Graphical Construction Glossary >> Tools. >> Power Tools >> Wood Shaper

Wood Shaper
A woodworking machine with provision for a large range of cutters to be mounted on a vertical spindle. Shaper is the US term for this machine. In the UK and Australia the term Spindle Moulder is used for this machine which is used to produce mouldings.

spindle moulder with sliding tabel
An old spindle with a sliding table.

The old spindle above has the cutter mounted directly on top of the shaft. It is set up to scribe a quarter round on the shoulders of tenons.

Spindle moulders have been around since the early days of the industrial revolution. They are NOT just larger router tables as some simpletons on the web seem to think. I served my time as an apprentice joiner in the late 1950's using an 1 1/4" spindle with a three speed belt drive. Later when I had my own workshop I very soon bought one for myself. At that time it was considered the most versatile machine in any woodworking shop. It was also considered the most dangerous machine.

  • Think of all the old semicircular headed timber doors and windows and their frames, with curved large sections. Sometimes even circle on circle work (curved both ways). All this is easy on a shaper using a ring guide.
  • In the old days the guy on the job would send in a sample of an odd section of moulding. A non stock item and only wanting a few lengths made to the same pattern. It was easy to grind up a couple of cutter blanks (or alter existing ones) and make it quickly on the shaper.
  • Gunstock door styles, drop on work or reverse motor. The spindle moulder does it easily.
  • Various size grooves with a wobble saw and multiple grooves in one hit with spacers.
  • With the addition of a power feed large quantities of material can be processed quickly and safely.
  • Many times other machines were tied up so things like rebating door jambs or sawing thin stock could be done on the spindle.
a large power feed
A large power feed unit.

The shaper is the supreme tool for finishing and moulding curved work. In just about all cases of straight work there are other machines that can do the job better. BUT and it is a big but, sometimes they are large and expensive and also you will need a few machines to get the versatility of a spindle moulder.

Most spindle moulders are set up to cut sideways and most jobs use straight fences. Above is a large machine with a decent sized power feed.

spring guide set up.
Spring guide layout for the large machine above.

A sketch from the instruction manual for the above machine showing the layout of spring guides for the machine above.

Part of the reason for the lack of popularity of the spindle moulder these days is the inherent danger associated the exposed cutter heads. Modern design improved safety greatly, but like all machine tools they should be treated with respect.

curved work on a spindle moulder
Curved work on a spindle moulder

Above is a photo from an out of copyright book circa 1925. I am not to sure what the health and safety guys would think of this :-) Quite possibly some guides have been removed for the photo. No wonder spindle hands were known for missing fingers. Anyway it serves to illustrate some of the versatility of this machine.

  • The cutter head is bolted directly onto the top of the shaft or spindle.
  • The cutters have been ground to make an ovolo moulding and a rebate. It is most likely to be a door or window profile,
  • In this case a curved section is being made, most likely a door or window head.
  • The material has had an approximate curve cut on a bandsaw or similar.
  • A template piece about 20m thick has been fixed to the material to be moulded.
  • The material is run past the cutter head with the template pressed firmly against the top collar of the revolving cutter block.

This shot probably pre-dates heads with ball bearing top surfaces for guiding templates like this. The old spindle that I served my time on mostly just used standard straight fences and for curved work we had a ring fence or guide that sat just over the top of the head.

A straight cutter head
A straight spindle moulder cutter head
Photo thanks to Wikimedia Commons, User: Boatbuilder

The head here has just two straight blades. It can be used for many tasks, smoothing curves or drop on work that is hard to do on a planer. It can make rebates, stopped or curved.

Shapers have a rev range from 3,000 rpm to 10,000 rpm They do not need the huge revs per minute that routers do. It is all about rim speed or the speed of the cutting edge. For example a cutter block in a spindle may be 100mm diameter. A router bit at 33mm diameter will have to go three times faster to achieve the same cutting speed. But and here's the difference: the spindle tool may have more cutting surfaces and have more mass for smoother cutting.

A modern spindle moulder or shaper
A modern spindle moulder or shaper
Photo thanks to Wikimedia Commons, User: VEBA MECCANICA SRL

Contrast the sleek modern machine above with it's safety guards in place to the photos above. As with many machines these days it is hard to pick their function from a simple shot like this.

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Please Note! The information on this site is offered as a guide only!  When we are talking about areas where building regulations or safety regulations could exist,the information here could be wrong for your area.  It could be out of date!  Regulations breed faster than rabbits!
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Copyright © Bill Bradley 2007-2012. All rights reserved.
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