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English wheel?

Hi Guys…

In reading the craftsmanship essay that Hans pointed out, I looked
at the rest of the TinManTech site.

The guy does autobody work. (and well too…) This reminded me of a
question I’ve had for the past few months… That world uses a "C"
frame roller widget called an English Wheel to do a lot of their
shaping. Or at least that’s what they think they’re doing.

I started out as a silversmith, and learned to move forms with a
hammer, even big ones. (I did a lot of reenactor armour for a
while.) I never had access to an English wheel, so I never really
learned how (or why) to use one. I had a theory of what I thought
they were doing, based on what they claimed to be able to accomplish
with these things. (Namely: to be able to “roll” a synclastic curve
into a piece of sheet metal.)

Now I do have access to one, and I’ve played with it a bit. I can’t
figure out why you’d use it. Near as I can tell, it’s a glorified
ironing board. All I’ve ever seen anybody do (in front of me) is use
it to “iron out” wrinkles. Imagine planishing with rollers. They bash
the basic curve in with a mallet & sandbag (having never heard of a
dishing stump) and then use the English wheel to iron out the
wrinkles that are the natural consequence of poor dishing technique.
Radically reducing the radii of the curve in the process. Yet,
somehow, to at least the autobody guys I’m coming to know, this
qualifies as a “good” thing, and they congratulate themselves on how
much of a curve they’ve “rolled” into the metal. Yet, what they
really did was iron out at least half of the bend they put into it
to start with, but had to roller-planish because of all the wrinkles.
(that were caused by poor hammer technique.)

Anybody every played with one of these things seriously? Am I missing
something? What’re they supposed to be able to do?


Well Brian you haven’t been in the presence of a true wheeler if that
is all you think they are good for… An acquaintance on the East
Coast makes his living making body panels for old Jaguar’s (the cars)
using a wheel and it is absolutely fantastic to watch him do it. We
had a quick demo a number of years back of him making a “bowl” in in
1/8"+(?) aluminum then making it into a cupped “S” shape. It was
amazing to watch it happen and to give it a try ourselves. I would
say/suggest, that with many pieces of specialty equipment, a person
who doe not know how to use it makes little with it, but a master
user will make your head spin. Find a master wheeler and watch what
they can do be fore making such quick statements.

John Dach


Check out Lazze metal shaping on Youtube. He’s got a couple of
videos on how to use the English wheel. I don’t see him “ironing” out
some dents in sheet metal…

Basic English Wheel Technique, Lazze Metal Shaping

or this video: Lazze Metal shaping: Gaining Crown in large panels


Hi Brian,

I had a student who is also a motorcycle/car restoration enthusiast,
and he invited me to check out his English wheel. He also showed me
how they do crimp-raising. They call it shrinking, and do it much
differently, but he was quite effective with it. He made a silver
bowl in front of me, and I planished a bowl I had raised at home. The
bowl was an oval, about 6 by 12", and I planished it within an hour.
Sounds like the guys demonstrating for you either did not have the
right tools, or were missing some concepts. Look for a better


Hello all and hello Brian,

I am a bit hesitant to say much here as I am not expert, as some of
you are, in forming sheet metal with hammers, nor have I ever used
an English wheel. But I was sorry to read the dismissive comments
about the English wheel since it can be used to produce good
results, just as hammers can. Obviously they are both different
approaches and obviously there is a learning curve associated with
using either technique. Apparently Brian has developed some
considrable expertise with hammer forming, of which he is rightly
proud, but confesses to only playing around a bit with the English
wheel. It is not surprising then, that he found it difficult or
inadequate to achieve desired results, or perhaps it was just that
the end result was approached from a different direction that threw
him off" But even guys who do auto body work include the same wide
range of craftsmanship as goldsmiths. There are good ones and
mediocre ones and even some fine artists among them so I would not
deride either the tool, or the trade, without putting in as much
serious time and effort working with their tools as you have done
working with your own tools.

If you get to where you are going and do no damage along the way,
then what does it matter how you got there" If we were constrained to
do everything only one “proper” way then we’d never find a new way
to do anything and there’d be precious little joy of creativity,
that quality which elevates work above mere exercise of competence.

Marty - In Victoria BC where it rains as much in Spring as in Fall,
and now that I think of it, as in Winter as well. Good thing we have
calendars so we know what time of year it might be.

The effect of using the English Wheel is to stretch the metal, one
of my old friends, back in my youth, was a car body builder at Rolls
Royce. They used to make the bodies of some of the larger custom
built cars for royalty use. When I first saw these tools called
English Wheels, I also wondered what their use was, but when I tried
one I soon saw it’s purpose,for car body building they needed two
men, standing opposite each other while working them.The sheets they
shaped were about three feet square so one man could not hold the
sheet on his own They held the sheet between the rollers and by
rolling them back and forward, across the centre of the sheet in the
machine, the pressure of the rollers would stretch the metal and
give it a very slight dome, when shaped they would then attach this
sheet to the frame of the car body, the section I watched being made
was for a car door.When I used to make civic regalia and needed to
give slight domes to Mayoral badge shapes, I would use a slightly
domed hammer and a flat steel block and then hammer around the
pierced shape, hammering around the shape perimeter, rotationally and
gradually heading towards the centre of the shaped sheet, this would
shape the metal into an even slight dome. In short the effect is to
stretch the metal in the centre of a sheet, thus increasing the
surface area of the metal which creates a slight dome, a good tip
when doming ovals or triangular shapes.

Peace and good health to all,
James Miller FIPG

and I've played with it a bit. I can't figure out why you'd use it. 

Well, Brian the only thing I know about English wheels is that they
exist and what they’re for in a generic way. So, you aroused my
curiosity. This site sells them and has three videos about them. I
browsed the vids - the third one is pretty informative:

There’s also a good article (“english wheel”) in Wikipedia - I’ll
paste one quote from it:

An English wheel is a better tool for a skilled craftsman for
low-crown applications than manually hammering. Planishing manually
using dollies and slappers, after hammer forming is very labour
intensive. Using a pear shaped mallet and sandbag, to stretch the
sheet metal (sinking), or by raising on a stake, speeds up the
fabrication process for higher crown sections. A pneumatic hammer or
power hammer, is faster still. The English wheel is very effective
when used for planishing, (for which it was originally patented in
England), to a smooth final finish after these processes.

And some more vids - just a Google search:

Seems to me that it’s more labor saving than essential. Saves you
from banging on 50 square feet of sheet metal with a hammer.

I’ve seen some pretty phenomenal work done with an English wheel.
There’s a guy named Jesse James (West Coast Choppers) that used to
have a motorcycle show on TV that can make a very complex gas tank
with one in about an hour after rough forming with big mallets. The
guys that make body parts for NASCAR teams are pretty darn good with
the things too, they have to be to make them fit within the
exceptionally strict forms required by the rules. It is also the tool
used to make the aluminum body parts for the original Shelby AC
Cobras. There’s far more possible with it than just flattening out
poorly hammered sheet metal when in the right hands. There seems to
be many nuances, many different combinations of wheel shapes, sizes
and pressure, rolling directions, etc. to make it work well though.

I’ve played around with one too, and there is no doubt a serious
learning curve to it. Just like watching an Olympic skater, a pin
striper or a master engraver, they make it look easy, but it ain’t! A
few years under the tutelage of a real pro might be the only real
answer to getting any good with one.

Dave Phelps 

The third video was a delight… years ago I saw something on the
net… a guy doing motorcycle tanks and was amazing… if only I’d
started younger…!


English wheels can be a platform for a number of forming tools. by
using soft wheels and radiused roller anvils one can use them to put
clean uniform lines or whatever form the anvil has. They are also
probably the biggest C-clamp you have in your shop and can be used
simply as that, a way to hold a large awkward piece while applying
some sort of torque to it.

By themselves they are primarily planishing machines.'though they
can be used to raise as well. If the frame is stiff enough they can
be used to crush tucks, folds, creases, (whatever you care to call
them). They are very good for putting uniform low crown curve into
large areas. I can’t speak to the hammer technique of the guy you
watched but they allow one to rapidly beat a rough shape into a panel
and then quickly average out the highs and lows. Sometimes "sloppy"
is actually faster. When stretching out nonferrous sheet it one needs
to planish out the orange peel before annealing and another round of
stretching. I have found it excellent for that, quiet and does a nice
uniform job. They are usually pretty large tools though, and once you
sink past the smallest radius anvil, or fail to get your part into it
due to clearance issues, they often end up as large massive objects
that keep the floor from shaking when you hammer elsewhere.

There is also a learning curve, you mentioned hammer technique… heh
heh. you have to pay attention to what the metal is telling you and
have a plan for getting to the shape you want.


Hi Guys,

Thanks for all the replies. As most of you pointed out, in the right
hands, they can do a lot.

So I wasn’t (deliberately) denigrating the entire concept of English
wheels, I was mostly trying to figure out the difference between the
raves I heard about them from the autobody guys I know, versus what
I actually saw them doing with them.

James Miller’s description of using them to stretch the center of
the sheet (so as to cause a synclastic curve) is about what I had
always assumed they were used to do. Which is why I was puzzled by
the way the guys I was watching were using them. (Also, the one they
were using wasn’t really rigid enough to do much in the way of actual
metal compression. I could watch the frame flex as the wrinkles
rolled under.)

This was mostly a “Hummm…I’m puzzled. Let’s ask…” more than a
"these things stink!" sort of question.



Have a web search for “Pullmax Nibbler” and see how that tool may
work for moving metal. All tools are limited, but if you have enough
you can do about 30% of what can be done all by hand…taking some
of the grunt work out of the craft.

Basically it is an up and down tool which has a set speed
(adjustable to some extend) set stroke (may be adjustable) and a
bottom to the storke…not just throwing the tool till it stops, but
an actual bottom to the stroke. It is a rather useful ting for some
work and useless at most other things.

There are some videos on youtube.


Just a comment on the use of the English Wheel:

I do not use it to create dental restorations! I learned to use it
in another life making replacement parts for ancient aircraft. It was
used in conjunction with a power hammer (Yoder) to speedily create
contours that would fit a wooden form. Hammering on a sandbag would
fine tune the piece and the Wheel would both planish and add
curvature to the panels, which could require 2 people to maneuver.

Charles Friedman DDS
Ventura by the Sea