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The English Wheel, also called a wheeling machine, is a simple nonpowered (!) machine for forming compound radius bends in sheet metal. It can form simple bends or compound shapes, that is, domed or crowned, in sheet metal panels of almost any size. The machine was apparently developed in England at about the turn of the century by "panel beaters" who were in need of a more rapid and repeatable method of forming complex shapes in sheet metal than had been available by hand methods. For limited quantities of sheet metal items where extensive production tooling is not warranted, it remains a valuable tool. It's a deceptively simple machine that can do very sophisticated work. There is no "required " size to the machine - you can make one 6 inches tall, or 6 feet tall. A bit about the machine itself. One advantage is the light weight and portability, the machine does not make a long term claim to an area of your shop - it's small and movable, and when you get finished using it, you can just wheel it out of the way, saving shop floor space. The English Wheel is rare in today's modern world, but is available commercially (example: from Harbor Freight). However, the machine is not a complex device, and if you want to keep costs down, making it yourself is by no means beyond the capability of an average shop.
Making the English Wheel machine
If the machine is on wheels you will want to add locking wheels to the back of the machine, but keep the front footprint as small as possible because some shapes will need the space there. Using the machine The unit will rework existing sheet metal parts, for example, metal bowls. If the bowl is the right size, but the problem is it has a flat bottom, the English Wheel can change that in a few minutes. If anybody would like to make their own wheel, I think the best approach is to try and make a smaller machine first, and learn some of it's potential. Afterwards, when you start to get a little frustrated because the machine might be a little too small, then think about building a bigger one.
bore a 1" diameter hole. using a light weight. Cut up your stock. The most recent book was the Sheet Metal Handbook by Ron and Sue Fournier. both large shapes and small. These panels could be 100 feet long and a home shop could still radius them. home built machine with no electric motor. there have been several articles and pictures of English Wheels in use. and also have threads on the other end. or a little less than your top wheel. This arrangement allows you lock the blank on the arbor (the needle bearings are installed into the blank at this time) . The arbor has to be long enough to allow the lower wheel stock to install on it against a shoulder. but most people try to turn it into brain surgery for some reason. and then press fit the needle bearings into the bored hole (one needle bearing on each end). It is an excellent source of information on sheet metal tools and methods. This is another useful feature that the wheel can do very well. of course. Forming on the wheel is incremental. the frame can be made with simple welding. this is hard to believe. You can use just about any heat treatable steel alloy for the bottom wheel stock. even though it's so very simple a machine. You will need a supply of 1" OD X 3/4" needle bearings (two per bottom wheel). sitting in a guy's garage. The diameter of the bottom wheels should be in the 4"-5" range. You'll be amazed at the degree of accuracy you get. the wheels can be made with just a grinder. The bottom wheels can be mild steel. You would have to support them if they were that long. long or short. to size. sheets of metal. It's not intended to tell all about the machine. just to get people started on using the thing. Los Angeles. but the panel could be worked. The wheels can be made by anyone with a lathe. Aluminum low crown work is best handled by a wide top wheel 4" -5" wide. 1989. each pass even with light pressure has a cumulative result.Over a number of years. It's hard to believe a very simple set of 2 wheels will shape in a convex way. Yes. or you can just learn to be careful with them and use mild steel. Next turn up a master 3/4" arbor between true centers. The point is the English Wheel is an underdeveloped tool. Wheels to shape metal The bottom wheels are simple to make. simple bends or radius. but so are car fenders coming from a flat metal panel. The lathe is not a requirement. and this report just scratches the surface. so your bottom wheels should be the same width. This machine will do amazing things. HP Books.
turn the blank to a rough shape using an accurate paper profile of the wheel you're trying to make. you can have any ratio of stretch or shrink. The master arbor and the motor arbor have to be very accurate. but usually the tucks would be hammered first. is a variable that the die designer has to take into account. and work my way to 600 grit. To accomplish the same in metals you have to use lots of force. The degree of stretch to shrink. switch to sandpaper. Use 60 grit grinding discs. No lathe needed After installing the stock on the motor arbor. When you hand form. To understand cold shrinking. therefore thickening that portion where the pushing together took place. therefore the edge thickens. smooth the wheel to the right profile. after reaching the right profile and removing all of the lathe marks. and the edges are shrunk formed. but it can shrink edges of panels that have trapped tucks in them. After getting it as close as possible to the template (don't file. When the edge metal is trapped. I then use 80 grit paper. it's not necessary). The key is you can rapidly traverse a panel. a part can be made with 90 percent stretch and ten percent shrink. For example. or the same part can be made with a 50/50 formula. remove the stock and mount it on an arbor which will have to be made to fit the shaft of a 1/3" -1/2" hp motor. I use a small electric grinder which I fitted an adapter to. the needle bearings should have no slop when you install the blank on either arbor. You have to gather the metal on the edge (with the tucking tool) or spontaneously by stretching the interior region out first. The pressure applied to the panel is surprisingly light. . You can take a pie crust dough and push it into itself. that allows me to install a Velcro foam sanding pad. you just turn on the motor. Using the machine The concept of recompressing the metal is a little confusing. and then using a small body grinder. The wheel for the most part is a stretch forming tool. The same thing happens in every press shaped part. it slides into itself. the center of the part is stretched formed. each pass having a small but real and cumulative effect on the work. you have accept the fact that metals behave in similar ways that bread dough or clay reacts. and then hammering down the now trapped metal. from a previous hammering operation.
If you are working on a lathe and you remove too much metal. Armor is quite a bit different than forming sheet metal on an English wheel. and repeatedly recover with no one the wiser. while others I've seen are on the bottom. and the high spot on the convex wheel is where the work occurs. When you screw up on the wheel. The top and bottom wheels can be reversed.Using the wheel Another thing about this method is how forgiving it is. You can screw up repeatedly. Sometimes you might be wheeling a shape that needs clearance to go under the bottom wheels. The screw tensioner is the most out of the way on the top.5" across. a top flat wheel and a bottom convex wheel. Powering the wheel would be easy. Armor Authentic armor can vary quite a bit in thickness. in most cases you can recover. is not a problem with the English wheel. The English Wheel details On some English wheel machines the tensioner hand wheel is on the top. and 3. You need a slanted lower arm to accomplish this. Compressing metal How does the concave (thinner in the middle) wheel compress sheet metal? The metal is sandwiched between the wheels with pressure. . especially in helmets. How long does it take to wheel a shape? You can make 5 near perfect shapes in an hour. but a powered wheel may not give you the sensitive control you really need. Thick to thin. I love the way the smoothness of the wheels transfers to the finished product. as the frame will flex to accommodate the changes. if not extreme. as you gain a more complete mastery over the metal. A typical top wheel is about 7" in dia.. your piece is headed for the scrap bin. if needed. It varies from thick to thin.
You have the frame all you have to do is make the tooling. A rotary brake action. For special work you can use a rubber wheel (a large industrial caster) as the top wheel with standard lower wheels on the bottom. working with a rubber wheel is simple bending. it's not really practical or necessary on an English wheel. It stretches or compresses. and you push / pull / push / pull a sheet of metal between them. I used a large industrial bearing for the top wheel. not the forging. Hardened wheels will allow you to run over welds with no problem. displacing. but the pieces would quickly cool off and you would be back to cold working again. .Hot Working About hot working. Start with a low crown wheel and then work to a higher crown wheel. With a top rubber wheel no stretching takes place. He also has it on a stub axle so he can work right up to the edge of a square corner panel Assembly These wheels can be gleaned from a local scrap yard in your neighborhood. Let me add a few notes from an outsider¶s view. The work with the soft (Rubber) wheels. there is no "correct" size for an English wheel. if you will. . I would bet hot work on the wheel would be successful. You can choose a conservative approach and make the bottom wheels out of plain old mild steel. Yes. Remember. you just have to be careful to dress welds in the metal panel being worked first before running over them. just a slow folding. or thinning you get with metal to metal wheels. The English wheel is a very underdeveloped tool. is just bending. The mild steel wheels work perfectly. Not so for the English wheel. reshaping the sheet metal into a personally determined compound form. It should open for you a whole new way of thinking in the manipulations of sheet metals. Without the English wheel clean radius are very difficult to do. Work on the English wheel is best done cold so the pieces can be handled.The wheel is basically two simple but very strong ball bearing wheels of selected radius that are adjusted for accurate contact. producing a rotary brake function. using standard sheet metal shop practices. I just had to make an axle for it. Modular tooling is the way to go. The machine does take a little bit of skill to operate.
Generally. Lots of mix and match possibilities with this machine. I think you will find you really need room in the area in front of the working wheels. even on very deep draws. just light slow progressive pressure.00 each. Incremental and slow but effective. strength is a by product of the . it's a standard industrial rubber caster wheel. This might be good sometimes if that's what you want. but it works. Changes to the metal The finished product is incredibly strong. When used. If you go directly to a severe radius wheel you will put in grooves. Usually. providing you have some help in supporting the ends of the panel. the upper rubber wheel will not allow enough pressure to do a stretching.edu/edu/arts/metal/chat/engwheel/pix20. is the ability to do very long bends. When sheet metal becomes a compound curved shape or just simple bends.Again. it all adds up.wustl. They were about $25. I could (do what needs to be done)". Annealing is not necessary for simple radius forming. The lower yokes are made so they drop in a round hole. I'm putting a post or a single caster wheel in the front and the axle with the two large wheels on the back. you will come up against a forming problem and say "If I had a wheel like this. and already have a bearing in them. sort of a quick change set up. This is not an ideal setup. The English wheel frame The back frame transportation wheels best have brakes on them. Another neat feature besides the incredible control. Dovetails will be used for a quick change setup.jpg You have to be very progressive in your forming operations to get excellent results. The types of special wheels you can make or adapt to your frame are endless. On my new machine both upper and lower assemblies will have infinite adaptability. you will not need to anneal. this is very similar to creating special dies for power hammers. http://wuarchive. About building the machine This rubber wheel came from McMaster Carr.
based on steel tubing. It's really amazing how a thin sheet can become so strong when put into a compound curve. The trick is to make your top wheel and bottom wheel setups modular and interchangeable.9160 Fax (686) 323 .co. The frame is very easy to weld together. but you may want a lathe to do so.fournierenterprises.3722 (586) 323 . The bearing works well because it's hard and you just have to fit an axle to it. It's at: http://www. comes in all kinds of sizes English Wheel seller: Fournier Enterprises 13326 West Star Drive.com Also Harbor Freight Item # 65177-1CZH $300 . MI 48315 (800) 501 . and annealed. Shelby Twp. I made my bottom wheels out of Shelby DOM tubing (this is thick wall steel tubing. I was just surfing the net and came across an English Wheel image.jpg Making the wheels The lower metal working wheels are very easy to make.frost. I would say 1/8" to 3/16" would be the upper limit. so you can unbolt them quickly.uk/jpeg/Y920x.9161 http://www. If you scrounge around you can find one of these. If the frame is rugged..operation. or test new wheel shapes. This allows you to change things around easily as you develop your skills. at scrap yards. For the top wheel I use a large industrial bearing.
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