I have the HF S35570 mortiser. I bought it a few years ago for $79 on sale + coupons. Here's my 20-min answer to your 2-min question.
You're right, the hold-down does not go up very high. I removed mine and use two quick clamps as a hold-down. I believe that the quick clamps do a better job than hold-downs on most mortisers. Remember how Norm's hold-down seemed to allow the square chisel to wedge in the workpiece as he withdrew it.
Here are the tweeks that I made to my HF mortiser:
> Sharpen the chisels. I use Lee Valley cone sharpeners 77J81.20 & 77J81.22
> Mount the mortiser onto a plywood base if you don't screw it to your bench. Makes it more stable. The back tends to lift as you lower the handle on the mortiser. Clamp the plywood base to your bench with bar clamps. You can clamp the front and at least one side of the plywood in back to your bench.
> Take some time to get the chisel square to your work. Otherwise your mortises will have a saw tooth look. I clamp something like a 12" ruler from a combo square to the chisel, then eye ball the setup.
> Here is a link to setting up a mortiser by Tom Hintz.
> The plastic depth stop is useless. I ended up cutting a piece of PVC to the length needed to stop the cut. Then I sawed it down the middle. Wrapped the two pieces of PVC around the right column (the one without the return spring) and taped them together. You can see it in the photo below - it's shiney because I used metal duct tape to reassemble the pieces.
> You may need to make a wooden spacer between the fence and the workpiece to position the workpiece correctly if the fence does not move far enough to the front. UPDATE: The spacer is not needed because the fence does not move far enough. It is needed when cutting deep mortises that are close to the fence because the top of the chisel hits the mount for the hold-down.
> Use two bar clamps to lock the fence to the mortiser table.
> Use quick clamps to hold the work to the mortiser table instead of using the hold-down that comes with the mortiser. One end of the clamp is on the workpiece, the other end is under the workbench, thereby holding the workpiece to the mortiser table. Keep the clamps within the width of the iron base of the mortiser. If beyond, the clamps may distort the MDF mortiser table.
> Use a quick clamp to hold the workpiece to the fence. All three quick clamps must be loosened each time the workpiece is moved to make the next cut. But I don't mind it because it keeps the cuts dead-on. And I work at a snail's pace anyway.
> You can see all of the items discussed above in this photo. (3/8" mortises, about 2-1/2" deep into maple.)
This sounds like a lot of effort, but it takes only a few minutes. I am very pleased with the results. Good luck with your new toy.
Last edited by Lonnie in Orlando; 08-10-2011 at 01:40 PM.
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