Document 11: Gordon B Ashmead "Precision Makes the Shopsmith" 1951


Directly below is a cropped portion of a larger photo montage on the Shopsmith in a 1952

issue of

Emergence of the Shopsmith Combination Woodworking Machine on the Market in the Late 1940s

With emergence of the Shopsmith combo tool on the market in the late '40s, I think that – for the late ‘40s, early ‘50s, in post-WW II America --you are looking a “revolution” in amateur woodworking, and to do justice to any revolution would require more intensity and drive than a retired academic-turned-amateur-woodworker has.

(Think of an energetic PhD candidate, with a dissertation to complete.) 

To write its definitive history, ideally, a researcher would locate personal diaries of SS, minutes of SS club meetings, etc., things a 70-year old just doesn’t have at his disposal.

Instead, since Skip Campbell – who runs – is the Shopsmith authority, I intend upon prevailing upon him for verifying my research on both the origin and the impact of that combo tool.

Beginning  in 1947, when the first Shopsmith 10E units came off the production line in the Magna Corporation's California plant, the Shopsmith combination tool was accepted by amateur woodworkers in America, and throughout the world.

As Ashmead notes in his article -- reprinted below -- 75,000 units sold by 1950, while Skip Campbell claims that by 1952, the number sold was 125,000.

(My own model 10E Shopsmith -- has the relatively low serial no 5908.)

According to Campbell -- probably the best informed living authority on the Shopsmith -- the average production/sales in America in  the 1950s, when production was at a peak -- was around 17,000 per year. Says Campbell,

" At one time much more of a household word than it is today, the Shopsmith was sold by Montgomery Ward stores nationwide and was the top selling power tool in the country from 1949 through 1952. ...

It is still very confusing to figure the actual year of manufacturing, because there were two plants, San Francisco and Cleveland."

(By "combination tool" is meant a piece of machinery with a small, space-saving footprint, that includes a table saw with an 8" blade and a tilting table, a 30" lathe, a drill press, a disk sander, a shaper, and you could add such accessories as a jig saw, a bandsaw, and an abrasive machine. Attachments for the drill press will allow using the Shopsmith as a vertical mortiser, but its versatility with a speed changer includes the option of operating it as a horizontal mortiser, too.

Again, the Shopsmith is an engineered machine, with qualities built into it that allows units to operate as well today, half a century later, as they did in the early 1950s. If there are "weaknesses", these are: the lack of a tilting arbor for the saw, which makes some cutting unsafe; the 8" saw blade is too limited for cutting the materials ordinarily cut by woodworkers; and the motor lacks the power needed to cut hardwoods.)


Notes from Skip Campbell (5-29-07)

on how a system of giving Shopsmith machines serial numbers was for the early Shopsmith models:

The 10E went on sale on Nov. 8, 1947 just in time for Christmas. It is possible that 4000 were sold by the end of the year but no way to know that for sure.

They sold 10Es until late 1948 and the serial numbers went into the 20000 range. However, there are a lot of 10ERs with serial numbers below that. The name plate on the machine will say model 10E or just "E".  When the change was made to the 10ER in late 48' they evidently did factory upgrades on many10Es and made them into 10ERs. In those cases there is an "ER" stamped orpainted immediately in front of the serial number. The fact that there were twodifferent manufacturing plants making them also complicated the issue.

Themachines made at the San Francisco plant had an "R" in front of the serial number and those at the Cleveland plant had an "E" (for east). The plants evidently kept track so that no numbers were duplicated. If they had keptthat pattern up it would have helped a bunch but after serial numbers getto 60000 range they quit putting the prefix on them so you can't tell whatplant they were made in. It looks like, annually, production averaged around 20,000.

That said, the count reached 125,000 in 1952 but that evidently reflects world wide production.

The serial numbers of machines in America run up to just over 100000 according to my survey. I have seral numbers for around 400 machines in my database so far, which is still a work in progress.



John R. Folkerth, President Shopsmith Inc.
On Saturday, July 19, 1980, Dr. Hans Goldschmidt, inventor of the Shopsmith, passed away in his home in Atherton, California. He was one of those rare, admirable individuals who actually achieved his own dream.

I talked with Dr. Goldschmidt in the fall of last year, and he described how he dreamed of being an inventor since his childhood. He received a doctorate of engineering from the University of Berlin, but his work was interrupted by events leading up to World War II. He fled Nazi Germany in 1937 with his wife Ilse and came to California. Unable to find a job, he supported his family by doing woodworking.

After the war, he set out again to realize his ambition. Dr. Goldschmidt said:

I read an article that so many Gl's had learned crafting during the war, there was a big demand for home workshops, ... I decided that was something I knew something about.

His invention, the multi-purpose Shopsmith, combined all the basic home workshop tools into one precision machine. The Shopsmith quickly earned Dr. Goldschmidt recognition as a major inventor. He was written up in Time, The Saturday Evening Post, Business Week, The Harvard Business Review, and Popular Science. The text of our interview was published in the January/ February 1980 issue of HANDS ON!

But the most admirable thing about Dr. Goldschmidt's life is not just that he reached his personal goal. Many of us, hundreds of thousands of us, have used his invention to build our own furniture, our own houses, our own wood-working businesses. Each Shopsmith that rolls off the line is a monument to Dr. Goldschmidt's ingenuity — and an opportunity for us to express ours.

Perhaps this is the best legacy a person can leave: That in achieving their own dream, they create a way for so many others to achieve theirs.

With all good wishes,

John R. Folkerth, President Shopsmith Inc.

Source: Hands On! no 7 September-October 1980

Gordon B Ashmead

"Precision Makes the Shopsmith"

From: San Francisco: Western Machinery & Steel World  January 1951, 66-68, 92-93

sensation of the decade in home workshop power tools: in three years, sold more than 75,000 units

If you haven't heard of Shopsmith, you have missed the sensation of the decade in home workshop power tools. (Read more below.)

(The photo above shows the Shopsmith model 10ER. The photo comes from the 1953 woodworker's manual -- Power Tool Woodworking for Everyone --  commissioned by the Magna Corporation -- published by the mainstream publisher, McGraw-Hill, in New York. The author of the manual is a young R J Decristoforo, who used this first book to help himself go on to become one of the premier writers of woodworking articles and books of the 2d half of the 20th century. For more on DeCristoforo, click on the link above.) 

Ashmead's article includes numerous photos of the Shopsmith in production in Magna's plant in California; unfortunately, on my photocopy, the reproduction of the photos is not good enough for me to post them on my website.)

[This article begins above.] 

The postwar project of a German with a Ph.D. from the University of Berlin, who came to this country long before the last war started, Shopsmith is a product with an exclusive Western flavor. It grew first on paper, progressed in plastic and scrap metal to a half-scale model and emerged in the summer of 1947 as a full-scale, multi-purpose tool that, by the end of 1950, had sold more than 75,000 units over the counters of the most famous stores in the United States.

Shopsmith, only 55 inches long and 21 inches wide, is a circular saw, drill press, a lathe, a disc sander or a horizontal drill, as the occasion demands. And in all its functions the machine will perform its operations with efficiency equal to the best single-purpose tools of similar capacity.

In many cases Shopsmith will out-perform single-purpose tools because of features which were necessary to permit multiple use. Among the features which are standard on some of the single-purpose tools Shopsmith replaces, but unique and highly useful in others, are the quill feed, tilting table, large effective table size, movable headstock, and independent carriage for table and tool rest. Many of the general quality characteristics of Shopsmith are far above the usual standards for most of the single purpose tools it replaces because these characteristics had to be such as to satisfy the requirements of the most demanding of each of the single. purpose tools. This applied in particular to decisions with respect to strength, rigidity, materials, tolerances, and power.

Shopsmith is a home woodworking tool that, because it performs so efficiently, is now used in schools and small shops. And because of its versatility and high precision it can be adapted for metal working in the home with high speed drills and carbide-tipped tools.

The machine is engineered for mass production. Not a single extra part or gadget encumbers it. Dismantle a dozen Shopsmiths, mix the parts and reassemble. The job will be done with such ease It will seem tile original parts are being used. This is one of the secrets of rile success of Magna Engineering Corporation, its manufacturer.

The machine is made of grey iron and aluminum castings, hardened steel, and centerless-ground tubular ways. These materials flow to the receiving department of the Berkeley plant where the Western Shopsmiths are made, and every bit of machining, forming or grinding is done under continuous surveillance by Magna inspectors.

Production is such that it is possible to assign mills, multiple drills, lathes, grinders, specially designed boring machines and ocher tools to single operational functions. And each of the tools so assigned is permanently lifted with a quick-locking jig or fixture to facilitate the particular operation. With such tool engineering it is comparatively easy to keep within the bait tolerance of .003". No steel mating parts have fits looser than this and tolerances are hell to less than .0002" on the more critical surfaces.

This calls for machining of the highest order and rigid inspection will enforce adherence to these close tolerances. As a result there is scarcely a machine tool that isn't equipped with its own set of plug or other type of gages to make 100's; inspection on each part. These are in-process inspection steps. They are augmented by traveling Magna inspectors whose only duty is to pull work from any machine in tile plant, take it to the inspection laboratory and assess it with the most modern of inspection instruments.

The inspectors have nothing to do with production. They report directly to Magna's plant manager. If the laboratory inspections reveal work that is below standard, the inspection gages at the machines are lifted and checked in the Shopsmith gage laboratory. Among the instruments used are Sheffield external comparators, indicating micrometers, gage blocks, and a light wave micrometer. The last was, until recently, the only one of its type in use on the West Coast. Errors have a short life at Magna because responsibility for any deviation from standard is quickly placed by the gage laboratory.

Few parts reach tile subassembly lines without at least three Inspections aold many have double that number. And JS each subassembly is completed it is Individually run-in, checked and inspected before final assembly.

After it has been run-in for 20 minutes, each completely assembled head-stock receives its final inspection under power. Here, in the permanent record book where the serial number of each Shopsmith is set down, inspection data are recorded. For instance, run-our of the spindle and quill assembly is accurately gaged under power. Incidentally, the maximum spindle run-out permitted is .0015". 1 watched this operation as a number of head-stocks passed this station and was permitted it) inspect the record book While I watched, no spindle had a greater run-out than .0005", and going back in this record book for seven days the greatest run-nut was .0010". The full significance of this is apparent when It is considered that the tolerances of a number of mating parts have a cumulative effect ton run-out of the spindle. This wasn't a staged exhibition for me. These are the Standard tolerances held in manufacturing Shopsmith. The spindle and quill assembly is the heart of the machine. It transmits all movement to all of the tools—drill chucks, saw arbors, sanding discs, lathe centers, etc. The assembly must be right, and it is right or the final inspector will not buy it and back it goes for rework.

 Incidentally, the amount of rework in this closely-controlled shop is only it fraction of one per cent of the total production. Further to emphasize the sturdiness and precision of Shopsmith, I found about 30 Shopsmiths set up with jigs its production drill presses, either drilling or tapping parts for the unit.

Shopsmith is not the first multi-purpose tool made for the hobbyist but it is the first one made to such high standards. One of the first requirements recognized by the designer was the need for a vibration-free, solid foundation. That was followed by the need for keying the components to provide perfect alignment and torsional rigidity. Centerless-ground tubular ways in parallel were chosen to form the bed of the machine because of greatcr utility and lower production costs. In the Shopsmith design one tabular wary is fitted to very close tolerances and serves as a guide. The other serves to maintain radial alignment, supply a locking surface and provide additional rigidity.

High-grade grey iron castings pro-vide the rigidity and mass desired to damp normal operating vibration in the base assemblies and the headstock. The saw table, which becomes also the bed of the drill press is made of cast aluminum, primarily because it is a part that must be removed from [lie machine by hand to convert to a lathe.

The Shopsmith headstock is one of the most precise, frictionless and efficient transmitters of power in general use today. To perform as a multipurpose tool it was essential that the spindle and bearing system be capable of withstanding axial as well as radial thrust, be quill-mounted to provide axial displacement for drilling and related operations and be capable of mounting the various cutting and polishing tools used on the machine. Axial and radial thrust are accommodated by high-precision ground steel ball bearings mounted individually in the quill. Radial drive loads developed by the drive belt are not transmitted to the spindle but are carried by a second pair of bearings which mount and support the drive sleeve.

To accommodate frequent changes of cutting tools, an entirely new method of securing tools and attaching parts to the spindle was developed. It is based on a reverse-tapered flat which is machined into the cylindrical ground spindle near its induction-hardened arbors and accessories are attached by means of wrench-locking Allen screws which engage the tapered flat. Concentricity is controlled by fits which p-oxide it maximum tolerance of .0005" between the spindle tip and parts that mate with it.

Shopsmith can be equipped with accessories that make it a jigsaw, shaper, jointer, router, mortiser or drum sander and its uses are increased almost daily by the ingenuity of Shopsmith owners, many of whom correspond avidly with Magna. All suggestions which appear to have merit are checked by the Engineering Department. "Then, if the value of a suggestion is substantiated by tests, it is included in one of the bulletins that are sent periodically to all owners.
Magna Engineering Corporation is really three down-to-earth young men who work with facts and, working with them, have made Shopsmith the shining success story it is today. The oldest, and he is just entering his for-ties, is Hans Goldschmidt, the vice president and inventor. It was while he was working with the Henry Kaiser organization building ships that he met Robert Chambers, a Utah boy and Harvard Business School graduate. When the war ended both these young men cast about for some methyl of earning a living that would be pleasant as well its profitable.

When Goldschmidt developed his machine to the model stage he called Robert Chambers into the picture. Robert Chambers thought so much of the possibilities he summoned his slightly older brother, Frank, an ex-Lt. Colonel in the Army Service Forces, from the East, and before their second meeting was completed the Chambers brothers had agreed to undertake administrative and financial responsibility for Shopsmith production and marketing.

It should be noted that the combined financial resources of the three were far from adequate for the job that had to be done. They gambled everything they owned on their ability to achieve mass production and mass distribution in a few short months. Although it has no place here, this is a success story in the best American tradition.

Shopsmith is made in Berkeley in the plant of Production Engineering Company. (Magna owns all of the specific tooling and a large share of the machine tools that have been added since Shopsmith came n) the plant. Shopsmith operations now comprise a major portion of the total production from this Berkeley plant.

Although Magna started in the West and maintains its headquarters in San Francisco, shipping costs made it desirable to produce Shopsmiths in the East for eastern consumption. Arrangements were soon made, therefore, to produce Shopsmith at the same requirements in the shops of National Acne Company in Cleveland. National Acme is one of the largest producers of automatic machine tools in tile world.

Robert Chambers, president of Magna, proud as he is of Shopsmith and the job that has been done, says that his company will continue to develop new products and improve the old. 

Furthermore, headquarters will remain in the West because of the faith the entire organization has in its future development. The versatility and vigor of the Magna organization is evident in the record for 1950. New accessories for Shopsmith include retractable casters with continuous cam action for easy movement from place to place and a new-principle dada head, the Magna Precision Dado. Several improvements have been made in Shopsmith itself. The Engineering Department of Magna is constantly working on new developments, some completely unrelated to Shopsmith. It all adds up to a comparatively new organization that will carry on and enhance the reputation of products from the West.