Raised-Panel Door Machine Choices

Thoughts on machinery for making door panels. May 20, 2009

I am looking for input on which machine(s) we should be considering for five piece RP door/face frame construction. I have always subbed them (doors) out and done our slab (commercial) laminate doors (all frameless cabs) in house.

We have a product opportunity coming our way (maybe) that would require short runs, differing sizes, various woods. Speed and flexibility are key items. Iím looking beyond the router table set-ups, but not needing full automation by any stretch of the imagination.

We have full panel processing "stuff" but our "conventional" equipment would be Unisaw, 14" radial (w/DRO), small jointer, 13" Delta (Invicta) cast iron planer, W&H Molder, router table (or two), belt/disc sander, oscillating belt sander, Kreg 3 spindle pocket cutter, hand held misc. sanders, nailers, etc. No wide belt, no shapers, no "Unique or Weaver" goodies.

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor L:
You would need three shapers to get on your way. Maybe a bunch of extra spindles to make swapping out easier. Stock feeders for the stick and panel machine would be advisable. Obviously you will need cutters for the various profiles. You can usually get away with one cope and stick cutter and then have a few panel designs. The weaver or similar system for making cathedral and round top panels would be a plus.

From contributor K:
Contributor L is right about multiple shapers. I have five and not changing cutter speeds things up a lot. You could get by with only one shaper, but you would get tired of changing cutters and setting up the height of each one. Also, don't forget a sander big enough to run the whole door through to clean up the slight imperfections in the joints. It mostly depends on your budget and the speed you want to run.

From contributor J:

The PanelMaster II has all three shaper cutters on one shaft and does a beautiful job with cope, stick and panel cuts. I've built doors with these before and you can run through your parts really fast. It's safe too. The parts are all either on sleds or covered by guards as they move through the cutters. The only downside, I feel, is that it takes about twenty minutes to change the cutters. It's not difficult, it just take a few minutes. It takes a few minutes to change out and adjust the cutters on three shapers too.

From the original questioner:
Thanks for the responses guys. I've never heard of the Panelmaster before. I would need more convincing that the "multi-tool" approach works for door parts. If so, why go with the Weaver multiple shaper set-up, or the Unique machines? Just curious. It seems like it would be difficult to run everything on edge (if I am looking at it right). Anyway, keep those thoughts (suggestions) coming if you don't mind. How do the folks who actually make a profit building doors do it?

From contributor R:
The new version of the PanelMaster has a flip top that the company says cuts down on changeover time. A very interesting machine for short runs.

From contributor I:
We don't build a ton of doors but on some jobs we find no other choice. Last year we needed to make a large number of teak flat panel doors with grain matched rails and stiles so we purchased three of the 3 hp grizzly shapers that we set up in a triangle that will do the stiles, rails, and panels without changing heads. We also bought sets of insert shaper cutters so we can change profiles without changing the head, which is great and the tips are easy to replace without having to send the head out for re-sharpening. They aren't the best shapers in the world but they fit the budget that we felt comfortable spending and produce very nice doors. The cutters are really the bigger key to a quality cut and these have enough power to do what we need. If we made more doors we would look at the better units on the market like the weavers etc.

From the original questioner:
Thanks again for all the input. I saw the Unique machine at a show last week and it is slick. In reviewing the numbers with their rep, it appears that the magic number is 40 or more doors per month to justify the investment. The other option that appeals to me is the multiple shaper (3 or 4) route. However, by the time we upgrade our jointer, add a wide belt, and jump into finishing, this seems less and less appealing for our expected volume for the near future. It looks like outsourcing might still be the ticket for the 6-8 doors needed per order. I think I will search the archives for advice on starting up some in-house finishing!

From contributor B:
I have one 3hp Grizzly shaper, and it takes me about ten minutes to change setups from stick, to cope, to panels. 20-30 minutes of total setup time for short runs of doors costs less than the shipping to order your doors on small runs. I am looking to purchase two more shapers in the future to eliminate changing setups, but it can be done efficiently. The only time it really stinks is if I make a mistake and have to change the setup back to run one or two pieces. I stick everything in full lengths (like molding), cut to length, and then cope. By doing it in this order, if I have a cope blowout, then the shaper is still setup to run another one or two from the extra stock that is stickered.