high school shop class. Until recently, I’ve done the upgrades Shopsmith has introduced. The last round of upgrades are very difficult for me to justify at this point in time. In the years after purchasing the Shopsmith, I’ve purchased a dedicated drill press and went with the DeWALT planer instead of the Shopsmith branded unit (huge cost difference!).” – Jay Benton

“I have owned this combo machine for a few years now and really like it. I use it all the time, mainly to surface roughsawn boards milled from trees from the neighborhood. Mostly big leaf (Pacific Northwest) maple, alder and some apple.
Other than replacing the cutter knives with carbide-tipped knives (got tired of having to have them constantly resharpened), I haven’t encountered any problems. That said, I found the instructions for aligning the infeed and outfeed tables were lacking in some much needed (in my case anyway) details.” – Larry Poore

“I certainly do own and use the domestically manufactured combination shop machine Shopsmith. I have owned mine for about 28 years and wouldn’t like to do without it. Having said that, I wish to emphasize that not all of the functions of the Shopsmith satisfy my needs, so I also own other stationary tools, such as a table saw, band saw, planer, miter saw, etc. But I don’t have a dedicated lathe, drill press or sanding station. Those are the things I need from this machine that occupies very little of my precious real estate. When I first took up woodworking I had only 40 square feet of floor space and a Shopsmith.  Now my shop is in a space 20’x28′ and I’m still crowded. Yes, I have to go outside to change my mind. My single function, standalone machines are taking up far more room than the SS, but I still wouldn’t want to do without it.” – Don Butler

“I am a combination guy.  I have owned a Shopsmith Mark V for nearly 40 years that was built in 1958.  I am the third owner.  And I still can get parts!  I have done very few serious upgrades — mainly just an upgraded motor, from the 7/8hp to the 1.25. I have purchased other add-ons over the years as I needed them: a band saw, shapers/fence, drum sanders, buffing wheel, in addition to what the previous owner had purchased and sold with the machine, mainly lathe chisels.

“I have always had limited shop space in my 50 years of living in St. Croix, in the U.S. Virgin Islands.  For almost 20 years I lived aboard my sailing vessel. I kept the Shopsmith during those years in my marina workshop measuring 12′ x 6′, rolling it outside when I needed it.  Now, remarried and living ashore again, our current shop is about 20′ x 8′, and again, I roll it outside to work.

“While a large shop full of full-time large single purpose machines would be wonderful, you soon get used to thinking in Shopsmith mode, planning the order on what you want to do. Here, in this house, it’s built an entire new kitchen setup, 28′ of wall cabinets, two outside patio tables, custom router table with lift [and more]. The current project is two love seats in African mahogany, and after that, a Murphy bed from Rockler. The machine has produced a huge amount of seemingly less significant work in two houses, three sailboats and some emergency racing repairs. I paid the second owner $150 for the beast, but remember that was forty-year-ago-dollars.  What’s not to like? Of course, it is augmented with various other small power tools, hand tools and accessories as would be expected.” – David Kummerle

“I own a Shopsmith 520 with a PowerPro headstock and think it is great.  Frankly, I don’t understand why it isn’t endorsed more by woodworking magazines.  It is a great tool with unique features other woodworking tools don’t have.  It can be a pain in that you have to change over from a drill press to a table saw ,for example, but if you plan your work, it isn’t a problem at all.  A big plus is that it is made in the USA, it is built like a tank, and it can be easily repaired if a repair is needed.  I live in Dayton, Ohio so I can take mine in if it needs any repairs.  But it is built so well, it doesn’t ever need to be repaired.   It is no doubt one of the most well-built tools on the market.  I bought mine used and upgraded it from a 510 to a 520, then upgraded to the PowerPro.  It is 23 years old, yet it looks like new and runs great with the PowerPro upgrade.  You can’t do that with any table saw on the market.  Any time I have a question, I just call Shopsmith and my question gets answered. Awesome tool and a customer-friendly company!” – Kevin Burns

“I have a Shopsmith myself. My father bought it about 1958. By serial number, it is from the 1957 production run. I literally do not remember a time when it wasn’t over by the wall in the garage. It may not be the most capable machine, but it does so many things without actually buying a lot of accessories.” – Patrick Butler

“I had the opportunity to start again about 15 years ago, and I decided to go with the MiniMax combination machine. It combines a table saw, a joiner, a planer, a shaper, and an indexable mortising table.  My shop is pretty good sized but if I had to allow for infeed/outfeed lanes for all of those machines independently, I wouldn’t have room to turn around.  It also make dust collection simpler, and with less ducting.
Fifteen years later, I would still go the same route.” – Tom Scott

“I have an early 1980s Shopsmith that just keeps on doing more than I’m able to consider. Also have a flip-over cart on wheels which has a miter saw on one side of the top and a planer on the other.  Sure saves space and is convenient, too.” – Bob Monson

“I’m an amateur woodworker with a Shopsmith that I inherited from my dad. He never used it except as a table saw, and then only a couple of times. I admit the table saw is mediocre at best, but the band saw, jointer, drill press, lathe and disk sander can’t be beat.  I upgraded the motor and have an excellent woodworking machine. Most people complain that the changeovers take too much time on multipurpose equipment. The time it takes to get a drill press out from its corner is longer than a Shopsmith conversion.  It is a great machine!” – Barney Heller

Some, however, have doubts or disagreements about the usefulness of combination machines – they prefer single-function machines. – Editor

“When I was a young boy, I did not have any money to spend on tools. I would have given my little brother for a Shopsmith mainly for the lathe to make fishing lures and a few other things.  I became a shop teacher because I could have a furnished shop at my disposal.  Now that stationary tools are being made in the home shop size and the price range has changed accordingly and credit cards are a way of life, I can now afford to furnish my shop with dedicated stationary power tools. When this old man of 69 built my shop in 2003, I could buy a nice piece of equipment on the plastic, pay it off, then go for the next tool. I would no longer consider such a combo type tool because I love the flexibility of performing an operation and then going to another dedicated tool for the next operation without having to make anything
but maybe minor adjustments.” – Charles Buster
New Albany, MS

“I have a Shopsmith, and all the other stationary tools it is supposed to replace, too.
I find the table too small for most table saw uses for me — I work with a lot of larger pieces. I usually leave it set up as a lathe and band saw (I have several attachments for it, too). I find the Shopsmith works well if I’m building smaller projects. In the end it is not the ‘go-to’ machine I had expected it to be.” – Terry Baker

“I bought my Shopsmith about 1980 and used most of its capabilities until I acquired a table saw with a bigger bed. I use the Shopsmith for only sanding and drilling now and found the lathe to be too lightweight as it would move around when running and the table saw too small for many projects. If I was starting over, I would buy separate machines, but it got me by for several years. My favorite machine is still my band saw.”  – John Klemaseki

“Do I own a combo tool? No. Would I buy one? No. Just my preference, more time spent on the project, rather than spent on attaching and reattaching accessories.  And I think the fit and feel of a machine dedicated for that purpose provides more dedicated fences, tables and a safer working atmosphere than a machine designed for multiple purposes.” – Bill Hutfles

“I had a Shopsmith once upon a time.  It was the only power tool that I got injured by.  I had my finger get hit by the saw blade during an operation. I feel it was the most dangerous tool in my shop and will never entertain the idea of having anything similar again.  There are just too many variables that can bite you in the butt with ‘multi-function’ tools.  Oh, it was useful in its own way but a real pain in the patooty when one has multiple operations to perform.”- Bob Hoyle

“I found out early on that anything designed to do more than one job does
at least one of them poorly.” – Bob Armstrong

“I have owned my Shopsmith Mark V since about 1983 and it has served me
quite well.  I got it because I had a very limited area to do any woodworking and something that fit in the same area as a bicycle worked perfectly. I mounted shelves on the wall above it to store my band saw, belt sander, jointer and strip sander.  I have built a variety of projects with the Shopsmith. However, the table saw is probably the weakest link because the table tilts instead of the blade, so cutting long stock with any kind of angular end condition is a bit difficult.” – Jeffrey Murray

“I had [a Shopsmith] for about 10 years and, in the long run, it was quick and easy to set up as a 12-inch disk sander and/or a horizontal drilling machine. These functions were just fine. The variable speed was a nice feature. These were my major uses for it. The arrangement and sizing of the table saw made it difficult to use without setting up extra tables, or whatever, for cutting decent sized pieces. In reality, it took up as much if not more room than a standalone table saw. The  clamping miter gauge was fine, but the table and the fence were too short. The table was too narrow as well. Setting it up as a vertical drill press was tedious, but it worked well. I guess if you’d set all the configurations up a thousand times, like the show demo guys do, you would not mind the hassle. You can buy a reasonable new table saw, drill press, disk/belt sander and another machine or even two for the price of a Shopsmith. If you shop for some older iron you can add extra couple of more machines like a planer and still be money ahead and quality ahead.” –
John Orvis

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