Wood Shaper vs Router Table: Which One Should I Buy As a Woodworker?

Wood shapers and router tables, are indispensable in a woodworkers workshop. As their names suggest, they are used to mould shapes or trim wood to create unique and beautiful designs.

But since they function similarly, most woodworkers argue that it is pointless to keep two power tools. Not only do they crowd your space, but they cost you unnecessary expenses as well. However, the debate between wood shaper vs router table is one that is more difficult to resolve than you might have initially thought.

In this article, we will give a brief overview of both power tools and determine their differences, functions, and features to help you choose.

Related article: 9 Must-Have Woodworking Power Tools To Power Up Your Workshop

An Overview of the Wood Shaper

Overview of the wood shaper

A wood shaper is one of the most versatile power tools a woodworker can have in their arsenal. It is not only used to cut ornamental edges on straight stock, but also to shape edges of curved ones.

Alternatively known as the “spindle moulder” in the UK, this machine has a worktable with a fence at the end. The spindle, or the motor-driven shaft, vertically protrudes through the surface, on top of which sit the blades. To work freehand, you have to remove the fence. 

You can feed the stock from any direction you want, and it will cut the stock in the shape of the blade. It basically resembles a router permanently set upside-down. Even so, the cuts they produce are not unlike those of the routers.

With shapers with numerous spindles, each cutter rotates at a speed of between 7000 and 10,000 RPM. Most spindles are measured at half an inch in diameter. The height, however, can be adjusted along with the fence. 

As for the cutters, they are usually of two types. They could either be solid a piece of steel with three surfaces or wings running along the center, or they could be assembled and conjoined with multiple straight cutters attached to a head along the spindle.

Shapers are motor-powered between half and full horsepower. The optimal speed range for a spindle should be about 10,000 revolutions per minute. Getting a reversible shaper can be quite convenient if you want to increase your work efficiency. 

For a complete overview see our beginner’s guide to using a wood shaper for woodworking.

An Overview of the Router and the Router Table

Overview of the router table

All woodworkers, including newbies, know the value of a router or a router table. Routers, together with cutters, are electric power tools used to cut different materials into a variety of shapes. 

They can be used to craft an assortment of grooves and rebates on the surfaces and edges of drawers and cupboards. It can also easily handle a trimming job to scrape off excess laminate and wood lipping.

If you are planning to create beautiful moldings and beadings, a router can come in handy. This tool, along with its special cutters and jigs, has also replaced chisels and hand saws in the joint making. 

When handheld routers are attached upside-down to a special type of table, somewhere on the underside, they are called router tables. The cutter cuts through a hole on the surface of the table. To cut or shape a material using a router table you would have to feed the material along with the table and against the spinning cutter. 

A router table expands the range of angles in which the router tool can work. You can work sideways or upside down, increasing your flexibility and work quality. It also allows more work control since the table guides the material against the router for you instead of having to move the power tool manually. 

The spindle runs in the speed range of 3,000 rpm to 24,000 rpm. There are two kinds of router tables: benchtop and freestanding. Since the former weighs less than the latter, it is easier to handle and has more portability. 

Besides, a router table consists of different parts, such as a fence, a miter fence, a slot, a guard, an NVR switch, and a mountain plate. 

The Differences Between a Wood Shaper and a Router Table

Wood shaper vs router table - differences

Routers and shapers are like cousins; they have similar functionality with slight differences. While an inverted router on a table can take the place of a shaper for many functions, the latter is not completely replaceable. We have listed some of the differences between the two: 

Power

Wood shapers are built to perform heavy-duty tasks and finish higher volumes of work. As a result, they are equipped with a powerful motor that can withstand larger tasks and make cuts and patterns in fewer passes. It is also the better option for cutting through dense stock, as it requires less effort and time. 

That is, if it takes only one attempt to cut through a material with a wood shaper, it will require three attempts to slice through the same material with a router table. 

Winner: Wood shaper

Cost

The price range of both power tools, including initial, upfront cost and any future replacements and maintenance, differs vastly. Routers, including tables, are cheaper than wood shapers by hundreds or even thousands of dollars. 

Wood shapers have more functionality, which results in a heftier price tag. Its bits and accessories also tend to cost more. Router bits, however, are readily available and even come in a wide selection of styles and finishes to choose from. Even the table itself is quite inexpensive. 

However, it takes three times as long to set up and run a router table as it does a shaper when it comes to time. And everyone in the shop knows that time is money here. 

Winner: Router table

Accuracy and Precision

Even though shapers have cutting heads that work like router bits, they cannot be called the same as router bits as they do not have central shanks. Since shapers run at a low speed, the cutting heads are larger and can cut more and deeper. 

However, the larger size sacrifices ample accuracy and precision. They perform terribly with intricate designs since it is extremely hard to maneuver them around to create small details. On the other hand, router tables use drill bits, which are perfect for precise cuts and intricate work. 

Using a router table may take longer and require more effort, but it is the perfect tool to get that flawless, detailed finish even though you must make several passes to complete a job. 

Winner: Router table

Speed

Despite being powered by a less powerful motor, router tables operate at higher speeds. The motors are usually around 1 HP to 2 HP, but they can allow for a speed of up to 20,000 rpm. It is because of this extra speed that routers can cut more precisely. 

The opposite is true for shapers. They use higher-powered motors, ranging from 1 HP to 5 HP, but have a lower speed output, which tends to be around 10,000 RPM. 

Winner: Router table

Size and Portability

After the type of cutter used and how they are powered, the next major dissimilarity between the two power tools is their size. The difference in the diameters of a spindle and a bit varies a lot. 

Routers and router tables are smaller, cheaper, and good for novices. It can be transported to different worksites quite conveniently. But wood shapers have larger, more solid worktables and heavier, more powerful motors, which reduce their portability. Often, shapers take up more space than router tables. 

Winner: Router table

Versatility

Routers can be incredibly versatile. It was even labeled as “the most versatile tool in the world” by author Jeremy Broun in one of his works.

Router can be used for different kinds of DIY jobs, like making cabinetries, creating holes, molding, and beading, joint making, trimming and edging, making grooves and rebates, etc. 

If routers are used on router tables, you can easily work with small, narrow, or long materials. You can also afford more control with larger bits, especially when cutting the edge of the materials. Moreover, a router table can also be used to route the same cuts multiple times, stop cuts, make raised panel doors, etc. 

On the other hand, shapers can accept router bits through an adapter but are not as versatile. 

Winner: Router table

Cutting Heads and Bits

As mentioned earlier, shapers have cutting heads instead of router bits. However, some wood shapers come with a router collet that is used instead of a spindle. Since shapers have low revolutions per minute (RPM) spin, not all router bits are suitable. 

For example, you can attach bits with larger diameters but not those with 14″ round-over as the machine would be too slow. That is because the maximum speed of a 2-speed wood shaper is not more than 10,000 rpm, while the lowest setting of a router typically starts at 12,000 RPM. 

Winner: Tie

Reversibility

Woods have grains running along the surfaces like veins. And you may have noticed that the grain direction can cause the wood to split and tear out while working. But since a shaper is reversible, it runs in both directions and easily resolves the issue. 

And it is pretty easy to do so. Just flip the cutter and flick the switch to rotate the motor, and you can feed the workpiece from either side. No router tables and router bits, no matter their style or kind, can do the same.

That is, you can move conventionally from right-to-left or from left-to-right with the spindle running in the opposite direction. 

Winner: Wood shaper

Required Level of Experience

Wood shapers can be extremely dangerous if you do not have the right knowledge or skills. That means knowing all the safety precautions and following them diligently. You must be careful to keep your hands at bay while feeding and cutting. 

Shapers are built at an industrial grade and can complete high volumes of heavy work. They can cut through thick materials quite easily in just a single pass. And while this results in greater user convenience, it also raises the potential risk factors. 

The most common injuries with shapers include kickbacks, flying cutters, and other disasters. There have also been severe cases of lost fingers or hands. One must be very skilled and careful when working with shapers. 

Here is a complete list of safety gears to use when working with power tools.

Winner: Router table

Noise Level and Vibration

Shapers are surprisingly less noisy than routers, even though they have larger cutting heads and are bulkier in size. But because they are not quite as sturdy and have belts running at low rpm, they cause more vibrations. 

Winner: Tie

Accessories

While router tables help you guide the material during feeding, wood shapers come with a split fence to increase accuracy and ease of use. Shapers also have more adaptability than routers as they fit into router bits with the right adapters but not the other way around. 

Since these power tools also cut bigger, they have better dust collection systems

Winner: Wood shaper

Which of the Two Should I Get for My Workshop?

To answer this question, you must first ask yourself what kind of tasks you would be performing and what kind of materials you would be working with. 

A router will be a great choice if you plan to use smaller stock and work on intricate designs and patterns. It is relatively basic, extremely user-friendly, and is the more affordable option. 

Recommended router table: Bosch RA1181 Benchtop Router Table

But if you need a powerful tool to handle large stocks, heavy-duty work, and a high volume of repeated identical cuts, you would be better off with a wood shaper.

Recommended wood shaper: BAILEIGH 1-Phase Heavy Duty Wood Shaper (SS-2421-V2)

Keep in mind that it would cost you a lot, both initially and in future replacements and maintenance. But it would perform all the tasks more conveniently, efficiently, quickly, and accurately. 

Summary

In the end, both the wood shaper and the router have similar functions and capabilities. They are great tools to have. But if you are thinking of doing a lot of woodworking rather than confining it to a hobby, a wood shaper would offer you great versatility in your workspace. 

A shaper can do what a router can do, but with less time and effort. However, you might have to sacrifice your desire to create complicated designs. So, in the debate of wood shaper vs router table, a shaper is often considered the better option for the long run

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