Choosing the right grinder is the most important decision a knifemaker might make. Beginner knifemakers looking to step-up from hand tools are faced with a lot of difficult choices compounded by uncertainty about what they need and lack of experience. Ewan Gibson from 84 Engineering has designed a grinder for people in this exact situation: the Shop Mate 48 from 84 Engineering is positioned as a versatile, effective, and value for money grinder.

From the 84 Engineering Website:

Designed and updated with the needs of the serious knifemaker and other steel fabricators in mind, this grinder has applications across a broad market. Available in a variety of packages to suit your individual needs, application and budget. Capable of running contact wheels from 1/4” to 10” mounted on quick change tooling mounts. This grinder is ideally suited to anyone who wants a head start into knife-making. 

Manufactured right here in Australia, support a local home-grown business.

Features

2F3A0514

The Shop Mate 48 is sold by Gameco Artisan Supplies and is available in several packages.

  1. Shop Mate 48 Grinder body no motor $866.25
  2. Shop Mate 48 Fixed Speed Grinder $1,101.45
  3. Shop Mate 48 Bench Mount Variable Speed Grinder $1,599.00
  4. Shop Mate 48 Deluxe $2,199.00
  5. Shop Mate 48 “I want everything” Kit $4,139.00

The basic features of the grinder are:

  • 2” × 48” belt length
  • 4” drive wheel
  • 4500 feet per minute belt speed
  • 4-way rotating platen
  • Slack belt
  • Rubber coated wheels
  • Flat plane belt tracking
  • Fully welded frame
  • 3 arm slots
  • Fixed work rest
  • Platen arm also accepts small wheels
  • Protective spark guard
  • Flips from vertical to horizontal with optional floor or bench stand
  • Made in Australia

We went through the different packages and prepared a feature matrix (please This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. if we've got something wrong). The following is compiled from Gameco as at 27/10/2017:

 
FeatureI Want EverythingDeluxeBench MountFixed SpeedBody Only
Shop Mate 48 Grinder Body X X X X X
Tooling Arm X X X X X
Four Way Universal Platen and Contact Wheel Attachment X X X X X
2" & 3" Contact Wheels X X X X X
Mounting Pedestal X X
Basic Tool Rest X X X X X
Universal Tool Rest X X
Small Wheel Attachment - 3/4" & 1" X X
Small Wheel Attachment - 1/2" & 1/4" X X
1.5 HP Motor X X X
1.0 HP Motor X
Variable Speed Controller X X X
Spare Platen Mounting Assembly for Radius Platen X
36" Radius Platen for Hollow Grinding X
36" Radius Sanding Block X
10" Contact Wheel with Extra Tool Arm X
Surface Grinder Attachment with Extra Tool Arm X
Digital Travel Indicator for Surface Grinder X
TOTAL $4,139 $2,199 $1,599 $1,101 $866

 

There are a wide range of accessories available for the Shop Mate 48, and you can even make your own accessories (more on that below). You can save a fair bit of money with the packages from Gameco, for example the “I want everything” Kit will save you around $400.

 
AccessoryPrice
Pedestal for Floor $242.55

Wheel kit with bearings:

100mm drive wheel

50mm, 75mm and 100mm tracking wheels

$199.00
Carbide Faced Platen $175.00
Radius Platen (36″, 48" or 72") $156.45
Radius Sanding Block (36″, 48" or 72") $30.45
Radius Platen Mounting Kit $166.95
Surface Grinder Attachment $1350.00
Contact Wheel 125 mm dia 50 mm wide $142.22
Contact Wheel 200 mm dia 50 mm wide $219.41
Contact Wheel 250 mm dia 50 mm wide $418.95
Small Wheel Attachment (1” and 3/4” or 1/2” and 1/4”) $175.30
Tooling Arm $65.05
Universal Tool Rest $237.05


Testing the Shop Mate 482F3A0510

Tharwa Valley Forge has used Shop Mate 48 grinders since they first hit the market and have first, second and third generation versions in our workshops. Our grinders are used and abused by hundreds of students per year, and used daily for production work making over 1,200 knives per year. Although individual experiences may vary, we're confident we've seen enough of this grinder to offer an opinion.

What We Like

The Shop Mate 48 is pitched at beginners and does a good job across every task a beginner could ask of the machine. It's great value for money and very versatile.

Busy makers easily spend more on belts each year than the cost of their grinder, so belt life is an important factor when considering which grinder to buy. One of the most overlooked features of this grinder is the excellent tensioning mechanism, which in our experience has provided a significant increase in belt life compared to other grinders.

Importantly for beginners, this grinder is easy to use. Changing a belt is quick and easy, and changing tool arms is also quite painless. The three arm slots on the Shop Mate 48 accept standard 30mm square steel stock, so in addition to saving money on belts you can save money and increase the versatility of the grinder by making your own tooling.

Rather than being bolted together, the Shop Mate 48 is of welded construction which provides superior solidity. Although welded construction is not as solid as cast construction, it is more than enough for the type of work expected of this type of grinder. 84 Engineering cast their own wheels, and the quality is obvious. The wheels are excellent: they perform well, provide good grip on all belts, and have a very long life. The variety of contact wheels available are more than enough for most knifemakers.

When combined with a variable speed controller (either the OEM unit or an aftermarket VFD) the Shop Mate 48 is a completely different machine. Variable speed control allows working with a much wider range of materials (including plastic, bone and antler), and gives the operator much finer control over grinding operations. It also allows sharpening operations to be performed without overheating blades.

What We'd Change

Our only real complaint with the Shop Mate 48 is that the pedestal stand on the Gen 1 and Gen 2 can have a bit too much flex at times (this was fixed in Gen 3). You'll want to make sure that you mount the pedestal to a very solid surface (eg concrete). We've found that mounting it to wood and even steel can allow the pedastal to move about a bit due to the long moment arm. From a production stand-point, we have also noticed that the soft platens can wear and produce an uneven finish, so it’s best to go for the carbide platens if you are going to be doing any sort of volume work.

Although each generation of this grinder is an improvement on the last, it’s worth keeping a close eye on the tracking when you change direction. The second-generation grinders had significantly different tracking when in reverse and had a tendency to shred belts if the operator wasn’t paying attention.

Shop Mate 48 in horizontal configuration

Conclusion

This is a LOT of grinder for the price and presents excellent value for beginner through to intermediate knifemakers. A variable speed controller is a must-buy for this grinder, as you’ll miss out on a lot of potential without it. The older pedestal stands have a bit of flex in them, but this shouldn’t be a problem for most people. The grinder is well supported by 84 Engineering and Gameco, and there is a large online community using this grinder across the Australian Blade Forums and various Facebook Groups.

Verdict

If you are just getting into knifemaking, this grinder along with a variable-speed controller is a must-have. It gives you everything you need as well as plenty of room to grow as a maker. With the right accessories, it is more than suitable for production work.

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