I realize every shop has their own procedure; but as woodworkers, we
are paid for making sawdust, so quick and efficient methods of machine
tool setup is money in the pocket. This is my method for setting up
the shaper to make frame and panel constructions...
First, the head or split fence of the shaper must be in tune, adjusted
for proper function. I do this at the initial setup of a new machine.
Usually, the cast-iron head is preassembled, but I take it apart,
inspect, and detail the castings with a file.
At this point, I've already tossed the auxiliary fence that came with
the machine. I place the assembled head face down on the shaper table
and adjust the halves to be in plane with each other. Note: On nearly
every machine I have owned the halves were askew, not in plane to one
another; but this flaw is satisfied later.
Once I am satisfied, I lock the halves together. Then, I take a cold
chisel and make a perpendicular mark across the halves, adjacent to the
locking mechanism. I use this mark as an indexing feature for future
setups. I find this to be very useful.
I dress a piece of 5/4 poplar to a one-inch dimension that is
approximately one-quarter inch taller than the fence, and six to nine
inches wider than the shaper table. Shaping is also a joining action,
so the extra length never hurts. I do not use a hardwood. Most of my
projects are hardwood, and rubbing hardwood to hardwood wears the
surface more quickly. This is a known physical property of wood.
The carriage bolts that come with the machine, used to attach the
auxiliary fence, can be of minimal size and quality; and since they see
a lot of use, I replace them. I select a bolt that fits the width of
the adjustment slot, with enough length that the nut and washer can
remain on the bolt through the various stages of adjustment.
Next, lock the head to the table. Center the length of auxiliary fence
to the cast-iron head and mark the end of each slot closest to the
arbor. I use an adjustable triangle to scribe a line along the length
of auxiliary fence that is center to the slot less the dimension that I
want for clearance between the auxiliary fence and the table top,
something less than a sixteenth of an inch.
The marks made at the end of each slot should be along the scribed
line. I measure outboard from those marks to a position that will
allow the washer and nut to have a firm seat upon the cast iron.
That's your point for drilling. I counter bore for the head of the
bolt to be one-half inch behind the face, and drill the hole for a snug
fit to the threads.
Divide the auxiliary fence into halves, back cut leaving one-eighth
inch at the butt, and attach to the head. You may note that the halves
are no longer in plane to one another. Step to the joiner and dress
the face of the auxiliary fence, keeping perpendicular to the cast-iron
base...whether you think they are in perfect plane or not.
This completes the process of tuning the head.
Secondly, you must know your tooling. I prefer the six-piece cope and
pattern sets that are engineered to match for height adjustment. I can
change between cope and pattern as often as necessary without
readjusting for height. I also prefer to run my material face down,
which can present its own problems with the direction of feed. So it
is important to know your own capabilities in relationship to the
engineering of your tooling.
I run my material face down for two reasons; one, I want a consistent
cut of my pattern in relationship to the face of the panel; and two,
the dimension between table and cutter is consistent, so any
imperfection in the dimension of my stock will show up on the back of
the panel, where a quick whisk of a belt sander will perfect the frame
without sander marks or the possibility of biting into any raise of a
panel on the front.
The next step to this process is to construct a sled; and perhaps
surprisingly, the sled is the key to the whole process. I use
three-quarter high-density particle board for the body and a strip of
oak for the runner. I dado the runner into the body and I usually make
four or five sleds at a time. The obvious reason is that a sled is
disposable, but a shop may have more than one cope and pattern set of
different designs, and different diameters.
The length of sled should be approximately half the width of the table
top. With the runner in the miter slot, the width of the sled should
be as wide as possible without hanging over the front of the tabletop
to provide a fulcrum, or pivot point; and wide enough in the direction
of the arbor to take a full cut of the cope pattern.
Install the cope cutter, set for height, and without using the fence,
run the sled for a full cut along the entire length. Bring the head
forward into contact with the sled and lock it down, adjusting the
auxiliary fence in place on either side of the cutter. The sled should
run easily but firmly along the entire length of the fence.
The fence is now set for cutting the cope, and the sled is used to
guide the stock through the cut. If in doubt, verify that the leading
edge of the sled is square to the fence. I laminate a light grit of
sand paper to the leading edge, and attach a block of wood to the top
of the sled to aid holding the stock and guiding the sled through the
cut. The sled backs your cut against tear out. To set the fence for
the pattern cut, simply unlock the inboard side of the head and back
the fence away, eyeballing your index mark, to a dimension that
produces a clean cut. You will not experience any snip...
The next time you need to run cope and pattern, just install the
tooling, set the height, and snug your fence to the sled. This method
is quick, easy, and has proven 100% safe through fifteen years of
Now, before the rants begin, I want to reiterate the fact that this is
my way of doing, what can prove for many, to be a complex set up.
Certainly, there are many other ways. I am completely open to
suggestion, and to the inclusion of any step that I may have omitted in
writing this instruction. But, if setup is a tedious operation for
you, I hope you will try my method.