Buying the heavy metal from the dealers

Last month we discussed the problems with buying machines from auctions. Now don’t let me put you off the idea of buying your machines from auctions. This is certainly the cheapest way to acquire good machines, but it does take a lot of personal input in attending the auction, getting the machine back from the auction rooms and setting it up once it’s back. Because of these problems I have more recently favoured buying my machines from dealers. Now, buying second-hand machines is a little bit like buying second-hand cars. You have to trust the person you are buying from. At the end of this article is a list of machinery dealers, most of which I only know by reputation. I have only dealt with one of them, and that is A L Dalton Ltd of Nottingham.

Now, buying second hand machines is a little bit like buying second hand cars.

The type of woodworking machines that inhabit most small machine shops are basically straightforward. They could, if designed and maintained properly, go on running and running forever and a day. Unfortunately, if they were designed this way, it would put the engineers that make them out of business before too long. However, there was a period of design and manufacture when quite a lot of the top of the range machines were made to such a high degree of engineering excellence that they could, with proper care, go on and on. It is from this golden period of woodworking machines that I like to buy.

Clearly, I am not the only one for there is an entire industry of suppliers that make it their business to service the needs of small joiners and cabinet makers who do not need the latest machines but do need excellent machines. Each of the suppliers listed below has their own terms and conditions, and these I must stress vary from one to another, but I will draw from these three categories of supply that are generally available.

The first category that you could buy that nice 1960’s planer thicknesser from is “as seen”. This category is pretty well self-explanatory. It requires that you go up there, look at the machine and make a judgement for yourself. Remember your Latin “Caveat Emptor” — “Let the buyer beware”. Depending upon who you are buying the machine from, you may or may not get an engineers report. If you do it is very valuable because an engineer will have wondered round the machine and kicked it, wired it up and run it, and will be able to tell you whether or not such and such a bearing needs replacing, such and such a driveshaft needs some attention to its widgets, and, whether or not the machine is suitable for going into service. You may get a guarantee for a limited period, and you may get nothing, you may be buying literally as seen. Beware of the Salesman who tells you, “you have got a 30-day warranty if anything goes wrong just bring it back”. Some of these old babies weigh close to a tonne and don’t take kindly to being carted up and down the M6. Having said that “as seen” is a category that is the most economical way of purchasing a machine short of going to the auction and bidding against the dealer yourself.

It is at this point that you are paying for a good reputation from your dealer.

The second category and the one that most purchases fall into is “checked and tested”. This means different things to different dealers, so do be careful with what you expect from your dealer. They may well call it a different name, “cleaned checked and painted” is another category I have heard. In general, what this category means is that the machine will have been into a workshop, a skilled engineer will have wondered round it, given it a kick, raised and lowered the thicknessing table, spun the block, put it under power and listened to the bearings, checked for any wear and damage that wasn’t immediately apparent and replaced parts that were showing an unacceptable degree of wear. It is at this point that you are paying for a good reputation from your dealer. For one shop will say that something that is rattling and banging away is quite acceptable where another shop would not accept that. However, in general, what you are paying for in this category is a machine which has been “checked and tested” and is guaranteed to be in good enough condition to go to work. If it is not in such a condition, you would have a warranty which would allow safeguard the repair of that machine within a reasonable time.

The third way you could buy this lovely old planer thicknesser is “totally reconditioned”. From a reliable supplier, this means the machine has been totally stripped down to the chassis, all the bearings replaced, all the machine tables reground, it would have been assembled and repainted. Essentially, you would be buying a machine which is in the condition it would have been in when it rolled off the production line in 1960. From the less reputable supplier, you might well get a machine which has had the tables repolished, and a coat of green paint slapped about it, but not a lot is done about the innards. But I had better not say too much about that otherwise I’ll get myself into trouble.

For one shop will say that something that is rattling and banging away is quite acceptable where another shop would not accept that.

Like I said earlier, buying a second-hand machine is like buying a second-hand car. You have got to choose the people you want to buy from and set up a relationship where they understand your needs, and you understand a bit about their business. I have been dealing with Brian Stacey at Dalton’s now for over five years, and the fairest thing I can say is that he hasn’t let me down yet. He may have cost me an arm and a leg, but he hasn’t let me down. I must admit I do appreciate being sold to by a professional, and Brian Stacey is a former Wadkin trained fitter who knows his machines inside out. The only trouble with Brian is he could talk the back leg off a donkey so a telephone call to Brian could take anything up to half an hour, usually with him talking for twenty-five minutes of that time. Brian is reputed to be one of the few people on this earth who can drink beer and talk at the same time. However, this aside, in the five years that we have been dealing we have built up a sufficient understanding that I can now feel confident to buy machines from him unseen, knowing that I will get exactly what I want. I’ll pay through the nose for it, but I will get what I want. Most of the machines I have bought from Dalton’s have been in the checked and tested category. Until today I have never yet been able to afford a fully reconditioned machine from them but more of this later. I can imagine the chap who takes delivery of a newly restored and reconditioned MG sports car would get the same satisfaction. It is a pity you can’t drive around in a Robinson YD band saw!


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