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Monday, December 10, 2012

The Promise Of Productivity

I have been saving for a big ticket item.  No, I'm not talking about the Veritas marking gauge, though that did set my cookie jar contents back a bit. I'm talking about the Powermatic 701 bench top mortiser.

I pulled the trigger during the recent 20% off sale that most Powermatic vendors participated in.  I purchased my unit from Acme Tools.
I do my homework.  I read blogs, subscribe to woodworking magazines, surf YouTube videos, search forums, and talk with folks.  So, like I always read and see, I put the mortiser on a bench and read the last page of the manual.  I was expecting to see a completely assembled and tuned mortiser when I looked up from reading.

Unfortunately, real life is not like magazine articles and commercial videos.  I have very little experience with mortising machines.  Sure, I've used them in other people's shops, but I have never had to tune, or set one up.  The whole process took me about 20 minutes.

The only 'eventful' part of the set up was mounting a chisel.  Actually, I should back up a step.  Very few merchants that sell the Powermatic mortiser also sell the Powermatic mortise chisels.  I know the Powermatic can be used with pretty much any mortise chisels on the market, but I figured my ignorance might be further compounded with stupidity by purchasing the cheapest chisels on the market from another source.  Being cheap means buying the least expensive chisels; being pragmatic means you spend your money where you're going to get the best value.  With these things in my mind, I picked up the branded Powermatic chisels from  The chisels are my first experience with and I was pleased with the service received.

Let's get back to where I started.  The only 'eventful' part of the set up was mounting a chisel.  Powermatic mounts the 5/8" chisel arbor from the factory.  Yet, the Powermatic chisels are based on the larger arbor (I forget the size off hand).  That means Powermatic is expecting customers to use chisels from competitors (!?!).  Swapping the arbor out is quite easy to accomplish and thus ultimately a non-issue.

Time to talk about using the mortiser.  I decided a great test would be to do some of the mortises in my current project.  Aside from milling the stock, I've been using hand tools to build a loft bed.  The loft bed has something like eleventy gazillion mortises.

I crafted all the tenons and used them to outline the mortises.  Since everything was done by hand, cumulative error in every step along the way substantially moved things out of the realm of standard.  The first mortise done on the machine came out great.  I was feeling like a woodworking rock star.  The next mortise kind of elicited the antithesis of rock stardom.  One end was maybe a 16th of an inch further away from the edge of the wood than the other.  Just far enough out to look like a stair step if you use the mortiser.  An important lesson was taught yet again: know when to combine hand and power tool procedures.

Although the mortiser promises to vastly increase productivity for a lot of projects, I still can't get too far away from the tools that have been around a while.