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Wood Shaper vs Router: Which One to Choose?

Wood Shaper vs Router

Wood Shaper vs Router

Routers and shapers are very similar. They are both constructed and used as tables, can both be incorporated into professional workshops as well as home setups, and they both rout or mold shapes into wood. Given that most workshops have somewhat limited space, and won’t fit both a router table and a shaper table, it is worth learning the differences, features, and functions of both so that you can determine which is best for your woodworking.

Very generally speaking, a shaper operates more slowly, is capable of completing most work in one or two runs, but is more expensive and not as versatile as a router. A router is precise but it may require several passes to complete a single job. The router bit is more readily available and more affordable than the shaper cutter, however. Read on for more specific comparisons and more accurate details.

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Overview of a Wood Shaper

A wood shaper uses an induction motor, similar to the one you would find in a table saw. These operate at relatively low speeds but have high torque. They also have limited speed options, because changing the speed of a shaper usually requires moving the belt across a step pulley. The shaper allows a lot of wood to be removed in a single pass because its higher torque allows for a larger cutting head, which can save time and money when utilized in a busy shop.

However, the slower speed does mean that cut quality can suffer, although this isn’t always the case and there is no reason that you can’t maintain uniformly high-quality cuts using this type of woodworking device.

close up Powermatic 1280101C PM2700

Speed & Power

The induction motor of a shaper is considered low speed but high power. Power, measured in Horse Power, can range from 1 to 3 HP or more, although the power is arguably not as important as the speed that the shaper operates at. Measured in Revolutions Per Minute, the speed of a shaper tends to be around 10,000 RPM.

Cutting Heads: Big Head

While routers use bits, shapers use cutting heads. They cannot be described as bits because they do not have a central shank, but the cutter heads perform a similar function to the bit. Thanks to the lower speeds of the shaper, their heads are larger and this means that it is possible to cut larger shapes and deeper trenches using a shaper. If you want to complete jobs in a single pass, or two passes at the most, then the larger head of the shaper is preferable.

Accuracy: Lacking Precision

The potential pitfall of a larger cutting head is that it sacrifices some accuracy and precision. If you are looking to make intricate cuts, then the shaper head is likely too cumbersome for your needs. It is true that while most routing jobs can be done with either tool, but if you want speed and volume over consistency and accuracy, then the shaper is your best option.

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Overview of a Router

The router is probably the better known and most widely used of the two tools. This is because it is cheaper than a shaper. It is also more practical, will fit more easily into a woodworking shop, and because of its detail and precision, it can be used for a wider range of tasks. You can always make several passes with a router, to complete larger tasks, but you are unable to scale down the cuts made by a large shaper head.

person using KREG PRS5000 Precision Router Lift

Speed & Power

The router operates at much higher speeds, although it has a less powerful motor. Expect to see motors around 1HP to 2HP and operating at speeds up to 20,000 RPM. This extra speed allows for the use of smaller bits and it is one of the reasons that the router can make very precise cuts. This speed does also make the router table louder than the shaper and may lead to a screaming noise that makes you unpopular when used in a shed or part of the house.

Cutting Heads: Little Bits

The router benefits from using drill bits, rather than cutting heads. First and foremost, this makes the cutting head easier to locate and less expensive. Generally, you will be able to find replacement bits in any DIY store or hardware store. They are affordable, although the better-quality bits will cost more than low-quality hardware. However, smaller bits may require that you make several passes to complete a job. This means that bigger tasks take longer and are more challenging when using a router table.

Accuracy: Precise & Smooth

But the small bit head also means that you can enjoy precise cuts and more intricate detail. You can make several passes to complete larger jobs, whereas, with the large cutting heads of the shaper, you can’t make additional passes to undo the cut of your first pass. The router is preferred when you are looking for a detailed finish.

Which Is Cheaper?

Both in terms of initial, upfront cost, and the ongoing cost of replacing bits or heads, the router is much cheaper – by hundreds or thousands of dollars. The table itself will cost less and not only are router bits more readily available and easier to get hold of than shaper heads, but they come in a wider selection of styles and finishes and they cost less.

When Is a Shaper a Better Option Than a Router?

It may take several passes, but a router can virtually always do the same job as a router. It just takes more time and effort. However, the larger head of the shaper means that the reverse isn’t true. You can’t put wood back on your workpiece once it has been removed. However, shapers are very well suited to consistent work and high-volume projects. If you will be making the same cut time and time again, potentially hundreds of times a day, a shaper table will save you a lot of time over the day and is the preferred option.

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Quick Look: Our Top Choices

Rating Image Product Details
Our Favorite Wood Shaper
Powermatic 1280101C PM2700 Powermatic 1280101C PM2700
  • 5-HP
  • Strong
  • cast iron table
  • Powerful
  • Our Favorite Router Table
    Second place
    Bosch RA1181 Bosch RA1181
  • Aluminum table
  • Flexible
  • Our Favorite Wood Shaper: Powermatic 1280101C PM2700

    Powermatic 1280101C PM2700

    The Powermatic 1280101C PM2700 is a 5-HP shaper. It has a powerful motor and a strong, cast iron table. Its casters make it a little easier to move into position, although this is a heavy table on small wheels so don’t expect too much. The dust collection system isn’t the best, but you can rig up your own workshop system to counteract this.

    Our Favorite Router Table: Bosch RA1181

    Bosch Benchtop Router Table RA1181

    The Bosch RA1181 Router Table is an aluminum table with an extra-tall aluminum fence and a rigid mounting plate. This table allows you to mount almost any Bosch router, which also gives you the flexibility to be able to detach the router and use it outside the workshop when required.

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    Router tables and shapers are very similar devices, both of which find use in the workshop or the home. Although similar, the router offers more precise cuts but requires additional passes, while the slower speed and larger cutting head of the shaper mean that you do sacrifice some finish quality but you can produce a lot of work in a short space of time with this device.


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