history of the wheeling machine

 Also known as "English Wheels"

A brief history
Sheet metal was traditionally the original craft of a blacksmith, hammering metals to make armor, "beating" them out of flat sheet metal over anvils, shot or sand bags or using hollowed-out wooden forms as patterns. The recognition of the panel beating trade occurred circa 1900 due mainly to the developing automotive industry. Body building involved a great deal of intensive work, because each body part had to be very smooth, the industry developed, the trade became highly skilled, organized, and respected worldwide.
As the automotive and aviation industries grew larger, mainly due to the war around that time, requirement for quality increased as did the need to form large panels free of hammer marks and the stresses produced from hammering the material. From this necessity the English wheel was born.

The exact date of the first machine isn't known, but it is thought that the concept was first produced in France in medieval times, where possibly a wooden frame was utilized.

Commercial production is thought likely to be around 1890 possibly produced by large foundries in the midlands, which is still to this day the heart of sheet metal craft.

At that time there were a few large engineering companies with sufficient knowledge and industrial expertise to produce the vast castings required. Edwards was one such firm, marketing the equipment from their London premises. Kendrick, and Ranalah where also well known manufacturers from around 1900 onwards, producing machines with throat sizes of up to 48 inches (120cm), primarily aimed at the aviation industry.

Most of those early machines still remain in use to this day. These are widely respected machines that command high prices when they are offered on the market, although they rarely come up for sale. For example, a 42 inch machine in working order is likely to achieve upwards of £6,000 and, if you’re lucky, you might get the matching anvils, although these would have been well worked and have become extraordinarily hard due to them becoming “work-hardened” over the years, much like a railway track ages over time.

Some of these machines are nearing a century old obviously wear out, but as with most good quality engineering, these machines can be brought back to life by replacing worn or missing parts, as the components tend to be fairly simple to reproduce. “Hollowing” of the top anvil is a common problem and the anvil can be re-cut or re surfaced, Original pattern lower anvils, are CNC cut in hard machine steel. The replacement parts made to much finer tolerances, and almost zero run out on the anvils.

Slop or play in the lower adjuster is common too, sometimes rectified by simply heating the original leaded mount with a gas torch or blow lamp, melting it back into shape and place.

More recent products have used different methods of manufacture to produce the C section frame, such as sheet metal, or rolled hollow section tubing (RHS) with varying levels of success, these are mostly mass produced in China, but the principle remains the same.

In 2006 Justin Baker was asked by a friend to help him source an English Wheel. After several months of searching he was finding only the old machines mentioned above which were commanding very high prices.

Justin decided to put his design and engineering skills to good use and with the use of a computer aided design and manufacture. After much research he began designing English wheels and having them made to his own specification using the local small manufacturing firms. Several types were developed and produced over the following years, including sheet metal designs such as the Raptor-2000 that is now being re developed and marketed by Clement & Bogis

Below, a great fun weekend where the machines were demonstrated at Race-Retro, where people could come and try for themselves, we met some famous faces that weekend too.

In 2008 patterns were made for the very first cast machine, which is now manufactured in small quantities in his home town in Northamptonshire, England, from where they are dispatched worldwide to be put to work.