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The Rarest of the Rare

There’s a hole in my neighborhood down which of late I cannot help but fall -Elbow

Some machines are hard to find. Even impossible.

As scarce as hen’s teeth, as scarce as the truth or as scarce as butter (if you live in Norway)

I spent the better part of the past ten years turning over stones looking for a Whitney scraping machine. I’ve never been able to find a picture of one, let alone the real thing.

Whitney Scraping Machine

Nearly as hard to find was the Whitney sliding table variety saw. In the early days of my affliction, I saw a drawing of a No.77 with a rolling table. I was so intrigued by the style and graceful lines of the saw that ended up on a Whitney binge. I bought every Whitney saw that I could find, ending up with a 50+ collection of these beautiful saws. I finally found a No. 177 with a rolling table in a sample shop at a North Carolina furniture factory. It sold for a tiny fraction of what I would have paid for it. Next a No. 77 with a rolling table came up on e-bay. It was in a pattern shop in eastern Massachusetts. I dug up contact info on the seller and drove through the snow for five hours to meet the owner. I made a deal with him right on the spot. I also ended up with a very nice 26″ American Sawmill Machinery bandsaw. Finally, I came across a stunning example of a very late No. 177 with a rolling table.

Whitney No. 177 Variety Saw with Rolling Table

I now own three of the four Whitney sliding table saws know to exit. I’ve cooled my Whitney table saw buying quite a bit, but still actively search them out, always hoping to find another with a rolling table.

One very rare machine that I never thought I’d get to own is a Whitney Jointer. These are the rarest of the rare. I saw my first Whitney jointer after it was discovered in eastern Massachusetts. It was an older babbit machine that had purportedly been part of the Whitney pattern shop at the foundry in Winchendon. The machine was eventually sold to a collector in Tennessee. I had an opportunity to see it in person while it was in storage. It has wonderful lines and an intriguing double wedge design.

Whitney 16

Whitney 16

I’ll do a complete write-up on this machine at some point, but for now.. on with the article….

Back in 2007 I went to an auction at a pattern shop in Pottstown, PA. In that shop was a Wadkin WL pattern mill. I was amazed by the quality, workmanship and attention to detail of this fine machine. Also included in this sale was a cabinet full of tooling for the mill. I really wanted to buy the machine, but hedged at the last-minute. This was mostly because the auctioneer was an unsavory character, but also because I already owned an Oliver No. 103. I regretted that decision for the next four and a half years. I searched high and low for another mill. I chased leads in the UK, Australia and South Africa. None of them panned out. Late last summer I came across another mill in Southern Wisconsin. This machine was complete with two tooling cabinets and a number of hard to find spares ans accessories. I had to bid over the phone, but ended up buying the mill for the lofty sum of $950 (including all tooling and accessories). As soon as the bidding was closed, I jumped im my truck and drove 14 hours to pickup the mill. I was mostly concerned about the tooling growing legs and disappearing. I arrived at early the next morning and met the scrap guy arrange removal. As soon as I entered the building, I was stunned to see two additional Wadkin mills. The scrapper told me that he had purchased them before the auction. Amazingly, the scrap guy only wanted what he paid for the machines. I ended up making a deal to get the two remaining machines and the use of his forklift for removal for $1500.

Back in 2005 I ran across a Wadkin PK sliding table saw on e-bay. As far as fit & finish goes, these saws are the best of the best. The saw was located in Canada and had a very steep price on it. I pursued it for some time, but couldn’t get the seller to agree to a price I was willing to pay. I searched tirelessly for one for the next six years. Finally in 2011, I decided that I had to start looking outside north america. I was pretty quickly able to find a beautiful saw with a large right extension table and an extended table to the left of the blade. The entire saw is almost 8′ wide. I bought the saw for less than a quarter of what was being asked for the canadian saw.

Wadkin PK Dimension Saw with large rolling table extension

I then started the long process getting the saw exported to the States. It finally arrived three months later, but was well worth the wait. I gained enough experience in the process to set myself up as an importer. As with everything else, Wadkin PK’s started falling from the sky. I ended up buying two more in England and one in Texas. I’ve got a few more in the pipeline. I doubt that I’ll get anywhere near the number of Whitney saws, but who really knows what you’re going to do until you end up in that situation?

I’d be remiss if I didn’t Show a picture of Jack Forsberg’s Wadkin PK. He takes restoration to a whole new level. His saw is another great example of how these machines turn up out of nowhere. When Gibbard furniture went into receivership, they hired a small-time auction company to liquidate the assets. There were many Wadkin, Whitney and other industrial machines in that place. All sold for a pittance. I didn’t hear about the sale until after the fact. Good thing for Jack. I would have bought the entire shop.

So… the point of the article? These machines are out there. If you’re vigilant, willing to wait and put in the work, whatever it is, it will come in spades. Be prepared to drive long distances, sleep in your truck and drive a harder bargain than the seller. In the mean time, if you come across a Whitney scraping machine… call me first.

The owwm

11 Responses to “The Rarest of the Rare”

  1. bob kloes says:

    Now I feel bad Arthur. I had the paper information on the Whitney scrapers. It was a 4 or 6 page piece with all the specs and notes from them. I donated it to the owwm.org auction a few years back. The man who owned it originally was a man who bought and set up the factory for Thomas Edison to make his phonograph machines. Apparently there was one as the veneer factory in Algoma Wisconsin then. It was used to scrap plywood tops. Ran very fast, hundreds of feet a minute. Huge straight knife machine. There was a letter from them to him with the spec sheets. If I knew then you were looking for that, I would have sent them to you. I will look and see if I can find any other items from Whitney. If I had only known… bob

    • The owwm says:

      Nice to hear from you. No worries. You don’t know what you don’t know. I fear that most of these machines were scrapped during the war years. That said, I’m sure there’s one sitting in a barn or a field out there.


  2. tim kuist says:

    I keep a sharp eye here in the backwoods of New England, Arthur. There’s one out there, somewhere. I often regret having let that jointer go, but whaddyagonnado?


    • The owwm says:

      Don’t feel bad. I kick myself for not getting in front of Chris on this machine. Unfortunately, he was also pretty driven to get it into his collection. Anyway, at least we both know where it is.


  3. Blackdawg says:

    Very nice blurp… the rare machines are either some of the best or some of the worst. The best are usually rare because of cost and vertical function… the worst are often nice machines but whose function is in question. i.e. The american 8 inch long bed jointer is a sweet jointer but they are rare because they are not as useful as a 12 inch jointer. Me, I enjoy using a 20 inch jointer as it allows me to skew cut. Could not see me using a long bed, heavy 8 inch jointer. Wadkins are not popular in the US for a number of reasons but being the worst is not one of them. I fear one day you and me will lock horns in an auction only to find out about it during load out.:) Should I find a whitney scraper, I will buy it at all cost….. only to trade it straight up for one of your 177 slider saws! Lately I have been looking for a more mundane machine…. an oliver RED TAG 287 square top shaper. These have become rare as well. Would be nice to score a wadkin pattern mill as well.

  4. Armando says:

    Dad has a Whitney 177 in his woodshop in Boyle Heights CA. I was just curious about this saw then I found this article. It’s a beautiful saw indeed and well utilized by my father in law who is an expert carpenter.

    • The owwm says:

      Is your father in-law’s saw a slider or a variety saw? I’d be interested in seeing some pictures. If you can get me the serial number, I can tell you the year of manufacture. It is pretty rare to see Whitney saws on the West coast.

  5. Domenico Perrella says:

    For what it’s worth, I think there may now be five known sliding Whitney table saws. A guy in LA just sold a 177 with a sliding table. Looked great. I was a day or two too late to buy it, although I might have passed anyway given the difficulty of hauling it hundreds of miles. http://www.woodweb.com/exchanges/machinery/posts/507958.html?printfriendly

    • the owwm says:

      That’s an interesting saw. I have seen another 177 recently. So far I’ve only come across the one No. 77 slider. I’m not sure how I feel about the grinding of the table. It may just be the picture, but it looks a bit off. The miter gauge is a Whitney, but it does not look like it’s the right miter for the sliding table. The pin on the original miter is hollow and has a threaded set screw that pins into holes drilled through the bottom of the t-slot in the table. Anyway, a beautiful saw.


  6. Domenico Perrella says:

    Thanks for your thoughts. While I know far less about old table saws than you (far, far less), I was a little concerned about the custom-milled T-slots, but for a heavy old-school table saw with a sliding table, a rack an pinion fence and a guard in working condition, I’d be willing to look past that issue and some mismatched accessories. I would want a flat table and parallel miter slots though.

    It seems like a great old saw at a decent price, mostly cheaper than this one without the sliding table, comes up on the local Craigslist every week or two. Most have one or two issues and not all are conveniently close, but sooner or later, I’ll find one that works for me.

    Speaking of saws with issues, there’s a guy nearby selling a decent-looking Oliver 88-D pretty cheap (no sliding table, of course), with a Type E fence (rack and pinion) and an Oliver miter gauge, but it lacks the right extension table, which makes it hard to use that fence. Do you know of anywhere to find that extension table without a saw attached? There’s also a 177 floating around with a broken angle gauge for the arbor tilt, no miter gauges, no guard and a T-square fence, instead of the more fun rack and pinion one. That’s probably more of a project than I’m up for. Hunting down the parts could take forever and cost a lot more than the saw.

  7. Domenico Perrella says:

    OK, I may have diverged pretty far from the topic of the rarest of the rare, but I have a question about which is better out of two old saws with small sliding tables being offered for similar prices. Unfortunately, I don’t have full information about either of them.

    Saw 1: Northfield #4 with the sliding table (4RT?). Not really used in the 28 years since the guy closed his business, but he’s sure it runs and still lives in the same building as the shop, so it shouldn’t have had water leaking on it or anything. It has most of its accessories, if not all (r&P fence, miter gauges, etc.). Potential issue: He was using it for rough cutting 4x4s and things like that and has vague memory of replacing the motor (he’s in his later 80s). If he didn’t care about precision, I worry about what motor he might have installed and how he mounted it. In a direct drive saw, that seems pretty important. I’d hate to have to buy a motor from Northfield for about $3000.

    Saw 2: Oliver 88D with sliding table. The owner never used it and it is in the back of a container he uses for storage. It has its r&p fence and probably most other accessories. Potential issue: The guy planned to use the saw at some point, but I never got into the issue with him of why he couldn’t just plug it in and go. I’m concerned about the condition of this saw as well. The saw he actually advertised is an Oliver 370 (a military version of the 270, I gather) with no sliding table and no r&p fence. I think he may have been using this one recently. I only found out about the 88D when I expressed disappointment about the lack of an R&P fence on the 370.

    The Northfield guy is asking $2000. The Oliver guy wants $2000 for the 370 and something “in the same range” for the 88D.

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