Stepping Up to a Shaper

After burning out yet another router, a one-man cabinet shop owner gets advice on investing in a shaper and some raised-panel cutters. July 3, 2008

I am looking at buying a three horse power shaper with a power feeder for making my raised panels. For the past five years I have used a router table for this. My business is growing by the day and the router is getting worn out, again. I have made several hundred doors with it and its time to move up.

The shaper has available a router bit collet for using router bits. Will the big raised panel router bits work well with a shaper or should I forget about them and purchase actual shaper cutters. Also, what other benefits can I expect from moving up to a shaper? I build about ten kitchens a year along with entertainment centers and built-ins. What shaper would you buy?

Forum Responses
(Solid Wood Machining Forum)
From contributor G:
If you just want to raise panels buy the cheapest one. Get one with 1.25" bore and get the shaper cutter to match. Iíd recommend an insert type head so you can run MDF panels or solid wood just by changing the inserts. I use a Byrd insert, but there are many others.

If you also want to do the cope and stick I'd get one with a slider also although you could use a coping sled. Only some of the more expensive shapers spin a router bit at fast enough rpm to be useful for all your work. Youíll get a better cut/product with the larger cutting circle of a 1.25" bore shaper cutter (also usually have a 3rd wing).

From the original questioner:
Thanks for the advice. I would not even think about a shaper without the feeder. I have one on my router table and really like the safety of it. I can use the router for the cope and stick, it works fine that way. The shaper I am looking at is a Grizzly but does not have 1.25" spindle. It only goes up to 1". I will consider the 1.25".

From contributor H:

Buy the best you can afford. And if youíre going to step up to a shaper then step up to shaper bits. Routers and router tables are to shapers what pickup trucks are to semi's.

From contributor J:
Just to echo others: I have a shaper with a router collet, and it just doesn't have enough RPM to make these small cutters work well. Before you dive into the 1.25" spindle, look at relative tooling costs. Cutters for smaller spindles are often cheaper, and may make sense for your operation.

From the original questioner:
To contributor J: I was checking out cutters for the 1.25 spindle and you are correct. They are more expensive. I think going from a router table to any shaper will be a big improvement. My shop is small ( about 1500 square feet) and I only have one employee, me. But I deliver beautiful cabinets that my customers love because they know I personally made and finished every part (5 piece doors, dovetail solid maple drawers with 3/8" baltic birch bottoms and solid wood end panels).

I donít like the way the plywood stains. I use 3/4" combicore oak and birch plywood. The reason for the shaper is because the Dewalt 3 hp routers i use need to be rebuilt every couple of years. Plus I would like to expand my production by making more of my own moldings. I may be a small operation but my many, very happy customers think what I do is very special.

From contributor R:
Buy a used American made delta Model 43-454 or Rockwell/Powermatic equivalent. There are plenty out there at bargain prices 3-5 hp. For what you are doing the ĺ spindle should work fine. I would rather run a 3/4 cutter on a 3/4 spindle than a bushed 1-1/4 cutter on a 1" spindle. Don't skimp on the tooling either.

From contributor G:
If you go for the smaller spindle cutters (1" or 3/4") they will be cheaper (probably) but some might only be 2 wing cutters. More importantly if you step up to make bigger mouldings then you would be better with the larger 1.25" cutter.

There is nothing worse than having to change spindles all the time. I have a 4HP +/-, 3/4" spindle shaper that I bought 4 years ago when I moved from a router table. I hate even turning on the router table now.

I bought nothing but 1.25" cutters for it and I use tee bushings to make up the difference (my spindle isnít changeable).

I did this so when I upgrade my shaper to a larger model (Iím sure this will happen) I can do everything with a 1.25" spindle and I wonít have to change the spindle at all. I have friends in the trade that have 3/4", 1" and 1.25" cutters that they built up over the years and they always moan about changing out the spindles. I hoped to avoid that. Remember they are going to last a long time compared to router bits.

From the original questioner:
To contributor R: what is a good source for used machines and how do you know if they are in good condition if you canít see them before you buy them? I live near Moline Illinois and there is not any source here other than the paper. I donít have a problem with used, I just want to be sure they are in good condition. How old of a machine are you talking about? I assume you mean an American made model.

From contributor R:
There is nothing wrong with T bushings. All smooth bore tooling has a small amount of play between the ID of the cutter and the spindle diameter, otherwise it would be impossible to remove or install the tool. This also will increase the run-out of the tool.

Introducing a T bushing in the assembly will at the least double this play. With accurately machined bushings and quality tools this should be negligible, but if there is no compelling reason to use a bushing, then why go there?

The smaller diameter tools are a better match for this caliber of machine as well. Not to mention the price difference as others have pointed out between the small and large cutters. The point regarding moving into a larger machine is valid but based on the text of the original post this seems unlikely for the near future. If he does move up at some point it would make more sense to keep this machine as a second given its small footprint and initial investment.

From contributor G:
"The point regarding moving into a larger machine is valid but based on the text of the original post this seems unlikely for the near future." I didn't think that I needed any bigger a shaper when I got mine 4 years ago, but here I am just waiting for the right machine.

I still have all my cutters and they look like ill have them for a long time yet. Who said he had enough SF for 2 shapers? Also, I never had any problem with T bushings. I got two long sets and a short doubl-end (long set has one short and one long) with this combination I have never been stuck. I do all custom stuff from storms to kitchens and entry doors. So I have tried lots of things on it.

From contributor F:
For your situation I think I would advise a 5hp minimum since you'll be doing raised panels. Here's the catch, once you get used to the shaper you'll never look back but you'll start to think about speeding up the process even further. That's where you'll wonder about adding a second shaper, one to do the stiles and rails and one for the panels.

As for the bore size it really depends on what youíre doing. The larger bore allows you to use bigger cutters down the road. I believe you also get a cleaner cut from the larger diameter cutters, but of course you pay more too.

I have three shapers currently shoehorned into my 2k square foot shop, though the only spindle I've used to date is the 3/4". I don't really do bigger stuff so haven't invested in any larger cutters yet

The deals are out there if youíre patient. Shapers are pretty simple for the most part, make sure the spindle has no play in it and it looks like it's been taken care of. My experience has been good in that most of the used machines I've bought required less work than the new ones. And with used shapers you'll usually get either a feeder for a low price, or cutters thrown in, or sometimes both.

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