A DIY English Wheel from scrap steel tube and an old Lathe tail-stock? Surely that’s not possible? – Well I thought I give it a go.
I drew up the CAD a couple years ago and I even turned up a set of wheels on my lathe. However, it got shelved.
When moving the workshop, I found a tail-stock from an old lathe and 30metres of thick round steel tube (fence posts). So to save money on laser cutting my original CAD plans, I took a budget route. You could look at this English wheel as me clearing up the workshop.
My budget was about half what you see 18″ ones for on eBay. My goal was something a little bigger and more rugged.
The idea of the CAD was simply to get some rough dimensions and not to generate detailed plans.
You can buy 20″ throat English wheels on eBay built out 70mm tubing using a single hoop. This English wheel has a 38″ throat so I tripled up on the tubing and added extra triangulation and bracing.
The plan was to use my tube bender to bend rather than weld the tubes but I sent it to a local hydraulics guy for a rebuild; only for him to go out of business and disappear.
Fabricating an English Wheel
Even at this stage, with 15metres of 76.1mm x 5mm tube, it was feeling quite substantial. I still had 20 pieces of 3mm thick round tube to add. Even with the tubes clamped down, as I welded them, they tried to move. With a small crowbar you could get a couple millimetres of flex, so more bracing was clearly needed.
I wanted to keep everything aligned, so until the whole thing was welded up, I didn’t cut out the gap.
This extra bracing seemed to make all the difference and even with a 3 foot crowbar getting the tubes to move was impossible.
With the frame cut, I thought there was going to be some flex; particularly the top section. However, I am now fairly confident the brackets for the top roller will flex before the frame does. The proof will come when I try to roll some 18awg sheet steel.
Size and Weight
The more weight a wheel has, the less likely it is to move around as you work and form steel. If it isn’t heavy, you’ll need to bolt it down.
The top roller wheel alone weighs 12Kg and there’s a Kilo of paint on the frame. Completed, I reckon it will weigh over 170Kg. To give some perspective, a Locost chassis weighs around 70Kgs.
It was starting to dawn, how big this wheel was and how much workshop space would be needed to house it.
By this stage, it was so heavy, moving it around became tricky. The legs gouged the concrete floor, whilst at 8″ foot tall it needed tilting to clear the rafters.
There was still the leg braces, the large roller wheel and the tail stock to add.
If you have a wheel this big, realistically you’re going to need an empty single garage to house it.
In Ron Covell’s excellent tutorial video, he mentioned he is 5′ 7″ (1.7m) and that his ideal working height was 48″ (1.22m). By my calculations, that puts the work piece 12″ → 13″ below eye level. I’ve watched numerous other videos used by gurus like Lazze and theirs seem around 18″ → 20″ below eye height. The higher work height would give better vision of the workpiece and the lower would be kinder on the shoulders. As I have an old shoulder injury, I went for a height closer to Lazze‘s.
The legs needed trimming not just to get the working height good, but also so that the front tube was perfectly vertical.
Even a very slightly uneven floor makes for a annoyingly wobbly wheel. So, on the base of the tubes I’ve added some vibration insulators. For these, I cut one bolt off some Land Rover NRC2054 engine mounts.
I added similar to the feet of my home made milling machine. They not just stopped vibration, the extra grip stopped it walking across the room. Compression in the rubber absorbs some irregularities, but being threaded, I could add shims to account for even the most uneven of floors.
Rolling Wheel / Roller / Top Wheel
I made the top 200mm Rolling Wheel from EN8 and because of it’s hardness, size and mass, turning had to kept minimal. It was too big for my chucks, so I had the crudely clamp it to a faceplate. After a really light skimming, I polished it, starting with 240 grit sandpaper and working down to 1200grit. I then gave it a light polish on the polishing wheel – It’s heavy so a light polish was all it was getting!
There wasn’t any science about choosing the top roller dimensions, In fact, at 60mm, it’s too wide, as my bottom anvils are only 50mm wide. My local steel stockist was using it to hold his office door open and I thought that looks perfect for an English Wheel.
There’s a pair of 6205LU 25x52x15mm roller bearings, which are spaced out from the brackets with 5mm wide shims. The axle, holding the wheel in place is a piece of 25mm 316 stainless bar. Again, no science – I had some then bought the bearing to match.
I’ve got a 5mm thick rubber ring to cover the top wheel. I’ll let Lazze explain why that’s really useful. I’ve got a very damp workshop, so for me it’s also really good at rust protection. You’re not supposed to put oil on you anvils or rolling wheel as the pressure exerted can embed that oil into the metal.
Because of my damp or even flooded workshop, I keep my anvils in a large sealed plastic tube. Also in there, is a large moisture absorbing silicon sachet. Even with all that, I’ve noticed they still have a tendency to get rust specs. I’m therefore trying out wrapping them in sections of 15×6.00-6 lawnmower inner tube.
I’m planning on using the lathe tail-stock as the adjustment for the bottom anvil wheel. It’s not got the greatest adjustment at 4″, but by removing the anvil yoke, the clearance will be 6″ and with the tail-stock removed you’ll have 9″ which hopefully should be plenty.
This tail-stock is from a 1920 Britannia lathe, which had seen better days. The legs and gears now form part of my home-made bead roller and now I have re-purposed another part. The adjustment wheel is a little small, but luckily I have a bigger one. I’ll put on an extension so I can rotate it with my thigh like Lazze does.
Useful CAD files
Learning how to use an English Wheel
I’ve been watching loads of Lazze videos on Youtube. Now all I have to do is learn how to do it myself.
Sure people take lifetimes learning how to do it, but how hard can it be? hhhmmmm….
I think I might be need of some professional instruction:
There’s plenty of home-made English Wheels here: