The Best Shaper for Your Woodworking Details
Many people think of the shaper as a big router table, when in reality the shaper has existed longer than the router. The router and later router table were invented to be a smaller version of the shaper. Both essentially do the same job, shaping edges of wood pieces, although the tools themselves are designed a little bit differently.
Some would say that with a good router and table, there is no reason to buy a shaper. That would depend a lot on what type of woodworking you do and how much you would use it. While a heavy-duty router and table can do just about anything that a shaper can, shapers are generally more powerful, with larger motors and better fences. Even the best extruded aluminum fences I’ve seen on high dollar router tables don’t match the performance you can get out of a shaper’s fence.
A shaper’s fence is almost always adjusted with a screw thread, unlike a router table, which usually has bolts through the table top. There is a separate locking screw, with a handle, to hold the fence in place. All of this is controlled off of a casting that is also the dust catcher and holds the guard. Each side of the fence is individually controlled, allowing micro-adjusting for full support of the workpiece on both sides of the cutter.
Shaper cutters are mounted on a spindle, rather than using a collet to hold the bit’s shaft. Longer spindles allow stacking cutters on the spindle, allowing multiple types of cuts, without having to reset the tool. The spindle has some vertical travel adjustment, allowing you to move from cutter to cutter, on the same project. This is very handy when using a shaper for raised panel doors or the rails and stiles for doors.
If you make your own raised panel doors or do extensive woodworking where edge profiles are an important part of your design, then a shaper would be an important part of your workshop.
For more information on what to look at in selecting the best shaper in 2021, check out our shaper buyer's guide. It will tell you the most important specifications to watch out for and what they mean to you.
Shop Fox W1674, 2 HP Shaper
Grizzly G1026 Shaper
JET JWS-25X Woodworking Shaper
Shop Fox W1701, 1 HP Shaper
Grizzly Industrial G5912Z - 5 HP Professional Spindle Shaper
Powermatic TS29 7-1/2 HP Shaper with Sliding Table
Grizzly G0608X Extreme Series Tilting Arbor Shaper
Shop Fox W1807 H.D. Shaper
Grizzly G9933 Three Spindle Shaper
Jet JWS-35X3-1 Shaper
The Best Shapers Models of 2021 in Detail
While this shaper is right on the edge of qualifying for this list, it does come with a more powerful motor than any of the others. At 2 HP, you can count on this one for a wide variety of cuts. It uses either 1/2-inch or 3/4-inch spindles, both of which are included, and has a spindle travel of three inches. The table is 24 inches wide by 21 inches deep, but they also make a table extension for it, which will make it 23 inches by 40 inches, much closer to the size of larger, more costly shapers. The fence control is rack and pinion for precise positioning and to help ensure that it doesn't move on its own. There are also hold downs for the material attached to the fence. A heavy-duty miter gauges comes with it.
Grizzly has managed to produce a 1-1/2 HP shaper for less than the cost of a high power router and good router table. That's pretty impressive when you think about it. This shaper has a 20-1/4-inch by 18-inch cast-iron table and accepts 1/2-inch and 3/4-inch spindles, both of which come with it. Both spindles have sealed ball bearings for long life and a three inch travel. In fact, everything that moves on this shaper is made with ball bearings for long life. The fence positioning is by screw feed, with a positive locking lever clamp. A lot of shaper for the money.
Jet's contender in this range has a 1-1/2 HP motor which turns at either 7,000 or 9,000 RPM, depending on your selection. It also works with both 1/2-inch and 3/4-inch spindles, like the other units we've looked at. However, in this case, the spindle travel is only 1-7/16-inch. The cast-iron table is 22-3/8-inch by 18-1/8-inch. Actually, the unit is a lot like the Grizzly. Like the others, it has a wood faced, cast-iron fence, which is set by screw controls. The major reason why I placed the Grizzly before this unit was price. This one is quite a bit more expensive.
The Shop Fox that I picked for number one isn't their smallest shaper, this one is. It has a 1 HP motor, compared to the 2 HP in the W1674. It's also got a slightly smaller table and only takes the 1/2-inch diameter spindle. Even though the spindle is smaller, it still stacks up to 3 inches of cutters, although the travel is limited to 7/8-inch. In addition to the 1/2-inch spindle, this one comes with collets to allow it to accept 1/4-inch and 1/2-inch router bits. The miter gauge has an extension on it for added precision; however, the fence adjustment isn't as fine as that found on the bigger units.
Grizzly produces the biggest shaper on the market, with a massive 91-3/4-inch table, and at the other end of the line they produce this one, the smallest shaper on the market. This one comes with a 3/4 HP motor, which may limit it's usability a bit. However, it's also the least expensive shaper on the market, at under $400. Although a shaper, with a 1/2-inch spindle, it's also designed for using with router bits, and comes with collets for both 1/4-inch and 1/2-inch shank bits. The major difference you'll see between this one and a router with table is that this unit has a shaper fence, rather than a router table fence. While that may not seem like much of a difference, the adjustment of a shaper fence is better, making for more secure cuts.
There are a number of large shapers out there, but this beast from Powermatic has to be the biggest and baddest. The 7-1/2 HP motor is attached to the spindle through five differ spindle speeds, plus a reverse speed. The spindle itself is seven inches tall, allowing stacking of multiple cutters and adjusts up to 45 degrees for maximum profile versatility.
This shaper also has a full-length sliding table riding on six tapered bearings for smooth operation. The table can travel a full four feet, and sports an onboard miter gauge with clamp. There’s also a 56” long miter fence with a flip stop included, something that’s virtually unheard of. The main fence is split, with digital readouts for both sides to allow for exacting tolerances. Let’s just say there’s not much this shaper can’t tackle.
Grizzly has a large, sliding table shaper even bigger than the Powermatic but I felt this shaper had more to offer. This is their tilting arbor shaper, which does just what the name says. By allowing the arbor to tilt to a precise angle, the shaper is able to make a whole new world of profiles, using the same cutting heads. In many cases, tilting adds additional depth to the cut, increasing the profile.
This shaper has a 1-1/4" diameter spindle, with a capacity of six inches. It can handle cutters up to 10" in diameter, which it will turn at four different speeds ranging from 3900 to 9400 RPM. The spindle also moved up and down, with a travel of 6-5/8". Tilting is controlled by a second crank handle and can be set precisely from 5 to 45 degrees. The table is a massive three inches thick to accommodate the tilt.
Shop Fox also has a larger shaper, like the Powermatic, but I chose their more modest 5 HP model. The cast iron fence is split, allowing you to dial in the right amount of offset for edge profiling. This one also takes all three standard spindle sizes, has a spindle travel of 3-1/4” and has spindle lengths of up to seven inches long. Like all the other shapers we’ve looked at, it comes with fingerboards to keep the material right where you want it for the best possible cuts.
I had to include this unique shaper from Grizzly in the lineup. This shaper actually has three separate cutting heads, allowing you to set up three separate operations, without having to change cutters. For production work, this is a great time saver, allowing each cutter to be used independently of the others and ensures consistency by allowing the cutters and fence adjustment to remain intact.
Each fence is independently micro-adjustable for accuracy. All this is powered by three 3 HP motors, one per spindle, which is the standard 1-1/4” diameter. There is also a 3/4” spindle available as an option. The spindle will accept up to four inch high cutters, but does not allow for angled cutting.
Jet makes a very nice series of shapers, topping out with this 3 HP model. It’s a single phase motor, so it will connect in the average home workshop, without special wiring. This model offers four different speeds, ranging from 4,000 to 10,000 RPM. The cast iron table is pre-drilled for a power feeder, which they also manufacture. The large miter gauge makes it easy to feed material across the smooth, cast iron table.
The shaper is a specialty woodworking machine used for profiling the edges of pieces of wood. Generally speaking, they’re commercial tools, although it's not uncommon to find them in professional woodworking shops. Even a few home woodworkers have budget shapers in their workshops.
When I mention profiling edges, I am referring to things along the line of cutting rabbets and beading, as well as tongue and groove joining of boards. However, probably the most important use of the shaper is for making raised panel doors. The shaper thins and tapers the door panels, as well as profiling the door's rails and stiles for the panels to set into.
Shapers use a vertically-mounted motor driven spindle to hold the cutting tools. The spindles are designed so multiple cutting tools can be mounted on the same shaper together. The spindle is then raised and lowered through the table, allowing for the different cutting tools to get to the workpiece. Workpieces are slid across the table to be cut.
All shapers are essentially the same, varying primarily in size. When we refer to a shaper's size, there are several things to be considered including motor size, spindle size, and table size.
On our review lists, we separate shapers into two categories, best shapers and best budget shapers. While there are many details of difference between the best of the best and the budget shapers, the major difference is size. Larger shapers simply cost more.
Important Shaper Specifications
Since all shapers are essentially the same tools, you're not going to find a lot of differences in features to look at. The main thing you need to understand is the differences in the shaper's sizes, so that you know what you are looking at.
Shaper motors vary from 3/4 HP to 7-1/2 HP. The larger the motor, the more it can cut on a pass. Smaller shapers are likely to bog down when making deep cuts or when cutting dense hardwoods so by purchasing a larger shaper, you eliminate that possibility.
Shaper spindles vary from 1/2 inch up to 1-1/4 inches in diameter, with the larger shaper spindles on the larger machines. The spindle diameter and cutting tool spindle hole diameter must match for the tool to work safely. The spindle length can vary as well, ranging from 3 inches up to 6-1/4 inches. The longer the spindle, the more and/or larger cutting heads you can put on it.
Shapers allow vertical travel of the spindle (generally called spindle travel) adjusting the profile of the cut to the board, as well as choosing which cutter is being used when multiple cutters are stacked together. A few of the lager shapers also allow the spindle to be tilted which changes the profile that the cutting tool makes.
The table of the shaper must be extremely flat and smooth to allow the workpiece to slide over it for cutting. Most tables are cast iron with the top surface ground to make it smooth. The larger the table surface, the easier it is to keep large workpieces flat and exactly perpendicular to the cutting head.
A few of the larger shapers have sliding tables which eliminates any problem with the workpiece hanging up on the table and ensuring a smooth cut. This increases the accuracy of the cut as well as improving productivity.
The fence is one of the most important parts of a quality shaper. Unlike a router bit, cutters for shapers do not have any sort of pilot bearing. This means that if the fence is not used, there is no way of controlling how deep the cut extends from the edge of the board. The fence must be used to control the depth of cut, ensuring that the profile is maintained.
The best fences are cast iron and independently adjustable with digital readouts. Fences will also come with holders to hold down the workpiece and prevent it from lifting off the table surface.
The table will have a hole cut in it for the cutting head to come through. The size of this hole is important, as it will define the largest diameter cutting head you can use. Inserts are used in this hole, when using smaller diameter bits. For shapers that have large insert holes, a number of inserts will be provided.
The turning speed of the shaper may be important, especially if you are cutting woods that splinter easily or very dense hardwoods. On the smaller shapers, spindle speeds are fixed, while the larger ones usually are adjustable speed.
The motors on the larger shapers are also 230 VAC, rather than 120 VAC (normal house current). If you do not have the higher voltage wired into your workshop, you don't want to buy one of these higher voltage units.