USS Delta Unisaw

USS Unisaw docked just north of the workbench

My wife Barb says I’m pretty territorial about guarding my workshop space. She jokes that I pee in the corners to warn other wolves and miscreants not to touch anything. Most of the space in the house is shared but I jealously guard and fuss over that small patch of earth. Which brings me to my dilemma? I have this circa 1949 Delta Unisaw. Compared to my first table saw, the Delta with its heavy cast iron top is an aircraft carrier. It does a fine job at what it was designed for. Ripping and crosscutting wood when repetition and horsepower are the order of the day.

 I want to say up front that I work a lot with hand tools but I’m not a purist. I tend to gravitate to using the best tool available to do a job. As my skill develops I am finding that hand tools are often the best tool.  But I don’t have some religious belief that hand tools are somehow holy and power tools are at the root of the decline of western civilization. The last few years I have noticed that my Unisaw was getting more duty as an assembly table and less as a saw. Then last summer I was on a tight deadline to finish some props for my DVD on designing moldings. I had a section of crown moulding with a large cove that I opted to use my Unisaw to excavate. Cove cutting on a table saw I find a tad nerve racking and my heart sunk when noises like a blown chain saw motor erupted from below the saw cabinet. What a time for the bearings to fail on the spindle. A friend let me use his saw to finish the moulding and I vowed to repair the Unisaw later when time allowed.

 So it sat pushed off to the side (across the line into the non-sacred part of the basement) for the past nine months. I did plenty of woodworking, just couldn’t seem to find time to hoist the 180# top off the cabinet and bother with the repair. There were a couple of times it would have come in handy but I was actually surprised how few and how easy it was to use another method. Luckily I didn’t need anything requiring lots of repetition or horsepower which is what it excels at. Last week I strapped a hoist over the I beam that supports the house, and lifted the top off. Turned out to be an easy fix, the key had worked free securing the main pulley to the motor. I took the time while it was apart to give everything a good cleaning and lube and had it back in shining order in an afternoon.

 I docked the USS Unisaw up in its normal spot just off the end of my workbench. Then it happened. I realized it no longer belonged there. I don’t want or need this big iron thing to work around. That space was so handy to pull a pair of low saw horses in and out. So I did something I never thought I would come to. I pulled that wonderful old saw over the line into the non woodworking area. I’m not ready to part with it yet and besides it might kill me hauling all that weight up the stairs. Yet my work with one off furniture making is going in a different direction. Are any of you finding this to be true?

George R. Walker

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About walkerg

Woodworker and writer
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7 Responses to USS Delta Unisaw

  1. Shannon says:

    George I wrote a post on my own blog a few weeks about table saw abstinence. Like you I just haven’t felt the need to use my saw for anything other than an assembly table in many months and in considering whether it is needed at all anymore I made a vow to not use it at all in my next three furniture pieces. Halfway through the first piece and I haven’t been tempted once. I’m finding myself already making plans for the space the saw takes up right now.

  2. Tico Vogt says:

    My experience has me coming from the opposite direction. My first tablesaw was from Sears, purchased in 1980, the year I started building our house. In three years I began to make stuff professionaly, and the saw got stripped to it’s core and put into a custom base made of plywood and melamine, a beisemeyer fence, router table, etc. Eventually I added a more powerful motor, replaced pulleys, added anti-vibration belts, and it worked pretty well for me until last year. But… there were some minor, regular, irritating problems setting the blade angle, some unwanted vibration, and other issues I got really tired of and last year got a new saw from Laguna. I’m grateful for this great piece of equipment. My work involves hand tools and machinery and I want both to work the way they should.
    Recently I completed an archeological display case in Red Oak. The top sloped and had a large glass display door and sat upon a base with legs, the two sections being separated by a moulding. It was similar to a case at Harvard. I used planes to surface the material, hand saw and chisels for the hinges, the tablesaw for most of the joinery with some chisel work to get things “just so,” router table for the moulding and plenty of elbow grease in the finishing. The new tablesaw did it’s job as a team player and I wouldn’t think of letting it sit idle.
    My comment on such things as tablesaw abstinence is: fine. By the way, there is a job regarding custom kitchen/library/office work involving hundreds of board feet of lumber. Are you interested?

    • walkerg says:

      Tico,

      I appreciate that this is not bringing down the wrath of power versus handtool camps on opposite sides. I actually think there shouldn’t be sides on this issue. If I were doing the work you are routinely doing, I’d want your Laguna saw plus a Laguna 20″ band saw to boot.
      I’ll pass on the custom kitchen/library/office. Confession time here, eight years ago I hired someone to install a new kitchen in my house. Not that I wasn’t fully capable. At the time I wasn’t sure it would be healthy for the marriage. If I’m territorial about my workshop it’s nothing to the way Barb feels about her kitchen. She’s still happy with it and we’re still married. I think it was the right call.

      George

  3. Morton says:

    I’m coming from the opposite perspective as well (same as side Tico though) – I’m loving my new SawStop tablesaw. I have a reliably accurate way to quickly dimension multiple pieces of wood in no time flat. What, I can just use the tape measure on the rails and not measure over from the blade to the fence for every cut? Awesome.

    I’m starting to learn to use handtools and already loving them and know they will be the best tool for the job for many of my woodworking tasks; mostly the later stages (fit and finish). But my tablesaw is currently my go-to device for the bulk of a project.

  4. George,
    I completely understand. I work only with hand tools now, not because I’m a purist or because I think they are inherently better, but simply because I enjoy the work more. I agree with you that power tools have a place in most people’s shops. Nothing beats a table saw for cutting multiples, like a kitchen full of plywood cabinets. Band saws are hard to beat when you have a lot of thick stuff to rip.

    However, I don’t do this kind of work. I don’t make kitchens full of cabinets or production runs of the same piece of furniture. As a matter of fact, I make very few repetitive cuts at all. So as I gained more experience with the type of work I do most often, I began to see that for me the table saw had little real benefit. It sat idle for a long time before I could bring myself to sell it as I always thought that as soon as I sold it, I would need it. In truth though, I’ve never missed it. I enjoy the way I work now so much more that even doing a few repetitive cuts by hand isn’t really a bother.

    I think that without the table saw, you learn to work differently (i.e. not cutting all your stock up front), so sawing becomes less of a chore because you aren’t doing it all at once. Now, instead of breaking up a piece of furniture into processing steps (e.g. cut all the parts over sized; joint and plane all the parts to thickness; cut all the parts to size; cut all the joinery; etc.), I break it up into parts and make each part. So when I work on the case, I’m only sawing and planing the case parts, not all the lumber for the entire piece. Spreading the “grunt” work out over the duration of the project makes it seem less like work. I actually enjoy this part of the process now. If I had to plane and joint and saw all my lumber up front, as is commonly done when using machines (because it’s easier to do it while the machines are set up), I don’t think it would be as much fun.

  5. Joey says:

    Hello George, just want to let you know how much I have enjoyed your post and articles in Pop Wood, that being said I believe that each woodworker should choose the tools that are right for their style of woodworking and what they are building. I enjoy using handtools but working in this industry means the only way to be competitive is to use power tools. Right now I don’t have a shop so my table-saw is in storage but I have a bench and a band-saw on my little porch. So I am learning to work without my table saw more and more, and I know this is fine for the work I am doing right now, but in the future when work picks back up and I have to start using more sheet goods in my jobs it will back to the table saw and I will be glad to have it.

    Joey

  6. John Griffin-Wiesner says:

    I have an old unisaw much like yours. And it’s in a smaller shop than yours looks to be. The only thing I’ve used it for in a couple years is to plow a lot of dados in large boards for a dry sink. I wasn’t ready to man up and plow those by hand at the time.

    The other machine that’s on double-secret probation is my jointer. I can’t remember when I last used that. I think I’d be happier with just my bench-top planer, band saw, and a new workbench.

    I really enjoy your blog.

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