why is old iron a good investment?

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Forum topic by Spikes posted 04-17-2018 03:24 PM 1220 views 0 times favorited 21 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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125 posts in 1286 days

04-17-2018 03:24 PM


I had set on buying a ridgid, however I’m still cleaning up/rebuilding the shop and in the meantime a unisaw showed up, 34-806, 5HP, 3phases.

The description says this saw is in good condition, the guy had it for 30yrs! The price is $600. The conditions look pretty good and it has a Biesemeyer fence. It seems to check all the boxes, but I can’t help thinking… how is a 30yrs old saw not going to have a ton of problems and costs me more in repairs?

I’d love to better understand why this is a good investment versus buying something new.

What’s more, what about buying used without being able to test it? is that something worth even considering? Besides this delta there’s a PM66 the guy says works but he doesn’t have a shop anymore (the reason he’s selling it) and at his garage (where the saw is stored) there’s no 3 phases.

I’ve heard a earful about the old iron vs modern stuff and how I’d better off waiting for a good deal, and this kinda looks like it, but blowing half of my budget on a saw that is going to turn out to be a piece of dead metal sounds scary (motors seem to go for $300+ if I had to replace it).


-- Don't worry about making progress, worry about practicing. If you practice you will make progress even if you don't want to.

21 replies so far

View CRAIGCLICK's profile


117 posts in 1314 days

#1 posted 04-17-2018 03:33 PM

A well built table saw is just a massive chunk of iron. There is not much that can go wrong with it. You can’t go wrong with a Unisaw at that price. It is light years better than the Ridgid. It’s a completely different class of saw.

Besides, think of it this way. If you decide later on that you want to go into woodworking much more heavily, you already have the saw for it. If you decide you want to get out of woodworking, you have an easily sellable saw.

Keep in mind that you don’t have to replace the motor. There are tons of shops that will rebuild it for a lot less.

-- Somewhere between raising hell and amazing grace.

View MedicKen's profile


1615 posts in 4703 days

#2 posted 04-17-2018 03:40 PM

The old equipment was built much better than that of today. The steel was better quality, the cast iron, no comparison. The copper windings in motors was MUCH better. Have you lifted a motor from the 50’s or 60’s? Weighs almost twice as much.

In your case the unisaw with 5hp 3 ph will probably run forever. Thee is really nothing in there to break. The only draw back I see is if you do not have access to 3ph it may get a little pricey in setting up either a VFD or rotary phase converter. DO NOT use a static converter.

As for parts if something on the saw does break, not very likely, parts are everywhere. The parts from a saw in the 40’s will fit unisaws built all the way to late 70’s

-- My job is to give my kids things to discuss with their [email protected]

View bigblockyeti's profile


7616 posts in 2962 days

#3 posted 04-17-2018 03:40 PM

Heavier, more robust, very little change for well over 40 years means future parts availability for a very long time to come just to name a few. The three phase motor can be controlled with a VFD to offer more options than would be available with a single phase motor.

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

View Loren's profile


11269 posts in 4889 days

#4 posted 04-17-2018 03:44 PM

They are simple machines. They can be abused
in production shops but if they are they will
usually look like it with worn fence faces, missing
knobs and stuff like that. The tilt mechanism
can get caked with pitch and then when forced
teeth can get stripped off. This is not that common
but it can happen.

Fooling around with 3-phase machines can be fun
and bargains abound, but if all you want to do is
hobby work around the house and stuff like that
you may not want to get into it. The time you spend
tinkering with old industrial machines can be spent
doing woodworking instead. I do work for clients
and I hate spending time doing stuff the hard way
when I could be using a heavy machine to do it,
so getting into 3-phase was worth it to me.

View waho6o9's profile (online now)


9067 posts in 3818 days

#5 posted 04-17-2018 04:14 PM

Add a riving knife on it and you’re good to go. Old cabinet saws are well built and will last

a lifetime.

View smitdog's profile


471 posts in 3346 days

#6 posted 04-17-2018 04:30 PM

Deciding to buy old or new is all about personal preference and skillset. If you are mechanically inclined then I’d go old iron. Replace some bearings, belts and lube some gears then you won’t have a problem with an old table saw and you’ll get much more for your money. Keep in mind with 3 phase machines you’ll either need a rotary converter for a whole shop or a VFD for each machine, or you’ll need to swap the motor for a single phase. If you would rather not do that kind of thing and are prepared to deal with customer service reps instead of digging into it on your own then buy new. That said I think $600 for a 3 phase, untested is a bit high, but the 5hp motor would make it worth it if it is in good condition (this is dependent on location too so your area may demand higher prices). Remember, you’ll have another $150-200 or so in a VFD to run the thing, although a lot of people then sell the magnetic starter to recoup some cost since the VFD replaces that. I went with a rotary converter since I figured I’d end up with more 3 phase machines, that way I won’t have to get a VFD for each machine.

If you go for something used here is a very simple checklist. #1 – Is the table flat? Take a straight edge and a flash light and check it side to side, front to back and diagonals. If you see a lot of light coming through then it’s not flat. #2 – Run the hand wheels through their entire motion for blade height and tilt. If this is stiff it could just need a good cleaning and some lubrication, but it’s a good thing to check. #3 – Spin the blade/arbor by hand. Is it smooth? Does the blade wobble if you put pressure on the side of the blade? New bearings will fix most problems here but again, it’s good to know up front and can be a bargaining chip on price :)

Good luck!

-- Jarrett - Mount Vernon, Ohio

View knotscott's profile


8430 posts in 4616 days

#7 posted 04-17-2018 04:33 PM

It’s not for everyone, but if you’re mechanically inclined, and willing to spend some time, old arn can be an excellent value. Plus The build quality is better, but you may give up some modern features like riving knife, left tilt, and warranty. Many of the old fences may not be as accurate as a modern Biese clone, but new fences can be added.

-- Happiness is like wetting your pants...everyone can see it, but only you can feel the warmth....

View Aj2's profile


4066 posts in 3039 days

#8 posted 04-17-2018 05:16 PM

Not only do I agree with better build quality all around. I like using my wrenches in my Craftsman tool box I inherited.
Metric sucks.

-- Aj

View Kazooman's profile


1540 posts in 3193 days

#9 posted 04-17-2018 05:58 PM

Add a riving knife on it and you re good to go. Old cabinet saws are well built and will last

a lifetime.

- waho6o9

We discussed the riving knife / splitter definition issue a few weeks ago in another thread.

One of the few drawbacks to most of the old iron is that you cannot readily fit a riving knife to the saw. The picture shows a splitter that is attached to the insert. A riving knife is a special type of splitter that is attached to the arbor assembly so it moves up and down with the blade. That allows for a consistent small distance of the knife from the trailing edge of the blade. The height of the riving knife is just a tad less than that of the blade, so it can remain in place when making cuts that do not go all the way through the work piece. Just a convenience for those cuts. With a splitter like the one shown, you often have to remove it some cuts like making tenons or simply cutting a groove.

View MrUnix's profile


8772 posts in 3440 days

#10 posted 04-17-2018 06:05 PM

I’d love to better understand why this is a good investment versus buying something new.

Besides the reasons stated above, in terms of investment, which is how you framed your question: A new machine will depreciate in value by about 25% just taking it out of the store. A used machine can usually be re-sold for what you paid for it or even more.

With a splitter like the one shown, or a larger one attached to the table and not the trunnion, you often have to remove it some cuts like making tenons or simply cutting a groove.

For the Unisaw in question, you also have the disappearing splitter available – which never gets removed. There are also other aftermarket splitters, such as the Biesemeyer, that are similar and will work on the PM66.


-- Brad in FL - In Dog I trust... everything else is questionable

View Kazooman's profile


1540 posts in 3193 days

#11 posted 04-17-2018 06:08 PM

Double post

View waho6o9's profile (online now)


9067 posts in 3818 days

#12 posted 04-17-2018 07:13 PM

Thank you for the clarification Kazooman.

View coxhaus's profile


152 posts in 2135 days

#13 posted 04-17-2018 10:36 PM

I am a believer in old iron. It was well built in its day. The 5hp may be a issue since the VDF needs to be big. You can replace the motor very easy, maybe with a 3hp or 4hp.

View JAAune's profile


2034 posts in 3558 days

#14 posted 04-17-2018 10:50 PM

Because old iron usually requires much restoration work, it’s often much cheaper to buy than equivalent new tools. For example, the old Minimax I purchased required days of restoration/tuning but it only cost $500 up front. Getting a new saw of similar features and quality would have cost over $5,000.

It all depends whether you’d rather spend the $5,000 and start woodworking the next day or spend less than $1,000 and start woodworking next week.

-- See my work at

View RogR's profile


113 posts in 2106 days

#15 posted 04-17-2018 11:38 PM

3-phase means you have something else to worry about before you can cut wood. I would look into the PM66 and hope it was single phase 220. It seems unlikely that you will need 5hp, so don’t get stuck on that.

Even a casual investigation in person will reveal how much more you are getting from an older industrial machine, than a current big-box item. Engineered for a production environment, older Deltas, PMs etc were designed to run all day every day, and they did. Their mass provides durability, stability and accuracy that is harder to achieve with lightweight extrusions.

There is a good chance that a reasonably cared for shop saw needs almost nothing immediately. I would insist on seeing it run and cut. These tools run very smoothly and you will likely know right off if it needs work.

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