Router Table vs Shaper

carbide tipped amana tool

One of the big frustrations with folks who initially get into woodworking is, “what machines do I start with?” Slider vs traditional table saw? Combo machines vs. standalone? Router table vs shaper? With such large purchases, the stakes of getting the correct machine that fits their needs are high.

The debate between shaper vs. router table is a common one (and one that will rage on long after this is written). But it certainly helps to make a better decision if someone has experience with both. I’ve enjoyed woodworking as a hobby for over 8 years. I started with the common path of getting a router table first. Then eventually acquiring a shaper some years later. With experience owning both, I feel I might have something to add to the subject.

My conclusion? I wouldn’t go without either. I know that initially sounds expensive and possibly overwhelming, but hear me out! If we can imagine for a minute that’s the goal, what’s the path?

I would get the shaper first and invest in the tooling required to perform the jobs you need it to. I would then acquire (shop-built or purchased) a simple router table and fill in with bits not available through shaper tooling (dovetails, supplemental bits, etc.). This can be as simple as a router screwed to a hole in plywood and flipped upside down.

Keep in mind, this is not what I did. I took traditional advice and bought a fancy router table and thousands of dollars in router bits. I spent several frustrating years trying to make my router table what it wasn’t – a shaper. I took the shaper plunge and now have many unused router bits. A not-so-small list of these include; door making bits, architectural bits and profiles, edge forming bits (round overs, ogees, and coves), and slot cutters just to name a few. All still “work”. Just nothing like my shaper tooling.

Comparing machine size, specs, and power is a simple internet search away, so I will not get into that here. I simply want to provide information gained through my experience.

So, what are my pros and cons?

  1. Time savings. My shop time is limited and precious. I could take 5+ passes with my profile or architectural router bits, or one with my shaper. Keep in mind the time not just lost in passes, but adjusting the fence, clamps, etc.
  2. Finish. I sand because I have to, not because I want to. There is no comparison between the finish that shaper tooling leaves vs. router bits. The same general pattern is there, but by the time I sand all of the waviness and defects out of my routed profile, it isn’t as uniform as I like anymore. I can take a couple passes with 180 grit at most when I use the shaper. Sometimes, nothing at all!
  3. Cut quality. This somewhat goes hand in hand with finish, but there is another advantage. When I would rout grooves or rabbets on shifty grained woods like Maple and Cherry, I would get tear out along the cut line. Many times that would get into my panel field or other places that would show. Forcing me to repair, fill, or start over. The wider geometry of cut from shaper tooling, virtually eliminates this (see size comparison in photo of a ¼” roundover profile). Think of the angle as more “scraping” vs. “chopping”. If all else fails, most shapers offer the opportunity to reverse the direction to always go with the grain.

Cons

  1. Tooling cost. Its no secret router bits are cheaper than shaper tooling. But not drastically if you ask me. It’s why I like Amana so much. High quality and affordable. Sure, you can spend an outrageous sum on tooling – I have – just to see if I was missing out. I wasn’t. I have yet to see a significant difference in what expensive tooling can do vs. not-so-expensive. Especially in a hobby setting.I mean, let’s face it, most shaper tooling is meant for more industrious work. If you make inferior shaper tooling, you will not be around very long.
  2. Shaper cost. Depending on what you want, a shaper can get VERY expensive. Think European built machines…all in metric. But you don’t need that. I have a shaper built in Taiwan that works just as wonderfully as all my other Taiwan-built shop machinery.
  3. Fear. Much of the advice on shaper purchasing I see on the internet is warnings that a shaper will take your head clean off if you don’t know what you are doing. I suppose this is true in an extreme incident, but couldn’t a table saw do the same? If you have concerns about a shaper, start “smaller”. Get a 1 ½ – 3 HP machine that will take ¾” tooling (Amana has PLENTY). It’s still a major step-up from a router table, but not quite as initially intimidating. I will add that I immediately went to a 5 HP machine that takes 1 ¼” tooling…and I had never used one before. I just learned all I could about safety (very similar to my router table) and I have never once felt intimidated. I will add that if you don’t feel comfortable performing something on it, DON’T! None of it is worth risking your health over.

The beauty of woodworking is there are many ways to arrive at the same destination. Whether it’s a shaper, router table, or any other machine. The difference is how you get there. Being open on your path means you just might find a more enjoyable way of getting to your destination.

Cheers,

Brandon Larkin
Larkin Woodworking
Overland Park, KS

Shop the full line of Amana Tool Router Bits and Shaper Cutters here.

 

This entry was posted in General Tips for Woodworkers, Shaper Cutters. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *