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Which Power Feeders for Shapers?

With a wide variety of power feeders to choose from, how can you decide which option is best to run on your shaper?  We answer this question and dissect how to determine which feeder is ideal for shapers in your woodworking shop.  We break this down by examining (1) 3 wheel vs 4 wheel feeders, (2) feeding shorter parts, and (3) speed capabilities.  In doing so, we focus on the mid to heavy-duty power feeders and not the light-duty small feeders

1. 3 Wheel vs 4 Wheel Feeders

Perhaps one of the most common questions is, "Should I get a three or four wheel feeder?" Here are the arguments for each type of feeder according to feedback from many users of 3 and 4 wheel feeders:

Arguments for 4 Wheel Feeders

4 wheel power feeder

1.  Less Positioning: The cutter head is placed between the two center rollers of a 4 wheel feeder so you only have to pivot the feeder to adjust the toe in when changing the feed direction. (The outfeed roller should be 3 to 4mm closer to the fence than the infeed roller).  3 wheel feeders also require changing the feeder's position in relation to the cutter when changing feed directions (typically two on the infeed and one on the outfeed side)

2.  Added hold-down: 4 wheel feeders offer more hold-down with the extra wheel, leading to a more secure feed especially when feeding larger and longer parts.  An owner of a 3 and 4 wheel feeder stated that he experienced "less sniping" with the 4 wheel feeder.  Another 4 wheel feeder user didn't see any downside to 4 rollers and he especially likes the extra roller when feeding passage door parts or longer moldings.

3.  Safety: Great Lakes Custom Tool, a shaper tooling manufacturer in Wisconsin strongly advises to use a 4 wheel feeder when climb cutting as the extra 2 rollers on the outfeed side help prevent the workpiece from shooting out.

Arguments for 3 Wheel Feeders

3 wheel power feeder

1.  Smaller Footprint / Less Weight: 3 Wheel Feeders are roughly 5" shorter and 6 lbs lighter.  Some users have stated that the smaller weight and footprint make it easier to maneuver.

2.  Less Price:  The typical price difference from a 3 to 4 wheel feeder of the same model is $100-$150, and it is one less roller that needs replaced when switching the rollers out.

Summary

4 Wheel Feeders are most often preferred over 3 wheel feeders as the benefits usually outweigh the higher price.  Aside from the price, there isn't a significant downside to 4 wheels as the footprint/weight difference is minimal.  For those running cabinet doors and small trims on a small shaper where climb cutting isn't common, a 3 wheel feeder may meet your needs. If you aren't sure, you can't go wrong with a 4 wheel feeder.

2. Feeding Shorter Parts

Standard 3 and 4 wheel feeders have a distance of around 6" from center to center of the rollers.  The common suggestion is to feed parts that are atleast double the distance between two rollers from center to center, which would be about 12" on 3 or 4 rollers.  Depending on the profile and weight of material, you may be able to get away with feeding parts close to 6", but parts that short tend to wobble.  If you want a stock feeder that has the capability of feeding parts shorter than around 12", you will want to consider a track feeder or the DC70 feeder:

1.  Track Feeders

Most track feeders have 3 to 5 pulleys with 3 belts so you have continuous contact (a little flex in between the pulleys).  Pulleys are typically about 6" center to center, but the belts ensure consistent feeding for shorter parts as long as the belts are in good condition and not stretched, maintaining tightness throughout the feed.

2. DC70 Power Feeder

The DC70 Power Feeder has 7 small rollers to accommodate short stock with the largest distance (center to center) being about 2-1/2" and the overall length of the feeder is similar to a 4 wheel feeder.  The recommended minimum length of stock is 5" but shorter parts can be fed depending on the profile and material. A shop that manufactures little wood boxes (Pet Urns) successfully feeds 3" long parts without any wobbling or sniping.  The DC70 also has a variable speed adjustment so you can dial in the exact speed you want from 7 to 86 FPM.

power feeder for short parts

 3. Speed Capabilities

One woodworker stated on an online forum that you can never have too many speeds and that you want to run parts as fast as possible without compromising the quality of cut.  This is the general feeling among feeder users, although there are exceptions depending on the application.  Make sure the power feeder you choose will be able to run at the proper speed for you application.  If you will be running different applications that require different speeds, consider what feed rates are optimal and the process your feeder will require in achieving the different speed requirements when changing speeds.  Power feeders generally come in three speed types: 4 Speed, 8 Speed, and Variable Speed.  Let's break each option down:

4 Speed:  You can achieve two speeds per each gear setting, which is adjusted (rabbit and turtle) on the motor switch.  To achieve the other two speeds, you switch the gears in the feeder around.  The four speeds typically range between 13 - 66 FPM

8 Speed: You can achieve four speeds per each gear setting, which is adjusted on the motor switch and an extra speed adjustment handle that the 4 speed models don't have.  To achieve the other 4 speeds, you switch the gears in the feeder around.  The eight speeds typically range between 6 to 108 FPM.

An optional gear set (to replace the standard gear set) is typically available to achieve different speeds for both 4 speed and 8 speed models.

Variable Speed:  You can achieve any speed you want within a certain range, which is typically from 5 to 84 FPM depending on the model.  You don't have to switch any gears around with variable speed models.  Some variable speed models are adjusted by a dial with a surrounding label that indicates the speed.  Co-Matic DC power feeders are adjusted by a dial with the speed showing on a digital readout.  

 

There are some more points that can be covered, such as positing the feeder for angled feeding or horizontal feeding directly against the fence.  For shaper feeding that requires a lot of 90° swiveling between the fence and against the table, the DC Series Feeders are highly recommended due to the locking pin that allows for a quick 90° adjustment back and forth.  The above points are generally the main things to consider when deciding on a power feeder for your shaper.  For those considering a power feeder for a table saw or jointer, most of the above topics can also be applied. 

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