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A Shaper or a Router - Which is Best for Your Shop?
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Do you need a shaper, or is a router and router table the better choice for your shop? Here are three expert opinions, courtesy of our friends at the Woodworker's Journal:

Q. A woodworker wants to know if there is any real advantage to getting a shaper. He wonders if there are any operations on a shaper that he can't duplicate with a good router, router table and an Incra Jig?

A. (Michael Dresdner) "You can move the same amount of dirt with a 1/2-ton pickup truck as you can with a 2-ton pickup ... it will just take more trips. A shaper typically has a much larger motor and spindle. It does the same thing but can take larger cuts — both in depth and height — in one pass. It also requires cutters that are, by and large, much more expensive than router bits. The prevailing issue will be the same as it always is when you decide how heavy-duty a tool you need: is the speed and durability worth the money?"

A. (Rick White) "The short answer is no. There's very little a shaper can do that you can't duplicate with a router table. Shapers are used more often in industrial woodworking shops, and I do almost all my machining of wood with a really good, well-built router table. The one thing a shaper has going for it is that it comes with a split fence, but you can build that into your router table design without much hassle."

A. (Ian Kirby) "A good quality shaper is preferable to a good quality router. The shaper is more sturdy and should have a better fence, and will likely have more power and speed and flexibility. The most important thing is that it can be easily fitted with a power feeder, which is the key to getting the best results with most molding and shaping operations."

From the Woodworker's Journal eZine archives

Here's our opinion: a shaper my be your best choice if millwork figures prominently in your woodworking - for example, you frequently find yourself  milling a couple hundred feet of molding. Or, a shaper may be the best choice if you just like the idea of using a machine that's designed to make exceptionally smooth profile cuts all day long, even in large stock.  On the other hand, you can do a lot with a router and a router table. And there are some very sophisticated set-ups available - like the Rockler / JessEm Mast-R-Lift - that'll cover just about anything that all but the most industrious of us will ever need to do.

posted on October 13, 2006 by Rockler
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5 thoughts on “A Shaper or a Router - Which is Best for Your Shop?”

  • Kevin Walker

    A few aspects of shapers versus routers are;<br /><br />1. A shaper can reverse its motor allowing you to flip the cutter upside down, enabling you to feed from the other side (left) and changing whether you are cutting with the top of the board facing down or up.<br /><br />2. With a router you can run a board over the top of the routers bit that you can not do with a shaper because the shaper has an arbor/ bolt sticking up.<br />

  • Blog Editor

    Thanks for pointing out these two important mechanical differences between a shaper and a router.

  • bob middaugh

    <b>Hello I am trying to cut a raised panel on my router table. I seem to only be able to cut it 1.5 inches back and I need to cut it back 2.25 inches to make garage door panels. Does anybody know how to do that on a router table? I have a 3.25 horse Freud router and table.</b>

  • Blog Editor

    Bob, sorry we didn't get back to you sooner. Without being able to see what you are doing, we're assuming that you want to make a panel with a wider reveal than your raised panel bit was designed for. If you are using a horizontally oriented bit with a pilot bearing, you're stuck with the width the bit was designed for. <br /><br />It sounds like you are trying to match an existing profile. In that case, you're best bet will be to hunt for a bit that closely matches the original and is designed to cut that shape and width - which sounds whoppin' big for a router, by the way. If you do find a bit, we recommend taking care and making several passes to achieve the final profile. <br />

  • Jim Sawyers

    In reference to the gentleman making the garage door panels. If you are good and safe with a table saw you can do the job on a table saw. Set your fence at your limit of cut (in other words at the 2 1/4 limit and make your first cut on all of the doors. After all doors have been cut at the 2 1/4 limit you can come back at reduced settings on the fence and finish cut to edge. Remember to double check the depth of your cut. In the old days we did not have all of the niceties we have today. Good luke take your time and be careful.

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