Machine Manuals and Old Tools

The front page of the manual for the machine I most covet – a 30″ Oliver bandsaw. Someday – maybe when I don’t live in an apartment!

This past week I’ve been out in the Popular Woodworking shop, doing a bit of maintenance. Many of our machines were bought many years ago – while they’ve been maintained well and used by careful workers, every machine needs a bit of TLC every once in a while.

The biggest hurdle in adjusting and maintaining machines is often figuring out the various set screws, rollers and shrouds, and finding the right bolt to twist or nut to tighten. The manual for these machines is often the place to go for this information. We’ve been lucky enough to find our old manuals (thanks to David Thiel’s memory) but not everyone is so lucky – these machines are relatively young, but some are from defunct companies or offshoot brands.

So, for our own posterity, I’ve put these machine manuals in a special spot (right here, on our servers), so we can continue to care for them (and no one person becomes the arbiter of the knowledge contained therein). There are also some great resources for others looking for old machine manuals – none of ours were from too long ago, but even then we had a hard time finding information online about them, and if you’re lucky, the links below should help you find yours.

One note about these old manuals – you may notice that most of the online manuals are “of a certain age” (to use polite language – I don’t want to insult anyone’s tools!). This is because many manuals are copyrighted and not legal to reproduce in any form. If the company is out of business, or the copyright has expired, you’re probably in the clear – but be sure to check on that before you upload or share any manuals.

Vintage Machinery is a vast online resource for people looking to discuss, refurbish, restore or resurrect old machines. Their “Publication Reprints” page is full of hard-to-find manuals and sales information for old tools. It’s fun to just browse, or if you’ve happened on an Oliver band saw in the woods, chances are you can find some great information on this page. It also has a great on-site wiki that covers all manner of old machine maintenance and information.

Old Woodworking Tools is another online site that has uploaded dozens of manuals. Their focus is on older Craftsmen, Delta and Rockwell tools, but they also have a large repository of tool photos, and have some articles on the history of the various older machine manufacturers.

There are a number of places that sell the old manuals – if you have a specific machine that you can’t find the manual for, you can try your luck on the auction sites, or try your luck on some of the resellers’ pages, like Ozark Tool Manuals. I can’t say I’ve used them before, but I do know that one of our tool’s manuals was available for purchase there, and if we hadn’t found it, this might’ve been the only place to get it.

I’d love to hear from readers where they’ve had luck finding their old manuals, and I’ll happily throw up useful links on this page for others to find.

And for those just setting out on their journey with woodworking machines, we also have some great resources over on shopwoodworking.com, including “Woodworking Machines: Back to Basics,” an introduction to our beloved machines and how we use and maintain them.

– Brendan Gaffney

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