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New and improved vs. old and reliable

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This is how I know the economy has improved: my e-mail is full of new product announcements.

AWFS fair exhibitors have been particularly busy, sending reams of flowery language to promote their most recent innovations. Only a couple of years ago, I was looking under rocks for new products. Now it is all-systems-go as manufacturers have loosened the purse strings on their R&D and marketing budgets.

I’m certainly not complaining. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander, if you catch my drift. And I can’t wait to actually see these new products in Las Vegas (the fair was held after this issue’s deadline). But in the flood of what’s new, there have been little reminders of what’s old.

For example, Martin Woodworking Machines sent me a five-page release on the success of its T75 PreX sliding table saw, introduced in 2010. The company says that more than 900 saws have been sold, a tribute to its unique 2 x 46-degree technology. The saw’s blade can be tilted to the left or right, a feature Martin debuted in 2006, which combined with other innovations allows an operator to decide how to machine a workpiece, rather than being constrained by the machine’s design.

“The T75 PreX can tilt the saw blade to the left by up to 46 degrees, which amounts to a unique angular cutting range of 92 degrees. And tilted to 45 degrees, the machine still reaches a cutting height of approximately 130 mm measured vertically from the table, which is very important to the operators,” Martin marketing manager Michael Mühldorfer says.

This got me thinking about other manufacturers that have been selling essentially the same tool or machine for decades. The inverted router from C.R. Onsrud comes quickly to mind. It’s been in production since 1976, maintaining a sliver of the company’s manufacturing facility in Troutman, N.C., that produces nearly 50 models of 3-, 4- and 5-axis CNC routers.

Williams & Hussey has been selling its iconic molder/planer since 1954. There have been a few design tweaks and a couple of new models introduced since, but it remains a small shop staple for straight and curved molding runs.

Bosch and Porter-Cable could have stopped with their first variable-speed, 2-1/4-hp routers. They never seem to be in stock when I shop at the big box stores, maybe because their demand has increased as the go-to, dedicated tools for router tables and smaller CNC-controlled routers.

Weinig has produced over 35,000 molders on its Montage 1 assembly line, including the Powermat 600, 1200 and 2400 models. SawStop has sold more than 50,000 table saws with its patented safety device since 2004.

Pretty sure I’ve missed other obvious examples, but just think about this: In our race to get the new gadget with the latest bells and whistles, never forget about the tried-and-true money makers in your shops. Give them a good dusting, a little TLC and a moment of appreciation.

We’ve all got a drawer full of discarded cordless drills and batteries. New and improved doesn’t necessarily mean that it is better.

This article originally appeared in the August 2015 issue.

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