An Old Saw

I was curious, but not much, when my son started telling me about his visit to an old brush-making business here in Cincinnati that was closing its doors after 100 years. Two things stuck in my mind as he talked about how “cool” the old place was: First, that for many years the small business made the brushes for baseball’s National League umpires to sweep home plate and; second, there was some old woodworking machinery.

The building was changing hands and the contents were up for grabs. So we went to take a look and indeed, passing through the doors was like passing through a time warp. Dozens and dozens of various types of brushes were strewn throughout two floors of the building. But it was the shop area on the second floor that caught my eye in the dim light. There stood equipment for which I couldn’t fathom a purpose, mostly types of shears I guessed, used to trim and shape brush bristles. But at the far end of the room sat the woodworking equipment.

To my amazement, it seemed most of those machines were from the same era; my guess was the 1940s. I jotted the serial number from an old but apparently still operational Delta Unisaw that stood center stage. I hoped it would help date the machine. Later, a quick Google search landed my at the Vintage Woodworking Machinery web site that, sure enough, had the serial numbers organized by date of manufacture. Turns out this Unisaw was made in 1944, the fourth (or some would argue fifth) year of production.

Could I buy it? Do I want to buy it? What’s it worth? What would I do with it? After ruminating about this 65-year-old machine I concluded it would be fun to restore it and share the experience with our readers. The idea seemed especially intriguing given Delta’s recent introduction of the all-new Unisaw, the first major engineering and design changes in the tool’s storied history. And when done, we could do some side-by-side comparisons. So now all I had to do buy it at auction , which I did for less than $200.

What’s remarkable about this relic (aside from the obvious fact that it’s still around) is its likeness to all the Unisaws save for the new 2009 model. Take away a Beismeyer fence, the badges and motor, and it would be hard to tell this ’44 version from a ’04 version. Well, maybe this one looks a bit more used.

I’ve done some preliminary digging into this machine and will start chronicling my findings and sharing my experiences with you over the coming weeks. More than an interesting journey restoring an old , and much beloved , machine, I hope to learn and share with you some techniques that will help you keep your table saw and other machines in good operating order. My goal is to get this old beast close to what it was like new in 1944. I suspect we’ll set a new standard for the “how to tune up your table saw” article. Stay tuned!

- Steve Shanesy, publisher

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12 thoughts on “An Old Saw

  1. Steve Shanesy

    John,
    Thanks so much for all the information. Sorry I didn’t respond earlier but it’s been a busy week getting ready for our Woodworking In America Event in Chicago.
    I’ll take all you info into account as I dive into the deep end of this saw. Thank goodness my tops seems flat– dead flat– and at first blush the motor seems strong, but that remains to be proven in real world application.
    Please feel free to stay in touch and I will do the same.
    Thanks, again.
    Steve

  2. John S. Corbett

    I think my Unisaw predates all of those above on this date. I got it in the very early ’60’s. I traded a Craftsman Radial Arm to the factory who had been using it to make shipping pallets from day one. It still had the original red rubber belts. My cousin, who sold woodworking tools, said red rubber belts had disappeared sometime before WW II.

    Other than lubricating the moving parts, cleaning up the grime and spray-painting a clean coat of light grey paint (which matched the original perfectly), it worked as well as a new one until perhaps 12 years ago, when the original 1 HP (I think) motor developed problems which no-one could or would fix; my electrician told me that, except for very large ones, they don’t make that kind of motor any more. "Too good, too long lasting, too expensive," he said.

    The forced substitution of the new motor initiated a series of changes which you and your staff probably expect to encounter, but which I never thought of. Here’s my list:

    1. At 1 1/2 HP, the new motor was not nearly so powerful as the original. At 110v, it had perhaps something approaching less than half of the old one’s energy and had to be rewired to 220v, which made the power almost equal to the old one. My friendly electrician explained why. It was immediately apparent that the saw speed generated with the original pulley system was not compatible with the new motor and it was necessary to find and install a used pulley wheel from a newer Unisaw. Removing and replacing those wheels required skills and tools I don’t have; luckily, the dealer did both jobs and with this combination, the saw handles long lengths of old 10/4 White Oak without hesitation.
    .
    2. The old rubber bands were shot and finding replacements turned out to be more difficult than expected. First, the local belt dealer’s ‘Matched Set’ were not matched, and when I returned them, he admitted he had none. Neither did other dealers. Luxkily, Delta still had a local outlet here and ordered 3 new belts with the same serial numbers, so they were matched — but when it came to installing them, it became obvious that new Unisaws use shorter belts than the old ones did.

    3. Subsequently, I had occasion to make a 45 degree cut and found that the aperture for the original motor was too small for the bigger, new motor to tilt. In for apenny, in for a pound, but cutting that big chunk out of that case destroyed the last vestige of my determination to keep the tool in like-new shape and made obvious the necessity for a whole group of postponed renovations.

    4. So, I replaced the original shaft bearing (DO NOT BELIEVE YOUR BEARING SUPPLIER WHEN HE SAYS THE ONE WITH THE NEW PART NUMBER IS AS GOOD AS THE OLD! The original bearing was triple sealed; the new one is barely sealed. A better dealer found a place in New Jersey who had a old, and proper replacement. It is expected to serve two or three more generations; he said the life expectancy of the new ‘replacement’ could be measured in years.

    5. While I was at it, I replaced the original switch, which was really too worn to snap securely "on" and "Off". I’ve grown older with this machine and a more dependable "Off" now seemed desirable.

    6. I finally figured out why my right-angle cuts usually had been found – usually during final assembly before glue-up – to be somewhat less. The angle was almost never duplicated exactly, so I always figured it was my fault – until I realized that the angle seemed to vary with the width of the board being cut. A straight-edge and some feeler gauges confirmed the snap diagnosis.

    The old saw table was dished in the middle – whether from long wear or faulty initial machining I prefer not to know. Locating someone with a blanchard who would true it up took some time, but it now cuts at a dependable angle and I admit that dependable cuts do eliminate a whole lot of re-working before glue-up. I really enjoyed that feature.

    7. Until I needed to use my ‘new’ mitre gauge. Flattening the saw table had managed to reduce the mitre slot depth by a few thousanths. Not a lot – just enough to let the work tetter-totter over the raised mitre guage bar. A Friend advised me to have the bar shaved; I tried to deepen the slot.

    8. In spite of all this accuracy now at my fingertips, the law of Unintended Consequences stuck again and it seemed a good time to put the original fence up on the shelf and renovate the Biesmeyer fence which my friend Brian had given to me some years before. It really is an improvement; Although I could double-check a bit and get accurate cuts with the old one, it’s a real pleasure to lock in the right measurement on the first try and I guess I’m now spoiled.

    So now everything is everything is done —- but I can’t help wondering, "what next?"

    I hope the results of your rehab will work out as well for you as mine did for me.

    John Corbett

  3. John Griffin-Wiesner

    I bought one just like that not too long ago. Delta support said, "Your serial number indicates that you have the model 1450, manufactured in August 1955."

    With just minor clean-up and switch replacement it runs great. I have yet to build a motor cover. Believe it or not, I put a Delta Uniguard on it. Looks weird but it went on easily.

    The only downside is that the top is none too flat. But hasn’t been a problem for me.

  4. www.google.com/accounts/o8/id?id=AItOawkLukUNEcvhCeS0UqzAkHhixkIuFyitNIk

    Mr. Shanesy:

    Welcome to the "slippery slope" of Old WoodWorking Machinery. Soon you’ll be searching CraigsList for old bandsaws, vintage jointers, and ancient planers. Just remember, I warned you.

    Regarding paint color, I’d suggest heading over to the OWWM sites, and taking a look around. Specifically, there is an entire Wiki entry regarding Delta paint colors:

    http://wiki.owwm.com/PaintColorsDelta.ashx

    Otherwise, many folks seem happy with Rustoleum "Dark Machinery Gray."

    Karl John Shields

  5. Myron Boots

    Steve,

    I used Rustoleum’s High Performance Enamel in Dark Machine Gray (#7587) from my local Home Depot.

    I replaced the switch but I’m going to order a new one from Grizzly. They have some reasonably priced "paddle switches" both in 110 and 220.

    My saw appears to have the same motor as yours. Mine was (and is) 110 volt. I have the little plate that goes on the motor end that shows how to convert to 220 but I’m undecided. The motor is large and heavy and has such rotational momentum. I do want to replace the 3 belts so that is the next modification.

    I have pictures of my motor cover that I could send to you if you’d like. Unfortunately, my photography skills are about the same as my woodworking skills – mid-level experience getting beginner results.

    I cut a 4" hole in the back of the cabinet near the base for dust collection.

    I too still have the original fence but I’ve got a Vega on it now. The old one seemed to work fine but I wanted a bit more precision.

    I do use mine regularly – it’s my only table saw.

  6. Steve Shanesy

    Myron,

    I plan to get in touch with Delta and see if I can’t get some "official" paint from them, although I wonder the color has changed somewhat over the years. The new Unisaw is decidedly a silver gray vs. the older bluish gray.

    Also wondering if I should have the fence guide bars chromed. These old ones don’t look like they were originally (but I also think if the saw performs well and I want to put it into real use I’d be mighty tempted to put an up-to-date fence on it.

    How did you make the motor cover? I understand they are rare as hens teeth. I was told by Delta the cover was offered as an option at additional cost.

    If you use your saw regularly, have you done anything to add dust collection? The switch and motor junction boxes were packed with fine dust.

  7. Myron Boots

    I will be watching this closely. I have a very similar saw.

    I’ve painted mine with as close to original color as I could get.

    My top had some significant pits but they do not seem to affect performance.

    I did not have the egg shell motor cover but decided to build my own.

    Myron Boots

  8. Steve Shanesy

    Scott,

    I stand corrected, sorry about misstating the name. The two sites are very helpful and I’m sure will be even more so as I get further along with the resto of the saw.

  9. Bob Aquino

    If you are going to reference OWWM.com then please get their name right, its "Old Woodworking Machines", there is no mention of "Vintage" anywhere in the name. Also, there is a sister site, OWWM.org. The OWWM.org site has the user forums where most of the daily banter occurs.

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