Are Shapers Outmoded?

      A CNC is versatile, but a good shaper is a workhorse. January 23, 2014

Are shapers fading away now that moulding machines and CNCs can do most of this work? I started looking for a shaper recently and it seems Delta no longer makes its 3 hp shaper and Steel City has discontinued all shapers. I know SCM and Felder still make nice machines but are they worth an investment?

Forum Responses
(Architectural Woodworking Forum)
From contributor J:
Check with General International out of Canada.

From contributor G:
Lots of good used ones on the market. They are a fairly simple piece of machinery so if the bearings are good and the motor sounds good, it won't require much service. Look for a 1 1/4" spindle and somewhere around 7 hp. If you can get some cutters with it, you will be able to get more use out of it initially, as it takes a while to get a good collection. Look for one with a power feeder. 4 wheels are nice, as is variable speed.

From contributor E:
My feeling is that shapers are as popular as ever, seeing how many of the good ones get bought up quickly when advertised at fair prices around me.

I don't think new entry level shapers are a worthwhile investment for small businesses. For the same or similar money, you can get into a used industrial machine that will save you money in the not-so-long run.

From contributor J:
I agree with you guys, but all should remember that there are also a lot of used machines out there that are in bad shape. Anyone planning to buy a used machine of any type should check it out very well and if at all possible, see it in operation. As an independent tech, I see so many used machines that the buyer thought were in good running condition turn out to be a hole you pour money into. Beware and investigate before buying.

From contributor E:
That's a good point. Older machines may require some attention or at worst could be boat anchors if you're not careful. They could also be great buys if you are careful! So here's my experience over the last 5 years or so.

I bought my first industrial shaper, an offshore model that had a 3 hp motor, interchangeable spindles and tilting with a slew of tooling for $2k and it was plug and play. I bought my second, a 69 Martin, as a restoration project. Spent a couple weekends and rebuilt her so that she runs like a top. I think I have a bit over $3k into her now. I bought my last shaper, also a Martin, for $1200 - almost plug and play. I changed the spindle oil and v-belt, and had to straighten a slightly bent spindle.

Previous to all these machines I bought a brand new Powermatic 27 with a 5 hp motor and 1-1/4" spindle which retailed for $3k at the time. I did get it at discount and saved a bit. It was a decent machine but I had to leave the back off as it rattled like heck. I also had to replace the fence faces as they were crappy pieces of 5/8" oak that weren't even flat! Within 2 years of moderate use I was changing the bearings!

So my feeling is that with a little bit of looking and careful buying you can get into a good quality used machine for under $3k and usually get a feeder with it. Or you can buy a new machine and with light use get by.

From contributor M:
I was discussing this with a friend yesterday. I contend that a CNC is slower than any machine it replaces.

Before you guys blow your tops, let me clarify. The feed rates on a CNC are a joke compared to the traditional machine it replaces. A beam saw cuts much faster than the 300 to 500 ipm a good router can. A moulding machine is far faster than a CNC also. The advantage of the CNC is ease of setup and that the operator needs to know very little about woodworking.

It takes a lot of experience to run a shaper. I have been using them for years and I am still not an expert. A CNC operator can use the same tooling and make nice moulding without much experience. Of course this is a very slow way to make moulding and no millwork shop would do it.

In our shop I do not have a need for a moulder/shaper. I can't think of anything that I would use it for that I could not do on the CNC. So I think your answer is Yes and No. Small shops that have a good CNC are not likely to need a shaper, but any shop that regularly has runs of 100 feet or more of moulding would be much better off using the shaper/moulder.

From contributor D:
I agree with the previous responses - shapers are far from fading away.

Real shapers - 7hp or larger, with secure fences and modern tooling - are more useful and versatile than ever. Even an inexperienced person can get productive with a decent shaper and good tooling - one does not have to be an expert to make good product. A good power feeder goes a long way towards making them safe enough to live with comfortably.

I know they have an important part in a custom shop, from small to large. Our two man shop has two shapers and a router table run as a shaper - with feeder. Delta and the hobby/slash small equipment makers have liability issuers with them and don't want the problems they might bring with weekend warriors sending parts flying.

We use our shapers to make tenons and cope joints, angled square and shaped cuts, rabbets and grooves like crazy, and all sorts of moldings. Raising panels - even curve panels - is easy and safe. As for curved work, we do lay down curves, stand up curves and even helical handrails for curved stairs. We have done indexed fluting and reeding on turnings, stopped flutes, stopped reeds and more. It is simple to copy curved or complex parts with templates and clamps and flush cutting heads and bearings, like a giant router.

I can make a curved part and shape it before a CNC guy can do the programming and figure out how to hold it. CNC definitely has its place, but a shaper was there first and the versatility is unmatched. Especially when you consider the level of training required to run one versus the other.

From contributor B:
In my 1 man shop I have 5 shapers, each set up ready to work with the most common cutters. For me they are employees, always ready even though on some jobs no shaper is required. Great for ease of doors and panels and moldings with no setup time invested except for special runs. My shapers are all under 7hp and older iron and have served me well and paid for themselves over and over. With the ability to grind knives, and a feeder, a lot can be done with the shaper. Sure, 7hp would be great, but often overkill.

From contributor L:
We've got a nice molder and CNC but still use the shapers a lot. Having a profile grinder for the molder is useful for the shapers also.

I've long been a fan of shapers for the custom shop. We also have several left set up for specific processes. We have two that get changed over frequently. Whatever you do, don't buy junky shapers - new or used. They aren't worth it. You can often come by good used industrial level shapers for less than $3K. Most Chinese, Delta, PM etc. fall in my junk category. My last shaper purchase was a very nice, used Gomad tilt spindle. 985kg! About $3K. Also very good are my SAC, SCM and BMT. Always invest in 1 1/4" spindle machines, not 3/4" or oddity 1" or 1 1/8". True 5hp is probably enough for most purposes, but beware. If that power is attached to a crappy spindle assembly, you don't have anything. A feeder is a must. 4 roll is better than 3, since you have better control both before the cutter and after. I'm likely to catch crap from people that will claim their Delta HD is plenty good enough. I've got several shapers that are no longer used and have been replaced with heavier ones. If you are new to shapers, be very careful - use a feed whenever possible.

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