Shaper Choice and Setup for Making Raised-Panel Doors

Advice on choosing and setting up a shaper for making raised-panel doors in the shop. December 9, 2008

I am in the process of setting up a 3/4" 3hp shaper for doing RP doors. I do approximately 300 doors per year, and am making the move from a router table setup.

I have a couple questions I would like input from:
-How popular are backcutters among clients? (I would love to keep my panels at 3/4" as this would simplify many things - sanding, less planing, consistent tung thickness, etc.)?
-Anyone stack all three cutters onto one spindle (panel and r&s)?
-How do quality of spindle/bearings compare between Delta & Grizzly (3/4")?
-any issues with grizzly 3/4" spindles, also is 1 1/4" shorter.
-Quality of solid -not insert cutters (Amana vs. Freud)

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor D:
For 300 doors a year just buy them. Save yourself the headache.

From the original questioner:
I prefer to build my own vs. buy. It is the most visible part of the job and I take pride in my doors. I like to keep the woodworking in cabinetmaking.

From contributor M:
1). Rarely do they care.
2). I am sure someone out there has tried it, not a good idea. Just change the tooling each time. You could stack the cope/stick cutters, but you don't want that big panel raising cutter spinning around while you are making cope cuts. Besides, you won't be able to use the insets and things will be dropping below the table.
3). They are both imports. At 300 doors per year, I doubt that you will ever know the difference.
4). 1 1/4" spindles are for 5hp and larger shapers. Cutters are more expensive, too. Not necessary. When you grow, add a 5hp shaper with 1 1/4 spindle and use it for your panels.

Many of us have realized that we care more about how a door is constructed than the customer does. We build to satisfy our own egos, not what the customer will be satisfied with. If they don't ask for grain-matching in the initial meeting, or it is not spec'd, they probably don't care.

Unless you are going to get a powerfeeder, I am sure that you cannot compete with the quality of most door shops. And even then, you will not be able to offer the variety. I doubt that you make your own drawer guides or hinges, or cut, dry, and mill your own material. We all outsource some things. If this is going to be a hobby for you, buy the shaper, cutters, hold-downs, powerfeeder, mobile base, dust collection accessories, etc. If you have to make a living at this, consider using that money for something else like a pockethole jig, another router that you can leave set up with a 1/8" round over bit, another router with a rabbet bit, and some more clamps. Buying a shaper to make your own doors is like buying a Starret ruler. I am sure it is very straight, but chances are most will not need it. It is a purchase to satisfy ego, not necessarily the best use of resources.

From the original questioner:
Thanks for the excellent reply. I am always considering cost vs. value and that is why I am having a hard time with new 1 1/4" shapers.

I just finished a batch of doors with a newly acquired 1hp feeder on my 3.25hp router. Im very impressed with it and will now only need to freehand with for coping. I will seriously consider the grizzly, and their cutters, as I have half my shop full of grizzlies now and can't say enough good about them.

I was reviewing time sheets on recent jobs and have come to realize that I spend a large portion of time sanding the doors (6-9 hours per kitchen). I can see a wide belt (16" open end) in the future to address this. Another reason to use a backcutter - only one pass through the sander (per side).

From contributor J:
I'm one of the few (seemingly anyway) guys still making his own doors. I agree with contributor D that the smaller shapers aren't the best, but I also understand we all have budgets and limitations to deal with.

Personally I'd steer clear of the Grizzly, their more expensive machines may be ok, but I wouldn't touch any of their less expensive units. There's a reason their shaper is half the price of a Delta, that's all I'll say about that.

I had a Delta and it was ok but just didn't impress me. I now have a Powermatic 27 which is a step up in most regards from the Delta except for the fence. I also have an older LinMac tilting spindle which is ok. But I'm going to replace one of them with a better machine (SCMI, SAC, or similar) in the not too distant future.

I also think the 1-1/4" cutters are better than the smaller 3/4". I started replacing mine last year and have been impressed by the difference in cut quality. For brands I like Freud and Freeborn, I haven't made the step up to insert yet. And I agree that it probably isn't wise to stack a RP cutter with a sticking set on the spindle, just doesn't seem safe to me anyway.

From contributor L:
I make my own doors and all I can say is "lead time". If you make it, you are in control. I had one bad experience with a company and it made my company look like crap. So, I won't be doing that again. Most of my clients appreciate that things are done in house.

As for shapers, I have 3, 3HP Delta's. I don't move them too much, set up specifically for doing doors. 1 for each operation, cope, stick, panel. It makes for a quick door. The bigger 1 1/4" cutters only make a noticeable difference when you are using them at full capacity. That is when they shine. If you have a 3/4" arbor and a 5" RP cutter it should do fine as long as it is sharp and you use a feeder. Ive been using the Delta's for a decade and they still work like new.

From contributor P:
With a back cutter, you can control the thickness to a greater degree of accuracy. Its much more repeatable one you get things spaced and shimmed. I stack all my cutters, but I would not do that on a 3/4 spindle machine.

All the Asian import machines in your size range are basically the same as far as the spindle design goes. They are inferior toys, and I do not recommend them. You will outgrow the machine quickly. My first shaper had both 3/4 and 1 1/4, luckily I mostly purchased 1 1/ 4tooling. The more time I spent changing bearings, the more I needed a real machine. Doors now are only 10 % of the work I do on the shaper.

From contributor S:
I'll echo what contributor P posted just above this. He speaks with authority on shapers - look at his work. A real, bigboy shaper will have 5 hp or more, be made by a company that has contributed to the positive evolution of modern shapers (instead of just copying it, poorly), and will have a solid fence and adjustments. SCMI shapers are a bargain, and not too far from here. When you have good equipment with excess margin/capacity, you will find ways to use it to enhance your business and expand your abilities/products. You can stack your cutters and know your setups blind. You will look forward to that solid hum and productive time you spend with the machine, and it will work for you, not against you. Nobody has ever said "I wish I spent less on a shaper" but many have regretted buying cheap, or worse, and never even know the pleasure of using good equipment. It's your life and your livelihood, why shortcut it?

Too many folks buy marginal crap, suffer every time they use it, cuss, and then call 1-800 cheapdoors to get them out of the corner they painted themselves into.

There is nothing wrong with making your own cabinet doors. First of all, nobody cares more about those doors than you do, and by doing you own doors you set yourself apart from the masses that are competing with imports and cutting each other's throat. It is no fun to slug it out in those muddy trenches. By choosing ways of work that elevate you and your business, you can more easily find the path that helps you do what you want, the way you want. Think of your future, the plan for your business, and where your equipment choices will help or hinder you. More than you asked for, but applicable.

From the original questioner:
To put this into perspective, I estimate that this year I will spend a total of 40 hours shaping doors (10 kitchens). So for those of you who have past experience with 3/4" shapers and have since upgraded how many hours would you say you got on a set of bearings?

Also, I have other tools to buy so I think I'll invest in a good wide-belt next (probably open end 15"). I think I will keep panels at 3/4" and use back-cutter, as some of you have suggested, that way I can glue up panels, trim and shape, and assemble door, then put the door through the wide belt for both sides. Currently I spend almost double the time hand sanding (4x24 belt and 6" ROS), compared to shaping.

From contributor K:
3/4 with 3 hp will do for that many doors a year. I glue up shape and sand both sides after assembly like you mentioned and it works very well. I would stay away from an open ended sander. Get a two foot wide closed in drum sander at the very least. Most doors are less than two feet wide.

From the original questioner:
Contributor K - glad to hear you use that sanding process. I have been tossing between a wide belt and 24" double drum. The Grizzly G9983 wide belt is about $3200, which would cover a very good 24" double drum. Hope you're not mixing up the open end single drums with the open end wide belt.

I guess the benefits I see with the wide belt are the ease of changing between grits and I hope to go right to finish with this platen model. I would love the 24" WB but it cost nearly 5k more! I think I might still need to lightly ROS the rails. For those doors wider than 24" I would have to rotate. How much more ROS sanding will I have to do with Drum Sander vs. 150grit WB with platten?

From contributor J:
If youre doing ten kitchens a year and working out of a basement you should have money to invest. As a business you need to be charging enough to invest in machinery which will improve the quality of your product, as well as the output of your business.

Are you planning on growing your business or just keeping it small? If youre staying small I'd go with the Powermatic and be content. If youre planning on growing you would do well to listen to the advice given from many here.

As for sanding you need to take care of that first. Go out and get a good drum sander and you will save yourself a lot of time. A 15" sander is too small, and making two passes for doors is illogical and a time waster. Whatever small amount of time you save changing belts will be very quickly lost making extra passes on every door wider than 15". Once you get that done then upgrade to a shaper. Prioritize what will save you the most time vs. what you would like to have.

From the original questioner:
I am planning on staying small but, based on advice given on this thread, will be placing an order for a 24" double drum from General as soon as I finalize my next kitchen. Soon after will purchase a 3/4" shaper and tooling. So far this year I have invested in a new cyclone, delta line boring machine, 8" parallelogram jointer, 15" planer, 2-stage compressor, 1hp Delta stock feeder, and manual edge bander. These have been upgrades from existing "hobby" machines, which I have easily sold for little loss. The above machines have been paid for with profits from kitchens. The improvements have resulted in exponential decreases in construction time.

Equally as important are the custom quoting and materials/sheet optimizing software I have invested in. That said, I look forward to the time when I have a properly outfitted shop and can start taking some of my profits home, so to speak.

P.S. I just made the switch from Melamine and Veneer banding to PVC and will never look back. Wish I had found PVC earlier!

From contributor J:
The sander will be a nice addition, but you will certainly need to ROS, so maybe upgrade there as well. Having used a wide range of shapers, I will echo what others have already said. There is a huge difference in cut quality between heavy duty and light duty machines. I do have some small MiniMax shapers that do a nice job at coping, but something like a used T110 or maybe even a T130 (if you have the space) will run circles around the 3 HP 3/4" spindle shapers, foreign or domestic. Better cut quality means less sanding and rejects, plus the ability to run moulding as needed. A digital height gauge makes changing cuts very fast and easy