View Full Version : honest replies - large vs small shaper

12-11-2003, 03:11 PM
i read through many of the past posts on shapers and how to set them up and use them. and i've read all the replies saying "bigger is better" and "if it fits in your shop/garage, it isn't too big". seriously though, i'm just a hobbyist and have never used a shaper. as with most machine tools, i didn't know what a shaper was until i started reading this board (well, i knew what a woodworking shaper was). if i could get a small (8", is that small?) shaper or a large (16" or so) shaper for almost the same price, which one would realistically be a better choice for me? i built a rotary phase converter with a 5HP motor, so that is about my max HP available at present. i'm guessing a large shaper may be 7.5 or 10HP. i also don't exactly have a 3'x6' section of floor space to dump a large machine in, but could make space available. is a small machine that much smaller (floor mounted, not bench mounted)? would the trade-offs in size and power requirements be acceptable to go with a smaller machine vs a larger one? can a large item be worked on using a small machine if i just keep repositioning the item (i know an 8" machine can't reach 16" into the bore like a large machine).

i'm looking for honest replies from folks who may have used both a large and small shaper or who have made many useful projects with just a small one. any regrets from folks who upgraded (or downgraded, or missed an opportunity to)? i guess this has to do with just about any piece of machinery though.


andy b.

G.A. Ewen
12-11-2003, 03:33 PM
Hi andy,
I have a 14" Elliot shaper that I wouldn't trade for anything. I can't give you a comparison big verus small because I have never used a small factory made machine. One bit of information that I can give you is that you don't need high Horse Power. I have a 1 HP pump motor on mine and it will take a 70 thou cut with no problem. To tell you the truth I prefer it under powered. I would rather have the motor stall than have something break. If I can find a 1-1/2 HP motor in the future I will put that on, but no more.

12-11-2003, 04:51 PM
To my mind, the value of a shaper depends on the amount of use you have for it. The bench models, like Atlas , South Bend and Aamco are usually 7" or 8". Floor models start from there and go up. A 16" machine would probably be about the largest practical size for the normal home shop. They are like a lathe or milling machine, the bigger the machine you can afford and have room for, the more use you will have for it. Within practical reason that is.
The benefits have been discussed, there are several, and I won't go into them.
I will say that I have owned two Atlas shapers, and sold them both as the space they occupied was more valuable than the utility they provided me. I have a smaller knee mill, and I found that I set up most jobs on that because it was faster than a shaper. There are very few jobs a shaper is capable that cannot be done on a vertical milling machine. Since then, I have added power feed to the mill, and increased it's usefulness even more.
There is nothing at all wrong with a shaper, it is a good machine for it's purposes, and if you have the space for one by all means get one.

Al Messer
12-11-2003, 05:52 PM
I used some "big boys" while in Machine Shop School, and I own a 7" South Bend. I use the Shaper a LOT to reduce scrounged material to usable shapes and sizes and would not take three times the price I paid for it as it uses cheap HHS tool bits instead of expensive End Mills.

However, there are times when I wish it was bigger, so if you can house a 16 inch machine, go ahead and get it as you will still be able to do smaller sized projects with it.

12-11-2003, 09:18 PM
If you insist on a shaper you will find the larger ones are cheaper. I had a 16" years ago and said I would never part with it, but I did. On a rare occasion I wish I had it back. They are slow and if you only have a certain amount of cash and room, forget the shaper and go for a mill. As far as horsepower goes, if a machine comes with 10 horse don't think you can not reduce it by half or more. You can and simply reduce the speed at which you operate. Everything with horsepower is relative. Good luck

12-11-2003, 11:00 PM
i see you folks are really trying to talk me into the larger one. yes, that would probably be the way to go if i had unlimited space and knew what the heck i was doing, but the more i think about it, i'm leaning towards the smaller one. i figure within a year i should know if a shaper is something i really love, or if it is just another piece of 70-year-old iron that looks cool and gets used seldomly. if i really use it, i could probably upgrade to a bigger one, since they do seem to be a relatively cheap piece of machinery at present.

we'll see what happens, as i am still undecided (heck i may not get either one). thanks for all your opinions.

andy b.

12-12-2003, 01:17 AM
I had a 7" Atlas shaper and sold it because it was taking up space that I needed. It was in new condition. Today I wish I had it. Know I wouldn't use it much but there have been times when it would have saved a lot of time. The smaller machines are more expensive but for the home shop I think 7" is about all you need.


12-12-2003, 02:06 AM
The limiter on small shapers, or big ones, is stroke. Now I have a mill with a longer table movement, I can do some things the small shaper was too short for.

But I have done quite a bit of "milling" to final dimension on the Atlas before having a mill, and still would use it if it wasn't temporarily homeless (shop re-arrangement).

12-12-2003, 03:30 AM

The biggest advantage to a great big, ugly shaper is you can buy one for a bag of donuts. If size is an issue, be prepared to get screwed but good for over $1000 for a good atlas.

The same can be said for big, old ugly Horizontal mills - them 10,000 pound orphaned beauties no one wants anymore except me and Forrest or some other crazy bastard.

12-12-2003, 05:08 AM
Thrud, you talking about me again.. HA>..

Ragarsed Raglan
12-12-2003, 08:33 AM

I was just like you, vacillating over a big or small shaper, now i'm not so sure!

Seriously, I have a lathe, a mill and yet I still hankered after a shaper. I got lucky and got a 7B Atlas for a donantion off an old friend of mine. I'm short of room and I'm always trying to reorganise a 'quart into a pint pot' ~ bit like John Stevenson - as soon as a piece of floor emerges I just gotta put a machine onto it to stop it escaping!

The Atlas has been undergoing restoration, but I can be sure that as soon as it is back under power it will get used regularly. I've got a list of jobs stacking up for it already!! 7" is a good size, 14" is probably as big as I think most hobbiests could use on a near regular basis (i.e probably about once a year!)

One advantage of a small machine is that given they cost more lb for lb, you will get that money back if you find you have no uses for it. A big Mutha is going to take a lot of getting rid of if you find it's not your 'cup of tea' ~ simple market equation.

Its your shout at the end of the day as you know what kind of jobs you are likey to tackle with it. Sorry if this post has been so undecisive.


12-12-2003, 09:58 AM
Ragarsed makes a very valid point here.
The resale value and resellability should be a part of the equation when buying any machine.
A good quality, sound machine that is well cared for, and receives the usual very light use of a home shop probably will increase in value, and is not a bad investment.
A poor quality machine or dinosaur will always be that, and is likely to to decrease drasticaly in value, if not be impossible to sell.
As to the price of the smaller shapers, the last time I looked at several on eBay, prices were in the $800-$900 range. Like any thing, that will vary, but they may be decreasing somewhat. $1000.00 is not excessive to pay for one in very good condition. If someone were to resume manufacture, I would guess the price to be in the $2000-$3000 range.
The Atlas TH54 lathe cost $186.00 in 1945, 7B shaper cost $325.00, M1B milling machine cost $286.50. The relative price spread would probably be similar today, or possibly wider due to initial engineering and development costs.

12-12-2003, 04:12 PM
For what its worth. Here's my experience with shapers in the home shop. When I began to purchase tools for my home shop I found a bargain price on a 12"Whipp shaper. An old one of course with the square ways but a good sturdy machine. No sooner had I put it in my shop than I was offered a deal I could not pass up on a B'port. Brought the B'port home and have never used the shaper. That was 30 years ago! Anyone want a 800-1000# little old shaper? Its yours for the taking.

There are jobs that only the shaper could do easily such as a deep keyway,slotting or profiling and it can be convenient in a one man shop to have a machine that can be set up to plane a surface and left unattended. But I pass up such work, setups become too tedious.

Incidentally, a vertical shaper (or "slotter" in shop parlance) such as the 6" Pratt and Whitney with its x, y and rotary feeds is a machine that I would not pass up even today in the twilight of my career. Its versatility is unmatched.

I'll bet not many even remember how to grind a proper toolbit for it or know how to set it up to cut internal squares. ???????


12-12-2003, 07:39 PM

>Anyone want a 800-1000# little
old shaper? Its yours for the taking.

Don't do THAT. Some idiot like me will have to ask where you're located, cuz I don't have room for it either -- I'll be right over to get it. : ) (Think I'll have room to operate it in the back of my truck? I have a cord that will reach!)

Luckily, I'm in Colorado, so I bet you're not just across the street.


12-12-2003, 10:08 PM
Colorado is closer to California than Massachusetts. But My brother lives in Santa Rosa. I wonder if he could pick it up and keep it with him for a while?

12-12-2003, 11:24 PM
I don't need the room, I just want to start getting rid of some of the unused clutter that I have accumulated after 40 years in this old Victorian. I really want to get rid of it.

But as I told qvs I'd hate to stick someone with such an old piece of castiron. I have attended local auctions where the auctioneer could not even raise a $10.00 bid for much newer and much, much better shapers (there was an absolutely beautiful 12" Sheldon shaper, showroom condition that could have been had for $5.00 or less. Ohh, I was tempted).

12-13-2003, 02:38 AM
Oscar, my brother - you are making me cry! Still, $5 US is nearly $8,043 Canadian (almost). http://bbs.homeshopmachinist.net//biggrin.gif

12-13-2003, 03:50 AM
Uhh, Oscar,

My Dad lives in Berkeley. I'll send him over with his trailer.

It's about time he visited me up here anyway. I've got about 200 sq ft of unused space in the garage.

[This message has been edited by Evan (edited 12-13-2003).]

Ian B
12-13-2003, 05:39 AM

I'm firmly with the "get a big one" camp - I have a decent size mill and an 18" stroke shaper in good condition - with a vise, the shaper cost me $140, so the argument about losing its resale value hardly comes into the equation. I don't know what shapers cost where you are, but here (in Holland) nobody wants them.

I'm strictly a hobby machinist - speed of finishing a job really doesn't come into it - I do it for the fun. Like Al Messer, I also take immense pleasure in finding a nasty piece of scrap steel or whatever, and making something useful out of it. I have no qualms about ploughing layers of rust or scale off, using an easily reground lathe tool in the shaper (picked up at a junk sale for $1). When I can do a job on the mill or the shaper, the shaper usually wins. Just my personal preference.

On the speed issue, I set the shaper on power feed and go and do something else - when I'm not just standing there, mesmerised by the thing. Not sure what the biggest cut it'll take is - I bottle out at about 0.2"depth. Going by the colour of the chips, it's not hanging around, though.

Big one or small one? For the type of work that I do, it's a no brainer - I'd swap what I have for a 24" stroke tomorrow. Bigger machines just seem to take everything in their stride, no vibration or chatter, they don't sound stressed - metal just peels off the workpiece as if it was butter.

Good luck,


12-13-2003, 11:06 AM
The resale and resellability issues I mentioned apply to any machine tool, not only shapers, and should be considered as part of the cost of ownership.
Crypto is a case in point, he has had this machine in his way for 40 years, and now is trying to give it away. If I were close, and had the space and need, I probably would be standing on his doorstep. It is a very generous offer.
That megapound shaper or boring mill may cost only $50.00 or less, I've seen plenty of excellent gigantic machines go for nothing, is also going to cost you on the other end when the time comes to get rid of it.
When we are old and feeble, and have to get that thing out of our basement to make the house saleable to some yuppie who wants to put an entertainment complex where we have our beautiful shop, we may have to pay a rigger to come haul it to the scrap yard. Just something to consider, and Crypto is far from old and feeble I am sure.

12-13-2003, 11:33 AM
I have never operated a small shaper so I can't speak to that, however I did have the pleasure of using a beautiful Cincinnati 24" shaper while in school. As Ian pointed out, a person can stand mesmerized watching it effortlessly peel large curled chips stroke after stroke. I really enjoyed working on it. Having said that, there wasn't any job that I did on the shaper that I couldn't have done on the mill and the mill would have been faster.
We did find a 16" long chunk of railroad rail and proceeded to true the top and side surfaces of the rail on the shaper. This could have been done on the mill but would have required an expensive milling cutter or a large flycutter and taking large cuts on a Bridgeport size mill would have taxed the mill. With the shaper we were able to use a cheap single point tool bit. The rail was hard on the toolbit but easy to resharpen when necessary. After trueing up the sufaces we heated and quenched the top surface of the rail and then heated again to draw it some. It was then set up on the suface grinder and ground. It made a great bench anvil / working surface for riveting, punching, etc.

If I had the room I would surely have one.


Al Messer
12-13-2003, 11:48 AM
JC, when it's time to move on, you have to learn to play "hard ball". What the kids don't want for their own use, the prospective purchaser has to buy the rest "lock stock and barrel", so re-sale value has no bearing in my purchases since I don't really care if I make a dime off the stuff or not.

Al Messer
12-13-2003, 11:55 AM
When I was in school, we did a lot of stuff on the mills, both horizonal and vertical that went a lot faster than if we had used the shapers. BUT, the school was buying the milling cutters. I'll be perfectly honest with you, as a retiree, I cannot afford to purchase a lot of expensive milling cutters, so I am for all practical purposes forced to use the Shaper with its cheap tool bit cutters that I can re-sharpen on my 6 inch bench grinder by eye balling it. I have nothing against mills---wish I had a small one to do the jobs that cannot be done on the shaper, but for reducing "junk" to usable sizes and shapes, the Shaper may be slow, but it sure is CHEAP!! And if I could house a 16 incher or bigger, I would have it, for the reasons mentioned by Ian B.

12-13-2003, 12:01 PM
I think the most important factor is the condition and price of the particular machine. Mine is a Little 7" South Bend and is all I could fit in my shop. I use it about 1/10 as much as the Bridgeport, but would not part with it unless there was more room and a bigger one was at hand. A buddy had a 14" Hendy which is a real peach! he actualy runs his shop as a bussiness and uses the shaper a lot. If you start with a small one, you will be able to sell quick if you want to upgrade. You can learn a lot if not all operations on a small one, and besides, there cool to watch as they throw chips!

12-14-2003, 11:09 AM
Remembering the cutting slice difference of the HF 3inOne mill and the bridgeport, I kinda want a larger 12-14 inch shaper too.


12-15-2003, 01:21 PM
I have a 20" that I would not part with even thow I have a BP type,a horazontal with universal head and a standard vertical mill. Each have its tradeoffs,


12-15-2003, 09:19 PM

thanks for all the insight. i have a feeling if we were all in a room together, the beers wouldn't stop until i agreed "bigger is better". i am going to go for the 16". i'll let you know if/when/how i get it if it eventually makes it to my shop/garage. heck, i always wanted to see santa haul 4000 pounds in his sleigh.

more to follow.....

andy b.

Al Messer
12-16-2003, 11:52 PM
Merry Christmas, Andy, and if you get the big shaper, I know it will be a Happy New Year!! LOL!