The most frequently asked question should be: Is a shaper a safe machine? Unfortunately that question is never asked.
Shapers are very dangerous machines. In my opinion they are the most dangerous machine in your shop for several reasons:
- Hypnotism. Shapers are mesmerizing to watch and because of this you find that you tend to just watch in an almost hypnotic state. I suppose you could fall asleep and fall into one but more likely you would just sit there and watch it as it cuts and forget what you should be doing.
- Quiet. Shapers are very quiet. Because of this you tend to underestimate their power. Even small shapers are very powerful. I like to think of a shaper as an unstoppable force meeting an immovable object. When you start up a circular saw the noise is like a big warning that you are near danger. No such warning when quietly running a shaper. In fact it is easy to forget that you have one running in your shop because it is so quiet.
- Simple. Shapers are fundamentally very simple machines. Because of this, most operators have never studied the manual or read any documents explaining their operation. Don't get me wrong. They are simple and you probably don't need to read anything to run one. But again this simplicity tends to bring with it a false sense of safety.
- Slow. Shapers generally run very slow. This allows you to reach over the ram while it is running (DON'T DO THIS) and clear chips out of the way during the retract stroke (DON'T DO THIS) or tighten up the vice while a work piece is being shaped (DON'T DO THIS) or oil the machine while it is in operation (DON'T DO THIS). In other words it is running so slow that you have a temptation to fiddle with it.
- Switch mounted low. Usually the power switch for a shaper is mounted low. I have my grandson in my workshop whenever I get a chance. If a child should happen to turn on a lathe or mill there would be a loud noise and the mill or lathe work piece would probably be up out of reach. On the other hand, if a child should turn on a shaper the cutter and work piece are way to low for safety and the RAM in going to go through its stroke no matter what is in the way.
So let me leave this safety warning with one good safety hint. The single biggest cause of accidents on shapers is having the tool bit come loose in the tool post. This is because you frequently have to fiddle with them and re-adjust to suit the job. You should treat the bolt that tightens the tool into the clapper box the same way machinists treat the wrench they use for tightening the jaws on a chuck. Always tighten that tool down even though you may not be quite ready and have to do it again.
Keep sending email with questions and interesting shaper stories.
My email address is KayPatFisher@gmail.com.