PROFESSIONAL PICTURE FRAMING EQUIPMENT- THE MORSO

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MITRE CUTTING: The Morso.

There is only one choice if you are seriously looking for a mitre cutting machine. This is the Morso. If you are unfamiliar with the machine, it is a very rugged solidly built Danish machine, which "chops" the frame moulding two corners at a time in its blades (morso call them knives). As it cuts one mitre, its also cutting the next one in its dual blades.

These Danish machines are built like volvos and strangely, like volvos  they can also start to look pretty darn ugly after a few years.But dont let looks fool you, these machines are the mainstay of almost every professional framer in countries all around the world. One of ours is actually a 1974 model, and still going strong despite cutting 15,000 or so custom picture frames every year. (we reckon its done well over a million cutting "chops" whilst we've had it)  So dont let looks put you off. It is almost impossible to damage a Morso by misuse or neglect. Our 1974 model arrived after spending five years in a leaking barn, and after a few days of soaking in parafin it was fully working. A coat of hammerite and thats that.  We have since added an elecro-hydraulic machine to the workshops, another morso, and thats another story....   but the old feller is still kicking out frames and earning his space in the workshop.

What to pay: New Morso list price is around £2000 for 2011. As the machines are virtually bulletproof, and need very little maintainence to restore them to good working order you need not worry too much that one will be "worn out" beyond use.  It is worth noting that most picture framers new to the business only last about two to three years, so there will ALWAYS be more used Morso machines available than serious buyers.  The established framing business will often plump for a used or new machine as a replacement for one that is in need of a service. This is purely because it is not economical for them to have a machine "down for maintenance" for a few days.  It can be cheaper for them to buy in a new machine, keep on top of production, and sell off the old machine at their leisure. I know, because I've done it.  This is where you might pick up a bargain.  Contrary to popular belief many frame shops with staff turn over an easy 250-500k a year, and this is why the aquisition of a replacement morso is a no-brainer for them when compared with losing half a week of production waiting for a couple of parts to be fitted to their existing machine.  On occasion they will trade them in, but by and large they have had them five years or longer and have already written off the depreciation to tax, so the machine owes them nothing.  A cheeky cash offer can often do the trick.

So lets say you have anything from £300 to £1000 to spend second hand, what have you got to look out for on a Morso:

1. Blades.  Blades (knives) will cost you upwards of £200 (plus VAT) a set.  Every time they are sharpened you may lose 1mm from them, depending on the firm you entrust them to. So check that there is plenty left on the blades.  If they seem damaged, have chips missing or nicks in them, this is no big deal at all, but you are going to be looking at at least  £10 a set to have them re-ground before they'll cut a decent corner. Many saw sharpening services and engineering services specialise in sharpening these blades (they have to be done properly, preferably on a Morso sharpening machine) You can also send them to specialists such as  Lion Framing in Birmingham by post, but obviously this costs a little more.

Clearly you are going to need a spare set of blades (otherwise you are unable to use your machine whilst your blades are off for sharpening), so if the machine you are looking at does not come with a spare set, base the price you offer on this.  Any morso should come with at leat two sets of blades, otherwise you want to ask the seller why not. Very few sellers get rid of a morso and replace it with another -whats the point?  Most likely the seller is giving up the business, and so he should have another set of blades for you.

What wears out?

Blades  - but these can be re-sharpened!  Look on them as consumables.

(Important notes on Morso Blades): 

  • Brand New moso blades are 70mm deep (from back to front). 
  • Morso blades (or "knives") are best sharpened by the hollow ground method. Many sharpening services have the correct Morso machine to sharpen them.
  • Blades come in PAIRS - and have the year of manufacture stamped on them.  Make sure each blade bears the same date and code, otherwise you have a mis-matched set (like the one I once bought on ebay and spent five sharpening sessions getting them the same at twelve quid a time.... dont make the same mistake I did!) Dont assume they are a pair: ask first, and check!

The springs that return the foot pedal wear out regularly. The likelyhood is that the seller will have a spare set. Again no big deal, around a tenner to replace, and if one breaks on you (they come in pairs) bungee or shock cord can fill the gap till you find some spares.

The pins holding the pedal will wear, usually on the left hand side, as most opeerators are right handed. In an emergency you can replace these for a few days with a nut and bolt while you wait for your new parts (about a fiver) but dont rely on this too long, as the threads will wear into the hole for the makers part, and you will end up with an elongated hole and a loose pedal (the miserable voice of experience there). You then have to live with a rattling pedal, or fork out for a new lever mechanism.

The Transport Lever - this is the lever which moves the cutting blades forwards in incriments- This is a fairly cheap fix, around £25 for a replacement part. Readily available parts  from almost any framing wholesaler/supplier.  You can tell its worn when you try a test cut and the blades "step back" slightly as you press the foot pedal.  The problem merely the metal dog worn away which engages on a ratchet.  Replacement of the lever  involves removing the cam which moves the blades  - so adjusting the blades cutting position is required afterwards. Again a straightforward procedure which is in the morso manual. Do it carefully, follow the book, or you could get the blades position wrongly and trash them.   Replacement transport levers will have one round and one extended bolt hole, so that you can make adjustments when fitting.

Do make sure the key (a stubby socket wrench used sor machine adjustments and blade changing) is supplied with the Morso. Oversize wrenches or socket extensions will overstress the nuts which hold the blades in, if its missing, you must get the correct key from Morso or a UK morso supplier (pretty much any framing wholesaler will sort this out for you).

Blade guards.There are two blade guards lower down, one on each fence. These are very thick acrylic, and prone to get broken. Later machines and all new machines also have a top guard -vital if you intend to let staff use the machine (health and safety) and it goes a good way to improving your own safety. There is more than one framer in the UK with one thumb lost in a Morso, and more than one of my own staff who have the end of a finger lost over the years, even with the guards fitted,  So fit a guard if the machine does not have one, and cost it into your offer.  The blades are lethally sharp, and I can't emphasise enough that you must be extremely careful with them, in and out of the machine.

Run a straight edge along it just to make sure your machine's cutting head bed and the extension arm on the right are level. If there is a discrepancy it will be the extension arm. This is a cast iron piece which bolts onto the side of the cutting head bed, and is removable by two bolts for transport. If you are lucky, the bolts will be loose, or it has been re-assembled with some crud between it and the cutting bed, in which case a clean up and refit will sort this out. If you are not so lucky, and in the very worst possible scenario, it has suffered a bad accident. I have only seen one of these bent, and that had fallen from the side door of a suppliers van on the A30 at 60mph. 

Parts Everything you will ever want for every make of morso ever built is available from the factory in Denmark and they deliver to every framing wholesaler. So parts are not a problem. You will also find that enquiries to Morso by email are answered promptly and expertly. No problem with parts or support then, even on old machines.

What to avoid like the plague

Copies of Morso Blades - they dont fit properly, trust me. If you are lucky and they do happen to fit, they are made from a different steel. The original morso blades are 6 to 8 times harder and last approx six times longer (between sharpening) than most of the copies. Morso pre order years ahead special Austrian steel for their blades. Skimp on this, and buy cheap replacement blades, you will regret it.  Check that the machine you are buying has genuine Morso blades (Morso blades are all stamped Morso and the date), some also have a serial number.  Remember, proper blades are going to cost you at least a hundred quid plus VAT, copies are money down the drain. If you buy a machine with copies, when it comes to replacement time (which wont be too long) buy the original makes equipment.

Double sided (reversible) blades. Lethal to handle when changing blades (there is no blunt edge anywhere, and you still have to send them off for sharpening, except it costs twice as much, and you still have to keep a spare set. A nice idea, but not as practical as two sets. You either love them or hate them, most people hate them, they also only cut smaller frame mouldings.

Morso Power Kits. The infamous morso air kit, compressor driven,  was supposed to make the framers life easy, what it actually did was wrench the wood out of your hands and try and throw you round the workshop.  If you buy one, you'll send it back, I promise you. A complete waste of money and time, and every framer I know that ever got one took it off within a few days and harassed the suppliers till they got a refund.  Avoid avoid avoid!

What to pay: Morso machines are legendary for holding their value once they get down into the "used" market range under £1000. They are bulletproof and idiot proof, no need to mend it, you cant bend it seems to be the philosophy. On special offers you can buy new around £1100, on rare occasions demo machines under £1000. Expect to pay £500 upwards  for one with decent blades and no obvious faults anything from one year old to thirty years old. 

Do look to see whether it is marked in metric (CM) or inches. Denmark offered the CM version as an option rather than standard until fairly recently and most older machines will be in inches, but these days most framers work in metric, and most of your customers work in both metric and inches.

The Deluxe morso F  model is the preferred one, as it has the measuring stops also engraved with the scale on the right hand support arm which makes your life so much easier. Well worth the extra £100 or so these machines fetch.  You can also buy a left hand support arm, handy, but not essential. If the machine comes with one, then great, but no big deal if it does not.

The waste Chute is another option, this fits under the machine and channels the wood chippings out of the back, into a box or whatever. Worth its weight in gold. About £20 for an add on part if not supplied. If the macine is a Morso F standard (without thee engraved scale on the left hand support) its worth  the basic price, if it is the deluxe  - with the engraved scale on the left hand support it will have cost another £200 when it was new, and paying extra for this is well worth it.  So you are looking at a reference price of £500 for your basic standard no-frills second hand good condition morso with genuine morso blades, then £100 to 200 more  if its got the  right hand scale, and chuck up to £100 on top if its a nice looker and that sort of thing is important to you,  so you could say that around £800 great british sterling pounds will sort you out with a faultless machine with decent blades, a good spare set of blades, no problems, and hopefully some spare springs and a seller who will be happy to split the delivery with you for the convenience of a quick and easy sale.  Anything under £500 and you have a bargain, anything over £800 you might as well start looking into buying a new one, it probably won't work any better, but at least it will be shiny.  It really is not relevant whether the secondhand morso is one year old or twenty years old, it will do the same job as a new one.

The definitive test of a morso-  Try cutting a piece of tissue paper - any morso, regardless of its age, if it has recently sharpened blades and is set up correctly WILL cut a piece of tissue paper, with a very clean cut and no tearing, full stop, no argument. If it does't it usually means you have to do some adjustments and/or get the blades re-ground. 

Maintenance: It does not take long to get one of these machines back to factory spec, and the manuals are readily available from morso and on the internet. Once it's spot on, regular lubrication and occasional blade-sharpening are all you will have to do. The calibration, maintenance and adjustments are straightforward and quick to do once you know what to do, and pretty obvious if you are mechanically inclined.

Delivery: Check it out first, but you should be able to get a tuffnels or amtrak two-man lift UK delivery on a Morso for around £90 to £100 UK mainland.

The points to remember when buying used: 

Blades: original morso blades with plenty of life (or thats going to cost you a couple of  hundred quid pretty soon)

Smooth operation, no sticking - maybe just lack of oil (the usual problem) ask the seller where the lubricaton points are, if he doesn't know, then thats your most likely culprit. No harm in trying it on with a haggle, but some oil will sort it ll out 99 times out of 100.

There are FIVE main places to lubricate- there is a main oil hole in the flat main bed of the machine, on the front just near the serial number, easy to spot. The blade channels should be lubricated, and the moving bite adjustment arm should be lubricated. Finally, the one everyone forgets, the pins holding the pedal need lubricating. All of these togehther give or restore the morsos smooth action.

Squeaks and creaks- a usual sign that one or both springs are on their last leg, or legs. No big deal, but you'll need to buy replacements soon. See yellow pages for your nearest framing supplier, most have a van service, most will send by post.

Flat and eveything square: If its not, it is NEVER going to cut a proper mitred corner, ever. Walk away, its probably the one that fell off a lorry on the A30 that has been doing the rounds for the last thirteen years...

How old is it? you can look up your machine's age by checking its serial number on Morso's website. To find Morso's site, just Google for Morso Mitre cutter, Dan-List A/S.

General appearance: Dont let looks put you off. These machines are made by a major heavy duty workshop woodworking company, and are built to last. They are virtually unbreakable, and so they do tend to suffer in the looks department from a bit of workshop neglect (if it aint broke nobody has anything to fix) and machines in confined woodworking and framers workshops do get battered and tatty looking out of all proprtion to the actual work they have done.

Morso dont do pretty, they just do the worlds toughest and most highly respected one job mitre cutting machine. The military dont specify anything built as solid as this short of the challenger tank, and most Morso owners would probably claim their Morso would take down a challenger anyway.

 Many come from general woodworking workshops, not framers, and some are used in the window business. Many come from home framers and will have been cossetted and loved, and these wont suffer from the chipped paint, tea cup stains and paint splashes of the average workshops, but looks are not everything. Remember, its a workhorse and look past the cosmetics!

Professional Maintenance:

Remember that when you've got your morso, there are good framing equipment engineers around in case you need ant help tips or advice. So do look in on the UK Framers Forum,  and the American/worlwide Framers Grumble (google for them) which are aboth welcoming places for new or old  picture framers, or people thinking of starting in the business.

This guide has had a lot of views, and a lot of positive comments (thanks).  If you think there is anything that can be added I'd be pleased to hear from you.

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