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Shaping Machines

"A Big American Motor Spindle Shaper", The Wood-Worker. Vol. XXXIX, No. 8, Oct. 1920. Pg. 111. Source: Old Woodworking Machines

A shaping or molding machine uses metal cutters to shave the surface of a board or timber to produce a contoured edge. Typically, the work had been done by hand planes that were run with or across the grain of a piece of dressed lumber. The earliest machines employed a cutter fixed into a workbench with a fence for guiding the piece as it was passed over the cutter. However, as early as 1793, Samuel Bentham patented a shaping machine with various contoured cutters that revolved on a vertical shaft above a table. The machine could be cranked by hand or driven by belts as the workpiece was secured to a carriage and passed underneath the cutter. The principle resembled that of planing machines also designed by Bentham.

Molding machines developed more slowly than planing machines, for they produced articles less in demand than the simple floorboards, joists, sheathing, and dressed lumber made by planing machines. In addition, moldings had to be planed to a more precise finish than common building materials. Among early machines, only one end of the axle for the cutter was supported. Consequently, the machines vibrated to a considerable degree, which resulted in an inferior, wavy surface. Also, cutters were difficult to change and sharpen. Consequently, molding produced with a hand plane remained a far superior product until the 1870s. Until then, molding machines produced only cheap, simple goods that could be produced in large batches.

Molding machines improved considerably after 1860. Larger, heavier, cast-iron frames replaced earlier wooden frames, increasing substantially the cost of the machine but reducing vibration. Feed rolls provided a faster and more compact method of bringing the piece to the cutters than the older method of using carriages. Improvements in tool steel improved the quality of the cut and increased the time the machine could operate without the need for sharpening the cutters. Some machines made complex cuts using multiple heads and cutters. Increasingly, factory-produced molding supplied a tremendous demand for door panels, stair stringers, window sash, trim, furniture, and plow handles.

By the 1880s, variety molders were essential machines in most small- to medium-sized woodworking shops. Sometimes called paneling and recessing machines, they functioned like the modern router and were remarkably versatile shaping tools. Most often, two spindles projected above the surface of a table. When necessary, fences guided the work. The spindles rotated at high speeds in opposite directions, allowing the woodworker to cut with the grain without having to stop in order to reverse the spindle."

Shaping Machines, Facts On File, Inc.

A patent for shaping irregular forms in wood by means of a cutter block fixed on a spindle revolving vertically was invented by Mr. Andrew S. Gear, of Jamesville, Ohio, in 1853. Gear later removed to Boston, where he developed a considerable demand for his machines. This was a two-spindle machine with a wooden table, very similar to our machine of today.

Jones, Chandles. Milestones in Machining of Wood, Industrial Strength Woodworking.

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