Canadian Woodworking

1914 “woodworker” machine: A multi-talented monster

Blog by Rob Brown
The “Woodworker”

We here at Canadian Woodworking & Home Improvement were sharing some old ads from Canadian Woodworker, a trade publication available over 100 years ago.

Many of the articles still offer good advice on furniture production, but the ads were what I found interesting, especially the machinery ads. Heavy-duty machinery was the name of the game. Many of the items were familiar to me (stroke sanders, planers, etc.), but a few weren’t. I thought I should share this ad for a “woodworker” machine that seemed to be a multi-purpose machine for doing a lot of furniture-making operations.

Even if we aren’t all experts on them, we’re all familiar with the machines available today. The table saw, bandsaw, jointer, planer and other woodworking machines are common items in a woodworking shop. Not long ago there would have been much different machines in a professional woodworking shop. Even a hobby shop would have likely had a different collection of machines to work on. I was formally educated in a production shop setting between 1994 and 1997, then worked in many custom woodworking and cabinetmaking shops, yet I have never seen anything like this “woodworker” before.

The “Woodworker”

This is an advertisement from the 1914 issue of Canadian Woodworker, a trade publication for the furniture-making industry.

The “Woodworker”

Similar to a table saw…

At first glance, it looks like a table saw that has had its blade and motor moved above, as opposed to below, the table. A quick Google search told me that the first table saw was patented in the late 1700s in England, far before the “woodworker” was available. This means that the “woodworker” was designed and constructed differently than the table saw on purpose.

…and a straight-line rip saw…

After looking at the “woodworker” for a minute it reminded me of a production breakout machine I used in college for quickly and fairly accurately ripping rough stock to width so it could be glued into panels for further processing. These machines were called straight-line rip saws. They have many similarities to a standard table saw: a flat surface that the material sits on, a blade to rip stock and a rip fence to position the stock relative to the blade.

…but different

A straight- line rip saw also has many differences to a table saw. The blade and motor are above the table and a textured surface would mechanically bring the stock to the blade to get ripped. The main function of these saws was to rip stock, not crosscut, mitre, rabbet, groove or dado the workpieces. These saws could also be equipped with multiple blades to safely gang rip many parts at once.

As an aside, I still remember the heavy-duty abdomen protectors that we wore when operating these machines in college. The textured metal apparatus that brought the stock into the machine were pretty grippy, but if the height was set wrong, a piece of rough lumber varied in thickness or a piece of stock with a lot of inherent tension in it was machined, there was a good chance the piece would be ejected out the back of the machine at about a thousand miles per hour, piercing anything in its way. But enough about the thought of being pierced with a medium-sized stick of wood for now.

Once you look closely at this machine you’ll also notice that the angle of the blade can be adjusted so it cuts mitres and other crosscuts. Maybe this machine is the forerunner to the radial arm saw, and the even newer mitre saw. Again, lots of similarities, but a few important differences. For one, you can’t rip with a mitre saw, though a radial arm saw will allow you to make a rip cut. However, less than perfect guarding will make you wish you didn’t ever try ripping on a radial arm saw, and unless the blade on a radial arm saw is indeed parallel to the fence things can go wrong quickly. A radial arm saw can be equipped with a dado stack, and although I may be wrong, it might also be possible to secure a dado blade in the woodworker.

Always a new invention

The woodworker never caught on. Or maybe it really was the precursor to the radial arm saw and it helped shape the machinery we have today. Again, a Google search tells me the radial arm saw was patented in the early 1920s, which puts it on the market just after the woodworker. Maybe the woodworker was a bit too multi-purpose to make a go of it. Usually, one machine that does everything doesn’t do any of those things wonderfully, and with the increased production necessary to meet the world’s solid wood furniture demands it just didn’t cut it. Obviously, adjusting the “woodworker” for various jobs would take some time, and although it could do virtually anything, it might not have been fast at any of those operations.

Even the radial arm saw eventually became less common with the growth of the mitre saw starting in the 1970s. Sure, production shops still have radial arm saws, as do some hobby shops, but the mitre saw is certainly the crosscutting saw of choice in most hobby shops today.

My poor back

A few weeks ago, I wrote about how my mitre saw nearly breaks my back each time I pick it up. The blurb advertisement for the woodworker from 1914 says how easy it is to carry from room-to-room or take outside. I sure wouldn’t want to take one of these things outside by myself. Maybe people were just a lot tougher back then.

Days Gone By

I wonder if it still costs $1.25 per month while running on a full-time basis.

Days Gone By

Straight-Line Rip Saw

This is a straight-line rip saw very similar to what I used when in college. It’s a production-oriented machine that does a good job at efficiently ripping solid wood to width so it can be reglued into panels. It’s essentially a power-fed table saw that’s set up only for ripping solid wood.

Straight-Line Rip Saw
Last modified: August 30, 2023

Rob Brown - [email protected]

Rob is a studio furniture maker and the editor at Canadian Woodworking & Home Improvement. Instagram at @RobBrownTeaches


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  2. Seeing this brings to mind my paternal grandfather’s workshop. In a fairly small garden shed he had a table saw,drill press,lathe,jointer and a huge ‘big wheel ‘ grinder all run of a single jack shaft with pulleys. Leather straps would be engaged or disengaged with a stick. The whole operation was run on a massive electric motor in the corner. I’ve never seen or heard of a small shop run like this, only large industrial shops. He was quite the woodworker,made all the stairs and banisters in the house,a wood mosaic floor in the entry, a table in the dining room that opened to seat 16 and a host of other things, all in that tiny workroom.

  3. I was surprised to see your article about the Elliot Woodworking Machine. I am now over 80 tears old now but still remember being in the shop in the forties to the sixties while my Father and Grandfather worked with the old Elliot machine. They paid $75.00 for it before I was born.

    The machine we had came with a jointer located on the back of it. To run the jointer the overhead motor had to be turned around, the run direction reversed byelt a sliding mechanism inside the motor, and and then hooked up with a 1 inch V belt. The machine we had also had a long wooden belt driven table saw added to the front but using the same overhead motor.

    I never saw the overhead saw used and when Dad and Mom moved to a new house the old machine was to big for the basement shop and was sold to a man who offered $175.00 for it.

  4. I never fail to be amazed at the many articles I read from ten to thirty years ago descrying the radial arm saw as being inaccurate and time-consuming to set up and change tasks. I was given a Craftsman years ago, and I use it as much as I do my table saw, especially for crosscuts. With a sanding disc it can do a great job on large panels.

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