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cboy 05-15-2007 01:39 PM

HF English Wheel
After a very long delay due to back orders, my Harbor Freight English Wheel finally arrived yesterday. Instead of continuing the earlier discussion of this wheel which is here I thought I'd do my "review" in a separate thread.

The wheel comes exactly as advertised and is a snap to assemble. I also ordered the set of different sized lower anvils which can be seen in the photo on the rack at the back of the wheel frame.

I have a very specific purpose in mind for the wheel and that's to make compound curved pieces like I hand formed for the rear quarters of the roadster (see pic below) and that I'll need to form the rear corners of the sedan/delivery body.

So my first test run on the wheel was to see if I could form an 8" section which would not only wrap around the back corner but curve vertically as well to fit the rear skeleton rib of the body. It's not real visible in a picture but this piece does curve in both directions. Also note that the only scraps I had around to play with were 18 gauge. I will probably using 19 or 20 gauge for the corners of the car so it should be easier to wheel and form.

And here I'm holding the piece in the approximate position it would fit on the rear of the new body.

At this point it's not really appropriate to make any sort of conclusions about the quality or effectiveness of this wheel. But I do believe it is going to fit my particular purposes. This is the very first time I've ever wheeled ANYTHING so I have a ton to learn and many hours of practice and trial and error ahead of me. I'll have much more to report on the HF wheel once I get to the point in the body fabrication where I'm actually making the pieces for real. But so far I'm happy with what I think the machine will be able to do.

bourne51 05-15-2007 02:22 PM

man that looks great and i might even look into one of those for myself!....great job so far send more pics, if you can when you get more ahead on this great project!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!([email protected]).. ...

hammered 51 05-15-2007 04:19 PM

hf english wheel
got one myself and a plennishing hammer, havent had time to use them but in time i will, at least you didnt buy off ebay like some do and pay more, hf has very cheap shipping also, look for tdollys, 3 in a set for $20, kinda hard to find on their site but they are there.

Beenaway2long 05-16-2007 11:15 AM

I have (2) questions for you about the new wheel.

1.) Lower dies: Are they full radius or do they have a flat in the center?

2.) Did you notice the head swaying back and forth when you had higher wheel pressure. Did it spring much? I tried Gene Winfields, a few years back, and found that his mamoth wheel homebuilt wheel was splined the wrong way, and allows the adjuster to sway back and forth. It really made it much more difficult and time consuming to use when the wheels were out of alignment. Especially prevelant when using the lower dies with the flats. (more effiecient style die)

Glad to see you like your new wheel!

cboy 05-17-2007 11:13 AM


Originally Posted by Beenaway2long
1.) Lower dies: Are they full radius or do they have a flat in the center?

2.) Did you notice the head swaying back and forth when you had higher wheel pressure. Did it spring much?


Sorry for the delay in responding but I couldn't (can't) really answer your first question so I had to get out to the shop to take a couple pictures. Hopefully you can discover the answer to the "flat center" by looking at them. Just eyeballing them I'd have to say they are full radius and have no flat spot. The first shot shows both wheels and the pattern left on the wheel from my practice runs. The second shot is of one of the lower dies that I haven't used yet.

Regarding the second question, I didn't notice either the top or bottom moving at all. However, you might want to put a big asterisk by that response. It COULD be moving and with my lack of experience I'm just not picking up on it yet. Also, I'm not sure yet about how much pressure I ought to be putting on the wheels. (Maybe you could give me some tips there.) I've gone well beyond the point of being able to re-insert the work piece between the wheels if I pull or push to far and it pops out of the wheels. I have to loosen the head, put the piece back in place, and re-tighten the wheel. Is this normal operating procedure? And that is also the only time I notice what I'd call springiness...when the piece pops out from between the wheels.

Beenaway2long 05-17-2007 12:15 PM

A couple things to watch for..
the full radius will lead to leaving tracking marks in the panel. Over at, they have the formulas for how wide the flats should be, should you decide to re-machine them. It really improves the work surface. Its not IMPERITIVE, but if you are trying to achieve "No Bondo", then you will have a rough go of it.

Springyness: On my wheel (Imperial 26F), I can re-insert about any time. I get MAYBE .020 total deflection. When you move up to "fractional deflection" (Measurable on a tape measure, my own terminology) , it will cause what you are running in to. If I were making the piece you showed in the pic, I would first hammer it with a mallet and a shot bag to stretch it out faster. Then tuck shrnk the sides a bit. Insert it into my wheel, to knock the lumps out. I would crank my wheel down as far as I could, while still being able to move the metal. About 2-3 passes, and I would re-tighten, make a few more passes , retighten, and so forth until its smooth. That piece, as described above would really only be about 15 minutes total time, including tuck shrinking the sides a bit, so you don't overstretch the metal.

Something cool to know. The finish of the wheels, is the final finish on your work piece, so polish your wheels! (Make an arbor, and do in the drill press, not in your lap! Otherwise, you'll make unintensional flat spots)

DO NOT try to plannish/wheel mig welds

DO NOT try to wheel over lazer cut edges

DO NOT spin the wheels and try to insert the piece like you see on Biker Buildoff.

All are guaranteed to leave marks in your dies. :drunk: :(

hammered 51 05-17-2007 04:09 PM

beenaway2long is right in his thoughts, except he didnt mention it doesnt take much pressure on the wheel and you can get good results with the flatter lower wheels also, the beater bag speeds the project up if used with a stretcher/shrinker also, like he said look at metalmeet for ideas, those guys are very good, might not like your wheel but you wont be using it everyday like they do, and you didnt spend $5000 and 15yr learning.

redsdad 05-18-2007 08:41 PM

cboy - thanks for posting an honest review of the actual wheel devoid of the emotional issues that sometimes surround HF. It looks like you wheeled 7 - 10 pieces and they do what you want them to do. They look great in the photos. It looks like you are on the fast track to mastering it.

I got tired of waiting on the local HF to get mine in to cover the rain check they gave me. I ordered it on line. Still waiting for it to come.

I figure there will be three types of people with the HF wheel.

1. The guys who could not make any wheel work. The HF will save them a chunk of change learning that they can't do it.

2. The guys who could make any wheel work. The HF wheel will be an inexpensive way for them to verify they can do it. Later, they can improve the HF or move up to a better machine. (IMHO, it looks like cboy is in this group)

3. The guys who could make a better wheel work, but not the HF. They may be turned off from wheeling due to the results with the HF.

I worry that I may be in the 3rd group. But I decided the entry price was worth the risk. I didn't order the extra wheels (yet). I figured I would run some test pieces with the provided wheel and see if I think it will work for me before buying the extras.

I will let you know how it works for me.

cboy 05-20-2007 06:45 PM


Originally Posted by Beenaway2long
If I were making the piece you showed in the pic, I would first hammer it with a mallet and a shot bag to stretch it out faster. Then tuck shrnk the sides a bit. Insert it into my wheel, to knock the lumps out.

I want to make sure I'm properly reading this advice Beenaway. In general, should I be looking to rough out all my cured work with a mallet/bag (or other hand methods) and really using the English Wheel as a smoothing tool rather than a shaping tool?

cboy 05-20-2007 06:50 PM


Originally Posted by redsdad
It looks like you are on the fast track to mastering it.

You give me far too much credit redsdad. I think Beenaway's suggestions already point out that my approach to using the wheel was basically wrong. I was thinking the wheel did ALL the shaping when actually it is most effecting as a "smoothing" tool after hand forming (mallet/bag technique) the piece to it's rough final shape. Left on my own, it looks like I would have been spending hours trying to something the wheel wasn't actually intended to do.

I just love this place. It's like going to the University of Hot Rod every day of the week.

Beenaway2long 05-21-2007 02:52 PM

You can go either way Dewey. Some guys have no problem running the wheel back and forth all day, but don't have the forearm strength to beat the metal. In the end, they are fresher at the end of the shaping, using the wheel 100%.

If you want to cut your time by TONS, beat it with a wooden mallet first. (Or Poly) I use a basebat bat hammer (Search on Metalmeet), and have used the Eastwood Poly hammers. I even tried a Dagger all steel bossing mallet. The steel one worked the fastest, but took its toll on the old arms quicker too! You can MAKE a hammer from a garage sale baseball bat. Cut 12-14" off the fat end. Thats the mallet. Drill a hole in the side, and cut the handle to length, shape it, epoxy it into the hole, like you would with an axe. CHEAP!! Works great.
Use a leather purse, full of sand* as a beater bag, or buy a fancy bag.

* Be careful of the silicosis from sand. Use steel shot, walnut shells, lead shot (Lead warning), or any media to support the metal while you beat on it.

Its not THAT hazardous, if you are doing small projects, compared to walking on a beach on a windy day. :drunk:

The stronger the frame, the easier it will be to roll out the walnuts. Same goes for the dies with the flats.

Wait till you hear about the flexible pattern!!!! It makes both sides of your hot rod MATCH !!! (I'm such a tease!)

Beenaway2long 05-22-2007 08:42 AM

Flexible Pattern/Template

Origin: Believe it or not, this is said to have come from a blacksmith forum..

This is one I typed a a while ago, so I get to re-use it! :pimp:

How to make a Flexible Template:
Before you start, you need to go to a sign shop, and buy a roll or two of 1" and 2" wide "Release Tape". Its a low tack tape that sign guys use to put vinyl letters on with. Then stop and pick up some nylon strapping tape at a stationary store.

1.) Clean the panel that needs to be reproduced.
2.) If panel is bad, fix with Bondo , or bang out to shape as best as you can. The more accurate the shape, the more accurate your reproduction will be.
Meaning, if the left side is a mirror image of the right side, USE THAT.
3.) Apply Release tape at a 45* angle on the panel, with edges meeting, but no overlap if possible.
4.) Apply Nylon strapping tape 90* to the Release paper, with minimal overlap.

Carefully remove both layers of tape. Apply some talcum powder, bondo dust, whatever, to the release papers adhesive. You now have a template of the shape you are trying to reproduce, showing ALL of the shape.

IF YOU WANT TO REUSE THE PATTERN , do not use the talcum. Apply another layer of tape on the INSIDE of the pattern, and cut the ragged tape edges. Apply a nylon tape border around the perimiter.

OK, now drop the pattern on a flat sheet of sheetmetal. The loose areas indicate where the metal will need to be stretched. And the tight areas need to be shrank. As you pound (stretch) the metal, it fits the flexible template more and more. You will need to learn how to "tuck shrink" in order to save yourself a ton of time, as well. (See ) This is where the baseball bat comes in handy. The bat is cut so that you are using the very end of the bat (striking end), and the handle of the bat becomes the handle of the mallett. The yard sale bat is a CHEAP way of making a durable mallet with enough depth to accomodate most projects. The leather shot bag, or convex tree stump gives the metal a place to go. The shot bag can be something as simple as a plain purse filled with washed sand (avoid silicosis).
You don't have to spend tons of cash. Just be creative, and pay attention to the way the metal moves.
Now you have a lumpy piece of metal thats close to your pattern. You have 3 choices. E-Wheel, plannishing hammer or Slapper and dolly. The first 2 are self explainitory.
Using a slapper is nothing more than having a dolly to support the metal, and striking the raised portions of the metal to flatten it out, being careful to not alter the shape of the metal you are creating. As the bumps go down, adjust your force. Basically, you are using the slapper like a wide hammer.

redsdad 05-26-2007 06:57 AM

Left work at 5 last night. It takes me about 5 minutes to get home. Changed into my work clothes. Got the 2 wheeler and loaded my E-wheel which was on the front porch and hauled it to the garage. At this point I must admit the box was terribly beat up. Fearing the worst, I unpacked it. No damage. Started using the instructions, but since I work alone and the way they did it required 3 people, I made up my own assembly order. Got it assembled. Grabbed some oh2thin aluminum I snagged at an auction with whole bunch of other stuff and started wheeling. In no time I had a hump in the middle of the sheet (about 12" x 48"). I am going to have to work on my "steering." I seem to go the wrong way every time. At about 6:30, I was in the shower getting ready to meet friends at Ike's Chili for dinner at 7.

Bottom line, I think I can do this. I am ordering the extra 6 dies. I am also going to get some tear drop mallets and a beater bag. I know these are TR dies, but, at present at least, my welding and dollying skills are not at bondo free levels, so I am not worried if my E-wheel skills are not.

I think I will also build a frame reinforcement like Jame Riser built. You can see it here:
Simple and easy. Should greatly reduce the deflection.

Not A T 25 05-31-2007 12:02 PM

I also received my HF English wheel two days ago and assembled last night and was pleased at what I got for the money I am sure it will not do the quality of work that a wheel at 5 times the cost but for my use I think I will be quite satisfied. Obviously pros wouldn't be impressed but for the low cost of the wheel and extra dies I can learn and if my skills ever warrant it buy a bigger and better one. I am a happy hot rodder!

cboy 05-31-2007 01:16 PM


Originally Posted by redsdad
I think I will also build a frame reinforcement like Jame Riser built. You can see it here:
Simple and easy. Should greatly reduce the deflection.

Thanks for that link redsdad. I thing I'll add the frame reinforcement as well.

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