Shaper Choice for Making Door Panels

A 5 horsepower shaper gives you some extra power when you need it, but you can get by with 3 horsepower. Here's an extended discussion of the options. April 16, 2009

Iím used to making doors on my 1 1/2 hp shaper and three table mounted routers. I am purchasing two 3hp shapers and a couple of power feeders to stop using routers. When making cope cuts, I run the rail in one pass but when making the stile and raised panel cuts, I make them in at least two passes. My question is the following: by using a 3hp shaper with a power feeder, will I still have to make these cuts in more than one pass?

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor G:
One pass on everything, unless you have some kind of a massive profile. 12-16 ft per minute for your speed should work well for you.

From contributor V:
One pass will do it. The only odd thing I do when running the "sticking" is when I sometimes get tear out in certain woods at the edge of the panel groove. When that happens I run the stock backwards which is known as "climb cutting". This eliminates the tearout but makes the dust collection fail a bit and packs sawdust in the panel groove. Climb cutting can only be done safely with a power feed. Some say that climb cutting shortens cutter life between sharpenings.

A way to get around that is that the newer cope and stick cutter sets are available with the option to cut a slight radius on the edges of the panel groove which cures the groove tearout problem. With a full sized shaper and sharp knives, you should be able to run all your door parts including panel raising in a single pass.

From contributor LD:
I would consider a 5 hp shaper for the panels. 3 hp would work, though you will find it will work hard for panel raising.

From contributor F:
I use a method I learned from the guys here a while back. I clamp a fence to the top so that the workpiece runs between the fence and the cutterhead. This way each piece is exactly the same width after going through the shaper. Obviously this can only be done with a feeder.

Also make sure your parts are sized so that you take the profile and about a 32nd extra off the parts. This greatly reduced the amount of tearout I got.

Lastly 3 hp should be adequate for your sticking profiles but if youíre going to do any heavier cuts like raised panels, you may want to consider moving up to a 5 hp shaper with a 1-1/4" spindle. Although the bigger cutters are more expensive to buy, their larger profile leaves a better finish in my opinion.

From the original questioner:
It did cross my mind that a 3hp shaper would not be enough for panels. A 5hp is a little out of my budget but I might consider getting at least one 3hp and one 5hp. thanks again.

From contributor G:
The 3hp shaper is plenty to do panels. It is not the optimal shaper size to do so. I only have 3hp shapers and have been making doors for 15 years. The only time I have problems is when the cutter gets dull. If the cutter is sharp and the speed feed is correct you will get years of use out of your shaper. The bigger shaper will give you a slightly better finish off the machine and will never be underpowered. I am sure you can find a panel cutter that is big enough to give a 3HP machine problems, but the standard cutters which have a 1 1/4" bevel and a 5/16" tongue should run fine on a 3hp.

From contributor L:
There are many variables to this question. Do you make 3/4 or 13/16 door panels, do you use domestic or import hardwoods, do you use high speed steel, brazed or insert carbide cutters? Never use a Delta shaper! 5 HP 3phase are best at 12 lf/m on a caterpillar drive power feeder. (5 wheel feeders allow too much chatter).

Hickory or some of the Asian imports will tend to always blow out. Climb cutting is dangerous, extremely dangerous. For such woods keep your shaper at 8k rpm and turn your feeder down to 7 lf/m purchase your wood with a moisture content between 10 to 15 percent. Make your panels 1/16 over sized for shrinkage during drying. Use new carbide or high speed steel, not ones used on previous jobs, period. Other domestic woods do
well with the usual cutters at optimal speeds.

Routers are never, ever appropriate for cope and stick or panel shaping! If you make two per month that is one thing, but if you are making whole kitchens or you run a door shop, that is asking for downtime, loss of income due to down tooling and the like. Invest 10k in a good shaper with removable shafts and digital elevation readings; and another 8k in shaper cutters and shafts. That will save at least 1/2 labor hour per set up alone plus the ability to keep your heads from ever hitting each other. Get an extremely accurate fence that reads down to the 1/10,000 of an inch and keep track of your depth and elevation settings per head. It will move +/- .0005 from set up to set up due to climate conditions, but that is the way it goes.

From contributor G:
I don't think he is trying to start a door factory. He said he can afford two shapers and feeders and you want him to spent $8K on cutters, and an automatic fence with 10,000th of an inch accuracy.

From contributor L:
To the original questioner: I had presumed you had wanted to do it right, not halfway. What I suggested to you works and is globally recognized. If you do not make many doors, use your shaper with sharp cutters. If you don't care about hickory or high silica woods, you do not need to worry about moisture content. If all you do is alder and oak, you are safe with generic work.

From contributor G:
I have 3 Delta shapers and have made thousands of doors. I have had zero downtime. I paid $1,250 new for each one. The oldest one is ten years old and the newest is about six.

From contributor V:
Sounds like a wing nut to me too. Thinking you have to have a shaper worth a certain dollar amount to be a true professional woodworker reminds me of guys who think they need a certain model of car to meet women.

From contributor S:
I still maintain a shaper is one tool that can be bought used and the bigger and more heavy spindle assembly the better. For the money of two new 3hp units, you should be able to find three HD used ones with proper care and attention to spindle condition in mind.

I'd buy feeders new and at least one track type for small parts such as doing the end cope first and then running the profile. One pass with good tooling should do profiles and with a large panel tool and a heavy shaper running the panel as well - panels done on slower feedrate and with plenty of feeder pressure. Waxing the table each run helps. We like to use a back fence cut out to panel profile to reduce edge tearing against grains on some woods like maple.

From contributor A:
If you really want to save time and space, take a look at a Unique machine. I've had a 250 mc going on ten years now, and not a problem to date - always right on. Never has there been an adjustment made to the machine. I have made 10's of thousands of doors and I can say that my shop would not be what it is today without that machine. It was my first major investment in machinery and the best investment (other than CNC).