Durability that Lasts

In the many years, I’ve been a woodworker, I’ve learned that good tools are critical to making great furniture. I have a philosophy that it’s best to buy the best tools you can get, so that you won’t outgrow them, or need to replace. Such is the case with the “new” planer in our shop. Several years ago I was fortunate enough to locate an old 1946 vintage “Newman 600” that was built like a tank and in great shape.

A planer is a simple machine, really. Its sole function is to flatten wood. That’s it. You feed rough wood in one side, and flat wood comes out the other. For all their simplicity, they also represent an engineering paradox. They need to be precision tools so that the wood is made absolutely flat, rugged enough to handle the pressure and beating they take in processing the wood, and wide enough to handle the largest pieces you may need to flatten.

Most planers offer a trade-off in one (or two) of these attributes as a cost-saving measure. So when I ran across a planer that was precise, rugged, and large, I jumped at the chance. At 24 inches wide, the Newman 600 is larger than the more common 20 inch or 15-inch machines found in many small woodshops. Having been built in 1946, it is solid cast iron and weighs 3,800 pounds.

This has been a wonderful addition to the shop. It allows me to process much larger pieces than ever before, and I have the comfort knowing that it will last for decades to come – probably without ever needing a repair. This planer is much like the furniture we make – better quality and a longer lasting than what is generally available in typical stores.

History of the Planner

The machine was purchased in 1946 by the US Army Corps of Engineers, who owned it several years. It is believed the Corps used it throughout the Korean War and then donated it to Greensburg High School in Greensburg, Kansas.

On May 4, 2007, Greensburg was completely destroyed by an F-5 tornado. Ninety-five percent of the buildings in the town were destroyed, and 11 people were killed (out of a population of 1,574). The National Weather Service estimated the tornado’s winds reached 205 miles per hour.

The planer was sold at auction after the storm to Peter Kern, the school’s shop teacher. WMH Tool Group donated Powermatic and Jet tools to be used in the school’s rebuilt shop class. However, Mr. Kern didn’t have sufficient power in his home shop and later sold the machine to Ray McCormick, a cabinet maker in Alabama, in about 2013. Ray dismantled the machine, inspected and repaired all key parts of it, and did a full maintenance routine, including repacking bearings and calibrating all the internal mechanisms. He also painted the machine: originally it was “Newman green” and now is off-white. Mr. McCormick decided later to sell this machine to me in July 2016.

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