Does anyone have experience with any of the various router lifts out there? What's everyone using? What are some of the features I should look for? Or should I just keep using my shaper? The shaper is getting old, so I'm looking to replace it with another shaper or a routerlift setup.
(Furniture Making Forum)
From contributor L:
What's a router lift?
I've used three different units. I like and continue to use the JessEm MasterLift with a dedicated PC Speedmatic in it. My experience has been a bit different than another view expressed herein, actually quite favorable. The MastRLift is built like a tank, easy to use (is not fussy at all), and it is quite precise.
My experience has been that getting a really beefy, solid table top, a decent router fence whose ergonomics work for you, a remote switch mounted outside the table, and an uncomplicated lift make a winning combination.
Features to look for:
Can you easily change bits about the table?
Lift table inserts. If you do precision work and need to be able to replicate it reliably, get enough insets to make you own zero clearance inserts for those bits that you use a lot.
Simple/easy procedure to zero the bit.
Adjustable to your precision requirements, say in 1/128th increments - particularly if you do cabinet doors.
Lastly, I agree with the prior view that a decent shaper may be a better choice depending on your circumstances. However, it seems that many guys build their own router tables, almost like some woodworker rite of passage. I probably did it bass-akwards - I built my table (stand, top, lift, and fence) around the router that really worked for me, that PC Speedmatic I mentioned.
I hated setting up the 3 HP Powermatic shaper for rail and stile cuts. With the router lift and fence, setup is fast, accurate and repeatable. Now the shaper is left with the raised panel cutter set up and the router is used for all other machining. I don't think the router table and lift would be nearly as satisfactory without the precision fence, however.
Now, if given the choice of 3 shapers or 1 shaper and the router setup, it would be no contest. The shaper with power feeder is still preferred for raised panels, but for all other functions, the router setup wins hands down for me. I also have a 1/4 HP power feeder on the router table that almost completely eliminates tearouts on woods such as hickory when climb feeding.
It saves me lots of time, not a few cuss words, and my wife says I'm in a pleasant mood more often now. I believe anyone using this setup for a week would be extremely reluctant to give it up, but then I've been wrong before.
Contributor T's view about the shaper versus router is likewise valid, and I'd like to add an observation. If you do enough raised panel doors, you may find it vexing to be repeatedly swapping out the bits. You may even get ticked enough to have two or more dedicated router tables, each set up/configured and tuned to their own dedicated function so you don't spend time fiddling with the adjustments.
What I appreciate about a shaper is its table - machined flat, cast iron or steel. A table that can be tweaked carefully to be exactly perpendicular to the centerline of the shaper arbor/head.
For me (I'm a pain in the keester for detail and quality), my table is built around my fence. The lift and the fence are everything. Again, for me, the precision fence makes the difference. I probably experimented with about ten of 'em before deciding that none had all of the specific features that I wanted. I admit that I'm picky, but I tried a bunch and none of them really suited what I needed them to do. So I went back to experimenting. I found the versatility and precision that I needed came from a fence/sub-fence combination. In a number of ways, a router, router table, and fence are like a jointer with a vertical cutterhead. I finally found a fence that I tricked out and made numerous adjustments to. I use a Freud SH-5, actually parts of it, as my sub-fence. It has a good micro-adjustable in-feed fence whose action can be adjusted to be exactly perpendicular to the bit centerline over its entire travel. These two features, micro-adjustable in-feed fence and trueness of its travel, were key. Its stock aluminum sub-fence plates I removed and replaced with much larger (longer, taller, thicker, and stiffer) steel plates that I had a machine shop make for me. I had them tapped for mounting to the Freud sub-fence, and drilled and tapped for having the fence mounted to them. I likewise discarded the stock melamine coated MDF fence sections, and replaced them with larger phenolic fence sections that I had made. The fences were machined to accept T-Trac inserts on both sides. I then mounted the sub fence on a machined aluminum plate/sled. It's Teflon-coated on its underside and mounts in the table's T-trac slots.
Result? Poor man's shaper fence on a router table. Massive, rugged, extremely stiff, easily adjustable, and with long in-feed and out-feed fences.
I did some other things with a near-hemispherical clear plastic bit guard, some Kreg fence stops, things to get near zero-clearance around the bit to reduce tear-out, and an adjustable "featherboard vise" that strictly limits the movement of the stock in the horizontal and vertical planes at the router bit (mis-cut stock devours profit).
Yeah, I know it sounds nuts. But boy does it work for me. A couple of fellow wood butchers (or so some magazine editorial calls us) who have seen/used this setup, really like it and have pressed me to write about it. To date I've built three of them for others.
Bottom line: I started with my lift and router, added a big beefy stand, an oversize table, and many discarded fences later, settled on this contraption of a fence that I built. It does have one thing that I'm still tinkering with. The DC hood/bit guard. Tear-out is related to several factors including clearance between the bit and the fence. Less clearance yields reduced tear-out, but lousy chip and dust collection. I'm still dinking around with a hood design worthy of consideration by B. Pentz.
As for the PRL, I've used it a couple times in another guy's shop. Seemed okay and worked quite well for me. But I am no authority on it. At the time I got to play with it, I had already found/built that which worked very well for me, so I wasn't looking and consequently didn't spend much time with it.
I've heard a rumor that over at Heckman Furniture (not far from where I live) they are experimenting with a CNC machine fitted with carousel of different bit profile cutterheads mated to pneumatic lift with a digital controller with preset stops. No more tinkering to get the exact fit... for about $35K.
Contributor T's words, "fast, accurate, and repeatable." Speed and minimized waste are good for profit, and I gather, less cuss words, and a happier marriage? Me, my focus is easily repeatable, consistent, minimal-fuss high quality. I did garner one tip herein, and I'm gonna have another, more serious look at the PRL.
You sound like a talented guy. How about a system for the shaper with micro adjustments of the fence and arbor? An LED readout would be nice also.