"I'm still a fairly new woodworker (3 years), and I'm slowly building up a shop full of tools. I'm really interested in a shaper, but after reading about the safety concerns they raise, I'm really thinking about a small power feeder for it. I'm having a hard time finding any advice or even a picture to go by."
A shaper is more powerful and more intimidating to use than a good many power tools, and presents considerable potential for damage to self and shop - if used incorrectly. Does that make it an inherently "dangerous tool"? Many, many woodworkers have been operating shapers safely for years. If you take proper care and have a solid understanding of how to use to tool safely and correctly, a shaper can be an invaluable asset to your shop.
Still, hand feeding stock through a shaper is just not something that a lot of woodworkers feel comfortable doing. And hand feeding can present serious safety problems if done incorrectly. Adding a power feeder to feed the stock for you can make a shaper safer to operate, feel safer, and greatly improve the cuts it produces. A power feeder pushes the stock through at a consistent rate of speed, and holds the stock up tight against the fence and the bed of the tool – both of which make the nice deep, smooth profiles that a shaper is capable of producing much more likely to happen. The power feeder also keeps you from having to get your hands near the cutter, which is a comfort, at the very least.
Power feeders come in various sizes, from 1/8 HP on up. The Powermatic PF-33 stock feeder pictured above is a 1 HP unit that’s heavy-duty enough to keep just about any shaper project that most of us are likely to undertake moving exactly on course.
A power feeder can feed stock through a table saw as well, and has essentially the same benefits there that it does with a shaper. Here’s more on the value of a power feeder for a table saw - and in general - from three woodworking experts, courtesy of the Woodworker’s Journal:
Q. "I do runs of molding in the 1,000-3,000 foot range on a Delta RT 40. I'm thinking of mounting a power feeder onto the saw, but I'd like to hear the pros and cons before I do."
A. (Ellis Walentine) "On the plus side, power feeders keep the wood in constant contact with the fence and table, they produce a uniform width and edge quality, they greatly speed the process, and they keep your fingers away from the blade. I can't think of any cons unless you have to mount and unmount the feeder every time you use the saw."
A. (Rick White) "My first response is: what took you so long? I love my power feeder and have been using it for years. I highly recommend power feeders and can't think of any reason not to get one. They give you much more control over your materials and you get better results with increased safety. Those are three powerful reasons to go out and get one.
And they are getting better all the time. The older ones were very heavy and it usually took two people to set it up. Now Delta and others are buidling smaller power feeders for the hobbyist market that are light, easy to set up and much more affordable. This is a great time to be in the market for a feeder."
A. (Ian Kirby) "The advantages of power feeders are:
• a hold down in front and in back of the cut
• the work held tight to the bed of the machine and tight to the fence
• the work propelled past the blade at a constant pressure and at a constant speed
The outcome is the most accurate dimension cut you can get and the smoothest cut face you can get. The feed rate is in excess of what can be achieved by manually pushing the work through. Buy a good one. My preference would be Holz-Her based in Charlotte, NC. I'm hard pressed to give you a disadvantage — a con to go with the pro.