Review: Hafco chisel mortiser

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There are bigger, heavier and more powerful hollow chisel mortisers around, most of which hail from the heyday of post WW2 British woodworking machinery excellence, but for the fine furniture maker, the Taiwan-made Hafco machine doesn’t disappoint. The last statement is a rare one coming from me, as I have always been suspicious of the quality of any woodworking machine not designed and built in Europe.

This machine is a little gem. It’s a smallish, robust machine that has been around for many years and comes with well-engineered, separate dovetail- guided XY tables and plunging head. The castings and machining of all its components appear to be substantial enough, done with care, and work flawlessly. It comes complete on a stand that serves as a convenient storage cupboard and also has a backward sloping dust chute to which extraction may be attached.


The head to which the chisel and motor-driven auger are attached has a plunge of up to 125mm, and can also be mounted in various vertical positions to cater for a big range of thicknesses or widths of wood. In addition, the table’s clamp can be placed in three positions to cater for material up to 160mm wide. The 516 x 168mm clamping table has a stroke of 255mm but this can be limited with easily adjustable stops behind the table.

The left/right travel is by the handwheel which operates a rack and pinion under the table, while fore/aft travel to position the fence relative to the chisel is set by simply pulling the same wheel out to engage a lead screw. This is a very clever design that avoids the common problem of skewing.


The chisel’s downward travel includes an adjustable bar and clamp to limit it to suit mortise depth. The machine comes standard with two reducing bushes to accommodate a range of chisel sizes and brands, while the auger is chucked in a standard Jacob’s chuck attached directly to the motor, which is more than adequate for even the biggest chisel sizes – 25.4mm in softwood and 19mm in hardwoods.

The plunge lever features a rather nifty spring-loaded spline attachment that allows the user to re-position it to suit either a push or pull motion. It is weighted to counter the heavy head to ensure a lightweight feel. The lever offers ample mechanical advantage to make big cuts, or to ease the burden of production work.

I have owned one of these machines for many years, and it has always lived up to my expectations. Most of the schools I have taught at here in Australia and also in the US have identical units, and they have all held up remarkably well to ample use and the occasional abuse.

All three dovetailed ways allow for smooth, slop-free travel, and the vibration free 0.75kw direct-drive motor is capable of heavy work and runs at a speed that is ideal for this kind of cutting, delivering burn-free mortises in hardwoods. It should go without saying that sharp chisels and bits are a must too! This machine is easy to set up, and stays that way. For mortises in the face of boards that suit carcase construction, I have made a simple platform that clamps on to, and over the 93mm high fence.

To sum up, I would be lost without this one machine that delivers a result that can’t be differentiated from a good hand-cut mortise. It will work relatively quietly all day long, creating little dust, and produce crisp, accurate mortises.

Hafco machinery is sold by Hare & Forbes Machinery House. Learn more at

Neil Erasmus is a furniture designer maker based in Perth, WA.

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