- a photographic essay -
Cowells Home Page
Well-made, the English Cowells hand shaper was capable of machining an area of 6" by 6" with five rates of automatic cross feed from 0.0025" to 0.125".
Although they may appear to be very old-fashioned and of little use, the reality is that this type of shaper can still perform a most useful function in the hands of the more knowledgeable and skilful enthusiast. With sharp tools (and sharpness really is very important), it's quite astonishing what a variety of useful work these little machines can do. In the harder economic times of the 1940s and 1950s they offered model engineers an inexpensive way of accomplishing tasks that would otherwise have involved a great deal of laborious, and usually inaccurate, hand-filing and cutting. Remarkably, it is easy to use a hand shaper too quickly, rather than at its correct speed. Sixty strokes a minute by hand on a 5-inch stroke machine may feel comfortable but, allowing for the lost time at the end of each half stroke, this gives at tool speed of over 60 feet/minute - which is 30% greater than that recommended for high speed steel on cast iron. Experimenting with slower strokes on a hand shaper will often produce better results.