Americans became familiar...
Americans became familiar with the metal shaping abilities of the English wheel in Britain during World War II. Many brought their knowledge of the machine home with them. However, it wasnt until the 80s that the wheeling machine became prevalent in metal fabricating shops.
Depending on the type of metal...
Depending on the type of metal shaping you are doing, the English wheel is equipped to use various lower anvils. A high crown piece is used for a really tight radius, while flatter anvils can be used for finishing panels.
Pushing the metal back and...
Pushing the metal back and forth between the wheels with very little pressure can easily shape steel or aluminum.
Powered bead rollers are considered...
Powered bead rollers are considered more efficient than the traditional crank version. A variable speed foot pedal powers the bead roller so the fabricator is free to work the piece of metal with both hands.
A bead roller puts a ridge...
A bead roller puts a ridge in the metal that not only provides extra strength; it also offers a cosmetic flair to the finished piece.
The bead roller adds strength...
The bead roller adds strength to the crush panel.
It also offers an aerodynamic...
It also offers an aerodynamic advantage by providing a shelf for the Lexan windshield to sit flush with the body.
In order to fully explain how an English wheel works, we need to think of making a pie. Therefore, lets begin in the kitchen instead of the fab shop. Imagine you are rolling out the dough for the pie crust. However, you are not using a rolleryou are using a ball. The ball is essentially stretching out the dough in two directions. The curved surface of the ball presses the pie crust down and away and leaves a dent in the middle. To further explain this analogy, which came from Tim White of TM Technologies, the English wheel, in the role of the ball, basically presses the sheetmetal, or pie dough, to make it take on compound curves, and it does this without filling it with dents. Granted, aluminum is a bit harder than dough for pie crust, yet it is sufficiently malleable to allow the fairly high pressure applied by the English wheel to make the metal flow thus taking on the desired curvature.
According to Whites Web site, www.tinmantech.com, the English wheel came on the American metal shaping scene during the 80s. However, its history goes back much farther. During World War II, large versions of the tool were being widely used in European shops, many for building aircraft. Americans became familiar with the tool in Britain during this time and brought their knowledge of it home with them. Naturally, they began to refer to it as the English wheel.
The English wheel is used to shape metal, says Cal Davis of Metalcraft Tools. There are two terms used: one is shape and one is form. Form is where you just bend it (metal) or make it into a round pipe. Shaping is stretching and shrinking the sheetmetal. The English wheel is strictly a stretching machine. You can take a piece of sheetmetal that is really bent up, put it in the English wheel and roll it back smooth as silk. The dent would be what is known as form; it is just folding. You can put it in the English wheel, take the form out of it and the shape is there again.
The English wheel is shaped like a large C. There is a nine-inch by three-inch wheel with a flat working surface mounted at the top of the C, while the bottom holds a smaller three-inch by three-inch wheel, or anvil. The amount of shape you desire in the panel will determine how curved the lower anvil will be.
The lower anvils are the only accessories needed for working on the wheeling machine, as it is sometimes called. Davis sells his English wheel with five different anvils.
It has five different radiuses on it, he says. The high crown piece is for really tight radius. The flatter anvils are for flatter panels or for finishing panels.
On a Winston Cup car, basically all four fenders, or corners, are done on an English wheel, Chuck Smith of Motorsports Tools points out. The fenders are the most noticeable portions of the car fabricated on the English wheel. Actually, any curved or smoothly shaped area on the race car is likely done on an English wheel.
For some reason, people think the English wheel is something very exotic or difficult to use, says Smith. However, the basic skill can be picked up pretty easily. By the same token, you can keep improving your skill level. You can feel like you are still learning and picking up the skill level as you go along.
Most English wheel manufacturers will include a training video when you purchase the tool. Because it is a very hands-on skill, many manufacturers suggest you just grab a piece of sheetmetal and start working it through the wheels. Davis conducts a training class for the English wheel at the Bobby Isaac Motorsports Program located at Catawba Valley Community College in Hickory, N.C. It is a five-day metal-shaping program (see sidebar). The real trick to the English wheel is the skill of the operator, says Mike Mittler of Mittler Brothers Machine Tool. It really takes patience, and it takes a person who has the knack of looking at the metal, looking at what it is doing and shaping it properly.
There are a few versions of the English wheel that are suitable for the grassroots racer.
It depends on how many pieces they are going to do in their lifetime, says Smith. If they are only going to do one piece, maybe it is not justifiable. If they are continuing to race and going to use curved panels, it is a pretty good way to go.
Davis adds that the sheetmetal a racer would save by wheeling out dents would more than pay for the machine itself.
Many companies offer bench models, but Smith believes it is important to have a good machine to start with. For an already assembled machine, one can look at spending from $1,295 upward to $2,700 depending on the model, size and how it is equipped.
Look in a high-end race shop and right next to, or at least near, the English wheel will be the bead roller.
We manufacture several different styles of bead rollers, says Mittler. They are well-respected and well-used, from the very biggest Winston Cup shop to the Saturday night racer. The bead roller does two basic jobs. It adds a certain appearance, or flair to the work. By rolling the bead in there it puts a certain artistic finish to the metal work of the car. The real purpose of the bead is to strengthen the panel and take out the oil can effect of the piece of metal.
If you pick up a piece of paper flat and wave it in your hands, the paper will flex. If you turn it up on edge and just pull it straight, you almost cant rip it in two, he continues to explain. When we roll the bead that is what we are doing. We are turning that metal up on edge and making that flat sheet much stiffer. A lot of times you can add enough strength that it will allow you to use a thinner gauge of material for lighter weight. And of course the focus today is on less weight.
The bead roller also adds an aspect of safety to your metal work. Say you are a front tire changer. You already have to deal with the heat and black dust of the brakes, so cutting your hand when you reach in to grab that tire is an added obstacle. By using the bead roller to add a hem on the edge of the metal, you eliminate that worry.
Other places on the car you will find the work of a bead roller are the crush panels. This is the section between the frame and body that helps keep the smoke, fumes and heat out as well as absorbing potential impact. By using a bead in this panel, the metal is that much more likely to protect the driver. A bead can also be seen in the seam between the Lexan window and the frame. A step is put into the metal to allow the front and rear windshield to sit flush with the body in accordance with the aerodynamics that type of car demands. You will see bead rolls on seats, dash panels and ductwork from the radiator to the brakes.
The bead roller came from the early days of the HVAC (heating, ventilating and air conditioning) business. It was originally used to perform specialized work on the duct systems of homes. Mittler says the first bead roller he encountered was an adaptation of an industrial bead roller made for furnace work. His company is now involved in the aftermarket business of making bead rollers strictly aimed at the custom metal fabricator.
The bead roller can be manual or power-driven, says Smith. Most people are buying power-driven models. They find it is much easier to use and much more convenient. It is easier to do a straight line with a power bead roller. Almost all of our bead rollers are powered, says Mittler. We feel the idea of the power makes it a more efficient job. In the old days you had to have one guy to crank the bead roller and one guy to steer the metal through. Now with the power drive unit, you have one guy, he has both hands on the work and a variable foot pedal that controls the motor from zero to wide open. He is totally in control of the job.
Like the English wheel, the bead roller comes with accessories. We have 30 different rollers we sell with them, says Smith. Usually a person will buy two or three dies to start with and add a couple later on. Mittler Brothers Machine Tools offer a variety of rollers as well. We make round and square beads in every size from 1/8 to one inch, and we make a lot of other specialized beads, Mittler says.
Even to the economy racer, a bead roller is a feasible piece of equipment for the shop. There is always the manual model that can be upgraded to power when the budget allows. For a bench-top unit, you can expect to pay close to $500. For a larger model bead roller with various dies, you might pay $1,000 to $2,500.
For a slight spin on the bead roller, Peter Weber of Bead Form/Quiet Horsepower has come up with the Bead Form.
The Bead Form was designed to put beads on the end of tubing. For example, when a hose goes on a radiator inlet and outlet, there is almost like a nipple at the end so that hose cant come off after the clamp is put on. That bead is really difficult to put on, explains Weber. A lot of the race teams have one in their race shop and one in their trailer. People need a way to repair or replace parts that have that little bead on them. It is a little hand crank that almost fits in the palm of your hand and only weighs four pounds.
In a recent issue of the Charlotte Observer newspaper, columnist David Poole commented that if you know how to use an English wheel you are a hot commodity. In the hard-to-break-through arena of motorsports, anybody who knows how to shape metal with an English wheel is valuable to every NASCAR Winston Cup team out there.
Add the easy workings of a bead roller to your resume and you will most likely be a wanted man in Charlotte, N.C.