Tool Choice for Dadoing Panels Router, Shaper, or Table Saw?

Pros describe their preferred methods for running dadoes in cabinet panels. November 20, 2005

I dado together my entire cabinet carcass and then glue and screw the pieces for a nice fit. I only have 1 saw in the shop and it takes time to set up the dado blades and then tear them down. I need to buy a shaper for other applications, but Im also thinking that using a shaper to mill dados in cabinet carcasses might be a faster more efficient way vs. the table saw. Does anyone do this or am I headed down the wrong path. Can a shaper handle this procedure?

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor P:
A shaper with a router collet will most likely cut lousy dados. First, it doesn't rotate fast enough. You will have to rig up a fence system. You will have to be careful of bit rotation so the cutter doesn't pull the work away from the fence. You will also have to deal with all the chips under the stock. Most small shapers do not have dust ports in the table. I would go with dedicated routers with a high quality guide system like Festool.

From contributor D:
I've cut dadoes and rabbits in solid stock with a shaper. How far can you get from the edge of the sheet? Can you stabilize a 30 x 24 inch sheet running vertically? I think a router would be a better idea if you don't want to tie up your saw.

From contributor B:
We run the dados on our cabinet sides for our backs using an old tablesaw with a powerfeed running in the same direction as the blade. Running this way eliminates almost all chip-out, even in melamine.

From the original questioner:
So from what I read a shaper is not the way to go. Can anyone provide some knowledge on the difference between shapers and router tables? I know that a shaper has greater hp but lower RPM's, and a router has less horse power but higher RPM's. What's the advantage and disadvantage of both? It seems to me that most large shops have shapers where as most small shops or hobbyists have router tables. My original assumption was cost, but now I don't believe that to be the case.

From contributor J:
I would suggest going with the HerSaf panel router? Its easy to set up and use and its very versatile.

From contributor A:
I picked up a used Safety Speed Cut 3'x3' horizontal panel router with a 3 hp Porter Cable. I use it to dato out all of my panels. It is square and 3 hp is more then enough to router out a 1/4" - 1/2" dato in any material. Plus, whether I am running plywood, MDF, or melamine all I have to do is put in an over or undersized router bit. There are no fences to fuss with.

From contributor F:
I use the same cabinet construction as above and I think that the best bet is a inexpensive second tablesaw that is used just for dado's. However you can also use a shaper successfully. Since you mentioned you need one anyway I would recommend not getting anything smaller than a 3 hp and stay away from collets for router bits. A properly set up shaper is superior to a router table for many jobs and with a power feeder it can be safer too. A shaper is also going to be quieter and have less vibration than a router table. Before you buy you may want to go to Amazon and get 'The Shaper Book' by Lonnie Bird its a very good book on shaper selection and use.

From contributor S:
To the original questioner: Shapers are, in essence, a beefed up router table. A shaper has an industrial motor, but not necessarily more horsepower. It is designed to run near its limits longer than a router type motor. Both may develop 3 hp, but the induction type motor is designed to sustain that load. Think of a router as a sprinter and a shaper as a marathon runner.

The spindle speeds are different in these machines, too. A shaper is designed to turn large diameter cutters. When you turn a 5" diameter cutter, the speed at the outer edge of the cutter is much greater than near the center. So, the speeds for shapers typically runner slower than routers (7,000 and 10,000 rpm is a common number, while routers may run in excess of 20,000 rpm).

The reason that a shaper may not be the best for dados is that the spindle speed is not fast enough, and may not evacuate the chips efficiently. You want the heat to go into the wood chips and away from the cutting surface. If the chips linger, the bit will get hot and dull. Remember, you are turning a small diameter bit at a slower speed.

Better options have been mentioned. I would suggest using a router or a saw. Both are designed to remove material from a small path. Some guys take a 3 hp router and mount it in a large tabletop. You can have a fence indexed for your decks and tops, and set up a fence as you need for fixed shelves. Mount your router towards the end or an edge - not in the center, and you can use the rest of the table for assembly or layout.

From contributor L:
If youre doing boxes with a separate toe-kick, then a shaper/powerfeeder would work just fine. If you run your stock face down, all your rabbits will be the same thickness, so variations in stock thickness is not a problem.

From contributor A:
To add to my post and to touch on Coontributor L's post, I build most of my bases with the toekick attached. My dato has to be 4" (nothing's standard when it's custom) from the bottom of the side panel to the bottom edge of the dato. With a panel router, I simply have two sticks, one for setting the distance for my top mullions and a second, shorter stick for routering the dato for the bottom panel. There is never anything to measure. Just switch sticks and go.

Also, if I am doing a pantry or something similar with, let's say, a fixed shelf at 42" from the bottom, it is no problem. I would like to see someone do that with a shaper. As for doing it with a table saw, you would most definitely need a dedicated table saw. But then you also have the issue of different material thicknesses. So, for the money you would spend on a second table saw, purchasing a router table is a non issue.

From contributor H:
Here is a fairly easy solution that I have used for years. Get a plunge router that has a vacuum attachment. You need to have a long table extension on your tablesaw. Bolt the plunge router underneath it next to the saw. Now you can use the tablesaw fence for the router. Drop the bit down when not needed. You can hook up the router to your vacuum system, so routing MDF materials will not be so dusty. There are not as many limitations on what materials you can dado as with a dado blade on a saw.

Like plastic laminated stock, cross grain veneered stock. Get an assortment of bits. You can use it just like a router table setup. Make a wood fence that drops down over the tablesaw fence, so you can do rabbets without damaging the fence. I have a sliding tablesaw, so I can use either fence when using the router. Router tables work well for a lot of stuff, but to do cabinet parts, you need something big.

From contributor R:
What you need is a panel router like the one below. You can make it yourself just like I did.

Click here for full size image

"Photo by Ray Bly Cabinetry"

From contributor F:
I recommend Her-Saf router shanks and cutters. You can leave the shank chucked up in the router and unscrew the cutter to change sizes etc.