Personally, I think the Brent slab roller is the most poorly designed piece of studio equipment ever. Adjusting the thickness by removing shims is ridiculous, and the cable system is a pain to replace. If you want to go cheap, buy the North Star roller system without a table, and build your own table for $40.
I agree with you. The cables fray and puncture your fingers when you work on them. They are suppose to be grease regularly and that's when the fraying gets your fingers.
The North Star that I used in the studio had hard plastic gears that did break when abused and the two sided gear adjustment could get uneven if one didn't pay attention. They have greatly improved since that time...about 25 years ago.
I like my Bailey.
Used the Brent for 30 years in the HS classes. Pain as all say here to grease the cables, to keep the shim boards in good condition, and use. All of that said, when we bought it, it was one of the early ones at a price we could afford. I used rolling pins and slab sticks from the local lumber yard for years, teaching the basics first, then moving the students to the slab roller. They never complained, because it was so much easier than rolling out that 12"X25" slab by hand. Suddenly slab construction was not such a chore, and they could concentrate on other things in the process instead of making the slabs. So in the end, I guess you work with what you've got. If someone gave me a cableless, shimless old Brent SC 14 I would take it in a heartbeat. Spend a few bucks and hang the rolling pin on the wall!