Nothing is known about the date and place of Hans Schäufelein's birth or his initial training, but he is considered to have been born c. 1480/1485. Although often called Hans Leonhard Schäufelein, there is apparently no documentation for the name Leonhard. Schäufelein probably entered Albrecht Dürer's Nuremberg workshop c. 1503/1504 and Dürer's influence is evident in Schäufelein's earliest graphic works, the woodcuts he produced for Der Beschlossen Gart der Rosenkranz, published by Ulrich Pinder in 1505, and in 1507 the illustrations to the Speculum Passionis Domini Nostri Ihesu Christi.
At the time of Dürer's second trip to Italy, Schäufelein seems to have held a responsible position in the shop, for he painted, partly from Dürer's designs, the Ober-Sankt Veit altarpiece, commissioned by Elector Friedrich the Wise and his brother John, possibly for a church in Nuremberg.
Schäufelein left Nuremberg around 1507; he seems to have gone first to Augsburg where he may have worked in the shop of Hans Holbein the Elder. His first dated painting is the Crucifixion with John the Baptist and King David of 1508, and around this time he begins to sign works with the combination of his monogram in ligature and a small shovel (Schaufel). Schäufelein journeyed to Tirol in 1509/1510, where in Niederlana bei Meran he painted scenes of the Passion on the wings of an altarpiece carved a local artist, Hans Schnatterpeck. He returned to Augsburg in 1510 where he was active both as a painter and a designer of woodcuts; in 1513 he painted a large altarpiece with scenes of the Passion and the Apocalypse for the high altar of the Benedictine abbey at Auhausen, near the Swabian city of Nördlingen.
In 1515 Schäufelein moved to Nördlingen and quickly obtained citizenship. This began a decade of great productivity which saw several painted commissions, as well as numerous woodcuts for projects ordered by Maximilian I. Schäufelein remained active in Nördlingen well into the 1530s and it was the influence and example of Dürer that remained paramount for him throughout his career. He was an important and talented continuator of the Dürer style. Among his last works are the illuminations of 1537/1538 in a prayer book done for the Counts of Oettingen. Hans Schäufelein died sometime between 1538 and 11 November 1540, when his wife is mentioned as a widow.