Who makes great woodworking tools? With Gilliom kits the answer is "You do!"

I've been racking my brain trying to recall when I first saw an ad for Gil-Bilt tools from Gilliom Manufacturing. I'm fairly certain it was in High School when I used to spend hours in the library during study hall reading through smelly old back-issues of Popular Science and Popular Mechanics magazines. I knew I was interested in woodworking, and seeing that I was soon to lose my access to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base's hobby shop as soon as I moved out of my parent's home, I needed to move into tool-ownership and fast. By the time I turned 18 I had a folder full of Xerox articles on tools, jigs and plans and among the collection was several ads from Gilliom for home-made tools. Home-made tools? Seriously?

As the years went by I went the Dayton-made Shopsmith route and put the folder of articles away in a box.

And the years went by.

Now, if you know anything about me from my other blogs, I am a DIY'er to the bone and I love to build weird stuff. Like what? How about a world-class belt sander racer, a six cheese fountain, a wooden lathe, a box-joint saw, a pencil-post bed with giant pencils for the posts, animated wooden lobsters, wooden wheels for a 1924 Ford Model T Fire engine and hundreds of jigs and fixtures.

Recently while digging through boxes in my shop I came across the folder of articles and after an evening of walking down memory lane I found myself obsessing about home-made tools once again. A quick Googling and low and behold I learned that Gilliom Manufacturing is alive and well!

FYI: One of these articles was titled "Save Money With Tools You Build From Kits", which is from th
e December 1983 issue of The Family Handyman magazine.

More in the next post. Click on ad to Biggie-size it.

An incredible Gilliom Manufacturing Gil-Bilt bandsaw

Lincoln East High School Gil-Bilt Crescent Bandsaaw, Front
At the 2015 AWFS woodworking show the power tool company "RIKON Power Tools" sponsored the display of a spectacular student-made bandsaw that was built to mimic an old Crescent bandsaw.  The beautiful saw was built utilizing a donated Gilliom Manufacturing Gil-Bilt bandsaw kit! (Click pics to Biggie-Size)

Tim Montague, a junior at Lincoln East High School in Lincoln, Nebraska entered an impressive replica 1919 Crescent band saw into the 2015 Fresh Wood student woodworking competition. “This was a first for us,” said AWFS Assistant Education Director Adria Torrez, “since we have been running the Fresh Wood competition, we have never seen a student-made woodworking tool or machine! It was a unique entry that focused on different aspects of the woodworking industry; typically we see examples of traditional or production woodworking, but this also embraced the training involved in building woodworking machinery.”

Lincoln East High School Gil-Bilt Crescent Bandsaw, Back
However, the band saw was not selected by the Fresh Wood judges as a finalist to be on display at the
AWFS Fair with the Fresh Wood exhibit. That’s when RIKON Power Tools stepped in. Says RIKON President Jack Bransfield, “This was an opportunity we couldn’t resist.  As a leader in woodworking power tools, with band saws being an integral product for us, we were impressed to see a student endeavor to build one and consequently learn about the history of the machine and the intricacies involved in the process of duplicating the machine in wood.”

The Lincoln East High School program is run by instructor Jeff McCabe, a long time WoodLINKS instructor and current Woodwork Career Alliance (WCA) Evaluator.

“The Crescent” began as a kit of parts donated by a benefactor and was built by seven students over a two-year period. “It was a culmination of efforts with a lot of R&D last year and the mechanical, electrical, finishing (execution) this year,” says McCabe.

Lincoln East High School Gil-Bilt Crescent Bandsaw tracking mechanism
The group of student builders voted on designs and agreed that the 1919 crescent was the best one. Since the original had very little guarding, the students developed new guards to meet modern-day safety standards. The students used AutoCAD and EnRoute with a CNC router to nest and cut the shapes from maple plywood.  The students sprayed the plywood with texture paint to make it look like cast iron like the original. A vacuum bag process was used for the decorative patterns.

I have to tell you that I stood and admired this saw over several days of working and walking the show, and the students and their teacher deserve all the recognition that they get with this lovely saw.  Well done everyone! 

“The Crescent” was on display in the Rikon booth at the AWFS Fair, July 22 25 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

To learn more about the Woodwork Career Alliance, go to www.woodworkcareer.org

Gil-Bilt bandsaw kit box opening video

My son and I have a Youtube channel devoted to random nonsense and in a recent episode I opened an eBay purchase of a Gil-Bilt bandsaw kit. FF to the 6:30 mark.

New Gilliom Tool Yahoo Users Group!

A few weeks ago I got an email from a fellow named Harry, who wanted to invite me to join a new Yahoo group that he just started dedicated to Gilliom tools! I thought, what the heck, so I joined. Now, I don't know if you are a member of a Yahoo Group, but I'm a member of 33 of them, and when you join a group one of the options that you get to choose from is if you want to receive every message as an individual email or a daily digest. Knowing that there wouldn't be much action I clicked the individual email box and submitted my membership request. Harry welcomed me and said that along with the owner of Gilliom tools, Roger, the group was now up to three members! Well, that was then... two weeks later the group now had 55 members and as of this evening I've switched my profile to daily digest! What an awesome start Harry!

Please join in at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Gilliombuilders

Here's a neat Gilliom Gil-Bilt bandsaw

I just received an email from a fellow named Steve, who just purchase the Gil-Bilt bandsaw shown in the photos. He was looking for a motor for another tool in his shop, and he figured that he couldn't go wrong for $40! Uh, yeah, I'd say you did OK Steve!

The second photo is a nice close-up of the Gil-Bilt tension/tracking mechanism, which is used on both versions of the bandsaw and also on the 6" belt sander.

This particular bandsaw is about as text-book as they come. A lot of folks purchase the plans and a few of the major components; assuming that they can find the balance locally for a reduced price. I suspect that a lot of these partial kits are still partial kits covered with dust under the workbench. This saw looks to be a complete kit, and as I mentioned, it appears to have been built without modification. The builder even proudly stamped his name on the side: Paul M. Berry, we salute you!

If you click on the pictures you can see some of the details, including the Gilliom Mfg wooden rule attached to the wheel cover.

One modification that most Gil-Bilt bandsaw owners quickly adopt is some sort of dust passage under or behind the lower wheel. This saw is missing this mod, and without it the sawdust builds-up quite quickly. Steve, you might think about cutting a hole through the back, low and to the left of the pulley. You could then attach a dust collector or Shopvac which would keep the saw clean as a whistle. On second thought, there might be a slot there after all...

The bottom pic is also a great shot of the table tilt trunnion. I've seen several Gilliom bandsaws which were simplified with a fixed table. That's not a bad idea, seeing that 95% of the cuts made on a bandsaw are at 90 degrees.

Source for Lathe Accessories for Gilliom Gil-Bilt Lathe/Drill Press

The Gil-Bilt combo Lathe/Drill Press is a handy tool; assuming that you have the drill chuck and lathe spindles. The great news is that the spindle on this tool is a 5/8" spindle, just like the one on the Shopsmith Mark V and other Shop-Smith 5-in-1 tools.

Click this link for Shopsmith chucks faceplates and other lathe accessories for sale that fit the Gil-Bilt Drill Press/Lathe.

What could possibly inspire someone to make their own bandsaw, tablesaw or any other machine for that matter?

That’s actually a very good question. I suspect the answer was different in the 1940’s when Lyle Gilliom designed his first woodworking machine kits.

Back then the concept of DIY was alien to just about everyone but farmers. Sure, every man had a handsaw or two, a nail apron and hammer, and an assortment of hand tools, but large power tools?


Craftsmen tools in the 1940’s were built for the professional craftsman, and the average hobbyist just couldn’t justify the price.

Enter Shopsmith, Delta Home Craft, and AMT. These tools were down-sized and down-featured from their professional cousins. 18”- 24” bandsaws, 10” - 12” table saws and 1/2”-3/4” arbor shapers were common in the cabinet shop, but unheard of in the home shop. Home-grade bandsaws had 8” - 10” wheels; tablesaws had 6” – 8” blades and routers and shapers just weren’t available.

That is of course until Gilliom’s Gil-Bilt tools. These tools were truly professional sized. 12” & 18” bandsaws, a 8” & a 10” table saw, and so on could be made from a clever set of plans and a kit of custom made hardware.

So that’s the way it WAS. Today we have readily available at the local Big Lots, Harbor Freight, Woodcraft, Rockler, Lowes, Home Depot, and even Sears have Chinese and Taiwanese knock-off’s of the classic Delta/Rockwell 14” Bandsaw for as low as $299! Want a 10” table saw? No problem. $299 will get ya a cast iron contractor-style saw too.

My grandfather would have LOVED to have tools this cheap! Or would he?

Both of my grandfather’s were absolute geniuses when it came to building tools or pushing the tools that they had to their extreme. If my dad’s father needed greater accuracy he would build a jig or fixture with the skill and speed that most guys change socks. If my mom’s dad needed a tool he was just as likely to build one from an old washing machine and parts from a Model-T than to buy it. It is from these men that I get my drive to build my own tools.

When you build your own tool you can make it a little taller of lower than anything on the market to fit your needs. Want an extra 6” of table behind the saw blade? You got it. And how many woodworkers do you know who make their own power tools? No, nothing beats the pride in accomplishment that comes from a tool that you made coming to life at the flip of a switch.

What does a shop-made toolmaker look like?

  • Woodworkers like us don’t just wish we could make a grandfathers clock, crib or gazebo; we’re the guy who actually makes one.

  • We used to buy Wood Smith magazine just for the two pages called “Shop Notes”, now we have the entire collection of Shop Notes magazine. (In binders no less)

  • We drive VW’s, JEEPS, SUV’s, Harley’s, boats, snowmobiles, etc, because we actually like the idea that we will occasionally get our hands dirty.

  • When our son says “Hey Dad, I want us to build a six cheese nacho cheese fountain for my wedding reception” we smile with pride and anticipation and simply say: “Only six?”

  • We prefer charcoal grills, and have the biggest one on the block; but we’ll own a gas grill if we want because you can’t put a label on us.

  • We don't talk about building tools to most folks because "The Others" don't and won't get it.

  • Many of us own some Shopsmith tools and actually like the time it takes to do "changeovers". They are engineering marvels and how could more time touching a power tool be a bad thing anyway?

No, making a woodworking machine isn’t for everyone. And that’s another reason we do it.

So here's what you get from Gilliom Mfg when you order a set of plans

I mentioned that I called Gilliom Mfg and ordered a current catalog. After a great conversation with Mr. Thompson I decided to go ahead and order a set of tablesaw plans. I doubt I'll be making the tablesaw next, but I just had to see how Mr. Gilliom solved some of the problems that I was having in my mind as I tried to conceive of a shop-made tilting arbor table saw. The photo (click to Biggie-Size) shows everything that I received:
  • A catalog of all the Gilliom Woodworking Machine Kits
  • A parts catalog
  • A reprint of a Workbench Magazine article on building a bandsaw from a Gilliom kit
  • A catalog of shaper cutters, saw blades, lathe tools, etc.
  • The fold-out plans for the saw, full-size template for the most critical parts, and a upper saw guard supplement
I have to say that I'm impressed. Mr. Gilliom's plans are absolutely genius. Before seeing these I couldn't figure-out how the motor wouldn't be too high when the blade was set for a shallow cut or how the blade could possible stay centered in the saw slot as the arbor tilted. How would dado blades be accommodated and how would dust be managed?

Once again I highly recommend that you at least get a copy of the catalog and parts list. Shopsmith Mark V owners should know that the Gilliom lathe spindle parts will fit the Mark V, so if you need a new spur drive or a face plate you have someone with whom to compare prices.

A conversation with Gilliom Manufacturing

So today (1/27/09) I had a great conversation with the current owner of Gilliom Manufacturing, Roger Thompson. Roger told be the story of how Lyle Gilliom conceived concept of build-it-yourself tools while he was stationed in the south Pacific during WWII. As he shared his ideas with his comrades they said that if he ever had plans made-up that they would like to purchase a set. Upon returning to the USA Lyle put his ideas to paper and then to wood and proved that the idea was sound.

Mr. Gilliom went into production of not only plans but ultimately the harder to find machined parts that tool builders would need to build his tools.

After almost 40 years in the 1980's Lyle Gilliom entered into negotiations with Roger Thompson and though unfortunately Mr. Gilliom passed-away before the deal was signed, his widow completed the deal. To this day Roger and his bride personally man the phones at Gilliom where they fulfill orders for the entire Gilliom tool range.

What's in the range? Table saws, Bandsaws, a Lathe, a Belt Sander and more!

I asked Mr. Thompson about why he doesn't have a web presence he sincerely replied that while it is true that the web is a bit intimidating for folks of his age, more importantly they enjoy talking directly to their customers. What a sweet man, and truly a unique company.

Please support the Thompson's with an order of a catalog, and how about an order for at least a set of plans? And tell him Scott sent ya.

Roger Thompson
Gilliom Manufacturing Incorporated
500 Boonslick Rd
St Charles, MO 63301-2461
Phone: (636) 724-1812

UPDATE: I tried several times in October 2015 to reach anyone at Gilliom MFG and have been greeted by a message saying "The mailbox you are trying to reach is full".  If you have any success making contact I would appriciate a comment below.  Thanks. 

The photo is of a completed Gilliom 18" Bandsaw that was posted online and sold several years ago.

Gilliom Power Tool MFG Co. ad

I believe that the gentleman in the photo with the lathe/drill press is Mr. Gilliom himself. This is an old ad, so be aware that the prices are not current.

Click ad to Biggie Size it.

R. J. De Cristoforo builds a Gilliom 18" Bandsaw

In 1970 Popular Science ran an article by one of my favorite woodworking authors; R. J. De Cristoforo. Among Shopsmith owners he is best know as the author of the "Shopsmith Bible" "Power Tool Woodworking For Everyone" This article was a brief review of Mr. De Cristoforo's building of the Gilliom 18" woodworking bandsaw. Click the image to Biggie-Size the article or view the Google scan here.

Gilliom Gil-Bilt tools can be found on eBay

Every now and then (and it is rare) a Gil-Bilt tool or kit will come up for sale on eBay, like the 12" bandsaw shown here. Usually they must be picked-up and often they are in bad shape due to poor storage; but it is possible to get a good deal if you are patient. Click here to search eBay for Gilliom Gil-Bilt tools for sale.

One of the best books for Shopbuilt Woodworking Tools

One of my favorite books on shop-made tools is Making and Modifying Machines (from the pages of Fine Woodworking Magazine) This book features shop-built tablesaws, bandsaws, lathes and many more; and even includes a great summery of suggestions from builders of Gilliom tools. Click the link to see new and used copies fro sale on Amazon

A Gilliom Gil-Bilt 18" Bandsaw with a fixed table

Here's a Gilliom Gil-Bilt 18" Bandsaw that the builder modified by making the table fixed. This makes sense seeing that the vast majority of the cuts we make are with the table 90 degrees to the blade. This photo is from Greg Wandless' Shop blog from Sterling, VA. I assume Greg built it himself, but don't know this for sure.

Very nice job!

Click Pic to Biggie-Size

Gilliom Gil-Bilt 18" Bandsaw built from a kit

Workbench magazine did a great article in 1963 on building a bandsaw from a Gilliom Gil-Bilt kit. This one is an 18" saw.
Click on Pic to "Biggie-Size" it.

Got photo's of your Gilliom tool? We'd love to share it!

We'd love to see your Gilliom tool photos and share your story.
Please email us at aristocob@gmail.com

Click the ad to Biggie Size it. This is an old ad and the prices are not current.

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