Sunday, October 5, 2014

Buying an Old Unisaw

If you're getting into woodworking because you want to build cabinets and built-ins for your house, your version of the thousand-dollar shop could be centered around the tablesaw. I have danced around this topic for a while because although I do have a tablesaw, it isn't one I would recommend for cabinet work: it's underpowered and has a very small table which tilts to make angled cuts, so is not safe for breaking down big sheets of plywood.

The saw as I found it when I visited the pre-auction inspection. There was no play in the arbor bearings, no major rust, and the inside was not caked with old sawdust: all good signs.

Recently that changed, when I had the chance to get an old Delta Unisaw for an excellent price.
This saw is perfect for setting up a cabinet shop on a budget, because it's very common, and parts are readily available from Delta and on eBay. Because there are so many Unisaws around, lots of people have gone through the process of restoring them. Search the internet and it's easy to find other woodworkers who have solved, documented and shared any Unisaw problem you might encounter.

So why am I, in my turn, about to document and share my Unisaw experience? Because this is for The Thousand Dollar Shop, and my approach is a little bit different. First, I'm not going to restore my saw to showroom condition. Instead, I'm going to inspect, replace, and adjust only what the saw needs to cut straight. Second, instead of just showing you the one way I choose to do things, I'll try to show some alternatives. This is going to be especially true when it comes to the motor. My saw is equipped with a 3-phase motor, and . . . well, I'll tell you more when it's time.

Today, I will tell you about moving the saw from the auction warehouse to my place. My saw has both cast-iron wings on the table (many newer saws came with only one for some reason), as well as a cast-iron base, so the saw weighs about 400 lbs. If I were to move this saw single handed, I would seriously consider taking it apart. Removing the top, motor, and base would make it possible for one person with a good hand truck to get the saw from A to B. That would add a lot of time, but it would be safer.

When it was time to move my saw, I got help in the form of my son Jeff. His job involves moving heavy, cumbersome objects (food stand equipment) every day, so he's got a good combination of strength and savvy when it comes to humping junk. We took my pickup, my hand truck (which has extra wheels on the back, so a load can be tipped back onto 4 wheels), a set of 2x8 ramps, a ratcheting strap clamp, and plenty of rope. We got very lucky - - the auction dude had some extra time when we showed up, so he forklifted the saw onto my truck.
Getting the saw out of the truck was the hardest part of our day. Tying the saw to the hand truck and using a ramp made the job possible for two guys.

We used two ropes to tie the saw to all 4 corners of my truck bed, so it couldn't shift much in transit. When we got to my place, we untied the saw and removed the guard. One nice thing about the Unisaw is that the table doesn't overhang the cabinet on the rear of the saw, so a hand truck can get right up to the cabinet. With the hand truck in place, we wrapped the ratcheting strap around the hand truck and saw and tightened it smartly so we wouldn't have to worry about the saw shifting. We tilted the hand truck back onto its four wheels, lined up the ramp with the wheels, and carefully lowered the load down the ramp. A key safety point here: don't stand directly downhill from the load, in case it breaks free. Jeff and I stood on either side of the tablesaw and let it roll down slowly. Once it was safely on the ground, we rolled it through the garage door and were done.

This is one time it's an advantage to have a garage shop: we didn't have to go up or down stairs with a tablesaw. If we needed to navigate stairs, I would have wanted a third strong person helping us, and stationed two below and one above the saw.

When you move a tablesaw, or other heavy piece of equipment, the key is to go slowly, have help, and try to be overprepared rather than just winging it. By patiently using a jack, a come-along, and some iron pipes as rollers, I have moved a thousand-pound jointer through a doorway and onto a truck with a single helper. We agreed afterwards that the key to success was moving very slowly and agreeing beforehand that if we ran into anything that felt unsafe, we would stop working and find another way.

More to come as I get this saw ready to eat wood again.

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