"What is an English Wheel?"
The English Wheel is a metal shaping tool that will produce compound curves in Mild Steel, Aluminum, Copper, Brass and some Stainless Steel.
"How does an English Wheel work?"
An English Wheel is a simple machine that stretches metal by reducing material thickness as it passes between the upper and lower wheels under pressure. The result is similar to what happens when a hammer and dolly are used but the English Wheel is quieter and less work.
The lower wheel is referred to as the anvil wheel. They are available with different crown heights. The higher crowned anvil wheels are for tighter contours used for hood scoops or fenders. The lower crowned anvil wheels are for flatter contours used for door skins or deck lids. The stretching of the metal occurs where the high point of the anvil wheel contacts the metal and pushes it against the flat surface of the upper wheel. The pressure between the upper wheel and anvil wheel is controlled by the kick wheel or hand wheel located at the bottom of the screw lift assembly under the anvil yoke. The amount of stretch is determined by pressure, the metal alloy and hardness along with the metal thickness.
As the metal passes through the wheels a shiny line is produced where the metal has been compressed. The shiny line is called a track. The frequency and the pattern of tracking can produce basic or very complex contours. The simplest tracking pattern is like mowing your lawn: you start in one corner and work very evenly across the panel overlapping the tracks.
The English Wheel reaches back into history where crude designs were used to make anything from suits of armor to other uses in the automotive and aircraft industry. Today the English Wheel has become a tool of popular demand for professional / hobby aircraft and automotive restoration applications and is used by art sculptors as well.
"Can anyone learn to use an English Wheel?"
Yes! There are instructional video tapes available and hands on classes that will provide a great source of information for the beginner. The aspect that may take an hour or two to learn is steering the metal through the upper wheel and anvil wheel. Steering will be awkward at first but will become second nature like riding a bike.
"What kind of parts can be made with an English Wheel?"
The English Wheel will produce compound curves in Mild Steel, Aluminum, Copper, Brass and some Stainless Steel. Some examples of compound contour type parts are: Motorcycle gas tanks and fenders, Automobile body panels, Aircraft cowlings and fairings along with suits of armor.