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A wood shaper, usually just shaper in North America or spindle moulder in the UK, is a stationary woodworking machine in which a vertically orientated spindle protrudes from the machine table and can be spun at speeds typically between 3,000 and 10,000 rpm. Cutter heads may be mounted on the spindle. As the workpiece is fed into the machine, the cutters mould a profile into it. On some shapers, router bits can also be used using a special mounting adapter. The machine normally features a vertical fence, against which the workpiece is guided to control the horizontal depth of cut.
Wood shapers do essentially the same job as the router table, with the main difference being that a wood shaper is a stationary machine designed for larger volume work while a router is a hand tool for lighter duty work. Routers can also be mounted on a router table, and used as a stationary tool. However, routers run at considerably higher speeds than shapers, and the use of large bits can be dangerous. Also, shapers can be used to cut much larger profiles than routers and custom-made shaper bits can be readily ordered or fabricated.
Wood shapers come in two main variants: one with the spindle on the side, so the bit cuts into the workpiece from the side, and one where the spindle assembly is mounted in the bottom of the table, so the bit cuts into the bottom of the workpiece. Of these two, the latter is more common. On some shaper models the spindle can be tilted.
Shapers can be adapted to perform specialized cuts through the use of a wide variety of accessories such as sliding tables, tenon tables, tilting arbor, tenoning hoods, and interchangeable spindles. Spindle shafts come in a variety of sizes with the most common at 3/4" for small shapers, 1¼" for most shapers, and 30mm on European shapers. Most spindles are tall enough to accommodate more than one cutter head thereby making tooling changes much quicker. Interchangeable spindles make this process much quicker as additional spindles can be fitted with other cutter heads that are pre-spaced.
Shapers range from simple units with fixed spindles, to high-end units with tilting, interchangeable spindles with reversible capabilities. European combination machines feature shapers along with sliding tablesaws, jointers, planers, and mortisers.
Using a wood shaper
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The wood shaper is considered a larger version of a router table, with more power, and the ability to handle much larger cutters, such as those used for raised panels or crown moldings. The variety of cutters is also much greater than those for routers while still permitting the use of conventional router bits.
Shapers range in size and are identified by the power of the motor and the spindle diameter. They increase in size to 2, 3, and 5 HP and larger for industrial purposes. The shafts, or spindles are threaded on the end and range in size from 1/2" to 1¼" in diameter. Many machines come equipped with a couple different sizes of spindles, as well as having collets to allow router bits to be used in it.
These machines are much quieter than a router, and have much less vibration, due mainly to the fact they're belt driven and have slower speeds. Generally, the shaper cutter is turning between 7,000–10,000 rpm. Speed adjustments are typically made by relocating the belts on the stepped pulley system, much like a drill press, whereas a router will turn at between 20,000 and 25,000 rpm, and are direct drive.
Shapers are also able to run in reverse, which is necessary in performing some cuts. It is very important to always check the position of the directional switch, particularly if you work with others. Feeding a board into a shaper that is turning the wrong direction could result in the board leaving the machine like a missile.
The shaper is considered by many to be the most dangerous machine in the shop; however, several devices are used to mitigate the risk. The first is a plastic guard supplied with the shaper that sits above the cutter. It has a bearing in the center of it which allows it to spin freely and serves to limit inadvertent contact by human hands with the cutter.
Jigs and fixtures are also a big help in reducing injury, and generally result in better cuts. A very small device, but important one is the starter pin, or fulcrum pin supplied with the machines. This is simply a metal rod, threaded on one end which screws into a hole located a few inches away from the cutter. Holding the work piece against the starter pin, and then feeding it into the cutter is the proper way to start a freehand cut.
Probably the best and also most expensive safety device would be a power feeder. While these were probably not designed as a safety feature they keep hands far from the cutters, and will both hold down the work piece and press it against the fence with a great deal of force. The feeder will also control the speed at which the board is fed past the cutter. Both of these details are critical to nice smooth, burn-free shaping. These power feeders are generally three or four-wheeled, and are capable of at least two speeds. The speed change is made by changing metal drive gears within the power head. The wheels themselves are usually a semi-soft rubber or similar material which prevents them from slipping.
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- Lee A. Jesberger. "Wood Shapers". Pro Woodworking Tips.com.
- "Wood Shapers - Information and resources about wood shapers, particularly older models.". Old Wood Working Machines (OWWM).