Homemade English Wheel

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Having looked at the price of a decent English Wheel, plus the size and quality of the cheap ones, I decided to make my own Homemade English Wheel.

The goal was to spend less than £200. Most of which would be the laser cutting and steel for the anvils.

I’d watched 100’s of hours of tutorial video on how to use an English Wheel and wanted to give it a go. One of the Gurus in metal shaping, is Lazze Janssen. If you are not familiar with his tutorial videos or Youtube channel, then I seriously recommend some research:

To paraphrase him, ‘I had a natural ability’, whilst others will find learning the English Wheel much harder and slower to get to grips with. I wanted to see if I was a natural or someone that was never going to get to grips with it. But, to be honest, I’d be keen just to give it a try.

It was research time again. If you are not familiar with www.metalmeet.com then check it out now. There are several threads on the English Wheel. Also check out www.homemadetools.net. There are tons of people that have successfully built their own.

There seemed several factors that separated a decent English Wheel from a pile of scrap:

  • Flex in the frame
  • Run-out in the Anvils
  • Finish and Polish on the Anvils
  • Depth of throat and clearance around anvils
  • etc…

Homemade English Wheel Anvil Materials

I started off by researching what types of metal others were using for the anvils. There were many on the market, but only a few of them stated what they were made out of.

  • EN8 Carbon Steel
  • 1040 Carbon Steel (equivalent to above)
  • 4140 Alloy Steel
  • CR13 Chrome Alloy Steel

My choice of steel wasn’t that scientific, as I simply phoned my local steel stockist and asked which one he’d use. He said I could have some 3″ and 210mm EN8D at 30% off, as he had surplus, the others he’d have to order and I’d have to buy at least £150 worth. Mine cost £60. I’m sure there are some steel gurus out there taking a deep sigh, but ‘live and learn’. EN8D (080A42) is a surface hardened version of EN8. Like I say, it was just what he had on the shelf cheap.
The CR13 Anvils certainly seemed very shiny in the pictures compared to the EN8 items, yet this could purely be down to the Chrome content and polishing rather than quality. Also with the Chrome content surface rust wouldn’t be such a worry. The other steels will need to be properly cleaned and oiled on a regular basis – particulary if your workshop is as damp as mine.

I have enough EB8D steel for 6 bottom Anvils and one 8″ top wheel. I wanted an 8″, so I could use the same inner tubes (for bending)  on the top wheel, as Lazze recommends on his Youtube channel. Most of the big English Wheels, be they cast or fabricated, have wheels that look roughly 8″.

Homemade English Wheel Anvil Radii

The next job was to see what profiles the anvils were available in from various sources. I found:

  • 25
  • 30
  • 41
  • 51
  • 60
  • 64
  • 75
  • 76
  • 82
  • 108
  • 110
  • 120
  • 152
  • 127
  • 175
  • 200
  • 216
  • 250
  • 300
  • 305
  • 350
  • 400
  • flat

Most of them seemed to have a 50mm diameter or a similar metric equivalent. The common radii are highlighted in bold. The radius doesn’t extended across the whole surface, there is a flat in the middle. With the highly polished examples this flat is hard to see without the light in exactly the right place but this shot shows what I mean.

English Wheel Anvils

As you can just about see, the flat on the right anvil (60mm) has a narrow flat, whereas the anvil on the left (200mm) has a flat over twice the width. These flats do seem to vary between brands but  I found this sketch on the Metal Meet forum:
English Wheel Profiles
I also have this image from somewhere – apologies but I forget where.
English Wheel Anvils
Although crude, the first sketch seemed to tie up reasonably closely with the Brother in Laws English Wheel. So I went with it. As you can see the above sketch is in imperial and I work in metric, so I plotted this as a graph in Excel.
English Wheel Profile Graph

You can just see 2 lines on top of each other, the blue is taken from the sketch and the pink is my metric over-lay.

I’m making the 50mm wide x 50mm overall diameter wheels with the following profiles:

Click on the links above for diagrams of machining details

60mm Anvil English Wheel CAD

As you can see, I put a 3mm radius on the outside edge of the Anvil’s profile, but as far as I know this might not be ideal.

English Wheel 60mm Anvil - 3mm Flat

The first thing I did was to make the flat Anvil as a test piece. This was to check the quality of the finish I could get. I achieved this by using a carbide cutting bit and a very low speed feed on the lathe (<0.2″ per min). The next bit I’m not proud of and should definitely not be copied! If my old training instructor could have seen me, he would have had a fit! I was lucky not to loose a finger or ever worse.

English Wheel Anvil Finish

I started lightly sanding the surface with 180 grit zirconium sandpaper, quickly followed by 240g wet and dry and then on to 400g. I tore a 40mm wide strip of sandpaper length ways across a new flat and fresh sheet, I then folded this over on itself so that it was now 20mm wide. This was so I had my fingers as far away from the chuck and spinning Anvil as I could get. Although I was holding the paper just by my finger tip’s, I knew I was being stupid, so I was taking as many precautions as I could. I found that the paper did get hot, so I eased off on the tension every 20 seconds to let it cool.

I had seen on Youtube and read on a couple forums, the edge between the radius and the central flat should be kept as distinct as possible (not sure why), so I sanded either side and not across the middle. To be honest, I reckon I could have stopped with 400 grit, as the finish was pretty good. You couldn’t quite see your face in it, but not far off. The finish with 800 grit was incredible, but this took a long time to achieve, as the paper only took very fine cuts and any movement of the paper affected the finish. The 800 grit was almost on fire by the time I finished. The finish was certainly much smoother than the surface of sheet tin but was it still true? With dread, I put the Dial Test Indicator on it, only to be really surprised by the 0.01mm run-out. Some of which, I reckon, was actually some grit left by the paper. The run-out in the 6001 2rs bearings was bound to be more than that. The problem would be machining the central cut-outs for the bearing, reversing it in the chuck and machining the other end. There was quite a bit of concentration going on in getting it true in the chuck! The final result was hard to tell apart from many you could buy. The finish was good enough for me but I’m sure Lazze Janssen or Ron Covell could explain why they weren’t perfect. For now they will be good enough.

I’m guessing, but the reason the finish is important, is it not only makes moving the metal around easier but with a rough finish, when a direction change is made, a similar affect to a metal stretcher is achieved. Very small buckles / bumps in the metal are left as the metal distorts. With repeated direction changes at the same point on a panel the amount of buckle or distortion increases.

I guess, if you had a couple of really rough wheels and you were wheeling a curve, then they would grip the metal until tension became high enough to distort the whole frame laterally. Eventually, there would be a small jump as the wheels re-aligned and normal tension resumed.

Keeping the anvils lightly oiled did seem very important as the damp work-shop atmosphere soon started to produce tiny specs of rust. My English Wheel frame even has room for one of those cheap dehumidifier trays you get from cheap DIY / 99p shops.

English Wheel Anvil Run-out

The reason why run-out is important, is because if an Anvil was off centre, it would leave dents in the metal and wouldn’t so much be smoothing or stretching as beating it to pieces in a random manner. Adjusting the gap between wheels would be nigh on impossible and would change instantly the metal was moved.

The finish on the 3 wheels, in the photo above, is similar to what I achieved with 400 grit. If you do go finer than this, I recommend using steps of 500, 600, and then 800, as the jump to 800 was a little too much in one go. The 800 grit by the time I had finished felt smoother than 1200, so get yourself a stack of various grits before you start. I even looked at white polishing wax, like you use on bench mounted buffing wheels, not your car – I never bothered, although one day I might try.

The reason why I used 6001 2RS bearings was also simple. I had bought a job lot of 200 for my suspension and have tubes of them lying around. They are dirt cheap, even at one off prices you are talking less than £1 each. 200 cost me less than less than £30. They are sealed and have a 28mm overall diameter, 8mm deep with a 12mm central hole. With the gyroscopic mass of the Anvil shared between two bearings, the Anvil spun very freely, so I was very happy indeed. I even had all ten fingers!

Once I have machined the cradle,  I will measure the run-out again.

My new lathe arrives in 3 days, for which I will need to get a new concrete plinth laid. The lathe is a big 1970’s beast, a 3 phase Colchester Master. The remaining anvils will be made on this lathe.

Homemade English Wheel Frame

I did as much research as I could on the shape of English wheels. Surfing the forums, looking at images, CAD modelling etc. Experience of using them wasn’t an option as I was making this to learn the art.

I even looked into doubling or trebling up the purpose of the frame by investigating whether it could also be a Helve hammer (based on a Air Chisel) or a motor driven Bead Roller. I even bought all the necessary parts to do it. Unfortunately, even if I fit some kind of laser alignment, changing between the various set-ups would be a right royal pain in the butt. Therefore, I will build separate but similar looking frames for this purpose.

From my very limited skills in FEA (Finite Element Analysis) (how bendy things are), I ascertained that making the steel sides from 5mm had advantages over 3mm but 8mm seemed to have only minimal advantages. My trouble is, I have never used an English Wheel, so I don’t really know if these minimal advantages would translate into advantages in use. After all, English Wheels from the 1940’s were made from solid cast iron and weighed over 1800lbs for similar sized units. They must have been really solid!

As a design baseline, I started with 100x50mm box section, copying one shown on the Metal Meet forum. I then added box section here and there to strengthen things. In the end, it looked so ugly, I thought ‘I can’t show anyone this!’.

So, I started from scratch, simply working out a nice height to work at, then drawing a large circle. See below:

Homemade English Wheel Wheel 3D CAD

Homemade English Wheel Dimensions

The ‘throat’ is 910mm and it stands 1.6metres (5′ 3″) tall. Hopefully, there should be plenty of clearance to move the work-piece around. The bottom anvil moves up and down on a 50.8mm (2″) shaft. This shaft has a keyway / slot in it to stop rotation. The cradle is mounted onto this shaft with a central Allen bolt. There are also 3 small Allen bolts that enable the anvil angle to be tilted very slightly to gain correct alignment.

Built into the frame are 2 compartments for 16 anvils and a de-humdifier tray. There are cross-sectional tubes placed through the whole assembly. These have quite a dramatic effect in strengthening everything up. Plus, any hot-rodder will tell you, ‘holes look cool’. You could also stash relevant Allen keys in them rather than rummaging around the workshop looking for hours.

The sides are splayed-out 4° each side. This triangulation increased the sideways distortional strength dramatically, especially over a box section design. The back of the frame is five times wider at 256mm; the front being only 50mm wide.

I have put flat box section feet extending out from the base to hold it steady, but I’m not sure my concrete floor is flat enough for these, so I might come up with something similar with adjustable feet and wheels so I can push it around.

My crude analysis, shows this design to be much, much stronger than anything I tried to model out of box-section. The above design doesn’t use anything fancy and all steel stock should be ‘off the shelf’ from most suppliers rather than special order.

I will get the sides laser cut by a local company, but much of the rest will be hand sawn or cut with a disk cutter. All the holes for the tubes will be laser cut, so hopefully they will just need a little dressing for the tubes to fit. I will probably go for 5mm plate, mostly because of cost and secondly because other very well known companies also use either 3 or 5mm plate. You are welcome to use 10mm should you know better.

English Wheel CAD Drawings

One of my many ‘next jobs’, once holidays are out of the way, is to get it all welded up. – That’s after I have wired & set up the new lathe, machined the remaining anvils, finished my guillotine, finished the motorised bead roller, finished the framework for the new body etc. etc…..

Oh yeh… Once I get some better lighting sorted, there might be some time delay video posts of the car body being built.

Watch this space…..

Homemade English Wheel – Update

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