Shaper Choices for Door Construction

Cabinetmakers discuss equipment selection and machining techniques for making raised-panel cope-and-stick doors. May 22, 2006

I have been outsourcing doors to a door company for bigger jobs. I have a small shaper and a few cutters that I have been using to make doors for smaller jobs but it is getting to the point where I have been doing a lot of bars and islands, etc. where I need raised panel backs and ends. The cost of having them made and shipped by common carrier plus the fuel surcharges has made me decide to do them in-house. I am either going to go with a 3-shaper setup for stiles, rails and panels or a 2 shaper setup with a combo stile and rail cutter and the second one for panels.

I looked around and the 3 spindle machines are all out of my ballpark considering the amount of doors I make. I have been looking at two or three Deltas or some similar brand, but need to stay in the $4,000.00 range or less. Also, I will need to get a coping sled and new cutters, probably insert cutters. Does anyone have any suggestions?

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor A:
You might want to check out Grizzly's three spindle shaper. It runs about $3,800.00.

From the original questioner:
I did look at that, but I have been concerned about the quality. As I have been checking, I have found Deltas for around $1300 with a wood fence and $1800 for the aluminum fence and I can also get 3hp grizzlies for $950 each, but as I said, I am not confident in their motors lasting or their arbors and bearings being very high quality.

From contributor B:
I have a Grizzly model 1026 3 - HP that I have been using for about 3-1/2 years now. I use it for cutting styles and panels. A bigger HP shaper would be nice but for $950 this one does the trick. I build about 1,000 doors a year.

From contributor C:
Have you considered Hawk Industries Panelmaster II? I made some doors on one of these things a couple of years ago and loved it. All three cutters are on one horizontal shaft. When I get a little more space I plan to get one. They have a waiting list you can get on to buy their demonstrator machines also.

From contributor D:
You should only need two shapers, in my opinion - one set up to cut both the stiles and rails, and a higher hp shaper for panels. The profile for the stiles and rails is set up lowest on the arbor, and the cope cutters are set up above them. You run the profile with a feeder (on the shaper table itself) and run the cope with a sled spaced so the cope is the right height (3/4"+ above the shaper table but the right height for the sled) when the profile is the right height for the table.

Get a better shaper than the 3hp Delta for the panels. You need the oomph to get them thru in one pass. Get a used one. The D 3hp is fine for the stiles and rails. If you are using them for doors, I think the wooden fences will be OK Ė I donít know what advantage the aluminum would be.

Bottom line - spend your money on one Delta 3hp, one 5 or 7 hp shaper, and two good feeders. You will need a decent feeder to do the profiles, and a better feeder to do the panels. Get the feeders if you donít have them Ė they are much cheaper than losing fingers.

From contributor E:
I have always had good luck with Grizzly products in the past. Today I ordered the 5hp shaper for panels. It was almost a grand less than Powermatic which most of my machines are.

From contributor F:
I went with a used 1.5Hp Delta on the cope - $700.00; one used Northfield SP1 for the stiles $1250.00; one Weaver 3Hp for panel hogging, door edge, miscellaneous $800.00; one Beach 3Hp for panel raise $200.00. Add one Power Feeder for stiles, used Maggi 3 wheel $275.00, a Weaver sticking fence, cope sled, two hold-downs, and Weaver rails and panel jigs.

From contributor G:
The Panelmaster looks interesting. Not much info on their website, though. Seems like there's gotta be some tradeoffs. Do they use standard cutters? Looks like coping must be done vertically somehow? Panel raising, too? Does it require 3-phase power?

From contributor H:
We have 5 shapers in our shop - 3 HD Delta's, and 2 Weavers. Four of the shapers are just for building doors, and the 5th one is for other jobs that are best done on a shaper. All of the shapers came off of the used market. I paid $300 for a 2 HP Delta, up to $650 for a 3 HP Weaver with a sticker jig. I also have a Weaver feeder on this machine. The power feeder also came off the used market for $495. The Delta we raise panels on has a 5 HP motor on it. It pays to watch the used market.

From contributor I:
I used a 3 head Pro Cut shaper for several years to do all my raised (and flat panel) doors and end panels. It has some limitations (3/4 material only) but once the fences are set, you don't have to change or adjust anything to do all your stiles, rails, and panels. 5 hp, 3 phase, Freeborn tooling. Plus, it only takes up 6 square feet of space. I recently upgraded to a 3 shaper set up because I needed to run bigger material at a higher volume.

From contributor J:
I have three Powermatic shapers 3 hp and one Z Series Grizzly 5 hp. I use the Grizzly to raise my panels. I prefer the Grizzly 3 to 1 over my Powermatics. Don't waste your money on an aluminum fence. We use either wood or plastic fences that we make ourselves. With the exception of the machine that we use for the cope cuts, we use a one piece fence.

We use a 1/2 hp feeder on our stiles and rails and a 1 hp (4 wheel) feeder on the Grizzly. I have a few Grizzly machines that I would not buy again, but my next shaper will be another Grizzly, just like the one I have.

From the original questioner:
I looked at the Panelmaster II on the website but can't tell much about it like if it can do cathedral or odd shaped panels and if it runs vertical router bits. I thought about buying the combo stile/rail cutters but figured it is better to have a machine dedicated to each rather than spending time raising and lowering the cutter all of the time.

From contributor D:
You don't raise and lower the cutters when you stack them - you set them up so they are the right height for your profile when running the stiles and rails on the table itself, and the cope cutters are the right height when you cope the ends with a sled. You just make an auxiliary base for the coping sled that gets the piece to the right height.

From the original questioner:
Is there any problem with using the stacked cutters when doing arched profiles? I can't think of any but just want to be sure.

From contributor D:
I hadn't thought about that. I use a rub collar and template. You could cope everything, then run the straight stiles and rails, then pull the cope cutter off the top and replace it with a rub collar for shaping the cathedrals. You still wouldn't change the height! I would still recommend that, because then you just need one Delta 3hp, and can spend the rest of your budget on a used 5 or 7hp shaper and 2 feeders, a good coping sled, and tooling. You definitely need some hp to raise panels, and a good power feeder is a must! Without it you will burn the wood, whack off a finger or two, or have to make so many passes that you might as well not make doors.

From contributor C:
I've studied this thing for awhile and really don't see a down side. It's solid and very well made. I don't see why you couldn't do most operations on the Panelmaster that you would on a regular shaper. I've only made doors on it so I can't really say for sure. I don't think there would be any way to use a power feeder with it. They use regular shaper cutters and arbors. All three cuts are made vertically. The stick and panel cutter tracks have spring loaded fences that go behind the workpiece to keep it in contact with the stationary fence. The cope cut is made with a sled that rides on top of a guide rail. The sled has a built in wooden block behind the workpiece that keeps the back end of the cut from blowing out as you come out of the cutter.

They offer it in both single and three phase and I don't think there is a price difference. The one negative aspect that I saw is that it takes about twenty minutes to change the cutters. It's not difficult to do - you just have to take the shaft all the way out of the machine to do it.

From contributor K:
If you want to save some space and time take a look at the Unique 250 Mc. I have owned one for six years now and that machine is worth its weight in gold. I don't think there is a better non CNC door machine on the market. It is expensive but well worth it. It can pay for itself in under a year if you have the work.

From contributor L:
Stacked cutters are good - settle on stock thickness and build or buy sled to suit, and you never have to raise or lower again. Most people run their stock face down, so the front side flushes up when stock is different thickness. I run face up making the back side flush, stacked Byrd insert cutters on a 5 hp Powermatic super 27, and a 3 hp Shopfox with a panel cutter that never gets moved either, and the outside profile on another 3 hp Shopfox. The Powermatic is a better machine but took far more tweaking than the Chinese made Shopfox. I then let the drum sander take care of the front, sometimes never drum sanding the back. Itís not too hard to build 25-30 square RP doors a day, but now I have matched my cutters to the door shops, so I can build them myself or buy them and they match up great. But buying them for 25 dollars each is much better than building them myself. It took me many years to accept that fact, but it's true just the same. If I didn't have the set up that I have I would never again spend 6K on shapers and cutters, as doors have come down so much in price lately. I just buy them more and more often.