Is a Table Mounted Router a Shaper

A more gracious answer would be: sort of. Broadly, the two rigs do the same jobs. But when you become specific, the capabilities diverge.

A true shaper is a stationary tool. It isn't as versatile as a router: You can't run it over the work, you can't make plunge or piercing cuts. But it's got mass and power. In the woodworking shop, a quarter-ton stationary machine has it all over a 15-pOunder. Moreover, the practical power of a 3-horscpower shaper far exceeds thai of a 3-horsepower router. The shaper has an induction motor, which generates a lot more torque than a router's universal motor (and a lot more kickback, too). On the shaper. you can combine cutters, stacking two or three on the spindle. A strip of molding, even a complex one. can be produced in a single pass, You can hog away substantial amounts of waste in a single pass.

The shaper simply accomplishes a lot more work in less rime than a router table setup.

Consider the varieties of shapers. Just as routers arc available in a range of grades and power ratings, shapers arc available in a range of models. A table-mounted router is fairly equivalent to the low-end shaper, the so-called bench routcr/shaper. (Because woodworkers seem to be familiar with the different models of table saw. let me relate the different shaper models to table saw models.)

At the top end. for a grand and a half, you can get a 3- to 5-horsepower. 500-pound behemoth, the rough equivalent of a Unisaw. Us cast-iron table-top and drivetrain arc mounted on an enclosed cabinet. It has two speeds, runs in forward and reverse, and takes Vi-inch, V+-inch, and 1-inch spindles.

The midrange shaper, roughly equivalent to a so-called contractor's table

saw, has a somewhat smaller cast-iron tabletop and a less sophisticated fence, mounted on an open-legged, sheet-metal stand. The unit weighs about 180 pounds. The motor has 1 Vi horsepower and drives cither Vi-inch or y+inch spindles at two speeds, in forward and reverse. Should cost you about $700.

A benchtop routcr/shaper is at the low end, like a benchtop motorized table saw. To make it as inexpensive as possible, a lot of the shaper qualities are designed out. Often, rhe table-top is cast aluminum; it's (lac and true and durable, but it's also lightweight. The fence is more simple, less precise. The motor is down co 1 horsepower or less. Only a Vi-inch spindle will fit, and though it may have forward and reverse, it probably has only one speed. It weighs from 30 to 50 pounds. Depending on the brand, it costs between $200 and $500.

This is the unit that most closely resembles the router cable. In fact, in a few instances it is a router table, one to which some marketing wizard has added the term shaper (hence the shaper/router table designation).

A true shaper is a cast-iron-and-steel shop behemoth, as you can sec. Though it has much in common with a router table, it's clearly designed and built for high-volume production. Everything about it is bigger and stronger—and more costly—than a router table. Shaper cutters arc stecl-and-carbide donuts that fit over the shaper s spindle, typically a ¥*-or 1-irtch steel shaft. Several cutters can be stacked on the spindle at once so you can form complex profiles in a single pass. Because the spindle rotation can be reversed, the cutters can be installed on the spindle right-side up or upside down. And because the spindle is so thick and the operating speed is less than half that of the router, cutters that are considerably larger than the biggest panel-raising router hit can be used.

If what you need is a machine to create miles of different moldings— complex moldings—and to do it quickly and efficiently, get a shaper. If you think you need a low-end shaper. use your router.

You have lo be creative to be safe. Here's a setup for routing small parts that you might be able to adapt to your own routing problem. Pinch the workpicce in the jaws of a small ha nd screw. With the end of the work against the tabletop, the hand screw should be flat against the fence's top edge. Then slide the work along the fence, as shown.

nicely with a wooden hand screw. Lay the hand screw on the table with the piece between the jaws, and tighten them. That will keep the work flat on the tabletop, while allowing you to accomplish certain operations. Of course, you'll have to un-clamp and reclamp every time you want to turn the work.

Another option is to use a rub-bcr or stiff-foam handle. A grout trowel or a foam-bottomed stock pusher will work very well for this because they have the ability to grip the pan well enough to slide it around the cutter while absorbing the vibration. Your fingers will thank you.

End Grain

Routing end-grain stock can give you a real kick, particularly when it 's too narrow to guide against a fence. The preferable option if you have a lot to do—say, coping pieces for a bunch of windows—is to build a sled. (Sec "Sled" on page 90 for details on making one of these accessories.)

There's a much simpler approach for a small job that's not wonh the bother of building a sled. Lei's say you have a piece that is just wide enough to bridge the gap in the fence but not enough to stay square while you cut. In this case you can simply back it up with a scrap of plywood that has a good square comer. Run one side of the scrap against the fence and grip the stock across the front as you push it past the cutter.

Can you safely work ends with a piloted cutter? You bet! And quickly, too. once you get the hang of it. With a piloted cutter, there's still a tendency to pull into the cutter at the very beginning of the cut, before the corner of the stock reaches the bearing. To prevent this, either you

Here's a way to grasp a small workpiece for routing: Use a hand screw instead of your hand. The hand screw is big enough to hold and prov ides some mass to the piece being routed. To hold the workpiece while attaching the hand screw, Fred propped it on the fence in the background.

For some cuts, a small part can be "troweled" by the bit. The trowel-like pusher shown is made of plastic and has a rubber pad—the same material as the router pad mentioned in the chapter "Router 101 "—bonded to the sole. The rubber sole grips the work remarkably well, allowing you to slide it around on the tabletop and feed it by the bit confidently.

can set the fence to support one comer until the other reaches the bearing or you can use a starting pin the same way.

Another way that is quicker and looks really salty (if you're trying to impress the crowd) is to grip the stock with your right hand so you can butt the second segment of your index finger against the front edge of the table. Using that finger as a stop, pivot the work into the cutter until the comer contacts the pilot. At that point you can relax your right hand a bit and feed the stock on through with your left.

Use that index finger again as the stock exits the cut. Here the stock will again lose contact with the pilot, but the cutter will be pushing toward you rather than trying to grab the stock. Slow your rate of feed as you exit to lessen the tendency to split off the trailing edge. Don't be surprised to see a few splin ters no matter how slowly you exit. If at all possible, rout the ends of these picccs before you do the edges. That way you'll remove the splintery corners.

If you can't do the ends first, you're better off to go back to the sled. Make up a backer that fits tightly

It is possible to freehand a cut across the end of a workpiece. If you hold the piece so your fingers catch against the edge of the tabletop, as Fred is doing here, the bit can't pull the work. Be sure your grip is firm, and ¡tosition your hand so that as the end of the work is at the pilot, your fingers are against the table-top edge. Once the work contacts the pilot, it controls the cut, but maintain your grip throughout the cut.

against the back edge of the stock, and screw that to the sled. Then clamp the stock against it so the backer supports the stock where the cutter exits. You should be able to reduce splintering to the sandablc range.

It's tall. It's skinny. But don't let its looks deceive you. This router hench is really handy for all sorts of hand-held router operations. And other woodworking tasks as well.

Perching a router on the edge of a workpiece is always precarious. But the narrow top of the router hench allows you to easily clamp such work to its edge. Then the router can hear on the l>cnch top.


Clamping options at a comfortable working height is what this bench provides. It is narrow, long, and tall. I made it to facilitate working with a hand-held router, and I'm really happy with it.

Think about your workbench. It's probably about fingertip or waist height—roughly 30 to 36 inches high—and about 24 inches wide. Maybe it has shelves or bins or drawers underneath. A couplc of vises: one on the end, one along the front. The benches in the Rodalc shop are like this, as is the one in my home shop.

Problems for router woodworking: The cabinet or framework supporting the bench top limits damping locations. The proportions of the bench top force you to clamp and reclamp and rc-rcclamp to complete relatively simple edge-forming operations. To closely observe the workings of the bit, you have to bend or stoop—an unnatural working stance. And the bench isn't particularly portable.

The router bench addresses all these problems and. for me, solves them.

• There's no cabinet or massive framework underneath to get in the «ay of clamps.

• The long, narrow proportion of the top lets me clamp work to the bench in ways that yield maximum access for my routers. I usually can machine three edges, for example, without having to rejX)sition the work, lean clamp a piecc against the bench-

top edge, allowing mc to use the bench top as a bearing surface for the router base.

• The vise on or.c end of the bench, along with the rank of bench-dog holes running down the center of the bench top. expands the work-holding versatility of the bench. In a lot of cases. 1 don't have to fumble with clamps at all: I can clamp work in the vise, and I can pinch work between the vise and a dog.

• Because the bench is elbow height, I can control my router better, and I can see what's happening without bending uncomfortably.

• And, finally, I designed and constructed the bench as a knockdown piece. With a screwdriver and an adjustable wrench, I can quickly disassemble it into five components— bench top. two leg units, and two cross-braces—for efficient storage or for transport.

The inspiration for this bench was a bench produced by Pat Warner, a West Coast router wonk. Warner's has slightly different dimensions and considerably different construct.on. For more information about his bench, contact him at 1427 Ker.ora Street, Escondido, CA 92027.

It's tall. It's skinny. But don't let its looks deceive you. This router hench is really handy for all sorts of hand-held router operations. And other woodworking tasks as well.

Perching a router on the edge of a workpiece is always precarious. But the narrow top of the router hench allows you to easily clamp such work to its edge. Then the router can hear on the l>cnch top.

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