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.
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.
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.
I always thought this was a prototype and had never been mass-produced. Sadly, no other example of this machine has been found. There had been a rumor that another came up at auction in Ohio in 2005, but that was unsubstantiated. Late last Summer a Whitney jointer came up for auction in Virginia. My first impression was that this was actually a Newman jointer that had been badged Whitney. I nearly passed it up, but as usual my good friend Barry talked me into taking a harder look at it. Upon closer inspection I came to the realization that this machine had been manufactured in the mid to late 30′s by Whitney in Winchendon. This was a direct drive 16″ jointer. Complete and in its original paint. Surprisingly I was able to acquire this machine for a fraction of what I had expected to pay.
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.
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.