If you are getting into the world of carpentry and woodworking, you need to have the right tools for the job. Two tools that you might come across in your journey are wood shapers and router tables. Yes, both of these machines are quite similar, but they do also have their differences.
Let’s compare them in detail to figure out which one is right for you.
Wood Shapers and Routers: The Basics
Before we get right into talking about the differences between wood shapers and wood routers, let’s first provide you with a basic definition of what each of these machines is and what they do.
What is a Wood Shaper?
A wood shaper is often referred to as just a shaper in North America or a “moulder” in the UK. This is a large machine that features a table, one with a rounded spindle that moves upwards and vertically through this table. This spindle drives various cutting heads to mill profiles on wood stock.
These machines are great for cutting dadoes, grooves, and other designs into the interior spaces of stock or along the edges.
A wood shaper can be used to make ornamental designs on wood stock and they can be used for hollowing-out purposes too, such as for making bowls.
What is a Wood Router?
A normal router is a handheld tool, one with a spindle that drives a cutter or sanding head, that can also be used for hollowing out wooden stock and for cutting grooves (click to learn how) and patterns.
Of course, these handheld machines require you to hold them with the stock underneath, whereas a router table has the spindle facing upward, with the benefit of having a table to rest the wooden stock on.
These handheld routers are ideal for small jobs, such as for cutting small patterns or grooves. These are also convenient because they are so highly portable. With a router, you would place the stock on a surface, clamp it down, and then hold the router with the spindle facing down to work on the wood.
What is a Wood Router Table?
What can get a bit confusing here is that wood router tables and shapers are virtually the same things. Just like with a wood shaper, a router table is a large machine that features a vertical spindle that protrudes upwards through a table.
This spindle then drives cutter heads which move in a circular motion and can be used to cut ornamental designs on wooden stock, to cut grooves and dadoes, and to hollow out wooden stock too. Router tables are also great for cutting your own moldings.
Router tables are just routers with a table to hold the stock and the router in place. It’s the larger and stationary version of the handheld router.
When it comes down to it, just by looking at them, you would not be able to see much of a difference between a wood shaper and a wood router table. The real difference between wood shapers and router tables lies in their scaling abilities, their speed and power, and their size.
Wood Shaper vs. Router (Table): What Are the Differences?
For now, we will not be talking about normal handheld routers, as the differences between these and wood shapers are quite obvious. What we are here to do today is to compare the differences between router tables and wood shapers, so let’s get to it.
One of the main differences between router tables and wood shapers have to do with the amount of power that they have.
Wood shapers tend to have more powerful motors than routers, and this means that they are generally better for performing larger tasks. Due to this higher level of power, wood shapers can make the same cuts or patterns in fewer passes than a wood router can. When it comes to large and very dense stock, a wood shaper will be able to get through it easier than a router.
Another big difference between the two is that wood shapers tend to run at slower speeds or at a lower RPM than wood routers. Although they run at a slower speed, they do still have more power than routers.
Simply put, a router bit may technically move at a faster speed than a wood spacer bit, but due to the higher level of power that a wood shaper has, it’s still going to be better for large tasks. In other words, a wood shaper is much faster at completing larger jobs.
That said, a wood router is probably the better choice for smaller tasks.
Wood routers are great for making intricate patterns and cuts, however, when it comes to scaling, they are not the best. With a wood router, you have to constantly measure each cut and cut it by hand. While this allows for really unique work, it is not ideal for making multiple same cuts.
In other words, due to their highly advanced nature, wood shapers are the much better option when it comes to making repeated and identical cuts. Making identical cuts is faster and more accurate when using a wood shaper than with a router.
Spindle and Cutters
What also needs to be said about wood shapers is that they tend to use larger and more powerful bits than wood routers, thus allowing wood shapers to make large cuts and many more types of cuts than wood routers.
In fact, the vast majority of bits that fit into a wood router can also be used by a wood shaper. Wood shapers are larger and more stationary tools designed to complete a wide variety of tasks within a woodworking shop.
Although this is not always the case, for the most part, a wood shaper is going to take up more space than a router table.
One of the biggest advantages that you get with a wood shaper is that these tools often feature reversibility. With a router, the spindle generally only moves in a single direction, which can of course be problematic.
However, with a wood shaper, most of them can be reversed so that the spindle can move in both directions.
Due to their greater degree of functionality, wood shapers do cost more money than routers.
Moreover, wood shaper bits and accessories also tend to be more expensive than those of routers.
The other advantage that you get with a wood shaper is that they usually all come with a split fence, something that helps increase accuracy and ease of use.
Which of the Two Should You Use?
If you plan on working on smaller wood stock, you want to make small and intricate patterns, you want a user-friendly tool that won’t cost you too much, and you are fine with something relatively basic, then a router is the one to choose.
However, if you need something large with plenty of power, something that can handle large stock and make repeated identical cuts, then a wood shaper is the better choice.
The bottom line is that both wood shapers and routers are great tools to have.
That said, if you plan on doing a lot of woodworking, and you want the most versatile tool, you will probably want to go with a wood shaper. That is if you are working in a workshop.