Shapers (metalworking) Information

Shapers are machine tools that are designed to remove large amounts of material from a metal workpiece. They have a cutter mounted on a moving ram that moves back and forth in a linear motion over a fixed workpiece.

Shaper Operation

Shapers operate by guiding a hardened cutting tool forward and backward across a workpiece at a single angle or direction. The workpiece sits on a mounted table below the cutting tool adjusted to the appropriate height. The ram operates the cutting tool and slides back and forth above the workpiece. A vertical tool slide at the front end of the ram can be adjusted to either side of the stroke axis and permits the tool to be fed downwards to deepen a cut or be positioned to cut straight, flat surfaces on the top of the workpiece.

Types of Shapers

Shapers are mainly classified based on the orientation of the spindle used to direct the cutting tool. Horizontal shapers are the most common and cut using a back and forth motion. In contrast, vertical shapers use an up and down to shape materials.

Vertical shapers are generally fitted with a rotary table to enable curved surfaces to be machined (same idea as in helical planing). They function essentially the same as slotters; however vertical shapers differ in that they generally allow the table or slide to be moved from vertical whereas a slotter is fixed in the vertical plane.

Some small shapers can operate by hand. However, in most processes today, force requirements for cutting and shaping require mechanically powered machines. Motors in a shaper drive a mechanical arrangement or a hydraulic motor that supplies the necessary movement via hydraulic cylinders.

Shaper Considerations

The most important considerations when selecting a shaping machine are the stroke length, spindle orientation, and shaper features.

  • Stroke length determines the reach of the ram that holds and propels the cutting tool. A larger stroke means a farther cut forward and back. Stroke can generally be set between a range of lengths.
  • Spindle orientation is what determines the particular type of shaping machine based on the direction of its stroke (horizontal, vertical, or angled).
  • Features on shapers can also determine its usefulness in various applications. For example, a rotary table allows a vertical shaper to machine curved surfaces.


Shapers are preferred over other machining processes when a substantial amount of material must be removed or when a less expensive shaping process is preferred. Other processes such as milling are better suited for removing small amounts of material with great precision.

The most common use of shapers is to make straight, flat surfaces. However, their customizability allows for many different unique parts to be created. Some example products and applications include dovetail slides, internal splines, keyway cutting in blind holes, and keyways in the boss of a pulley or gear.



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