The question of a shaper vs. a router and good table is an evergreen question in the forums and magazines. Every few months someone comes by and asks about the advantages and disadvantages of a shaper over a good router and router table. It’s a good question – by the time you’ve purchased a solid router, lift, table, fence and dust collection you’re potentially up into the low-level shaper price range.

Here’s the question as it appeared recently in WoodNet:

Looking long range I would like to know what the advantages or disadvantages are between a router in a table with a lift and a shaper. I see the prices of router table components plus routers like the PC 7518 and can’t help but wonder if it would not be better to just save up for a shaper instead of trying to make a router into a shaper.

My objective would be to build kitchen doors and drawer fronts and what ever other hobby projects come down the line.

As in all “what tool should I buy” questions it comes back to usage. In this case – kitchen doors, drawer fronts and other hobby projects. The short and sweet answer is he should get a router – it’s ultimately more versatile than a shaper could ever be. The long answer is, of course, it depends ;)

Routermeister Pat Warner describes shapers this way:
“They are designed for all-day door, drawer or molding operations. Duty cycles are measured in “shifts” not minutes. They are production animals. Their cutters are big (way over 2″ in diameter), expensive and last for hours. The set ups are not particularly difficult but once in “spec” they are not touched for the length of run. Although capable of experimental work, shapers are usually set up for routine big jobs of long duration.”

Warner says this about routers:
“Router tables give up production for versatility. Router tables are easy to fixture, and they fill an important need for a wide range of cabinet and furniture responsibilities. They are great for short run solutions but don’t expect shaper performance from one.”

from ROUTER OR SHAPER? by Pat Warner

Here are some thoughts from various woodworking forums:
“If your building cabinet doors or doing anything in volume, the shaper is the way to go. For building furniture, a router table is perfect.”
-Jokerbird (WN)

“If you are going to spend more than $600 on a router setup for shaper work, I say get a shaper.”
-AZ Engineer (WN)

“I have a small pro shop and I could not live without either one. I accomplish many things on my shaper: tenoning up to 1-1/2″ long, rabbits, crown (up to 5″), coves (up to 5″), styles and rails, curved stock, pattern shaping, every kind of profile you can think of plus use of ALL of my router bits (1/2″).”
-Paul B. Cresti (SMC)

“After years of building the “perfect router table,” I finally discovered that a router collet on the shaper outperformed anything I could build. Vibration is eliminated with a cast iron machine, and adjustments come quick and easy.”
from WoodWeb

“There’s very little a shaper can do that you can’t duplicate with a router table. Shapers are used more often in industrial woodworking shops, and I do almost all my machining of wood with a really good, well-built router table. The one thing a shaper has going for it is that it comes with a split fence, but you can build that into your router table design without much hassle.”
Rick White (

“The best part is that at around $1100 the Steel City shaper is half the price of the delta and not much more than the little jet. In fact, what finally pushed me into the purchase is that when I realized that after spending the same amount of money to get the ultimate router table setup then it would still not be as good as the shaper.”

Tom Jones III (SMC)

Be watching for a guide to buying shapers… the more I learn about them the more interested I get!

Shaper vs. Router Resources:
Shaper Which One? (SMC)
Router table vs shaper (SMC)
Router Table Versus Shaper
Shaper versus router?
Shaper versus router?
Router Table vs. Shaper. Is a 1.5HP shaper enough?

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