To Shopsmith or Not to Shopsmith

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Blog entry by Brad posted 07-28-2008 09:57 PM 36529 reads 0 times favorited 32 comments Add to Favorites Watch

So I’ve been debating with my father in law about weather or not he should sell his Shopsmith setup invest in building a new shop using standard stand alone tools and machines. He’s about to retire and is kicking the idea around of either selling it or dropping another $1K into upgrading to all new Shopsmith stuff.

Personally I’ve never used the SS but I sincerely doubt I’d be a fan. Not being able to move from machine to machine would bug the hell outta me and being limited to using just their tools would make me want to roll it off a cliff.

I wanted to get you guys to weigh in especially those who have experience with both! So bring on the debate.

-- Brad --

32 comments so far

View Texasgaloot's profile


465 posts in 4150 days

#1 posted 07-28-2008 10:08 PM

Hey SD—

My opinion of the SS after using a friends is that they fit the profile exactly (I know, we aren’t supposed to do that) of “jack of all trades, master of none.” IMHO, they are waaaayyyy too limiting in terms of table size, changing setups every few minutes, not being as accurate as discrete machines, etc. They also don’t have that great of a resale should FIL change his mind. On the other hand, he’s your father in law, not blood, so you can’t scream at the same decibel rate as you could with your own dad. Something about choosing which ditch to die in leaps to mind…



-- There's no tool like an old tool...

View Splinters's profile


190 posts in 4633 days

#2 posted 07-28-2008 10:37 PM

Greetings SD…my 2 cents worth… first off I agree with Mack’s comments above….except I would give the same advise to FIL as I would to my dad….but that’s just me…

I started out with a SS twenty odd years ago when I had a very limited space problem for woodworking. Although I still have the I only use the planer, jointer and band saw as stand alone only. The main unit collects dust and takes up space. The stand alone units are ok and serve my purpose for now….but no where near offer the accuracy and stability as some of my newer gear.

The ”only” reason I would ever buy or recommend SS again, would be if someone was extremely limited in work shop space.

Good Luck..

-- Splinters - Living and Loving life in the Rockies - -

View Russ553's profile


19 posts in 4149 days

#3 posted 07-28-2008 10:39 PM

Having both the ShopSmith and then buying stand alone tools, I prefer the stand alone. My SS has become my disc sander and I have built a horizontal router table setup on the other end of it. I’m with Mack on the tables being too limiting, changing it over becomes a nuisance, you have to buy their expensive accessories and it’s too tall for me. I’m a little on the height challenged side. When set up as a table saw it hits me right in the chest. I have had trouble with the saw blade coming loose as it is held with a single set screw. I returned the router accessory I bought for it as it too would fall off the arbor shaft. Set screw would never hold. Drill press, horizontal boring and disc sanding are fine. I have not tried the lathe yet. But again, changeover is a nuisance though not difficult.


-- Getting to be an antique - been there, done that, can't remember!

View woodsmith's profile


69 posts in 4242 days

#4 posted 07-29-2008 02:11 AM

I bought a used SS because I wanted a lathe and I had never used one. It was a good price and I think it will serve my purpose. I might use the horizonal boring sometimes but changing over all the time is not for me. Some people seem to like that but I know I am not one of them. All my other tools are stand alone, not as good of quality as I would like but what would fit my bilfold. Most of my tools were found used.

-- woodsmith

View Don Niermann  's profile

Don Niermann

219 posts in 4422 days

#5 posted 07-29-2008 04:09 AM

I have SS. Had it for 20 years. It is a very accurate tool. Better than most stand alone tools. Its dust collection is a piece of S—-. I bought the saw dust collection upgrade and tossed in the junk pile after 2 weeks. All in all I think it is a great tool and would never get rid of it. Changing from one mode to another takes a few minutes and I doubt if any one but a commercial operation is affected by this. I( feel that the problem with set up is only a problem with people who are overwelmed with thier importance.

-- WOOD/DON ( has the right to ones opinion but not the right to ones own facts...)

View retcaptb's profile


2 posts in 4039 days

#6 posted 07-29-2008 04:43 AM

I have owned a ShopSmith for almost 30 years along with most of the side equipment. I also have other brands of standalone equipment. Plus I have taken college coarses in woodworking and cabinet making where we had a shop with many types of stand alone equipment including a sliding table cuting saw and other high end cabinet making equipment. I can say that it is not the equipment that makes the woodworker but what the woodworker makes with the equipment he/she has. ShopSmith is one of the only American made manufactures left in the USA. Its in Dayton, Ohio.
I have seen lots of projects made with the ShopSmith. I also can say that ShopSmith is a quality made product that has been in existence for over 60 years. It has sold thousands of machines all over the world. And you can still get parts for most of the items sold with a few exceptions. I am not going to put down anyone who uses ShopSmith tools or any other manufacture for that part. All machines have there place. If you have the room to have standalone tools more power to you. If you don’t a ShopSmith would be a good choice. It will be a choice that you can pass down to many woodworkers behind you. Quality American made tools.
As far as accuracy and such, it is what you allow of it. You can use Incra percission tools on the ShopSmith. If you allign the equipment you can get accurete cuts. Most people don’t. Or don’t know how.
ShopSmith has a national woodworking accademy with world renowned instructor and author Nick Engler as the lead instructor. They have woodworking instruction on their web site along with live web sessions during the year. They are held every other weekend most of the year. I don’t know of too many other manufactures that have that type of instruction on there equipment. If you have questions on the ShopSmith equipment, just ask. Send me an email. I will answer with what I know and have learned about ShopSmith equipment.

-- James, Grass Valley,Ca.

View Brad's profile


132 posts in 4224 days

#7 posted 07-29-2008 06:09 PM

Great feedback I knew this would touch off some debate. I’m keeping FIL up to date on all the comments. I think my biggest concern so far in the comments is the table saw. How far off the ground does the actual table sit? I would imagine moving 4×8 sheets across a small table would be tough.

-- Brad --

View bkhop's profile


68 posts in 4517 days

#8 posted 08-22-2008 04:51 AM

I’d imagine most guys don’t have table saws in their shops that can safely handle a 4×8 sheet of plywood. Cut the silly thing down to a manageable size first with a circ. saw (or have the reseller do it for you before you cart it home.)

One poster above mentioned that most guys who complain about inaccuracy of the Shopsmith don’t know how to set one up properly. Exactly!
I bought and sold them on eBay a few years back. Reason most guys sold them to me? It wasn’t that they suddenly had more room and went with “stand alones” (as one might think). Most of them had dinky shops that were crammed so full of tools that you could barely turn around. Nope… over and again I heard guys say, “I just can’t get it to cut accurately.” When I asked if they had set it up and aligned it they were dumbfounded. I don’t get it… the Shopsmith gets bashed like a whipping boy for being inaccurate when it is user ignorance (or laziness) – and every other tool on the market has to be set up and aligned to be accurate, too. I don’t get it.
And for goodness’ sake, if changeovers require either A) too much time or B) too much planning ahead… well, that’s just sad. Oh well.
Use what works for you. Some people just don’t “get” the Shopsmith mindset.

-- † Hops †

View reible's profile


34 posts in 4211 days

#9 posted 08-22-2008 07:36 PM


Nothing like a few people who own shopsmiths to answer your or rather your Dad’s questions.

First off I love my shopsmith equipment! I got my first one back 32 years ago and I still use it all the time. I retired 8 years ago and at the time actually thought about getting a “real table saw”, that never happened. Instead I upgraded my shopsmith to the current version which is the 520. Bigger table, hefty fence and like the 510 model the rail system. It was of course like having a new machine. I also did the single to two bearing quill, also a nice addition. Here might be a good place to add that the shopsmith not only has replacement parts but also an upgrade path.

As far as getting information about shopsmith and a very loyal bunch you will find us try checking the 3 active shopsmith groups on the web. If the machine is one of the older ones (pre 1973) there is another group that is active for those.

You will find that both Incra and Jointech have fence systems that let you work down to .001” if you ever find the need for it. They both let you add a router table to the shopsmith as well.

One thing I will point out about sheet goods…. my days of handing them on any type of table saw are long gone but you can and I have done it on my machine. Now I always have it done in the store or do it myself with a circular saw and guide. Even if your Dad can handle the sheet goods now it may not always be that way.

If he does and I hope he does decide to stay with the shopsmith they have alignment videos that he may want to look at if he has not been an active user, they also have videos out about repairing and mantinance that will make sure the machine stays running for years to come. I personally plan to pass my shopsmith equipment on to my children and it could be they might pass it on to theirs….

If you have any questions that I might answer feel free to contact me, I also have 600 or so pictures related to shopsmith that I keep at Flickr if that might help answer some questions.


-- Knight of the Shopsmith

View Zuki's profile


1404 posts in 4527 days

#10 posted 08-23-2008 01:18 AM

Great debate. I do not own a SS, but I enjoyed reading the thread.

-- BLOG -

View 8iowa's profile


1591 posts in 4211 days

#11 posted 10-10-2008 08:51 PM

I started with a Shopsmith 500 back in ‘83 when I only had 1/2 of a two car garage to work in. I quickly added the bandsaw, joiner, planer, and DC3300 dust collector. These special purpose tools are easy to mount on a shelf,—or on the back of the workbench, out of the way, a real benefit if you have limited work space. Most garage or basement shops also have limited electrical capability. The Shopsmith can work on a standard 15 amp circuit.

Those who complain about the small table surface are not aware that the 510 and 520 upgrade package gives you a larger table, and in the case of the 520, a fence that is every bit as good as the best aftermarket fence available. Also, the detractors use the words “setup” and “change over” incorrectly as though the words have the same meaning. “Setup” is what you have to do on any woodworking tool in order to make a particular cut. In some cases, this can be quite exacting and time consuming, using clamps, jigs, featherboards, and having to make trial cuts. “Setup” on the shopsmith is virtually the same process as you would have to undergo on any other machine. “Change over”, on the Shopsmith, is when you go from one mode to the other, as in table saw to drill press. “Change over” is a straightforward, easy and quick process thart can be accomplished in a couple of minutes, sipping coffee in the meantime. Usually the only tool required is a 5/32 allen wrench.

When I built my new 24’x28’ shop I decided to stay with Shopsmith equipment. In fact I added a second Shopsmith 520 and a Shopsmith variable speed power station. I have a lot of flexability that only much larger stand alone shops have. Actually, the Shopsmith, and many of the available accessories give you capability that is not available anywhere else. For example; a variable speed saw that allows you to cut sheet plastic without creating a gooey melted mess, a drill press that can drill horizonally, a 12” sanding disk that can be put in place keeping the same angles that you have just sawn with, a conical disk sander to joint a plywood edge and a sharpening jig to sharpen your planer and joiner knives, a speed reducer that will permit you to drill with 3” Forstner bits at 100 rpm. I could go on, but you get the idea. This is not a woodworking system that is easily dismissed.

Franky, there are a lot of mis-alligned tools out there and Shopsmith should not be singled out. With a good set of engineering squares, and a dial indicator gauge the Shopsmith can be put in excellent alignment. It is a well made precision tool. I made a special “sled” to cut bowl segments. The Shopsmith is so accurate I can cut 10 sided segments that fit together perfectly, and do it time after time. If you don’t have accurate allignment tools or don’t know how to align your machine, you will not get good results.

While not many table saws are capable of cutting 4’x8’ sheets, I have done it often on the Shopsmith. With the 520’s table extensions and the optional 5’ connector tubes I can saw large awkward boards and sheet goods. (I’ll have to admit that it is a good idea to have a helper – usually my wife) The “setup” takes some time to put together, but the only other alternative is to have a very large, heavy, and space consuming cabinet saw occuping the middle of the room. With my 80 tooth Freud ATB blade I get very good results on plywood that would rival anything coming out of a cabinet shop.

The discussions concerning the cost of a Shopsmith vs the cost of stand alone tools is a useless exercise. Today, there are so many Asian tools on the market that it would be difficult to compare quality with quality. The Shopsmith is perhaps the last woodworking tool made in the USA – if this means anything to anyone anymore. While a new 520 will cost $3000, it is possible to purchase a used Shopsmith for a reasonable amount and upgrade the machine to the latest model. With about 1/2 million Shopsmiths “out there” This is not at all difficult. Ebay usually has 300 or more Shopsmith items up everyday, Factory service and parts availability is far beyond that provided by other manufacturers.

-- "Heaven is North of the Bridge"

View SCOTSMAN's profile


5849 posts in 4035 days

#12 posted 10-10-2008 09:09 PM

I started out, not with a shopsmith but with the triton workcentre Austrailian .However I soon outgrew it with all it’s many accessories some actually seldom or never used from new.I sold it and went down the path of saying (LOOK I HAVE WORKED HARD ALL OF MY LIFE AND DESERVE A VERY NICE SHOP) I had too many elderly friends and family die dreaming of the shop they never actually had. I decided to do it and not just talk about it so I recommend if your father or father in law has the money treat himself to the best he can afford your along time dead.sell up the shopsmith and move on to the top of the trea if he can afford to.Buying used stuff can be very satisfying so it does not need to be very expensive kindest regards and hope you both have fun. my 3 cents hope I don’t come accross as being arrogant I wish him the best that’s all Alistair

-- excuse my typing as I have a form of parkinsons disease

View EEngineer's profile


1120 posts in 4063 days

#13 posted 10-11-2008 03:55 PM

An old discussion I’ve seen repeated many times. I’ve used friends’ ShopSmith at times and I see not much wrong with it. I haven’t used all of the features enough to make any comments on the usability of each one on a ShopSmith.

I went the separate tool route in my shop. Even though space is limited (a detached 1 1/2 car garage) and I end up shuffling tools quite a bit to get room to swing lumber it suits the way I like to work much better. I like to “putter”, try a little of this and a little of that until I get the process down and then bang out most of the work for a project. In 15 minutes, I might go from the table saw to the router table to the drill press multiple times (an example from last weekend) and having a multi tool that I had to change for each step would take more time and patience than I have.

It seems to me that you have to be more organized using a ShopSmith so that you can finish all (or most) operations using the tool in one configuration, change to another configuration, then finish all (or most) operations in that config, etc. to minimize the amount of time spent changing. I am just not that organized and/or I end up changing my mind about how to do something in the middle of the process.

-- "Find out what you cannot do and then go do it!"

View FlWoodRat's profile


732 posts in 4359 days

#14 posted 10-11-2008 04:46 PM

My $.02 worth. Had a Shop Smith and loved it. Then sold it for stand alone equipment. Don’t miss it at all. It is fine for small stuff and yes, quiet versitile if you buy their addons. The two major problems to me were: #1: Tough to do beveled cuts on sheet goods. #2: I grew weary of having to switch set ups and then having to ‘re-calibrate’.

If you have the room, I recommend going to individual tools designed for that function.

-- I love the smell of sawdust in the morning....

View pinkiewerewolf's profile


42 posts in 4175 days

#15 posted 01-12-2009 06:27 AM

As a Shopsmith user, I just happened upon this thread and I’m curious what the FIL decided on.

Well, might as well chime in while I’m here.;)

I really like my Shopsmith Mark V. (50’s model, that I upgraded to a modern 520)
I also bought a used “shorty” (Mark V with the tubes cut down) and I don’t find myself making so many change overs that it would bother me, in fact I enjoy planning out the steps before I begin the work.
Like another member posted there are tons of accessories, Jointech, Incra, Bandsaws, Joiners, and other groovy tools like the Overhead Pin Router.
I recently added both the OPR and Jointech Saw Train to my accessories and I’m having a blast getting to know them. Using the OPR was intimidating at first, but now it is instinctive to actually see the work below you, like free handing the work, except more accurate.

I’m having fun, learning skills, and meeting some great people that I wouldn’t have been able to do without my Shopsmith.
Its working out well for me… except I wish I could get a coffee mug with the logo.:)
Enjoy everyone!

-- John, Nor-Cal,

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