As readers here may know, I bought a new jointer recently. This jointer came with a detailed instruction manual and parts book:

Even though I’m well aware of how to operate a jointer, I made a point of reading through every page of the manual. It goes with my other habit of staring at the machine for extended periods, not quite getting sometimes that it’s mine.

Technical manuals are something I’m a bit familiar with, especially in recent years through my efforts to publish the TAJCD essay volumes and leading various carpentry projects on the online study group by way of technical writing and illustration. So, looking through Martin’s manual, I thought to myself that while the machines themselves enable one to ‘experience perfection’, as the company’s marketing materials put it and my own experience confirms, the manual didn’t quite convey the same perfection in English. Now, compared to an awful lot of machinery manuals out there, which if, say, were translated from Japanese or Chinese in a cursory manner, can be well-nigh indecipherable, the Martin manual was pretty good. However I could tell that it was not produced by a native speaker of English, as there were numerous grammatical, spelling, and word-choice problems present. Not that some native speakers of English don’t have their own challenges with language fluency, as this gem of a sign so clearly points out:

That really is too funny! You know, it’s really not possible to make up stuff like that. OMG!

Anyway, I wrote Martin company headquarters in Germany a letter and brought this matter of the slightly wonky English in the manual to their attention and offered to edit the manual for free if they would send me an MS Word document that I could edit. Several days went past – almost a week I guess and I  was thinking it was maybe unlikely that they would respond at all. They don’t know me from a hole in the ground, and probably no one else has mentioned such a problem. Heck, most machine buyers probably don’t even read the manual or wouldn’t care about such things.

Well, this morning I was surprised to receive the following e-mail from Martin’s managing director Uwe Schiemann:

Dear Mr. Hall, First of all, thank you very much for your kind, encouraging mail about the T 54. I have surfed the internet und found your slideshow. It makes me feel happy to believe that some of those beautiful objects were made with the help of MARTIN machinery. We really appreciate your critical comment about the English version of our owners manual and your generous offer to review the document. You can use the following link for downloading the file onto your computer. ———————–
 Please use right click to save the file to your hard disk. We have been using the services of a professional translation agency for quite some time. Obviously we have to review the results more critically. Once more again, thank you very much for your support. With best regards Otto Martin Maschinenbau GmbH & Co. KG

Uwe Schiemann
(Managing Director)”

So, that was pretty cool I thought. While he many not have realized that I haven’t used my new jointer to make a whole heck of a lot -yet – it was nice to know he had looked me up and found this site. And so today I’ve spent a good few hours working on editing their T54 manual into a slightly cleaner, more readable English version. Probably I’ll have it done in a few more hours. It’s kind of funny to think about what sort of things one can fall into sometimes, and I will say that I appreciate any company that takes the time to actually respond to people and is responsive in such a way that demonstrates they care about the small details. I tend to think that the way in which the small details are handled is largely the way the big picture stuff is handled too, and that definitely seems true with Martin Woodworking Machines.
Just thought I’d share that with y’all. Thanks for coming by. I should have the next installment in my review of Des King’s book on shōji out in the next day or two. 

17 Replies to “Volunteering”

  1. That is cool (and I love the “und” in the email). If anyone from Martin sees this, I would like them to know that I consider this a sign of a quality company. And props to you, Chris, for doing it.

  2. I have looked at the General Machinery /Canada 16 inch jointer on the comapny website. Extremly nice looking machine. The price is around $16.000.00 or more depending upon the seller. Very heavy duty and high quaility. Northfield Machinery of Minnesota makes the old cast iron style jointer…with all the same touches and look as vintage era machines….with improvements like dust ports and byrd cutter heads. Thier prices are even higher than General's.
    As far as I can tell General Canada and Northfield are the only companies producing woodworking equipment and machines any more in North America. Oliver produces similar looking machinery but they are not the same comapny as a few years ago and have the work done in Chiana. Chris what do you think of these cast iron monsters?

  3. Julie,

    I thought an alternate line here could be, “Wow, a man who actually reads MAPS”.

    Unfortunately, most manuals are really not worth reading, and are very much an afterthought with a lot of products, so perhaps it is not so surprising that many do not bother with them.

    Thanks for your comment.


  4. Ward,

    good to hear from you. Well, I've made mention of those machines in past blog posts, so I won't repeat in detail. General Canada is now defunct, it is only General International now. Non-profitable SKU's and such. They did produce a decent 12″ and 16″ jointer. Oliver went bankrupt 30 or so years ago. A Chinese company bought the brand and sticks the label on machines made over there. Remaining US-made Oliver parts are carried by Eagle Machinery, and the prices are very high for those parts, it seems to me. The Oliver jointer design fossilized in the 1930's. Northfield has cored castings for tables and fence which are nice, but a new Northfield costs virtually the same as a Martin, and I really don't see the machines as comparable. Northfield's design has remained unchanged since 1940, and if it weren't for government and corporate buyers adhering to 'buy American' clauses, I suspect Northfield would be gone by now like the rest of the domestic manufacturers of woodworking equipment.

    Mind you, it's not just market factors like high labor costs and an outmoded, non-innovative technology that is the problem, in the US a lot of companies making machines with cutting knives of one sort or another have simply been sued out of business. It is a very litigious society as you know. In that respect, Northfield is to be commended for hanging on.


  5. Chris,

    I believe that Mr. Schiemann was assuming that now that you nave the Martin, you will be remaking all your previous pieces. He was just a few weeks ahead of you in offering his appreciation.

  6. Chris,

    Odd that nobody at Martin USA ever picked up on the catalog imperfections, or felt the importance of correcting them. Perhaps the employees are all German? It would make a good Buddhist story if the lone American young lad in the stock room took it upon himself to correct the errors that bypassed his seniors, and then went on to become the company president.

    Good choice of tool for another reason as well, Otto Martin Maschinenbau GmbH und Company, doesn't appear to be one of the the German companies that together forcibly employed 12,000,000 slave laborers during the Nazi era. Jointing with a clear conscience is quite important.

  7. Dennis,

    thanks for your comment. I also find it surprising that nobody at Martin USA or Martin UK picked up on the translation errors in the manual. And it is not because staff in the US are all German, I can tell you that much.

    The question of whether to use a company's product when said company produced or produces war materiel, either in the past or currently, is an interesting topic. Concerning the Second World War and Germany, let's not forget the role of such American corporations as IBM. They supplied the Hollerith tabulating machines, installed, with full IBM company knowledge in the concentration camps and used for such things as running the trains to the camps on close scheduling, itemizing the property 'received', census taking, etc.. Because of this, I am unlikely to buy an IBM product anytime soon.

    Or how about Standard Oil of New Jersey, which supplied the Nazi regime with tetraethyl lead additives for their fuel so that their planes and tanks were more powerful, and did so until sued by the US State department and forced to hand over the technology….

    (see: http://www.bibliotecapleyades.net/sociopolitica/sociopol_igfarben02d.htm).

    Should I cease fueling up at Exxon (formerly Standard Oil of new Jersey), Chevron, Texaco, Amoco, etc., because of these past events? Kinda hard to do if you operate a motor vehicle.

    War is a very profitable industry as we know – remove war from the picture and I suspect the US economy, and quite a few others, would collapse. Despite this, I cannot become pro-War on the basis of jobs'.

    The connection between mining and slavery goes back to the very beginning of civilization – ancient Greece and Rome made use of slave labor in the mines. It continues today in many countries, and I'm sure that many materials I use daily could be traced back to slavery in one form or another. Today the US has the largest prison population in the world and one could argue that a certain amount of slave labor is being used right here. Then we could look back to the use of slaves in the south to pick cotton – should people boycott American cotton today because of this? Where does one draw the line exactly?

    On the one hand the sins of the father should not be paid for by the sons and daughters. On the other, the tendencies in behavior that lead people to exploit slaves, drop atom bombs, envision 'Final Solutions', etc., are very much present right here right now. My neighbor, in the right circumstances, could become the next Hitler for all I know.

    Memories remain long in a culture. When the Japanese women's soccer team contested the US in the World Cup finals a few months back, anti-Japanese sentiment reared its ugly head. Almost as if the Pacific War never ended – the anger and racism remain among people who weren't even alive during those events. One can observe the same thing in current China-Japan frictions.

    So, somewhere we move on, don't we(?) We forgive, perhaps, and we remain cognizant of what people are capable of given the levers of power over others, and in view of the dangling jewels of wealth, and understand that potential Pol Pots, or Stalins walk among us today. The most we can hope for is that we can learn from the past and move forward taking the lessons with us.

    It is nice to know that Martin wasn't a company using slave labor in WWII.


  8. Tom,

    my usual strategy is to have a garage sale where these pieces go for firesale prices. Example: a compound splayed pentagonal stool I sold once for $45 – some of my friends will never let me forget this!


  9. Chris,

    Why don't you tell Martin that you will be happy to properly translate their planer manual too. They merely need to provide the machine and booklet. All they can do is say no to your generous offer.

  10. Dennis,

    very droll. I have been thinking of offering to look over their other manuals as well. The parts manual for the jointer also has some translation issues.


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