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English Wheel Basics – What is it and how to use one

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The English wheel is an essential metal working tool, that is associated with the craft of panel beating.

More specifically, it enables the user to form compound (double curvature) curves from flat sheets of metal. The most often used material with a an English wheel is aluminium and steel.


A short history of the English Wheel

The history of the English wheel is an interesting one. The metal working trade in relation to panel beating began in the early 20th century in line with the rise of the automobile.

The craft of hammering or “beating” automotive parts out of flat sheet metal was of course in high demand.

Initially, panel beaters would shape parts in a rather archaic manner; sand bags, hollowed-out wooden forms and steel stakes, would all be used as part of the metalworker’s toolbox.

The body panels on early motor cars would have been beaten into shape using an English Wheel

However, as the industry developed the trade become more organized, high-skilled and respected. 5 year apprenticeships became the norm, and the tools the craftsman used became more sophisticated.

It was in the need for better tools in order to meet the quality required that the English wheel was invented.

As the cars became larger, the need to form large panels free of hammer marks and other flaws was essential.

Before the advent of the larger, mass scale factory lines of the interwar period, the English wheel would have been used to build all those early automobiles.


When to use an English Wheel

The function of the English wheel has not changed in over 100 years.

Essentially, it is a forming machine. Where sheet metal needs to be stretched using the panel beating processes, an English wheel will be the go to tool.

In small volumes that is. Today, any workshop that dabbles in coachbuilding or car restoration will call on the use of an English wheel at some juncture.


How to use one

Trying to describe how to use an English wheel is no easy task. Not just the instructional guide aspect of it, but the way you as the potential user will attempt to interpret those steps.

Thankfully, that’s where Youtube comes in. There are a great number of passionate craftsman that have created extremely helpful videos on how to use an English wheel.

We’ve watched a number of them, and imbedded what we consider to be some of the best below.

English Wheel Basics

Metal shaping guru Lazze, shows you the very most important trick when using the English wheel and exactly how to control the sheet of material.


English Wheel Techniques

In this video, Mark shows you how to fabricate a fender flare using the Eastwood English Wheel.


English Wheel Tips & Tricks

In this video Mike Phillips from Phillips Hot Rod and Custom gives a huge bunch of tips and tricks for properly using the english wheel to create any panel you may need on your project.


If you’re interested in moving into panel beating and using the English wheel as part of the process, this lot will definitely help you get started.

We plan on creating a round up on some of the best English wheels you can currently buy, so head back for that soon.