Buying more machinery…

Posted on April 23rd, 2006 in Opinion by Julian Edgar

Right now I am typing with green fingers. Not ‘green’ as in the metaphorical fingers that gardeners have; nope, green as in covered in green paint. I am not quite sure why the paint is green; it could equally have been red or black or silver. But when I made the colour choice, green seemed more appropriate for a bandsaw and a table saw.

You see, I’ve been buying more machinery. I’ve now decided that good quality machinery in an amateur workshop will last forever, so if I buy it now, it’ll always be available for use. Even if that use is so intermittent that the machine gets a work-out only every six months. In fact, another machine I have just bought will probably fall into that occasional-use category. But I’ll come back to that one in a minute – what’s this about a bandsaw and table saw?

Both items had come up at the local Tender Centre. Tender Centres are an interesting way of buying secondhand bits and pieces. The goods are arranged for inspection, and – like at an auction – each item has a ‘lot’ number marked on it. However, unlike at an auction, when you make a bid (called a tender) you have no idea of the amounts that other people are bidding for the same items. This is because the tenders are submitted in writing.

The goods can only be inspected on certain days – usually a Friday, Saturday and Sunday once per fortnight. At the inspection, a clipboard is issued and you fill in your contact details on the form. Carrying the clipboard around with you, you then write down the ‘lot’ numbers of the items that you’re interested in, and state what you’re prepared to pay for them. Items may have a reserve – but you don’t know what it is.

That Sunday night you hear which of your tenders were successful. In addition to the tender amount, a small processing fee is paid per successful tender, and also paid is the equivalent of a buyer’s premium – around ten per cent.

There are two Tender Centres (it’s a franchise) within my local area and each fortnight I usually attend both. The goods available are as diverse as you’ll find anywhere – from books to china, from stereo systems to clothes, from furniture to bicycles. That’s one of the attractions – you never know what you’ll find. Another attraction is that bargains can often be had. Or not had – again you just don’t know until the tender results are posted on-line. (To see how that end of things work, go to

In fact, last fortnight’s tender centre sale makes for a good example. Up for tender was a whole lot of automotive workshop bits and pieces. Of most interest to me was a Bosch handheld digital scope. I already own a Fluke 123 Scopemeter (a tool I love and use frequently) but another scope is always useful. Especially a dedicated automotive one like the Bosch PMS100. The Bosch scope is valued at about AUD$2000 secondhand but I bid just $500. I have previously been successful in this sort of bid/value relationship, but not this time. But that was OK – some of my other tenders were successful and so overall, it was a good sale for me.

But the weekend that’s just gone provided even better results. Up for tender at one centre were a bandsaw and a table saw. For those who don’t know, a bandsaw uses a long, continuous and flexible steel blade that’s mounted on two large diameter pulleys. A powerful motor drives the saw blade around and around and the workpiece – supported by a table with a hole in the middle for the blade to pass through – is fed into the blade. It’s a great tool for cutting curves in particle board, aluminium and other soft metals and with a specific blade, can also cut steel. A table saw? Well, that one’s like an upside-down circular saw. Its primary use is in ripping wood and cutting sheet particle board. In a previous life – when I was a teacher – I used to have access to both these machines in the school woodworking workshop, and used both to excellent effect.

I was interested in the tools – but how much to bid? The bandsaw was old – very old. In fact, it might well have first seen the light of day 50 years ago. The motor had been replaced, the stand on which it stood was clearly not the original, and the paint was flaking in parts. But it was incredibly sturdy (the main support was cast iron) and the brass badges proudly proclaimed roller bearings were used in both pulleys. (And roller bearings are much easier to replace than plain bushes, should such a replacement be necessary.)

Another member of the public was nearby, and saw me inspecting the bandsaw. My thoughts were uncannily echoed when he muttered to me: “What’s it worth, d’you think?”

Once upon a time the valuation would have been easy, but these days with plenty of very cheap Chinese-made tools being imported, it’s a lot harder. I like older machine tools but sure as hell nostalgia doesn’t hold sway over my pocket: if you can buy a slightly inferior bandsaw that’s brand new and cheaper, well… The other potential bidder mentioned a figure of around AUD$200 for this one, and I tended to agree. Surely it would be worth at least that? In fact, thinking about it further, I decided it might go for a bit more so put in a tender of $221. The table saw was of lesser quality – again it was old but it appeared to have been less happily adapted to a new base and new electric motor. I bid $201 (always bid $1 more than an even increment to outbid those that think in round numbers!) but as I left the premises I thought that perhaps $176 would have been better. But too late, both bids were lodged!

I’d been tendering on the Sunday – the last day of the sale – and so the results were available on-line that evening. And, as by now you know, I won both.

I got them home in the trailer (the bandsaw was so heavy it took three blokes to lift it into the 6×4) and used my engine crane to unload them. (Incidentally, an engine crane is a really useful thing to have around any home workshop – it’s much more versatile than its designation might suggest.) Then I went off to the hardware store and bought (green!) rust-proofing paint and brushes. The job that evening (this evening, in fact) was to test the bandsaw and then partially pull it apart, wire-brush the bits and then give them a first coat of paint.

Click for larger image

And even in pieces under the revealing glare of the mercury vapour lights, the bandsaw looks good. The ball-bearings are a little gritty, but all the adjustment knobs work and all the tapped threads are intact. And isn’t the machine built to last! The table is a heavy casting with deep underside ribs, the main pulley support is another huge casting, and all the bolts and adjustment knobs are generous in size. It’s a bloody nice machine and (as shown here) with the new paint and bearings, will do lots of work over a very long time.

The table saw? Well, I haven’t got to it – tomorrow’s job perhaps. But it won’t be the job for the day after, because then the trusty trailer and I need to go pick up yet another tool. This one was won on eBay and it’s something I have wanted for a very long time. It’s a panbrake, or in plain English, a sheet metal folder. It’s apparently 6 feet long, has nine fingers allowing the folding-up of the ends of boxes (ie ‘pans’, so explaining the name), and on the basis of the eBay pics, will need a coat of paint. Panbrakes of this size go for AUD$4000 or even more, but this one I sniped at $1825. That’s still a helluva lot for an amateur workshop tool that won’t be used all that often, but as I started off by saying, a tool like this can be expected to have an occasional-use life of literally a hundred years or more. So I figure I’ll now always have the availability of a panbrake.

And hopefully, the new green paint will last a long time too…

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