This blog is devoted to my John Welsford designed 15' Navigator yawl Ellie. I built her in my garage over a period of 18 months and launched her in 2011. She sports a sliding gunter main, roller furled jib and sprit-boomed mizzen. Her construction is glued-lapstrake over permanent bulkheads and stringers. This blog is a record of her construction and her voyages here in the Puget Sound area and (hopefully) a useful resource for fellow Navigator builders.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Boatbuilding with the Shopsmith

If you have a small shop, as many of us do, how do you cram in a table saw, a drill press, a lathe, a disk sander, a jointer, a band saw, a horizontal boring machine, an over-table router, and a thickness planer and still have room to breathe?

The answer is, with a Shopsmith

The Shopsmith multi-purpose tool can do all that, and a whole lot more, for a lot less than buying all of those tools seperately. Not only that, but you can buy a used Shopsmith for about the cost of only one of those tools, fix it up, use it for years, and pass it down to your grandkids someday for them to use.

The Shopsmith has been around, in various forms, since the first model 10ER built by Magna was sold by Montgomery Ward in 1947. An improved Mark II was introduced in the 1950's, followed by the Mark VII with lots of extras including the ability to tilt in both directions and included a built in vacuum. But the most popular and most versitile model is the current Mark V. Production ceased in the early 1960's due to a variety of changes within the company and the buying public, but production resumed in 1973 under a new company - Shopsmith Inc. Over 1,000,000 Shopsmiths have been sold.

The Shopsmith is built to last - essentially forever. Every part, down to the individual screws, can be ordered as replacement parts directly from Shopsmith. The entire machine is made of cast aluminum and steel. It's difficult to find a plastic part on the machine anywhere. Service manuals, operation manuals, videos, even instructions on how to refurbish a used machine are all available from Shopsmith.  Compare that to most other power tools sold today.  When something breaks on them, their next destination is usually the landfill.

New Shopsmith's are not cheap - not surprising for a machine built to last a lifetime. They start out at about $3,300 for the base model, but used Shopsmiths can be found, sometimes very inexpensively. I purchased my Shopsmith model 510 complete with the bandsaw and jointer accesories, for $350 from a gentleman on Craigslist. The machine was about 12 years old. It had only been used a few times before it was stored unused in a barn for about 10 years. The machine was missing some parts and parts of the machine were rusty. I paid another $150 to replace the parts that were missing or that needed replacement, and spent several days cleaning off the rust. I overhauled the headstock, following the instructional videos provided by Shopsmith. The headstock was in great shape except for one part in the speed controller. The rust on the way tubes came off pretty easily with fine sandpaper. After the overhaul I spent several hours adjusting the machine so that it cut square and true. I now have a Shopsmith which is as good as new, for $500 and about a week's worth of elbow grease.

The machine is about the size of a bicycle. It has casters which enable the machine to be rolled around the shop to where ever it is needed. When done, I roll it over to its parking spot next to the wall. Foot levers on the casters allow you to lower the machine to the floor so it rests solidly when in use.

Here I have my Shopsmith set up as a table saw.You can add table extensions to make the surface larger for cutting big stock, like sheets of plywood, or simply use the main table for smaller items. To cut angles, the table is rotated, not the blade as on most table saws.

Boatbuilding involves quite a bit of ripping of long stock. For that, you need an outfeed table. I built this home-made outfeed table from a piece of plywood and some scraps. It attaches quickly with no tools required. It use it frequently and it works great.

When I'm not using the outfeed table, I usually just let it hang like this.

The bottom of the outfeed table's support leg has an eyebolt in a slot.  The eyebolt simply slips into a hole that I drilled in the table upright.  There are a nut on the eyebolt to adjust the table so it's level, but that only needs to be done once.  The upper end of the leg has a "ball and socket" joint.  I made the leg this way so that the table can be raised, lowered and tilted, along with the main table without any adjustments.

Ball and Socket joint

Next function: the disk sander. The sanding disk can be attached at either side of the headstock. It makes quick work of sanding all those flat edges of your Navigator bulkheads straight. It can also be used like a grinder to sharpen tools. If you had a very large part to sand, you could assemble a large table using the table extensions (like I did for the table saw). The versatility of this machine seems endless.

I'd be lost without my bandsaw. It drops into two mounting holes on the left side of the machine, and then you attach it to the headstock with a coupler and you're in business. The bandsaw is powerful. It will resaw lumber up to 6" thick without a hint of bogging down. It will cut metal too, with the proper blade. When cutting long stock, again, the table extensions can be set up to provide a very long outfeed table. This is one of my favorite setups.  Ideal for cutting planking!

Next, the jointer. Like the bandsaw, it drops in on the left side of the Shopsmith and connects to the headstock using the same coupler, except it connects to the high-speed port. I use the jointer to plane boards perfectly flat, such as those strips used to make the centerboard and rudder. It will plane a board about 3 1/2" wide laser straight.

I forgot to mention, the table saw, band saw, and jointer all have ports where you can attach a shop-vac to collect the shavings and sawdust as you cut.

I haven't used the lathe very much yet, but it's there when I need it. Too bad Navigator doesn't use belaying pins, they would be fun to make.  I did use it to make all the nice wooden handles that you see on the machine.

To use the Shopsmith as a drill press, you first lock the headstock in place, install the table, turn it vertically and lock it, then release a locking handle and flip the headstock up vertically. This creates a far better drill press than your typical drill press.  Table extensions can be used to create a very large horizontal surface for drilling large items. The table can be tilted to drill holes at precise angles.  The rip fence can be used to align and clamp workpieces.  I used this to drill the pivot hole through my centerboard case and centerboard perfectly straight and perfectly aligned. I also use the machine in this mode, with a Wagner Safe-T-Planer to thickness plane stock. It's not as fast as a thickness planer, but it works just about as well plus you can plane at an angle. Here is a video demonstrating the Safe-T-Planer
I also use Forstner bits to hollow out the hole for the lead in the centerboard, and the hole in the mast steps, and of course for countless routine drilling operations. I also mount a drum sander to sand interior curves.  I even mounted various router bits with the large table to "machine" my rudder.

If you ever need to drill a hole in the end of something very long, or a piece that won't sit flat vertically, the horizontal boring function will come in handy. Here I am drilling a hole through the Navigator's stem for the towing eye.

I should state that, no, I don't work for Shopsmith Inc. I'm just a very satisfied customer.  The thing that impresses me most about this machine is its versatility.  I've even found crazy and effective ways to use the machine that its designers probably never dreamed of.


  1. I am another Shopsmith owner and think the machines are fabulous. Great article

  2. I am a boatbuilder and use a shopsmith as well

  3. I have a Shopsmith that I plan on building a tray/shelf as pictured on your unit. Can you give me some suggestions
    Thank You

    1. The shelf is simply a wire shelf from Home Depot. Go to the Home Depot website and search for "SuperSlide White Ventilated Wire Shelf" and you'll find it. It's attached to two 2x2's with zip ties, which are screwed to the Shopsmith legs.

  4. Can you explain and show pic of your "ball and socket joint please?

    1. Sure no problem. I added it. It's only needed if you want to tilt the table to make bevel cuts.