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Drill Press Mortising Attachments
The evil son of woodworking
Text, photos and video by Tom Hintz
Update 7-12-2011: I get asked to revisit this review from time to time but not much changes. This update adds a short video to the review. However, drill press mortising attachments continue to suck and I suspect always will.
Note: I preface this review acknowledging that a few woodworkers use a drill press mortising attachment successfully. If the comments received in my email are even slightly representative, their numbers are roughly equal to the number of illusionists capable of making the Statue of Liberty disappear.
A Good Idea Gone Bad
The premise of re purposing a drill press as a mortising machine seems rational if for no other reason than it sort of looks like a real mortising machine. However, the similarity ends there. In the real world, this concept seems possessed in equal parts by the spirits of frustration and futility.
I have tried three different mortising attachments , two from major manufacturers and one cheapo knock off from eastern shores. Discovering that the first mortising attachment from a big name manufacturer was junk surprised me. Realizing the second mortising attachment, from another big manufacturing name equaled the first on my junk scale was even more surprising. Then, when someone sent me the cheapo knock off mortising attachment and it turned out to be no worse than the name brand ones, I was convinced. There is a mortising spirit and he/she is not happy about these attachments.
Costing To Disaster
I suspect the idea of a mortising attachment for drill presses took a bad turn at the onset. It is doubtful that producing a mortising attachment that fit specific drill presses precisely would sell enough units to disperse engineering, tooling, manufacturing and packaging costs enough to keep the retail price sufficiently below that of a dedicated mortising machine. The logical alternative, in modern manufacturing thinking, is to engineer a universal mounting system that accommodates a large number of existing drill presses.
After trying three different mortising attachments, it appears that attempting to design mortising attachments that fit multiple machines wound up making them a pain in the butt to use on all of them.
The universal mounting systems on these mortising attachments use various thickness spacer halves that fit inside a split collar that reputedly squeezes the whole mess tight around the drill press quill or a stop collar on it. All three mortising attachments clearly demonstrated that mounting to be less than effective.
In addition, none of the mortising attachments I tried indexed to the drill press meaning all had to be manually aligned with the drill bit side-to-side and front to back. I was able to get them aligned slightly faster than anticipated, which would prove helpful later.
The actual contact area between the mortising attachment and drill press is quite small, limiting the grip developed. All three of the attachments I tried moved sufficiently during use to require re-alignment to stop the boring bit from rubbing inside the chisel and to cut accurate mortises. Re-alignment was often required after one or two plunges.
Because the frame that holds the mortising chisel has to reach around the chuck, a substantial amount of capacity is lost, particularly on benchtop drill presses. In some cases, the mortising chisels used in these attachments are comparable in length to those used in dedicated mortising machines that have the chuck inside the head. On a floor model drill press, capacity is not as big a problem as with benchtop models that are so popular with woodworkers. Also, the length of the mortising attachment assembly does not help the inefficient mounting.
The two name brand mortising attachments came with a bunch of occasionally odd-looking hardware that supposedly added up to a fence and hold down system. The knock off suggested clamping a board in the appropriate spot to act as a fence. Overall, the knock off had the better idea.
If you need (or want) a mortising machine, my advice is to get a mortising machine, not a mortising attachment. Unless you hate yourself and enjoy frustration, stay away from these imposters.
The choice is yours and you should remember that some folks are able to use these insidious little beasts successfully. If you feel lucky and are able to make large statues disappear with your mind, you might survive using a mortising attachment without serious psychological damage. I have my doubts though.
Considering the price (4-10-2003) ranging between $84 and $119, saving up for a real mortising machine seems like a much better financial plan.
Technically, I still own a mortising attachment though it will not be found in my shop. It now resides in the forest behind my home where I threw it feigning an attempt at correcting what I perceived to be an iron deficiency in the soil. The other two kits sent to me by equally frustrated woodworkers now also reside in the forest. Deep down (and very often right in public) I hope that rusting is very, very painful.
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