Review of the Harbor Frieght/Central Machine Mortising Tool

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Review by jerrells posted 03-27-2014 03:59 PM 17793 views 0 times favorited 9 comments Add to Favorites Watch
Review of the Harbor Frieght/Central Machine Mortising Tool No-picture-s No-picture-s Click the pictures to enlarge them

I had been looking at the ability to make mortise and tendon joints for some time. Now the products I build are small mostly doll furniture. A lot of the pattern calls for this type of joint. I had been drilling dowel holes and using a cut in half dowel pin. There were some alignment issues.

I researched the add on product for a drill press. I found both good and bad reviews. Therefore I was not convinced this was the way to go. After seeing a post suggesting the Harbor Freight/Central Machine mortising machine I picked up one yester. This morning I assembled it and started testing. I generally do 1/8 to ΒΌ mortise holes, so I started with 1/8 inch.

I found in oak that the chisel did not seem to want to bite into the wood. On softer woods it was fine. I will have to think about this point.

It seems that the hold down and fence is for larger material than I will be using. Another point I will need to think over.

As with a lot of tools the assembly instructions are useless. However the unit is fairly straight forward to assemble so it was not real problem.

The handle that moves the head down has required some thinking. The head has a lot of travel and at first the handle hit the bench I mounted it on. I adjusted the handle and got most of the issue corrected.

At this point I am thinking I will keep the machine however I will give it a hard test over the next thirty days before deciding. More later as I gain more knowledge.

-- Just learning the craft my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ practiced.

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9 comments so far

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#1 posted 03-27-2014 04:22 PM

I own this mortiser and noticed the same things you did…

#1. You need a mortise chisel sharpening set. Chances are the chisels aren’t as sharp as they should be.

#2. Totally agree on the fence. That is why I built a custom table for it with T tracks for hold downs. You can see it at

#3. You can do one of 3 things about the handle. 1. Adjust the length of the handle through the lock down piece so that at the bottom of its travel it will clear your bench. This reduces your mechanical advantage of the longer lever, but keeps you from hitting the bench. Plus you end up with a short handle-ish on the other side. 2. Adjust the handle and cut off the excess. Same issue as above, but you can no longer go back. Bad idea. and 3. Mount the mortiser on the far right edge of your bench so that the travel of the handle does not hit the bench.

I have seen other mortisers, most notably a Delta, and Grizzly models that do the same thing with the handle. The biggest non universal to mortising machines issue I have found with this machine is the fence. The fence / hold down design on these is weak compared to others. But easy to overcome.

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35 posts in 3917 days

#2 posted 03-27-2014 11:56 PM

how much did you pay for it

-- He: Can I get the plans for that? Me: Plans???

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847 posts in 4183 days

#3 posted 03-28-2014 02:06 AM

I looked at this one a year ago and really wanted to like it. Everything about it felt cheap and I just didn’t want to deal with it. I don’t cut mortises every day but I don’t want to be pissed off every time I do so I went with the PM 701 and PM chisels. Using it is a joy. I hope it works out for you.

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918 posts in 4133 days

#4 posted 03-28-2014 02:26 AM

Woodjunkie – I paid 189 + tax

ChuckC – I will decide in about a week if this is a keeper

-- Just learning the craft my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ practiced.

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5777 posts in 4480 days

#5 posted 03-29-2014 09:57 AM

Wow… I know I got lucky. I swapped a curb found old Delta 10” miter saw that needed some cleaning and a new blade for mine, it was NIB when I got it…

The current sale price is $189.99, before coupons, and there are plenty of 25% off coupons floating around out there. I used 2 of them yesterday…

Had you used the coupon, you could have saved $47.59 on that thing putting the total pre-tax cost at $142.50

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View Purrmaster's profile


915 posts in 3341 days

#6 posted 04-05-2014 09:20 AM

I almost got this tool but after fiddling with it in the store I passed. Mostly because of the table. I hope it works out for you.

dbhost is right: You’ll want to pick up some sharpening cones for the chisels. You’ll also want to flatten the backs on all 4 sides of the chisels.

Be careful with the cones, especially the finer cone. I destroyed my finer cone in about 10 seconds by using an electric drill and pushing down on the cone. I figured since they had diamond grit on them I’d be ok. I was wrong.

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7650 posts in 2969 days

#7 posted 07-06-2014 05:10 PM

jerrells, did you end up keeping the mortise? Just saw one on Craigslist for $30 with no chisels and wanted to know if you were able to sharpen yours to work better or not?

-- "Lack of effort will result in failure with amazing predictability" - Me

View MrRon's profile


6188 posts in 4492 days

#8 posted 01-29-2015 04:31 PM

I have that same mortiser. I diamond honed the chisels and they are now very sharp. I bought a cross slide vise at HF and adapted it to the mortiser, eliminating the existing hold down device. The whole thing works pretty good.
BTW, you mentiomed 1/8” mortises???? The chisels on mine are 1/4”, 3/8” and 1/2”.

View AlanJ44's profile


278 posts in 2536 days

#9 posted 09-09-2018 10:50 PM

Just found me one on the HFT clearance shelf for $75, no 20% off due to mark down.
The Pelham, Alabama store had three, now two.
Might check or ask at our local store as this looked like a discontinued SKU as it’s no longer on the web site.
For the price I’m thinking a good test to see if an upgrade in the future is warranted.

-- Alan J. Hoover, AL Keeping in mind I believe college football is only a profit center for the school.... Roll Tide!

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