Router Versus Shaper for Cabinet Doors

Stick with the router, or step up to a shaper? A pro can make good door parts with either tool. April 30, 2009

We have been making our cabinet doors on the router table and it has been working out pretty well, but I know a lot of people use a shaper. Is it less professional or does it take away from the quality of the overall product to have doors made on the router vs. the shaper?

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor J:
Do yourself a favor and buy a minimum 3hp shaper with a good stock feeder. Router tables have there places in any shop at times but I prefer a shaper. The quality of the product is determined by the craftsman not the machine. I can make the same cut on a shaper as I can on a router table the difference is that I can do a raised panel in one pass when it might take you 3-4. If you have a kitchen of about 30 raised panels to do it might take you almost 350 passes, and by hand!

On a shaper I can feed it and get a perfect cut every time without wearing myself out and as I said in one pass (of course harder woods and deeper profiles it varies). Used shapers are rather cheap, cheaper than some of the expensive new "cast iron" router tables I have seen advertised lately. There are people spending $500 on the top, $350 on the 3hp router, another $400 on the lift mechanism, etc. I don't understand it really. Look for a used Delta or Powermatic they are great entry shapers but get a feeder if you can.

From the original questioner:
I may look into a shaper, but I have to admit I am intimidated by them. It sounds like you are saying that the quality is the same, a shaper is just faster because of the number of passes. I am definitely aware of the hours is takes to do a large number of raised panels. Thanks for your input. I do quite a bit of curved raised panels. Will a power feed still work in this kind of situation?

From contributor J:
With curved panels you just have to use a rub collar sometimes a template underneath. I will say itís much more intimidating raising a curved raised panel on a shaper than a router table but don't attempt to learn yourself - have someone knowledgeable show you. Overall a shaper can be safer because of the power feeder.

Yes the passes will come down but quality will increase. When you use a feeder to profile stock with say a sticking cutter for a door profile you don't get any chatter, just a smooth evenly run profile. On a router table you are prone to going too deep or missing some areas. And sometimes you have to make the profile in 2 passes. With the shaper usually 3/8-1/2" profiles cut clean esp. on a 3hp+ in one easy pass.

The best advice is to try to visit a cabinet shop in the area let you watch them run a shaper, run stock, profiles, raised panels or check out videos online. A lot of great books out there too.

From contributor V:
I would say it is only less professional from the standpoint of production and profit because shapers are faster. A good millman can make doors with router bits that are equal in quality to shaper made doors. Stick and cope is stick and cope and it either fits properly (.004" to .006" clearance on tongue) or it doesn't.

The same thing for edge profiles like panel edges and outside edge details. If your cutters are sharp enough and your setups are accurate enough, a good millman can produce high quality edgecuts on a router table.

Would you be better off with a shaper? You bet! It is much easier to get good results with the power and rock solidness of a shaper and power feed and much faster to run the parts. If you are in this long term you should make it a goal to get a shaper. Despite what some will tell you itís ok to start with just one shaper and power feed. Work your way up from there. When you get a shaper - 1" spindle minimum and 3 horse power minimum. I am ok with a cabinetmaker making do with the tools he has and adding more and better machines and tools when they can be afforded.

From the original questioner:
Thanks a bunch for the advice. I am know another cabinet guy and I am going to check out his set ups and stuff. When I have the right job that calls for it I may take the plunge. It is also good to know that what I am currently doing is not inferior to shaper produced doors. I really appreciate your comments. I am telling you, a guy kind of looking for answers comes here for advice sometimes and ends up with a lecture on why they are never going to make any money and an idiot. Thanks for getting straight to the question.

From contributor C:
There are a couple other reasons why a shaper with power feed works better than a router. One is that by making your cope and stick cuts in one pass, you will get tighter fits. Any time you remove material from a stick of wood, you change the equilibrium of the forces that make it hold its shape.

So after you make a dado, say, the hole itself may close a little or open a little. The next cut into the same dado will then remove a little more of the material that is left from the first cut on one side or the other of the dado. Another huge advantage to the shaper is that you can climb cut the stickers on wood that has a tendency to "pick" or splinter - especially figured material. They do sound scary when you crank them up and are new to them, but they are really much safer than routers when used with a power feed.

Shapers got a bad rap years ago when knives were hand ground out of old files and held in place with pinch collars. Today, they use very safe corrugated back knives, lock edge knives, through bolted knives and are extremely safe so long as you don't overload the spindle. When looking for a shaper, get one with a standard 1 1/4" spindle so that you can take full advantage of the machine's versatility.

From contributor C:
I forgot to add, if your friend doesn't have a 1 1/4" spindle and a power feed, I'd just stop by someone else's shop who does and see if they will let you watch them running some stock.

From contributor Y:
One advantage of the shaper vs. the router is the height adjustment. All you need to do is switch the opposing cutter on the cope and stick. You don't have to adjust the height of the shaper. In fact, I don't ever adjust the height of my shaper. I use spacers to adjust the height. That way I can go to any previous profile I want and not have to worry or test to see if the opposing profile fits. I have also set up a jig for my fence so I can get the depth of cut I need in a matter of seconds. It only takes a couple of minutes for me to set up my shaper and I never have to run a test piece.

From contributor S:
Definitely get a shaper when you can. Yes you can make a lot with a router table and you can even set up a small power feeder on it. But you will never have the versatility and power that a shaper will give you. Also you open up a virtually limitless amount of knife options.

You have to be more conscious of operations that you are hand feeding as opposed to using the power feeder and never climb cut on a shaper without a power feeder. Ever see a missile launch? A router table is great for running small profiles but you really start working it when you add raised panels or if you want to start making custom mouldings or doors thicker than an inch.

From contributor O:
You are the professional, not your tools. You will have a more pleasant work day with better tools, however, and it should be easier to get 'professional' results. Many of us went through 'great leaps forward' with our tools, and would have gotten the heavy-duty ones more quickly in hindsight. I would recommend a shaper as soon as you can afford one.

From contributor M:
I've gone in the opposite direction of the others here. I started with a 1" spindle production shaper and now I use a sturdy router table and 1/2" collet large router. I have found that it is much easier to use except for large profiles for which I still use the shaper. For smaller profiles like those on cabinet door edges, the router is best, especially for cope and stick.

Half inch router bits now come in a multitude of profiles and are much sharper than shaper cutters. Some are so cheap that you can simply throw them away when they get dull rather than sharpen them - it's cheaper. These bits also have the advantage that they usually have a ball bearing incorporated into them, so it makes setting your fence easier by just lining up with the edge of the bearing. The bearing also makes it much easier to prevent snipe on the ends of mouldings and on copes by preventing your stock from intruding into the cutter. I have a small power feeder which quickly attaches and detaches from my table so I have no more trouble with smooth cut runs than I do on the shaper.