While routers have traditionally been used as hand-held devices, the advent of high quality router tables means that more and more they are being used in a manner that resembles how shapers are used. In fact, given their relatively low cost, routers can double as a shaper for the hobbyist or for the worker who does not need to be involved in developing highly intricate shaped designs. Given that the two are now used in what appears to be a similar manner, then, what is the purpose of a shaper when compared with a router? Is there one, or could a shaper be replaced by its inexpensive cousin the router? Or are we living in a world of the router shaper?
In fact, there are a number of differences between a router and a router shaper. There are major differences between how the two are constructed, their intended purpose, and of course, the results that can be obtained by using one as opposed to the other. A shaper, for example, is an extremely powerful tool that is capable of performing much bigger jobs that a standard router. Shapers make use of a high-powered induction motor, and are also designed for long-term, constant work. This type of heavy going work may be less easily obtained when using a less powerful router, which may struggle with larger cuts or from being “always on”.
The speeds at which shapers and routers are designed to be used are also significantly different, with shapers moving at much slower speeds than routers typically do. The difference in speed results in a difference in the type of cut or shape that is eventually obtained, particularly when bits of different sizes are being used. While there may not be a large different in outcome for all types of processes, a dovetail or box-shaped cut made by a router will be of different quality from that provided by a shaper. Routers, it should be noted, can often be calibrated more precisely than shapers.
Shapers also boast a wider variety of cutting bits available to them, and it tends to be easier to change these components on a shaper than on a router. In addition, their bits tend to last longer than those used on a router, which may become an issue for those using a router in place of a shaper on a frequent basis. Shapers also allow reversals of the spindle, allowing greater choice in terms of how a piece of material is used, and tend to have bits that have a larger size or diameter than those seen on routers, and which results in noticeable differences in terms of smoothness of output.
In addition, their accessories, such as the worktables upon which they are positioned, tend to be made of cast iron, a high quality product that allows for frequent and long-term use.
In sum, there is no such thing as a router shaper: each is a specialized item with its own key benefits. Whether you invest in a shaper instead of, or in addition to, a router depends on your needs as a worker. A hobbyist may find that a router is perfectly sufficient to their needs, and some professionals, too, may find that they tend to complete projects for which only a router is required. However, those who are looking at completing more involved shaping work on a frequent basis may well find that a shaper is a good investment.
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