Wood Shaper vs Router: Which One to Choose?

wood shaper vs router header

Do you need a wood shaper or a router?

If you’re shopping online, it might be hard to get an answer to this question just by looking at the products in question. Hopefully, this guide will help you figure out which model is right for you.

Power

The good news is that you can do most kinds of projects with both routers and shapers. However, there are differences in the way that they run, and that changes how you will do the projects.

Routers run at a higher RPM but generally, use smaller bits. Deeper and larger cuts may require more passes.

Shapers, on the other hand, run at a lower RPM, and use larger bits. This means you can make similar final cuts with fewer intermediary cuts.

It’s also much easier to find router bits at stores than shaper bits, and router bits tend to be cheaper, lowering your cost of use. Shapers are also designed to be used all day and generally last longer when frequently used than routers do.

Precision

If you’re looking to do large cuts, such as those you would do for a paneled door or bookshelf, then the shaper will do a better job, since the cuts are so large. Routers struggle to be precise when the scale is large.

However, routers tend to be more precise when the cuts you need to make are very small. While most projects could be done with either tool, some will be done more precisely by one or the other.

Scaling

If you’re planning to do a lot of identical, repeating cuts, like making floorboards for a whole house, then it makes sense to use a shaper, since you’ll set it up once and then just feed the wood through it. With a router, identical cuts will take a bit longer to do, since you’re going each one by hand.

However, if you’re going to do a lot of different projects, then you’ll probably be better off with a router, since it takes less time, generally, to set a router up for a job than a shaper.

Overall

Not everyone needs a shaper, but if you’re doing the kinds of projects that shapers excel at, you should get one. However, that’s not everyone, and if you’re doing a lot of varied projects that don’t take that long, you’re probably better off with a router.

Wood Shapers We Recommend:

Our favorite – Powermatic 1280101C PM2700

Powermatic 1280101C PM2700 Shaper, 5HP 1PH 230V
7 Customer Reviews
Powermatic 1280101C PM2700 Shaper, 5HP 1PH 230V
  • Integrated caster system for instant shop mobility
  • Spindle height digital readout for making fine incremental adjustments on multiple passes
  • Quick-release lever for fast speed and belt changes

The Powermatic 1280101C PM2700 is our favorite wood shaper. If you’re spending the money to get a wood shaper, then you need to know that you’re getting a machine with plenty of precision. And this a Powermatic has it in spades. It comes with a two-stage fence system that allows for rough guesstimates of where the fence should go to be followed up with precision micro-adjustments to get the exact positioning you want. It also comes with a digital readout for spindle height that is accurate up to 1/1000th of an inch, which gives you the ability to do extremely precise cuts.

It comes with a cast iron table, which should help reduce vibrations from the powerful 5-hp motor, which can power through any kind of project. It also has retractable casters that can be used to move this shaper around the shop for convenient use.

One flaw is that it comes with a subpar dust collection system, though a little tinkering on your side could resolve this problem completely. Overall, this shaper has the power and precision to get any job done and to do it fast.

Pros
  • Integrated, retractable casters
  • Digital readout
  • Powerful motor
  • Excellent fence system
  • Cast iron table
Cons
  • Subpar dust collection

Best for the money – SHOP FOX W1702 3 HP

SHOP FOX W1702 3 HP Shaper
12 Customer Reviews
SHOP FOX W1702 3 HP Shaper
  • Heavy-duty miter gauge
  • Table height: 34-1/4-Inch
  • Spindle travel: 3-Inch

The SHOP FOX W1712 is a great purchase for the money. It features a powerful 3 hp motor which will quickly take care of any task. It also comes with a cast iron table which will hold up well to both light and heavy use and will also reduce the amount of vibration that you feel while making a cut. As an added bonus, the manufacturer includes a heavy-duty miter gauge which will help you make precise angled cuts for years to come.

The one downside to this model is that there is some variance in the manufacturing process. Most units come perfectly assembled in great shape, while others don’t. Most of the time, it’s something cosmetic, like a sticker or a small dent. Rarely, it’s something serious, like loose fences.

Overall, this is a great shaper for the money, combining power and durability into an affordable package.

Pros
  • Power
  • Heavy-duty miter gauge
  • Cast iron table
Cons
  • Manufacturing inconsistency

Wood Routers We Recommend:

Our favorite – Bosch 1617EVS Kit

Bosch 1617EVS Fixed-Base Router - 12 Amp Corded...
1,193 Customer Reviews
Bosch 1617EVS Fixed-Base Router - 12 Amp Corded...
  • POWER: Amongst the most powerful routers for woodworking at 12-amps, 2.25-horsepower, and 8000-25000...
  • VERSATILE: The hand router's variable speed dial allows you to set the optimal speed for the routing...
  • CONSISTENCY: The wood router's advanced speed-control technology monitors and maintains desired RPM...

The best thing about the Bosch 1617EVS Kit is that it takes a great router and gives it an optional plunge base, making it a great multipurpose tool. It comes with a great 2-1/4 hp motor which should be able to deal with any kind of wood. It also has variable speed adjustment which allows you to set the router to the speed at which it will work best, and its electronic speed control means that it will maintain that speed while you work.

One consistent problem with this series of routers is that it comes with a cheap toggle switch for turning in on and off, and it’s a frequent point of failure in the tool. It’s something that can be repaired, but most people won’t want to deal with that hassle.

Overall, if you’re looking for a powerful router with good control and want the option also to do plunge work, then this is a great choice for you.

Pros
  • Powerful motor
  • Variable speed
  • Great handles
  • Electronic speed control
Cons
  • Issues with toggle switch

Best for the money – DEWALT DWP611PK Kit

DEWALT DWP611PK 1.25 HP Max Torque Variable Speed...
690 Customer Reviews
DEWALT DWP611PK 1.25 HP Max Torque Variable Speed...
  • Durable 1.25hp motor delivers the power to meet the toughest applications
  • Variable speed control feature enables bit speed to be optimized for changing applications. No Load...
  • Soft-starting motor features full-time electronic feedback that maintains motor speed through the...

The DEWALT DWP611PK Kit is our choice for best value. This model comes with a lot of neat features including a clear base that allows you to see the cut while you make it and is also illuminated by a pair of bright LED lights. While in fixed-base mode, it can adjust the bit by increments as small as 1/64th of an inch, giving you excellent precision for a router. It also comes with variable speed adjustment, allowing you to set the speed to the project.

This model also makes use of a spindle lock button and a wrench for easy and fast bit changes. While 1.25 hp isn’t a weak motor, it’s not the most powerful thing on the market either. It’ll do most things, but more difficult woods might be out of its reach.

Overall, the design of this model is innovative, and it will be great value for those who are working on smaller projects with softer woods.

Pros
  • Clear base and LED lights
  • Precise bit depth changes
  • Variable speed
  • Easy bit change
Cons
  • Power

Conclusion

The Powermatic 1280101C PM2700 is our favorite wood shaper, due to its excellent precision, powerful motor, and excellent fence system. The SHOP FOX W1712 was the best wood shaper for the money, with a cast iron table and excellent miter gauge. The Bosch 1617EVS was our favorite router, combining power and speed control in a comfortable-to-use package. The DEWALT DWP611PK Kit was our choice for best router value, due in large part to its innovative design.

Hopefully, this guide has helped you understand the differences between shapers and routers, and has helped you find the model that is right for you.

About the Author Adam Harris

Hi there! My name is Adam and I write for HealthyHandyman. I have a great passion for writing about everything related to tools, home improvement, and DIY. In my spare time, I'm either fishing, playing the guitar, or spending quality time with my beloved wife. You'll also often find me in my workshop working on some new project!