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Powermatic 701 Benchtop Mortiser Review
Ultimate accuracy, durability and bang for the buck
Text, photos and video by Tom Hintz
Posted – 3-16-2007
If you like well-built, well-designed woodworking tools that carry a reasonable price tag, the Powermatic brand is undoubtedly at the top of your favored manufacturer list. With that bang for the buck criteria in mind, the Powermatic 701 Benchtop Mortiser easily stood out from the crowd when I was looking to step up my mortising capabilities.
The Powermatic 701 Benchtop Mortiser is based on four heavy-duty, cast iron pieces - the power head, column, table and fence. Though decidedly industrial looking, the Powermatic 701 Benchtop Mortiser components are purpose designed for long-term use in a home woodworking shop. The iron pieces are cleanly cast and mating surfaces finely machined to insure accuracy and ease of use. The liberal dose of cast iron and other heavy-duty components give the Powermatic 701 Benchtop Mortiser a weight of 93 lbs.
The factory-tough construction of the Powermatic 701 Benchtop Mortiser first caught my eye but the array of user-friendly, tool-free features made this an impressive machine even before plugging it in. It is obvious that Powermatic resisted the cost-saving corner-cutting design so prevalent in woodworking machines today.
Operating the Powermatic 701 Benchtop Mortiser is virtually tool-free. Adjustable finger-operated knobs and levers are used throughout so you never find yourself searching for a wrench or tool when making changes or setting the Powermatic 701 Benchtop Mortiser up. The only tool needed when changing the bit/chisel set is the chuck key, which is provided. This may seem like a small point but I have wasted precious shop time searching for an oddball metric tool to complete a setup or adjustment. The tool-free nature of the Powermatic 701 Benchtop Mortiser is a welcome change in my shop. I suspect it will be in yours as well.
Even right out of the carton, the Powermatic 701 Benchtop Mortiser is nearly ready to go. The only setup necessary is loosening three Gibb screws that were tightened at the factory to keep the head stable during shipment. Adjust the play out of the dovetailed keyway between the head and column, tighten the lock nuts, install the handle (also tool-free) and the Powermatic 701 Benchtop Mortiser is ready to go.
Power & Torque
One of the more visually prominent features on the Powermatic 701 Benchtop Mortiser is the large ¾ Hp TEFC (totally enclosed fan cooled) motor that develops a spindle speed of 1725 RPM. The motor comes wired for 115V operation but can be converted to 230V if you need to relieve pressure on the 115V circuits in your shop.
While most benchtop mortisers use a ½ Hp motor, the additional power of the Powermatic ¾ Hp motor means it not only can handle whatever mortising job you may encounter, it does so with ease. That also speaks to longevity because a motor that is essentially cruising rather than laboring near its limits will last far longer.
Right or Left – You Decide
Another nice feature of the Powermatic 701 Benchtop Mortiser is how easily it can be used by right or left handed operators or when it is just easier to access the control handles from one side than the other. Here again, no tools are needed to make this conversion.
The extra long, 23” solid steel operating handle fits into a hub and is secured by a handle-type locking screw. That hub can be repositioned in any of ten splines by simply pulling it out, rotating it to the new position and letting it slip back over the spline. The hub can be moved to an identical splined shaft on the opposite side of the head by simply turning the locking knob out and moving the assembly.
The front to back movement of the cast iron fence is also left/right-friendly because of permanent operating knobs on both sides of the column.
Fence and Hold-Down
The Powermatic 701 Benchtop Mortiser features a 12 ½”-wide by 2 ½”-tall cast iron fence (with center opening) that makes aligning work pieces with the bit/chisel on the oversized 12 ¾” wide by 8”-deep (useable) table surface easy. The front to back movement of the fence is accomplished through a gear drive, actuated by the dual knobs mentioned earlier. Once positioned as desired, the fence is locked down with a pair of finger-operated clamping levers. (Tool free again)
If the fence itself is not tall enough, a pair of screw holes, one in the left and right sides, make attaching an auxiliary face quick and easy.
The material hold-down on the Powermatic 701 Benchtop Mortiser has also been given the full engineering treatment. Made from cast iron, the hold-down is mounted on a threaded post and locked at whatever height is needed to fit material up to 5”-tall by a finger-operated knob. The hold-down can be flipped over to secure very thin material down to paper thickness should you have the need.
One of the aggravating tendencies of mortiser hold-downs has been loosening up under the upward forces of the material as the chisel is withdrawn. The Powermatic 701 Benchtop Mortiser eliminates this with a simple, and finger operated star-shaped dial. Set the hold-down to the height needed and then turn the dial down so it is snug against it and the hold-down remains locked in position. A simple, easy to use cure that is very effective.
To keep the wood against the fence the Powermatic 701 Benchtop Mortiser includes a pair of roller-type clamps. These repositionable rollers allow sliding the wood between cuts without it straying away from the fence. This is an exceedingly nifty feature that becomes more apparent after it is used a few times.
The Powermatic 701 Benchtop Mortiser uses a rack and pinion to drive the plunge action. Combined with the 23”-long steel operating arm, this gear drive not only provides lots of power but also gives the operator a very good sense of control. The operating arm hub can be quickly moved to any of ten spline positions to use the most comfortable range of motion for the job.
A unique, column-mounted depth stop limits the plunge directly in the line of force. This is an important point as it eliminates racking of the head that is caused by the more common stop rods that are typically located at various points between the column and bit. The result of this racking, however small, is a deflection of the bit that compromises accuracy while substantially increasing friction between the chisel and the sides of the mortise being cut, particularly on withdrawal. The column-mounted (and tool free) Powermatic 701 Benchtop Mortiser depth stop causes no racking or bit deflections and makes the entire operation more accurate while reducing effort.
Bits and Adjusting
The Powermatic 701 Benchtop Mortiser is capable of using nearly any hollow chisel bit/auger combination thanks to the included chuck extender. If you already have short-shanked bits, adding the extender between the chuck itself and the shaft saves the expense of replacing them with longer versions. Also included are bushings to fit the nearly universal 5/8” and ¾”-diameter chisel shanks.
One of the black arts of using a mortising machine has been getting the gap between the auger bit and the hollow chisel right. Oddly, despite the importance of this offset, few machines include instructions on getting it right. To my knowledge, none besides the Powermatic 701 Benchtop Mortiser have an on-board system to get the gap right. With most other machines, setting this gap often involved a coin and some patience. (See our story Setting Up A Mortising Machine that describes this procedure.)
While you do have to use the included chuck key to secure the auger bit, the chisel (and its bushing) is locked in place with a finger-operated lever, making this a nearly tool-free operation also.
The Powermatic 701 Benchtop Mortiser has a pair of spacing leaves that are used to establish the gap between the auger bit and chisel. They are mounted on a swivel at the chisel boss so you never have to look for them – or a coin. When installing chisels ½” square or less, use one spacer leaf. Chisels larger than ½” need both leaves. Rotate the required leaf/s against the chisel boss, hold the chisel and bit up against the spacer leaves and tighten the chuck down on the auger bit shank. Rotate the leaves out of the way, slip the chisel and bushing up against the boss and tighten the finger-operated lever. That’s it.
To keep the chisels and related tools handy, the Powermatic 701 Benchtop Mortiser has a tool caddy mounted at the top of the column. They even included a diamond-encrusted sharpening cone to make sure your chisels are always sharp and ready to produce the best cuts.
In The Shop
Actually using the Powermatic 701 Benchtop Mortiser in the shop clearly shows how well its array of features work together. Being virtually tool-free, the Powermatic 701 Benchtop Mortiser is also easier and faster to use, allowing you to concentrate on cutting perfect mortises.
From the fist plunge, it was obvious that the ¾ Hp motor has no fear of tough woods or large mortises. Despite cutting several 12”-long by 2”-deep mortises, the motor never developed enough heat to feel more than warm. I like it when electric motors are working well below their maximum outputs because that tends to extend their life substantially.
The fence, hold-down and roller clamps make setting the Powermatic 701 Benchtop Mortiser up for a job simple. They also mean straight, clean mortises are all but automatic. The rollers do a great job of keeping the stock against the fence but mean advancing the wood as much as desired is easy. Combined with the over-sized table the fence and hold-down systems mean there will be few if any specialty jigs needed in your future.
The tool-free bit/chisel changing on the Powermatic 701 Benchtop Mortiser is itself a labor saver but with the on-board spacing leaves, elevates this feature to the inspired level. Mortisers simply cannot function correctly without the auger bit leading the chisel by the right amount. The Powermatic 701 Benchtop Mortiser makes achieving that crucial setup simple, fast and tool free.
The result of the Powermatic 701 Benchtop Mortiser construction and features is a machine that makes mortising easy and very accurate. The addition of the sharpening point is a nice feature that eliminates another expense that would be necessary to maintain the effectiveness of the chisels.
If the 5" material capacity isn't enough for you, a 2"-tall riser block (#1791312) is available. If that isn't enough, the column can be removed, turned 180-degrees and reinstalled to work off the table altogether!
The Powermatic 701 Benchtop Mortiser does not include auger bits or chisels which helps keep the purchase price in check. Most woodworkers I know (myself included) use one or two bit/chisel sizes and the rest of the set many mortisers include remain in the rack or drawer. Just because they are included with the mortiser does not mean they are free. Also, if you have followed mortiser threads in woodworking forums, many users begin looking for better quality bit/chisel sets soon after paying for the set they don’t like but got anyway. With the Powermatic 701 Benchtop Mortiser, the woodworker can buy the bit/chisel sets they use and invest the extra money on quality.
Throughout my evaluation, the Powermatic 701 Benchtop Mortiser performed flawlessly. The tool-free nature of this machine makes using it far easier, faster and more accurate than other mortisers I have tried. The remarkably large cast iron pieces on which it is based mean this is a machine that will last for generations. If that isn’t cost effectiveness, I have a poor understanding of that concept.
The Powermatic 701 Benchtop Mortiser is undoubtedly the best dedicated mortising machine I have tried, and by a substantial margin. That, combined with a street price of $399.99 (3-12-2007) makes the Powermatic 701 Benchtop Mortiser an even better value. The combined with its quality, design, features and unbeatable durability makes the Powermatic 701 Benchtop Mortiser one of the more economical machines you will ever buy in terms of cost-per-use and outright longevity. If you are considering a mortiser and want to get the best on the first time, I strongly suggest the Powermatic 701 Benchtop Mortiser. Buying anything else is a downward compromise that will certainly cost more in the long run.
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