Spinning and other metal work

There are some awesome 19th century metal working workshops at Sovereign Hill.  Next week, I will be visiting one that is 150 years into the future from these workshops, but more on that at the time.

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One of the things I did want to see while I was there, was the metal spinning.  While it is a really old process, it is still very much in use today, forming things like metal bowls.  Of course technology has made things easier, but you would have to be impressed with the quality of the result from the old techniques.


The process here involves holding a flat disc of metal against a mold.

SH-8The metal worker has a long rod that is supported against the upper arm, and against a pivot point close to the disc.


By then gently pushing selectively over the surface while the mold and disc are spun rapidly, the metal is slowly bent in until it is flush against the mold, copying its shape.

I found it really interesting that as the metal was being spun, it actually curved outwards as the metal spinning stretched the metal.  It was then rolled over towards the mold with the rod.  This process was repeated as the metal continued to be stretched and molded to shape.

SH-6I wanted to get more background about the process, especially the traditional aspects of it, but the gentleman demonstrating made very clear he wasn’t interested in sharing.  A shame, seeing as he has been doing it for about 50 years apparently, and would have a wealth of knowledge.  He’d also have shoulders of rock doing this for so long.


Think some areas of the workshop haven’t been cleaned in those 50 years either!


The workshop produces many of the items for sale at Sovereign Hill – bells, plates, gold panning pans etc.  Bought one of those as well – cost all of $12 too.

Spun items (produced by hand, or by modern methods) have a distinctive fine ribbed surface.  Next time you come across a metal bowl, have a look and see if you can work out if it was produced by spinning, or some other process.



Episode 117 Traditional Carriage Wheel Production

Wheel Steel

By far and away, my favourite area of Sovereign Hill is the wheelwright’s shop.  This is a fully functional 1880s/1890s industrial revolution vintage workshop, full of line shaft driven machinery, and some really cool specialist machines at that.



Machines need power.  It can be horsepower (literally), water power (waterwheel), but what really rocked the industrial world was steam.  I mean really rocked the world – it was (and still is) an incredible way to transfer energy from fuel to a mechanical form.  Not 20 years ago, I was still working on a steam powered warship (which used the more traditional method of flame in a boiler), but even today, nuclear power is still fundamentally a steam system, just with a different source of heat.

Sovereign Hill has wood powered boilers to drive the place.  They run at a pretty minimal level compared to how much demand there would have been with the place rocking “full steam” at the end of the 19th century, but they still go through an entire tree a day (and no, I don’t see that as particularly wasteful, or even a lot in any respect).


The steam produced here is saturated steam, so it is not particularly high temperature or pressure, but is still more than enough to drive the steam engines around the place.

SH-83In the wheelwright workshop, the engine sits in one corner, and drives a really significant pulley and belt.  This is then distributed by a series of shafts, pulleys and belts to the various areas of the workshop.


Creating the hub

First step, after choosing a suitable round of timber, and knocking the bark off, is to drill the central hole.  Once, this would have been done by hand with an auger bit…..


…. but a boring machine turns a difficult and tedious task into something a whole lot easier, and faster.

The timber is processed green, very green, so it machines really easily.  It does mean that there is a long drying time involved in the process, but more on that later.  When you watch the video, look at just how much moisture pours out of the hole as it is drilled through, and in a number of steps, the amount of steam coming off the timber as it heats up from being worked.


The drill bit doesn’t exactly look as you’d expect, but it is the shape that works best in drilling with the grain, deeply through the core of a log that is very wet/green.

The wheel on the right moves the log back and forward, plunging it into the drill deeper and deeper each time, until it pierces through to the other side.  The operator has to back off very frequently to clear the shavings.

A square-ended shaft is rammed into this hole, for mounting in the next machine – the hub lathe.

SH-81This has two cutting sides.  The right hand side planes the hub down to the correct diameter, then the blades on the left are bought to bear to shape the ends, and gently radius the hub along its length.

With the wood being so green, the timber peels off in a sheet, in quite spectacular fashion.  Easy to imagine this is not dissimilar to how ply is made.


The hub then moves over to the mortising machine.  There are a couple of steps that this machine does.  The first is where it drills holes around the circumference, which allows the morticing chisels to work with a lot less effort.


The second step involves the morticing chisels that cut with quite a punching action – very violent, but also very controlled.

The machine automatically raises as lowers the hub into the chisels via a large cam on the front, and indexes from one hole to the next via a auto-advancing mechanism on the left.  It is really impressive!

SH-30The hub is then shelved.  For years.

Like any other timber, a basic rule of thumb is a year for every inch of thickness for it to dry.  2-3 years for the average hub, up to 10-15 years for really heavy hubs (for really serious wheels!)

I don’t have any photos of the spoke manufacture, but you can see more in the video anyway.

The lathe creates the oval spoke, with a square end.  Next, a quick pass through a tenon former creates the initial shoulders, that will then be refined once the spoke has been seasoned.

The third machine shaves a small amount off the circumference of the spoke, near the hub end.  This is a deliberate weak spot, that allows the spoke to flex and absorb vibration, not unlike the narrow portion of a hammer handle.  A spoke only takes a few minutes to make with this method, saving hours of work with planes, saws and spoke shaves.

Once the spokes and hub have seasoned, it is remachined to final dimension (after all, there is quite a bit of timber movement during drying), and then assembled.  The spokes are hammered home, in every second hole, creating the wheel spider.  It is obvious where this name came from.  The spider is assembled in this way, other the increasing buildup of forces in the hub from each spoke would cause it to explode apart by about half-way around.  The spokes are not secured in by any method, other than friction.

SH-28Round tenons are cut on the outside edge with another machine.  This is pretty manual, but looks easy and quick to operate.


If the workshop has a quality supply of good timber, and the required equipment, the rim timber can be steam-bent in to half, or quarter rounds.

SH-73 SH-74This is a great technique, as it ends up with very strong members, that have the grain running around the rim.

However, if the timber supply is limited or steam bending is not available, much shorter sections can be used that tie two spokes together, and this is repeated around the circumference.

These are called felloes, and are typically cut out on a bandsaw.  They are held against the spokes, and the locations marked, then drilled.  Getting the felloe attached to the spokes is a bit tricky, given they are drilled for their final location, up against the shoulder of the tenon rather than the larger diameter of the end of the tenon.

To fit these on then, another tool is needed to pull the spokes apart so they can engage the holes, before being driven home.

SH-27The gap between each felloe is quite small, but even so, a tenon saw is used to cut in between the gap to ensure the joint can close up fully.

The steel tyre is the final part, and this gives the wheel its real strength.

In an older process, the steel tyre is cut shorter than is needed.  This is calculated as a combination of the size of each gap between felloes, and a fudge factor that comes from the experience of the wheel wright.  A metal bender is used to bend the steel into the required diameter hoop, and the ends are then forge-welded together.

SH-88I am not sure what the pile of hoops outside the workshop is for – tyres are normally cut to match to the individual wheel, not in bulk.

With the undersized tyre, the next step is to get it to fit on the wheel.  This is done by heating to a black heat in a fire, which increases the diameter of the metal hoop, sufficient to be able to fit over the wheel.

The wheel is placed in a pit with shallow walls, surrounded by barrels of water.  The tyre is dropped over the outside of the wheel, and before it has a chance to cause the rim to start to burn, the barrels of water are kicked over, flooding the wheel and cooling the rim.  If the rim had burned, it would have resulted in a layer of carbon, and a great opportunity for the steel tyre to slip off the rim.

SH-26You can see an example of a pit behind these carriage wheels.

Some wheels are designed to have a bit of curvature – this provides additional capability of the wheel to flex, which also takes some of the forces that the wheel will encounter in use.


Sovereign Hill has a rim press to fit tyres a lot easier than the fire-method.  These are more for wheels that are aesthetic (cosmetic), rather than functional.  The tyre is larger than the diameter of the rim, and the rim press compresses the tyre onto the rim.


They have had fun with this press, including trying to see what would happen if they kept going and going.  Not surprisingly, the wheel failed, which each spoke snapping at the weakest point.


So that is the story of carriage wheel manufacture at Sovereign Hill, or at least as much as I was able to absorb from watching their demonstration.  The associated video is in the next post, and it is as good as I could get, shooting handheld in the middle of a large crowd of jostling people.

Following that, I’ll put up another post, showing a certain 4′ carriage wheel that I purchased from the place, made with all the traditional techniques.


Shed decoration



It was a bit of a hard slog to get this project across the line in time in the end, but the project was completed (at least to this standard), photos taken, and a 3400 word article submitted for the next edition of The Shed magazine.

I didn’t try rushing a finish – it will pop even more when I do, but I think it looks pretty good as it is!  This one is destined for the shed.  I’ll add some guns to it (the Sopwith Camel had Vickers machine guns), and hang it in a banking turn, probably dog fighting a pteranodon or similar.

Pleased how it came out – a solid nod towards the original aircraft (with a wooden toy emphasis), down to the 9 cylinder Clerget 9B rotary engine.

Update – just to clarify, as there has been a bit of confusion out there it turns out….this is very much my own design, it has not been made from someone else’s plans.  It was primarily made on a bandsaw – the CNC helped with the motor obviously, but this is something you can definitely make with standard woodworking machines.

The full article, and my plans will be available in the next edition of “The Shed”

Tambour Sun Lounge

Managed to finish off the Tambour Sun Lounge this evening – went together surprisingly quickly in the end.

It is made up of 137 individual, interlocked tambour slats, produced using the Lonnie Bird Tambour Router Bit Set from Toolstoday.com.  I made quite a few more than I needed, as I wasn’t sure how many I’d break testing the load limits, or, when I started the project, just how long a tambour I’d end up requiring.  The slats I have left over can be turned into a small drinks table, and/or a lumbar support.

I’ve now made over 300 tambour slats with this set, and it is still going strong.  This project uses approx 90 meters of slats, so if you work that out – 2 passes with one of the router bits, and one with the other, that is 270m of routing, and about the same distance again on the tablesaw, not to mention multiple passes on the jointer and thicknesser.  All in one day – over a km of timber passed through one machine or another.  I slept well that night!

I made the slats about as thick as I could manage, and still be able to slot them together.  Granted, it would be possible to go even thicker if you were prepared to make the slot on the bottom of the slat wider.  However, I tested this tambour by standing on it, on one foot.  That it survived that torture test (just) demonstrates just how strong they are (and the timber obviously).

So that’s it – job done.  The full step by step writeup will be in the next edition of “The Shed” magazine.  If you haven’t seen it yet (available in Australia and NZ, and I imagine digitally elsewhere), it is worth checking out.


Monarch Clock

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Multiple Layer Inlay Stencils, from Tarter Woodworking.  The Monarch Butterfly is just one of a range of designs available.

The design is an absolute show stopper.  I took the completed piece in to show my wife and daughter, and during the ‘countdown’ to the reveal, “3, 2, …. ” well they never got to 1. As the work was revealed, they were stunned to silence.  I have never gotten such a reaction to anything I’ve ever made before!  Even having seen the work in progress, the final result was even more incredible than they had imagined, and, well, I’m pretty pleased with the result too 🙂

For the full writeup, including all the in-progress photos, check out the next edition of ManSpace Magazine (Feb 2015).


Hail to the Chef

Had a busy weekend out in the shed, madly making sawdust (which is always a good thing!)

In this case though, it hasn’t generated much content for this site, as it was for the next edition of The Shed magazine.

Here are a couple of the images from the build, but if you want the full article, it will be in the next edition of The Shed (NZ/Aus edition).  If previous writeups are anything to go on, it gets about 9 pages which is pretty awesome!

A fun build – took a weekend to complete, and that is with lots of on the fly design decisions and problem solving.  I quite enjoy building without plans, and just designing as I go.  It throws up all kinds of interesting issues, and solutions that would not have been seen if it had been a sterile, plan-following build.  I’m not saying there isn’t a place for pre-build design, in fact that is the recommended route 99 times out of 100.  I just happen to enjoy the challenges of working with that 1%!


The unit was even thrown into action before I even had had a chance to finish it!  Needless to say, that has been resolved now, using Ubeaut FoodPlus mineral oil.  Came up a treat, and really useful to boot!

What that radial design became

Stu's Coffee TableHere is the finished product from the weekend’s shed excursion.  It is made from reclaimed timbers (Tassie Oak), and an edge of Solomon Islands Queen Ebony.

It is a quick jump from the pic the other day to the finished project – it was made as an article for the next edition of “The Shed” magazine, so you’ll have to pick up a copy of that (when it comes out) for the full 2200 odd-word article (and associated images!)

It made plenty of use of the SawStop, the Kapex, and the Domino.  On that last point, over 100 separate mortises went into this project.  Thank goodness for the Festool Domino!

Burl Bowl

While I was shedless for a year, working out of a cramped (uninspiring) garage, I made a start on a bowl from a Mallee (?) burl.

It was an excuse to use the Teknatool Titan II chuck on the DVR XP as much as anything (the chuck was certainly a lot more powerful than the job necessitated!)

The bowl sort of progressed, then was put aside, had a bit more done, then set aside again over a 6 month period.

I found it in the garage the other day, and took it to join the lathe in the shed.  With some more turning, quite a bit of sanding, then polishing with friction polishes from Ubeaut, it finally got finished.

Photo 4-05-2014 17 51 24 Photo 4-05-2014 17 51 50The base may look heavy, but other than the rim, the whole bowl is a pretty consistent thickness.  It is 180mm in diameter, 80mm high, and has a 4mm wall thickness.

Finished by sanding to 400 grit using the Skilton sander, then polished, first with Ubeaut EEE Ultrashine, then Ubeaut Glow to give it a rich gloss.

The Promise of Future Projects from the Ghosts of the Past

Once, I’m sure, it would have been regarded as a stunning architectural feature of the Menzies Building, but the original timber ceiling is no longer the flavour of the month and has been replaced with a modern suspended one.

I had a scan of my collection of digital photos taken over the years, and found one that at least gives a small taste of what the ceilings used to be.

timberroof-1Rather than see that timber wasted or worse (such as landfill or burnt), I have been fortunate enough to have a good portion dropped off at my place (yeah, just in time for me to then have to relocate it to the new house!)

While part of the ceiling, the boards are secured together in groups of 3 or 6, with a board nailed across them (bet that was some apprentice’s job!) The majority are 90 x 30mm, and 1.8m in length.


To take them apart, I initially tried a hammer, but decided there was a much better way – the Worx Pro Jawhorse.

By clamping the crossbrace in the jaws, it only takes a little encouragement (and gravity) to neatly separate the two, leaving lengths of very straight, very dry timber.


Just goes to show how stable the Jawhorse is!  And a tonne of clamping force to boot.  From there, the boards got stacked onto a pallet.  I haven’t measured it, but it’d be close to 2 m3.

I used a bit for toy kitchen for my daughter’s Christmas, and there are a fair few projects to come out of this lot.  Can’t wait!  So awesome (and inspiring) having a good collection of timber!


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