Evaluating Industrial Shapers

      Woodworkers discuss the characteristics that define quality in a heavy-duty industrial shaper. April 30, 2006

We need a good quality industrial shaper. Martin is supposed to be the best. Why should I pay 40-50% more for a Martin? There are a lot of good quality brands to consider - Format-4, SCMI, Ritter.

Forum Responses
(Solid Wood Machining Forum)
From contributor D:
Some people buy Mercedes instead of Hondas because they like the look of windshield wipers on their headlights. Hondas are so reliable they put the other manufactures to shame. Go figure.

From contributor A:
We have a Rockwell/SCM shaper that we have had for years. We ran everything through it before the moulder era came in. It has never let us down and we still use it a little every day. I have never used a newer one but am sure they must still make the old trusties like they used to. Make your own fences from wood to bolt onto the slides and you can create anything. Sometimes I miss those days!

From contributor J:
“There are a lot of good quality brands to consider - Format-4, SCMI, Ritter.”

First off, I think the only listed brand even in the same category as Martin is the SCM T130 and 150 Class shapers. They are about the same price or not much less than Martin. Felder is a good machine for the money, but in my opinion not a heavy-duty shaper. The left fence offset is poor design, as is their “in table sliding table.” I owned a Ritter machine one time and the only thing to say about them is almost any part could be replaced from a True Value hardware store.

We replaced 3 dedicated shapers (Powermatic, Delta and SCMI) and one large Casedeli shaper with the Martin. My intent was to have a quick setup, versatile shaper. The Martin does this with a lot less floor space than the old setup. A few reasons Martin will cost more. 5 minute or less setup times and no test cuts, with a skilled operator. The fence alignment – spindle height is right on every time and even the manual version has accurate repeatable indexing. If you have ever experienced a jointer with table alignment problems, a poorly aligned shaper is just as bad. Will stay accurate even after several years of use. Good service and knowledgeable staff at Martin USA. Parts available even for older machines. Ability to handle large diameter cutters. Good resale value. Well-engineered extension tables. We regularly run the outside hardware cut on 3” thick lift – slide doors that can be 7’ wide X 10’ tall. Lots of accessories and spindles available. The Aigner fence is the best invention ever for shapers. Tilts both ways.

From contributor B:
I have also used a SCM for years, but am curious about the Martin. Does anyone out there have experience on how long they last without problems? Or is it kind of new on the market?

From the original questioner:
Thanks for responding. Martin is such a mystery to me. It's seems like everyone thinks it's the best, but nobody has one. Does Martin have parts in stock in the US or do you have to wait for parts from Europe? Also, when you run doors that big, does the Martin sliding table support them alone or do you have to use additional supports? What about spindle changes? Is it tough to make the changeover? How is it done? Also, who's tooling do you use on the machine?

I have one of the new Format 4 (Felder industrial line) panel saws, mainly because the average size panel saw is too small for us, and the Format 4 has the biggest panel capability and thickness capability. It's been really good, so I've been considering their new Format 4 shaper as well - it is much heavier than the Felder line. I just have this bad feeling that I'm settling by going with something other than a Martin.

From contributor M:
I believe everything contributor J has to say about the Martin. I have a SAC T145-C that cost a fraction of the price and I would put it up against the SCMI's any day, but it's not even close to a Martin. If you have the funds available, go for the Martin; if not, take a look at the SAC. It has mechanical digital counters for the fences, spindle height and tilt, but it also has those little niggling things that you won't get with a Martin. It just boils down to what you can afford.

From contributor J:
Along with our new Martins, we have a 1968 T75 sliding saw now set up as a ripper. Everything functions and the saw still cut square when the outrigger came off a few years back. Just keeps on running, like my 86 Honda. They still have guys at the factory that know a lot about these saws. My big gripe with SCM has been getting parts and advice on machines over 5 years old. Back when I started woodworking in the 70s, Martin was imported by the Riebling Company and was considered the top European standard machine over here by architectural woodworkers. Then in the 90s you didn’t hear much about them. They now have a factory branch here. Martin has a woodshop at the factory in Ottobeuren where they test the machines and several Meister degreed cabinetmakers on staff to give input to the design and function. In addition, they put prototype machines in the nearby shop of Joseph Wagner for further testing in real time work conditions. Another factor that runs the cost up is they don’t outsource many parts. Nothing from China and anything they do outsource is German.

They stock most parts here. When I needed a new light bulb for the T90, they had it. The only thing we ever needed were a couple items we broke and some electrical parts ruined by power surges and they always had it. The after sales service and knowledge of the machines is very good.

The big doors are run using the pull out extendable support. We have the extra long infeed and outfeed tables on our machine and can add Aigner extension tables to these if needed. The large built-in sliding table would work within its stroke. I think that is only 50 or so inches. We are using the small bolt-on sliding table.

Spindle changes are easy. Ours has the standard “Dornfix” that just takes a couple twists of a wrench. They do have an optional one that is more automated. For tooling we still use a little of what we had for the old shapers – LRH, Freud, Freeborn, Sthele, Byrd and corrugated heads for short custom runs. All our new tooling is Garniga insert and a little bit of Felder insert that is made by Stark. Insert is like a night and day difference on these machines compared to the old style cutters. We have a Garniga raised panel head with the 2 separate knives for the panel raise and the profile at the end of the cut. The raise cut dulls faster and that can be changed out easy with a standard straight insert knife. Plus you can get different profiles by just changing inserts. We still have to use our old panel cutters sometimes to match previous work and the cut quality and sanding needed is obvious. The bad news is you can spend more than the machine costs for cutters.

The Felder shaper I looked at was the Format. When I told the Felder salesman at the LV show I had a Martin, he wanted me to look close to see how it compares. Like I said - for the price, it is a good machine but not the same as Martin. This is Felder's first line of professional machines. I think they will give SCM some good competition in a few years. The Felder factory at Hall in Tyrol is also an interesting place to visit if you get the chance.

You just have to figure out what is best for your shop. I think Felder or SCMI would pencil out to be better short-term solutions (especially for 1-man shops) and Martin a better long term. When we upgraded all our machines over the last few years, the shop was debt free and good jobs rolling in, so it was pretty easy. The payoff for me is we are now producing a little more gross sales and profit with 2 employees than we were with 4 employees two years ago.

From contributor A:
The shaper we have is the Rockwell (SCM) T120c. Very dependable, but I am very impressed at the bells and whistles that come with new shapers these days! But if you need all that stuff on a shaper, is it time to maybe consider upgrading to a moulder? Price versus production? I'm just curious.

From contributor M:
To answer your question, the whistles and bells eliminate a tremendous amount of setup time. All my cutters are marked with the spindle height and fence settings on them so I can go back to them without the need of having numerous test cuts to get there. I can't see a moulder replacing my shaper in the kind of work I do, but it sure is nice to be able to repeat setups quickly and accurately. That's what you're getting with the digital fences and height setups. I too remember the old days of feeding a piece in and then checking the fences and loosening them and tapping them a little, trying to get them set up just right, and I don't miss it.

From the original questioner:
Contributor M is absolutely right. I know I'm asking about shapers, but every piece of equipment in our shop has digital displays or very easy to set stops. It saves you so much time it's unbelievable - you barely even need a tape anymore.

From contributor A:
That sounds pretty cool. Do you think it would be possible to add that stuff to my old 120? Retrofit? We often customize some of our stock mouldings. Some days I can get right the first time. Other days I have to dicker with it for 5-10 minutes. It would be nice to throw a cutter on, dial it in and start running.

From contributor K:
Someone asked about part availability. I have a Martin jointer and planer. I blew a voltage protector module in the control panel when my ac switched on at the same time as my planer. Stefan at Martin had never heard of this blowing before, but had one in stock and Fed Exed it out immediately. I take complete responsibility for blowing this module for running both off an underpowered 5hp Kay phase convertor. Two Martins down - two to go.

From contributor J:
Contributor A, you are asking about molders vs. shapers at a certain production point. I think if you find yourself turning the power feeder on edge a lot (putting pressure against the fence), you are ready to consider a molder. We use a T90 numerical controlled S4S – molder as part of our system. It has limited capacity as a molder because of the 12mm depth of cut with the insert knives. The tradeoff is the 5 minute or less setup time for molding. This tool had the fastest ROI of any machine we bought and I think anyone doing much solid wood should at least consider a small S4S machine. The shaper is important, though, because it can do many more operations than a molder can. As related to door making – raised panels, end cuts, curved cuts and cuts on assembled frames. I agree with the other guys about the electronic bells and whistles on the new machines. It would be hard to imagine life without it now.

Only two things worry me. Someday, the electronics will fail for one reason or another and that will shut these machines down till a circuit board or some other part is replaced. I hope it doesn’t get like computers where you have to get a new one every 2 or 3 years. This is why good factory service is important for these machines. Second, the learning curve and utilizing the new technology to improve production can be tough on employees. My experience is that good shop craftsmen like to keep things simple and have a hard time remembering setups that are not used a lot. In a large shop, this could be a nightmare. This is the main thing that has kept me from going to a CNC router to build doors. At European shows, they have some impressive demos of building custom doors and windows with the router. But I just wonder if the “one off” entry door or small door order can be done easily and by a shop employee without much computer experience. It also takes a heavy duty router for entry door cuts. All in all, the new technology is a great thing for the 1 to 5 man shops.

From contributor A:
I was just wondering if my shaper could be fitted for the digital readout stuff. We don't use it as much as we used to, so it's not a big deal, but something I might look into. We run production moulding. 14 yrs ago I started with them (3) of us. Now I am on my second Weinig moulder. But we still use the shaper for tricky small applications. I think the digital counters might be something to look into. Is there a kit of some sort that I could install?

From contributor E:
Contributor J, have you taken a close look at the new Martin moulder and do you have any opinions on how it compares to the new Weinigs?

From contributor J:
I only spent a couple hours checking out the new T 92 in Vegas. I am afraid to look too close for fear I might get the fever. Four years ago when trying to decide between the T90 and a Quatromat, I spent a couple days at the impressive Weinig facility in NC. I decided the Quatromat, even though it was priced low, was not much of a S4S machine or molder either. Just a way to get started with a 4 head machine. The 5 head ATS Profimat was a different story. It was more money than the T90 and if we were in the custom molding business, I would have gone for it in a heartbeat. The only thing I did not like was it seemed confusing to switch from profiling back to straight S4S work, even with the ATS. I am sure a skilled operator can play one of these machines like a fiddle after some experience, though. Our needs at that time and now are S4S work, lot of T&G, joinery cuts and limited amounts of profile cuts. The biggest drawback of the T90 for molding is custom profile knives have to be made at the factory in Germany, so it’s a 2 to 3 week lead time and that usually does not work for custom. It is the easiest 4 head machine on the market to maintain, operate and set up. So all my knowledge about Weinig is 4 years old and only the smaller machines. I am not qualified to make a judgment here.

There are several ways to improve the door and window production from where we are now. CNC router, numeric stacked tenoners and profilers, lineal CNC routers like the ones from Working Process, or the use of a 5 or 6 head molder working in tandem with a 2 head CNC cope and dowel machine. If we go that last route, I will be looking hard at these machines. Some things that caught my eye on the T92 are the direct drive heads, which have less vibration and allow for more lineal movement with stacked cutters. The universal head was impressive. Weinig has this also, but I think theirs works in a different way. The computer seemed real simple to use, especially in conjunction with adjusting for different cutter diameters. As with all Martin machines, I think this will prove to be one of the fastest molders to set up and easy to operate. The little things like cutter head opening adjustment and feed roller lineal adjustment seemed to be well thought out. Like the T90, the infeed table and fence adjustment work effortlessly. The machine can be ordered 4 head and all the other heads can be added later in the field. The T90 can run 2 edges only without marking up the face and bottom (useful for sizing stave core stiles after the skin has been pressed on). Looking at the pressure setup on the feed wheels, the T92 should be able to do that also. One of the coolest things done on a 5 head molder for door and window making, is cutting stile and rail profiles and doing the glass bead recovery in one pass. The T92 has a little ledge that works with the computer to set this up and recover the bead. Bead recovery on the shaper is a Flintstone process at its best.

From contributor E:
I believe your T90 has 4 Tersa heads. Does Martin have a library of stock profiles for the T90 and is there a universal cutterhead(s) to place those profiles in? How does that work?

From contributor J:
Go to the Martin site to see a picture of an insert cutter installing in the right side head. Yes, there are 4 fixed Tersa heads. Insert knives can go in 3 (sides and top). Martin makes the head and the inserts are installed in dovetail ways using the setting gauge like the picture shows. The inserts look similar to other inserts but are thick. 5mm I think. Available in HSS and carbide. I have a booklet showing about 30 patterns. I think they stock radius, chamfer, rebate and some T&G. Usually we just send a drawing and they make it. The same knife is used in the contour planer and these heads are available for the new molder also.

The comments below were added after this Forum discussion was archived as a Knowledge Base article (add your comment).

Comment from contributor R:
With regards to the digital height gauges that a couple of posts asked about, I have installed several ProScales from Accurate Technologies on shapers. They have a panel mount or surface mount option. With just a bit of fussing, I was able to panel mount into the stock cutouts on SCMI T110, T120, and T130 shapers. Any shaper robust enough to stack tooling would benefit from these, and even when swapping cutters they help quite a bit.

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