Should I grab this shaper?

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Should I grab this shaper?

Post by EOsteam » Sat Jul 07, 2018 8:45 am

I have an opportunity to pick up a little J-Line shaper for about $500. I don’t know what size it is but my guess is the machine weighs less than 500 lbs.. It’s in great shape. My questions are thus: Will this come in handy as I construct my Northern? What are they used for primarily? and of course, Will I kick myself in the buttocks later if I don’t get the machine?

Thanks again,


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Bill Shields
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Re: Should I grab this shaper?

Post by Bill Shields » Sat Jul 07, 2018 11:48 am

if you have a milling machine, you will probably never use it.

If you don't have a milling machine, save your money and get one instead..

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Re: Should I grab this shaper?

Post by Harold_V » Sat Jul 07, 2018 3:24 pm

I tend to agree with Bill.
I worked in industry (machine shop) for many years, and for a few different types of machine shops (some product specific, one a job shop). There was a shaper in only one of them, and it sat idle virtually 100% of the time. They are too inefficient to compete in machining operations of today (they cut on less than 50% of their run time) to make them viable. There's not a lot a shaper can do that can't be done on a milling machine, and a mill will move more metal, depending on the nature of the project. A mill is far more versatile.

The problem with a shaper the size you mentioned is its relatively small work size capability. If you feel you must have a shaper, I'd encourage you to pursue something larger, so it can actually do some serious work. Given the opportunity, I wouldn't mind adding one to my shop, but it would have to be somewhere between a 12" and 15" machine, in excellent condition. Not a good chance in filling those requirements, considering the fact that they haven't been made in the US for many, many years. Industry, for the most part, doesn't use them anymore.

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Re: Should I grab this shaper?

Post by Builder01 » Sat Jul 07, 2018 4:15 pm

J-Line shapers are actually pretty nice machines. They are 8" machines usually with continuous variable speed. This is plenty large for me. ( I have operated 20" Cinncinati shapers!) I have a mill and I also use the shaper all the time. It is particularly useful for squaring up stock and bringing stock to size. The feed is automatic so you can set it up and then go do something else (on your mill) while it cranks away. Shapers are more useful for hobby work than commercial work, as time is money. But, for the hobbyist, time is not always issue. Also, since the tooling is basically lathe tooling, it is cheap and sharpen-able on a grinding wheel. This is not so with most of the special cutters for a mill.

I used my shaper for squaring up my steam chest, covers and cylinder castings. Cutting the counter weights on the wheel castings to thickness. Squaring the stock for the cross heads. Squaring up the axle blocks. Making custom angle connectors. Making the body of my axle pump and hand pump. All of the flat surfaces of the saddle casting.

Yes, this could all be done on a vertical milling machine. But the tooling is more expensive and the machine marks are all swirly. Machine marks from a shaper are parallel and look beautiful. In general, the finish with a shaper will be better than a mill.

If the machine is in working order, $500 is pretty good price.

Here's my J-Line shaper taking the counter weights to finished thickness. Cast iron looks beautiful machined on a shaper!
DSCN0708 - reduced.jpg

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Re: Should I grab this shaper?

Post by Doug_Edwards » Sat Jul 07, 2018 5:41 pm

Without knowing more of your situation, skill level, space, and machines you currently have, it is tough to make a recommendation either way. If I had had more space, I would have picked up something around a 14-16" shaper for myself.

In my near 40 years of working in machine shops, several had shapers and used them effectively. In those environments, they were usually used to take the skin off of tool steel and square the stock up, which the did very well using cheap tooling as has been mentioned earlier. The machines were usually set up to shut off after the table had made a pass, so that you could leave the machine and go do something else.

They are also very good for machining flat surfaces on castings again due to the cheap tooling to deal with the abrasive skin of the castings. Same thing if you need to machine a flame cut edge on steel.

They really shine on machining dovetails and deep narrow through slots. Mills can't compete with either operation. Unfortunately, we don't use much of either on loco models.

What scale and prototype Northern are you building?

Hope this helps.

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Re: Should I grab this shaper?

Post by EOsteam » Sat Jul 07, 2018 6:07 pm

Currently the shop has a 14” Meuser lathe a small Myford lathe and a Birmingham vertical mill (Bridgeport knockoff). The Northern is based on the Little Engines old Northern in 1.5”. I have the room for the shaper but just don’t know if it would ever really be used. I tried to blow up the only photo on my phone and the model appears to be a JM8.


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Re: Should I grab this shaper?

Post by shild » Sat Jul 07, 2018 6:34 pm

I think I'm with those other guys. You could really use a lathe, a mill and bandsaw but shaper? That's going to cost you a lot of space. Maybe you could attach a blade to the head of your mill and use it as a shaper. Then you'll know if you really like it or not without all the work of bringing one home and not using it.

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Re: Should I grab this shaper?

Post by Chris Hollands » Sat Jul 07, 2018 9:25 pm

Shaper - the only use now days = boat anchor or mouring your choice :D

Make sure the rope is long enough when you throw the shaper over the side or by by boat .

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Re: Should I grab this shaper?

Post by uncle jerd » Sat Jul 07, 2018 10:24 pm

What Bill Shields said

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Re: Should I grab this shaper?

Post by Glenn Brooks » Sun Jul 08, 2018 1:03 am

Seems like a good price. Now days these small machines often go for $1000 to $1500. Bigger ones less. People that have shapers and use them very often have good things to say about them- including some who work in commercial shops. This is squarely a hobby forum so for me the argument that shapers are slow, only work on forward stroke, waste time returning etc or don’t compete with high volume production work is completely a non starter. Iam not concerned with making a hundred parts every hour. Also, one of the reasons for the forum is to discuss old tools and antique Machines. So shapers are entirely appropriate for a lot of what we do and talk about. As others have said, they do real well cutting nicely finished flat surfaces, dovetails, and particularly key ways. Plus if you are interested in working with manual machines, a shaper makes an nice compliment to your other equipment. The price seems right so if it doesn’t work out for you likely you can sell it for more than you paid for it.

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Re: Should I grab this shaper?

Post by SP&S700 » Mon Jul 30, 2018 2:06 pm

See "This Old Tony" on youtube for uses. How many broaches can you buy for 500? Can you say dove tails, crosshead? Interesting that a shaper is considered obsolete yet you are modeling a machine who many think it is obsolete.
There is a quote about shapers "what can you make with a shaper?....nothing but money"
Also see Keith Fenner Turn Wright Machine Works youtube and since he makes a living with his tools might be worth while to see what he thinks.
Forget the mill buy a 5 or 6 axis CNC its modern and used all the time. Second thought model light rail or bullet train, forget the northern.
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Re: Should I grab this shaper?

Post by LVRR2095 » Wed Aug 01, 2018 5:14 pm

I have never let the fact that I will never use something deter me from buying it! All I consider is “do I want this?”


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