The wood shaper is a very useful machine, whether you have a garage woodshop or a commercial shop. Shaping wood is a much easier process, once you have the right equipment and some knowledge of how they work. Almost all woodworkers have used a router table at some point. The shape is pretty much just a larger version, 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 for routers. (Plus you can still use all your router bits with them).
Shapes range in size and are identified by the horse power of the motor, and the diameter of the spindle. From less than one HP for bench top shapers, which I think if that’s what you need, you might as well stick with a router table. They increase in size to 2 HP, 3 HP, 5 HP and larger for industrial purposes. The shafts or spindles are threaded on the end and range in size from 1/2 “to 1 1/4”. Many machines come with a couple sizes of spindles, as well as having router collets to allow router bits to be used in it.
These machines are much quieter than a router, due mainly to the fact their belt was driven, and turn much slower than a router. Typically, the shaper cutter is turning between 7,000 – 10,000 RPM’s, changed 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’s, and are direct drive. It’s easy to understand the difference in noise levels, and the pitch of the noise. Instead of a high pitched whine of a router, it’s a quiet hum of a quality motor. (Hopefully).
Shapers are also able to run in reverse, which is necessary for 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 shape that is turning the wrong direction could result in the board leaving the machine like a missile. It could have FATAL if the board were to hit somebody.
The shape is considered to be the most dangerous machine in the shop, but with proper precautions and careful set-up, it does not need to be feared. There are several safety precautions you can, and should use. First thing would be to use the plastic guard provided with the shape. It has a bearing in the center of it which allows it to spin freely and is installed above the cutter. This alone would stop many of the injuries attributed to the shape.
Jigs and fixtures are also a big help in reducing injury and generally result in better cuts. The time spent to make them is well worth the effort. A very small device, but an important one is the starter 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. As the name suggests, the power feeder is an attachment that feeds the workpiece past the cutter at a steady speed. While these were probably not designed as a safety feature, they certainly are. The benefits to using a power feeder, in addition to keeping your hands far from the cutters, (as if that were not enough), is the fact it will hold both down and in towards the fence with a great deal of force while Feeding the board steadily past the cutter. Both of these details are critical to nice smooth burn free painting.
Instead of trying to shape narrow pieces, shape wide pieces and then rip them. Use a miter gauge, on end grain with a backer board to prevent tear out as the board leaves the cutter. On panels, such as raised panels for doors, shape the end grain first and then the edges parallel to the grain. This way any tear out on the end grain will be shaped off when you shape the edges. Make several shallow cuts instead of trying to make large moldings in one pass.
With some caution, careful planning, and common sense, injuries from this machine can be avoided. As always, if it does not seem safe, DO NOT DO IT.