Ron Covell is a master at shaping sheet metal, with how-to classes and videos that have helped thousands of people learn this skill. Eastwood sells just about every tool you could possibly needs to make custom compound curved shapes in sheet steel and aluminum. Let’s go over a few basics with Ron as he demonstrates Eastwood’s Benchtop English Wheel, among other tools.
As an example Ron is taking round flat discs of metal and shaping them to match the curves of one of his custom motorcycle gas tanks. Always where leather gloves when working with sheet metal, or the English wheel. Sheet metal edges can cut you when you lease expected. The English Wheel is one giant pinch hazard by its very design.
The English wheel is a simple machine with 2 hard steel wheels between a giant C Clamp.
Lower wheels, or anvils as they are called, come in a variety of curvatures. Always start with the largest radius and work your way smaller as needed.
The lower wheel can be raised and lowered with a larger screw wheel. It can easily be adjusted with your hand, or your foot if both hands are busy.
1) Ron begins with a flat round panel
3) Work the metal in and out of the wheel, starting from one edge
5) Work the wheel on the panel the way you would mow the lawn, back and forth moving over a little bit with each pass
7) Here you can see the tracks of two different passes through the wheel, with the tracks being about 60 degrees apart from each other. Turn the adjustment wheel about an 1/8 turn and wheel it again
You can make the same shape faster by first beating the panel roughly into shape with a teardrop mallet and sand bag.
1) Beat it and shape it into a lumpy panel approximating the shape you want
5) With each pass it will get smoother with less bumps. You may need to go over it with a file to reveal the high and low spots that need attention, then wheel them again, changing direction slightly every time you roll it
6) Eventually with practice, and enough work in the wheel, you will be able to get it nearly smooth
7) The final shape is correct and the surface is getting almost smooth enough for paint. Finishing passes are done with less and less pressure
You can also us the wheel to roll out dents and dings in any body panel small enough to fit in the rollers the same way.
The only real way to learn all the intricacies of shaping metal with an English wheel, forming heads, and teardrop mallets is practice. One of the mistakes most beginners make is starting with way too much pressure. Remember, the way you fix a wavy panel you caused with too much pressure, is by wheeling it again with much less pressure at a different angle to the first wheeling. The more consistently you can space your tracks, the less wavy your panels will be. The closer together you make the passes, the more highly crowned the metal shape will be. For flatter panels make the passes further apart.
You can also get a step-by-step demonstration of Ron’s metal work as he makes a custom hood scoop, and a motorcycle gas tank on Eastwood blog, or YouTube Channel.
Check out the Eastwood Blog and How-To Center for more Tips and Tricks to help you with all your automotive projects. If you have a recommendation for future articles or have a project you want explained don’t hesitate to leave a comment.