"The biggest problem people have with the English wheel is they don't know how to set it up right to make the best parts," Davis says as a final piece of advice. "If the wheel is set up properly and used properly you can literally make parts that have a mirror finish on them. But if it isn't set up right-if the wheels aren't rolling in alignment and tracking properly-it will make marks on the metal. You can still make parts, but they won't be as good as they can be. I made parts using the wheel for two years and didn't know what I was doing. The problem was it was hit-and-miss. Sometimes I'd hit, but more often than not I'd miss.
"The thing, though, is don't be afraid to learn. Whether you take a class or hire on at a shop and learn from somebody there, don't be afraid of the tool. Use it, and practice on it, and don't be afraid to make mistakes. Just learn from those mistakes. Metal shaping takes patience, but it's worth it. I've done a lot of rewarding things in my life, but this is one of the most rewarding things that I've done. And almost every metal shaper that I've talked to will tell you the same thing. To be able to take a piece of raw, flat sheetmetal and make something out of it-whether it be a fender, or a patch panel, or a complete race car body-it's extremely rewarding."
Roll With ItMost English wheels use interchangeable anvils to allow you to do more precise work. Davis' wheels use five anvils, numbered one through five. The No. 5 wheel has the smallest flat for tight work. The No. 1 anvil is the other extreme: The flat is an inch wide and is used mostly for smoothing entire panels, a process known as "wash over." Although the rest of the anvil does not make contact with the sheetmetal, it is still important. The radius is specifically sized to keep the anvil from marking the sheetmetal as it rolls through. On anvils with smaller flats, the radius is tighter. All the anvils are 3 inches wide, so on the No. 1 anvil with the largest flat, the radius can actually be tough to see, but it's there.