Building furniture has its charms. Chisels and saws and that sweet smell of pine. Those things are all well and good but, like any other job, there are the less romantic aspects that are necessary and ultimately help you create a better product. Recently, for me and my partner (who runs his own furniture making business, evanberding.com), this meant restoring a Tannewitz 36" bandsaw that was made in 1947. Purchasing it was a bit of a gamble since for a year and a half before we bought it last August, it had been sitting outside in the elements, tarp-less and scared.
When we brought it back to the shop, we began the tedious process of taking nearly every part off the body of the machine to clean up and repair where necessary. These machines, the beasts that they are, tend to come down to a few essential components that are surprisingly straight-forward. This one is direct-drive, meaning the bottom wheel is turned by an arbor that comes directly out of the motor, forgoing any need for belts and loosing nearly nothing to friction. When it is all together the upper wheel is turned by the blade (which comes in a giant loop) when it is wrapped around both wheels. The wheels need to be decently true and their tires should be in good shape. The upper wheel had neither of these going for it. In fact, we couldn't remove it from the arbor at all. After hours of using pullers, 4x4s, and sledgehammers, we took it to a machinist to see if he could use his press to remove the wheel. This turned out to be a bad choice. The sheet metal of the wheel deflected so severely that the wheel was unusable. New wheels can cost around $2000 a piece, far more than we paid for the whole machine. We were lucky to avoid this outrageous price tag by getting in contact with a machinist in the Chicago area who sent us a used replacement wheel with a new tire.
In the meantime we stripped the whole machine of its rust and paint and repainted it a blue gray with maroon details. This process was filthy but satisfying. These are machines that were meant to last whether they look good or not. We decided it should definitely look good. Newer machines will work but will they be as pretty? Unlikely. And hey, we're into aesthetics, this stuff is important.
After months of anticipation, and after all the parts were bolted back into place, we pressed the start button. As we hoped for music and feared an explosion, the saw came on like a symphony. With a few tweaks here and there, it now cuts through oak like butter and it looks good while doing it.
Machine maintenance is definitely not my strong suit nor a big interest of mine but I appreciate that part of my job involves this type of work and perhaps makes me a little more handy. The emotional roller coaster of turning this rust bucket into a shiny new saw has come to a pleasant end. Hopefully, future projects will have such a happy ending as this one.