MOTHER's Wood Shaper Survey

MOTHER EARTH NEWS Design Your Dream Workshop Part VII shares survey results for wood shaper manufacturers and the specifications they offer.

| September/October 1986

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    A wood shaper cuts stock to a particular pattern or profile by employing a rapidly rotating multibladed cutter mounted to a vertical spindle.
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    MOTHER EARTH NEWS wood shaper survey chart.

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Be sure of service; even well-built equipment breaks down. 

Design Your Dream Workshop: PART VII Wood Shaper

Admittedly, a wood shaper would be considered a luxury by most nonprofessional woodworkers. But if you're in the market for a quantity of molding, or anticipate making a lot of custom joints, or even trim picture frames, one of these versatile shapers will most likely pay for itself several times over. (See the image gallery for a chart of survey results).

A shaper cuts stock to a particular pattern or profile by employing a rapidly rotating multibladed cutter mounted to a vertical spindle. The spindle is designed so it can be raised or lowered in fractional increments to meet the work at a precise point; in addition, spacers can be used to position the cutter at different heights on the spindle.

The edge of the work is guided along a pair of independently adjustable fences which are positioned on either side of the cutter. As the stock passes the spinning blades, it's shaped to match the cutter's profile. Literally hundreds of profile designs are available to fashion anything from frame moldings to finger joints.

When shopping for a shaper, look for one with a table about 1-1/2 foot square or larger, with a removable insert around the spindle . . . and a slot for a miter gauge. As a rule, cast-iron construction is superior, but cast alloys are strong and lightweight as well. A particularly valuable accessory, if you'll be working with long boards, is a table extension. Likewise, a sliding carriage, mated to the tool's existing table, makes panel and quantity work a good deal simpler. Generally, shapers aren't manufactured as bench models, so be sure that the table height — as determined by the size of the stand that comes with the machine — will be comfortable for you.

Since the spindle is such an important part of the tool, pay some attention to its construction and detail. The standard diameter is 1/2 inches; European models use larger shafts, and heavier commercial shapers come with interchangeable spindles of different sizes. The range of the spindle's travel reflects convenience rather than necessity. Far more important is the precision with which the spindle is set within its housing. There should be no evident sideplay, especially when the spindle is at its full height. The shaft's vertical movement should be smooth and consistent, but kept in check with a lock control that's readily accessible to the operator. An accurate and readable scale, operating in conjunction with the spindle height control, is a plus when setting up your work, but you'll still have to rely on a test pass to be certain of its claim.


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