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Thread: Shaper v. Router table

  1. #1
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    Shaper v. Router table

    What is the benefit of having a well equipped router table versus an entry level shaper with a router collet. Seems like you can do a lot more with a shaper.

    A brand name router, table, lift, etc.. (woodpecker for example) appears to cost whole a lot more than buying an entry level shaper new or a heftier used machine. I realize shaper tooling is expensive, but what if you were going to use it mostly with the router collet and bits? Seems like a no brainer, what am I missing? Ease of use?

    Realize that I have owned neither. I have a 1980ís craftsman router table that is crazy, loud, not the most accurate, and scary at times. But I get by as a hobbyist.

    If if I was to upgrade, why go better router rather than a nice heavy old shaper, with a cast iron table, cabinet, and better motor, with appropriate router capabilities? For furniture and small item building? Thanks

  2. #2
    I think the bottom line is that for a typical hobbiest, a router table will pretty much do everything that you need to...and so will a shaper. In general, router tables are thought to be somewhat less costly than shapers both in initial purchase and tooling. However, there is considerable overlap. The high-end router table setups can certainly be more costly than the lower end shapers. A shaper is quieter, since they use belt drives and induction motors as opposed to direct drives universal motors in most routers. A shaper, especially a modern one, is likely to have better dust collection since they are built into a cabinet, like a cabinet table saw. Many shapers can be run in clockwise and anti-clockwise directions and tilt the shaper spindle, giving you more flexibility in the types of cutting you can do. The shaper cutters are considerable larger so you can do larger profiles, deeper cuts, and require fewer passes than router tables. But the shaper spindles rotate slower so if you only use a shaper with an adapter for router bits it may not rotate those bits as fast as they were designed for. I am not a shaper expert at all, but I would think that if you plan to use a shaper table only with router bits, I do not see a big advantage. If you plan to use shaper cutters predominantly, and router bits only occasionally, and you can afford the cost of shaper and cutters, I see no disadvantage to shaper over a router table. However, the least expensive decent-quality used shaper table will probably still more expensive than the least expensive router table setup (like a piece of plywood with a router screwed to it). So if cost were the primary factor, router table wins. For me, I have been very satisfied with my cast-iron router table setup and it does everything I ask of it. I do recognize the limitations of the router table vs a shaper and I'm OK with that. For certain things I have other router-based tools such as a pantorouter and router boss.

  3. #3
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    Zac

    You're going to get a broad range of replies to this question, and it has come up more than once in the past year or so. In the end though, it comes down to what is it that a person is trying to accomplish.
    I had a router mounted in a table for many years. It was big, ugly as sin, dead flat, weighed a butt ton before I loaded sandbags into it, and was very reliable. I also had access to a shaper anytime I wanted to use one. When I lost access to the shaper, I immediately bought a used shaper, and the router table is now a tool bench.
    The only "function" that a router mounted in a table does "better" than a shaper, is tight radius template work. With the use of a router bit, mounted in a shaper, that is kind of a moot point. A bottom bearing,1/2", spiral, router bit works very well in a shaper.
    The big detractor to the shaper is the cost of cutters. For the hobbyist though, how many cutters do you need really, or actually use.
    Shaper cutters come as blocks, and just about any profile imaginable can be mounted to these blocks. Yes, the initial investment is higher for the cutter block, but the cost of the cutters them self is on par with the cost of a router bit. But,long after that router bit is replaced, those shaper cutters are still working, and that cutter block will last a lifetime.
    Regular shaper cutters are not as cost prohibitive as people want to think either. Yes, they will cost more than a router bit, but once again the life expectancy is much greater. It would not be inconceivable in a home shop environment that a shaper cutter could last many, many, years, if not a lifetime.
    Where shaper cutters get expensive is in door and cabinet sets. These can cost pretty much however much you want to spend. A quality kitchen cabinet set will cost $350.00-$700.00 for hobbyist use. A pro shop most likely has $2500.00+ invested in the same tooling. A quality router bit set will not be inexpensive either to accomplish the same task.
    One function that almost all shapers have, that a router does not, is reverse rotation of the cutter. This function has many applications. From working with difficult woods to keep the cut running down the grain. To climb cutting the final pass on a profile.
    I used a shaper for many, many, years without a power feeder. I bought a used one a while back, and have come to really appreciate what it brings to the whole process.
    I do still use the shaper by hand, but I also use that power feeder. I would recommend a power feeder for either the shaper, or router table.

    Where a router table does have an advantage is in aftermarket fences. There are some really, really nice aftermarket router fence systems. I wish I could say the same for shapers. What limited aftermarket shaper fences are available, are expensive, and hard to get. A lot of folks turn to 80/20.net and make their own shaper fences. The OEM supplied fences, that come with shapers, are notorious for their low quality.
    Last edited by Mike Cutler; 07-10-2019 at 8:08 AM.
    "The first thing you need to know, will likely be the last thing you learn." (Unknown)

  4. #4
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    About 12-13 years ago I was looking at this same question.I bought my first shaper,a Steel City 3 h.p. unit with 3/4'' and 1'' spindles as well as a router bit collet. I used it with the router bits I already had at first. The first thing you notice is how much quieter it is,next is the power. When I started to accumulate shaper cutters and use them I quickly realized the machine had a lot more potential than I had been using with just router bits. When I bought my shaper I did it just looking at the cost of a good router table set-up versus shaper cost alone. They were pretty close at that time. I still use that shaper today and recently bought another one. The new one is a Minimax T-50 with 1 1/4'' tilting spindle and 5 h.p. motor with a sliding table. I have power feeders on both machines ,both get used a lot. The smaller machine still occasionally with a router bit in it. I would agree that not all shapers have great fences,however the two machines I own do. The steel city has the best stock fence that I have ever seen on a small shaper. To bad they are not in business anymore. If you do decide to look for a shaper,look used. Quite often you will find machines being sold with all the shaper tooling that the seller has accumulated going with the machine.

  5. #5
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    Space might be a consideration for you. You can install a router table as a wing on the table saw, so it doesn't take up any floor space at all. The shaper does take floor space.

  6. #6
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    People say the shaper rpm is too low for router bits. I do not think this is a problem for home shop use. Just reduce feed rate. For bits under 1/4' diameter it may be noticeable.
    Bill d>

  7. #7
    Hi Zac, people have it pretty well covered. If you have the space and funds, it's nice to have both, especially if you do a variety of work as there are a few things a shaper can't do that a router table can. If I had to pick, I'd choose a shaper as it's more capable in the big picture and much more enjoyable to use. I've also found that router bits in a shaper can work surprisingly well if you back off the feed speed and pay attention.

    Tooling is something I've never found to be terribly expensive with a few wise, up front investments in modern tooling that takes replaceable knives. As we speak (type) I'm finishing up my 50th hard maple door using a set of HSS knives that cost less than $75. There's more life in them, but even if there wasn't, they've earned their keep and since I may never do that type of door again, investing in very expensive carbide kit would have left a lot of money sitting on the shelf. Carbide heads (insert or brazed) can make sense for some commonly used heads or if you're using abrasive materials, but a lot of the time you can get excellent results from much more economical tooling. I do this for a living and I only have two brazed carbide heads.
    https://www.youtube.com/c/DovetailTimberworks

  8. #8
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    As a hobbyist, i think i would want to have a router table first. I originally had a tricked out jessem that i purchased used for a great price. New, that whole setup with the miter slide, PC router, and everything else would have been $1500, i think. I sold that setup when i bought my used felder saw/shaper, but here i am today with a much simpler jessem router table that i purchased used for $300. The shaper is great, and while i have the high speed router spindle for the felder, it just doesnt make a whole lot of sense to swap spindles(somewhat of a chore), put the hood in place, all just to run a 1/8" roundover bit. Some of those issues are specific to a combo machine, but even with the standard run of the mill 3hp shaper, it will get annoying swapping spindles. I havent used one of those machines with a router spindle, but most shapers dont exceed 9-10k RPM. I dont think most routers go down to that slow of an RPM. This is kinda critical for how i use the router table--stopped mortises and rebates with small diameter bits. Along the same lines, i dont know if im comfortable dropping workpieces into shaper tooling in the same fashion that i do with a router. That is purely personal preference, but keep that in mind. Both machines can definitely hurt you, but the router table is a much more comfortable machine to be around.

    I think it all depends on what you want to do with the machine(s). A router table can do just about everything you want a shaper to do. It will do it slower, with less power, and more noise, but you can achieve most general furniture related tasks. A shaper offers many more capabilities, but is limited when it comes to very small tooling. Stuff like architectural molding, cabinetry, and tenoning are areas where i think the shaper excels. Tight pattern work(think G&G cloud lifts), 1/4"-1/2" bits, and stopped dadoes/grooves/mortises are where i would want a simple, but good quality, router table.

    Two final points. One, shapers are unequivocally more expensive. Obviously, the tool is more expensive, but at some point you are going to want a feeder. That is $1000+. Next, even if you get a euroblock, the tooling is more expensive. I would recommend finding a machine with a 1-1/4" spindle. Used tooling is much more prevalent in that bore. The 1/2, 3/4, and 1" bores are usually inexpensive braised cutters that are ancient and usually poorly looked after. With 1-1/4" tooling, you can usually find a pro shop closing up, or a hobbyist with a felder/minimax combo machine that is selling their high quality tooling. I purchased an auction lot of American and Canadian made shaper tooling at auction about two years ago that had about 50 insert cutterhead bodies. Some of them were very specific profiles for flooring and wall paneling, but after selling off those cutterheads i was left with about 15-20 different cutterheads from raised panels to different matched sets for cope and stick cabinetry. Im into this tooling for nothing at this point, and each one of those heads was probably $500-1000 brand new. Steel heads eventually do wear out due to the knife mounting threads, but i cant imagine how much wear would need to happen for that to occur. Like Brent says, hobbyists/small shops will find it impossible to wear out high quality steel body insert tooling. Food for thought, but i think at a minimum you will want to have a budget of $3,000 for a used shaper, tooling, and a feeder. For about a grand you can have a very high quality router table, bits, and a good motor like a PC 7518.

  9. #9
    I've had a shop built router table along with 2 shapers over the years. I find the shaper far more versatile than a router IMO. You can reverse direction and work above or below the work piece, stack cutters etc. I make all my trim and doors on the shaper any more, though I use a molder to make moldings. Every persons situation is different, choose the one that you want and go for it.

  10. #10
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    Patrick

    You have some very good points in your post. I like it. Well written.

    I'm not quite at the $3K mark for my used shaper setup. Closer to about $1900.
    I could probably sell the cutters that came with it and get back a $400-$500, maybe. Probably not, because only the complete cabinet sets have any real marketable value.
    I lucked out though with the power feeder and got an older, working, 1/2HP Comatic, for $400.00. Didn't need anything to put it back in service except plug it in. Power feeders are expensive,and if you want to try and buy one via Craigslist, you better keep the $$$$ on hand. They go fast!
    The other piece I really lucked out on was finding a NIB, OEM Delta, 1",spindle cartridge, for $50.00, Now with T-adapters I can run some of the lighter 1-1/4" tooling. A 3/4" Delta spindle was included in the deal, but i have no use for it really, as I already had a 1/2" and 3/4" spindle.
    "The first thing you need to know, will likely be the last thing you learn." (Unknown)

  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by Patrick Kane View Post

    Two final points. One, shapers are unequivocally more expensive. Obviously

    Food for thought, but i think at a minimum you will want to have a budget of $3,000 for a used shaper, tooling, and a feeder. For about a grand you can have a very high quality router table, bits, and a good motor like a PC 7518.

    If we are talking new, then yes the shaper is more $.

    Used maybe, maybe not.

    As for the total cost..

    Used feeders like used shapers can be cheap. Im up to 5 feeders now with three shapers and the most ive spent on a functional used feeder was $100, and the least $25. Similarly the most ive spent on a shaper was 1k (slider with tilt and feeder) and the least was $400 (slider with feeder) both 1.25" spindle machines.

    For comparison i had $600 in a jessem lift with a 7518, that just collects dust now.

  12. #12
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    I had the same issue and purchased an older version of version of https://www.grizzly.com/products/Gri...P-Shaper/G1035
    Use it mostly with router bits. Have several shaper cutters that I used when doing raised panels. It is currently on sale for 595. Made my own fence so I could connect to dust collector.

  13. #13
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    Where are you guys finding used feeders inexpensively!??! I want a spare for my PM72, and id even like to give a feeder a go on my 20" jointer. For the life of me, i cant find a used single phase feeder within 3-4 hours. My only opportunities are 1/2 hp units attached to the ubiquitous 3hp shaper, and the guy never wants to split up the package.

    I kinda pulled $3,000 out of the air. Yes, i routinely see 3hp delta shapers with a 1/4-1/2 hp feeder for sale in the $1500-1800 range. So add in a couple hundred for some tooling and you are up and running for $2,000. My opinion--right or wrong--is to not go the 3hp taiwan import shaper. Im sure they are fine, but if you are going to have one machine and you are comfortable buying used already, then i would go right to something 5hp. At that weight class you get a high quality machine with a tilting spindle(i dont think the 3hp imports tilt), and you might even get lucky with getting a sliding table like Jared.

  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by Patrick Kane View Post
    Where are you guys finding used feeders inexpensively!??! I want a spare for my PM72, and id even like to give a feeder a go on my 20" jointer. For the life of me, i cant find a used single phase feeder within 3-4 hours. My only opportunities are 1/2 hp units attached to the ubiquitous 3hp shaper, and the guy never wants to split up the package.

    I kinda pulled $3,000 out of the air. Yes, i routinely see 3hp delta shapers with a 1/4-1/2 hp feeder for sale in the $1500-1800 range. So add in a couple hundred for some tooling and you are up and running for $2,000. My opinion--right or wrong--is to not go the 3hp taiwan import shaper. Im sure they are fine, but if you are going to have one machine and you are comfortable buying used already, then i would go right to something 5hp. At that weight class you get a high quality machine with a tilting spindle(i dont think the 3hp imports tilt), and you might even get lucky with getting a sliding table like Jared.
    Ive picked up all the feeders and shapers less than a hour from my house. Craigslist and Facebook marketplace... most less than 30 min away.

    $400 shaper




    $1000 shaper


    They are out there.. off the top of my head i passed up a delta invicta rs15 for $400 and unitronix/gomad dffa5 (martin t21 clone) for $1200 and most recently a casolin f90 for $1400.

    As for cheap feeders, ive bought every one ive come across, the last two were a few miles from my house at a garage sale.


    Last edited by Jared Sankovich; 07-10-2019 at 7:27 PM.

  15. #15
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    I think that at the time that most amateur woodworkers start thinking about the advantages of a shaper they have already invested a lot of resources into their router setup. They have lots of bits, a powerful motor permanently in their table & have developed processes to minimize the weakness of using a router for tasks that might be more efficient on a shaper.

    I would love to have a shaper but would need to keep my router table until i was comfortable that I had fully made the switch. For me it would be disruptive to switch to a shaper. I would have to find space for it, probably a new circuit, tooling & lots of time using it to become efficient. Over time the disruption would probably be great but it would be a big change.

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