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Like any machine there all dumb, the operator has to supply the brains. How you set the vise up for the jaw orientation depends a lot on the job. Yes that fixed jaw is obviously the most solid backing for the part and to help resist the cutting forces. A few industrial level shaper vises were even designed with that fixed jaw at the front for that specific reason. But while there similar, horizontal and vertical milling shouldn't be compared to work holding in a shaper. Because of the deep gear reduction, even a 1/2 hp shaper has way more power than it needs to do some serious machine damage if you make a mistake. For myself I'd much rather set the machine up so if anything were to go wrong, there's a better chance of the part being pushed or thrown out of the vise than ripping that vise off the table, breaking the compound slide etc. Shapers are one of the easier machines to make those mistakes on, forgetting about clearance at the bottom of the ram or compound as the cutting progresses and gets deeper on some part shapes is just one example. Lots of used shapers will show ram or compound strike damage in that exact area. With some shapers and ram stroke settings, you can even hit the vertical column with the back side of the compound if your not real careful with your initial set up. On these smaller shapers, that hand wheel for manually cycling the ram through a full stoke is there for a good reason. I'd suggest that the less experience you have operating a shaper, then the more important it is to set the machine up with at least some fail safe method of hopefully minimizing that damage.

I suspect the original OEM conduit was most likely installed by Atlas before the vertical column was bolted and doweled to the main base. With that column open at both ends, the job would probably be easy. With a fully assembled shaper, it would be a lot of extra work just to separate that base from the column or remove the ram.

Yes all these shapers have a clapper box and it removes almost all the tool pressure on the non cutting back stroke. That's why it's there. The tool will still leave distinctive marks that shows the tool tip touching down and with light drag marks against the part starting just behind the part edge during the back stroke. As Krypto pointed out, those mechanical and in some cases hydraulic tool lifters on both shapers and planers were added to prevent that. What they do is closely related, but those clapper boxes and tool lifters were added for slightly different reasons and they shouldn't be confused as being the same. My memory might be faulty, but I seem to recall seeing at least some late 1800's planers with mechanical tool lifters. If I'm not mistaken, then that would predate the invention of carbide in the very early 1920's. So those tool lifters may not have been originally added because carbide tipped tooling might be an option. No doubt carbide was being used by some, and most probably on hardened metals where it would be an advantage. But overall the shaper information I have makes little mention of even listing cutting speeds for carbide.
had time to do more test cuts, results are that over 6" left to right i am out by .008 front to back is spot on. i removed the vice and measured directly from the table and left to right over 6" i am off by .004 . i was looking at it and i think i see how to adjust it but before i start loosening bolts and screws i thought i best ask here first on how to level the table. im still looking at google as well but so far i dont see leveling procedure. does anyone have any tips or instructions?
When I first starting using My shaper, the clapper box touched a clamping nut that came from My full size milling machine set. A 1/2" typical hardened nut. It was merrily cutting the nut badly but the corner was hardly sharp by any means, but it did not care, nor grunt.
found part of my problem last night - the vice. took it appart and in the swivel portion where it rotates, there was what appears to be dried ancient cosmoline. felt waxy and dirty. i used a razer blade and gently scraped it off then into a bucket of old parts washing diesel and left it there until i get back to it tonight to clean it up and wipe it with oil. it was caked up in about 1/4 of the mating surface and thus not letting it set down fully. still doesnt explain the .004 on the table itself though but does explain why the vice was another .004 on top of the .004 on the table off.

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