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What is a Shopsmith? Should I Buy One?

The Shopsmith is a 5-in-1 tool that can perform the functions of a lathe, drill press, horizontal boring machine, disk sander, and table saw. The Shopsmith in this picture has quite a few added accessories, and is a complete woodshop with a jointer, dust collector, wide belt sander, band saw, and strip sander, in addition to the usual five tools. In addition to what you see, you can easily (and inexpensively) adapt your Shopsmith to be a grinder, buffer, or router, and for a somewhat larger investment you can even add a scroll saw or planer.

  Table Saw

   Disk Sander


   Horizontal Boring

          Drill Press

Is the Shopsmith right for me?

Nothing is right for everybody. There are some good reasons to buy a Shopsmith, but only you can decide if the Shopsmith is right for you. Here are some things that might help you make up your mind.


This is the Shopsmith's great strength. My Shopsmith takes up about half as much space as my table saw. Not counting the extension tables or fence, my contractor saw takes up about 44 x 60 inches of shop space, or a little more than 17 square feet. With all of its extra tables and fence removed, the Shopsmith takes up about 17 by 72 inches of shop space, which is exactly 8.5 square feet, a shade under half the space of the table saw.

For most people, that isn't nearly as important as the actual configuration. A Shopsmith can be pushed against a wall and protrude only 17 inches. Even with the fence and out feed table removed, my table saw would stick out 44 inches, or more than two-and-a-half times as far as the Shopsmith.


Moving a shop full of tools is a bummer. In fact, unless you own a piano, it is probably more difficult to move a shop with several large tools than all of the rest of your family's belongings, especially if that shop happens to be in the basement.

Moving a Shopsmith, on the other hand, is not that hard. If the headstock is locked in the center, I can pick it up by myself, and I once lifted it off the back of a truck and set it on the ground, although I don't recommend doing that.

Even a simple task such as rolling a machine from one end of the shop to another is a lot easier with a Shopsmith. It's hard to tell from the photo, but I'm lifting the ShopSmith off the ground. The ability to do this helps a lot when I'm rolling over extension cords and whatnot.

What about the changeovers? How hard is it to change from one function to another?

I've grown up using a Shopsmith, so to me the changes are second nature. Most changes take less than one minute. Changing to the table saw takes about two minutes because I have to attach the upper and lower guards, but most people take longer than that to change router bits.

I already own a table saw. Does it make sense for me to buy a Shopsmith?

I own a stand-alone table saw, but my Shopsmith gets plenty of use, even in the table saw mode. The Shopsmith actually delivers better results than my stand-alone table saw, and I use the Shopsmith when I need precise or burn-free cuts. It also gives me the luxury of having a second table saw. I can have a dado blade on one saw and a combination blade on the other, or I can have one saw set up to cut box joints while leaving the other one free for the usual table saw operations.

What about buying a used Shopsmith?

If the sight of this scares you, don't even think about buying a used Shopsmith. This is a headstock without the quill, motor, sheaves, pulleys, idler shaft, and speed control.
I had fun rebuilding my used Shopsmith, but I would have saved time AND money if I had bought a new one.

The Shopsmith has undergone many changes over the years. Improvements include a larger motor, a dust collection port, a two-bearing quill, better safety equipment, an improved fence, and a larger table. An older Shopmsith might look very similar to a new one, but the new machines are far better.

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This page last updated 12/18/03
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