Episode 117 Traditional Carriage Wheel Production

There’s gold in them thar hills

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After the alluvial gold became more scarce, gold prospectors dug into the earth to continue to find the riches that were available around the Ballarat area.

Gold-2 Gold-1

The mines were either relatively shallow, dug by individual prospectors, or ran deep, supported by more elaborate mining setups by larger companies, that then employed miners who then drew a wage to dig, rather than earning nothing, or everything.  These miners earned around $65000 in today’s dollars, but the work was dangerous, and their life expectancy short.

If not for the cave-ins, drowning and all the other heavy risks, the air itself was laden with dust, and every breath took a toll.

Just out of interest, the mine above was dug into ancient creek beds, and yielded a 69kg monster.  At today’s price, you would get just about enough change from $3.5 million to buy a cup of coffee (but it might have to be instant).

Gold-10 Gold-12Larger mines may have been built stronger, but the miners constantly listened to every murmur, every creak, and when the timber started to talk, it was time to run and even then, it was often too late.


Gold-9Cartload after cartload of quartz was removed back to the surface for processing.

If you were exceptionally lucky, the gold was there to find.

Gold-11The quartz taken to the surface was then processed to find what gold was trapped inside.


This could be broken up by hand (sledgehammer), but to process the amount being mined, more elaborate methods were introduced.

One such example is shown above, using a method not dissimilar to milling wheat into flour, this crushes the quartz with a heavy, iron-reinforced stone wheel, pulled by horse.

Other subtle methods were used later in the piece, such as a ball grinder that uses a bowl with a free-running large stone ball to grind the fine samples even further to release the gold therein.

With the increasing introduction of industrial methods to increase yield and process the maximum amount possible, we have the crusher!

Gold-7 Gold-8

Rock is fed in from the right, and hammers pound it to dust, before it flows over an oscillating cloth bed designed to catch the gold, while the quartz dust flows over the top to discard (or finer sorters).

But I don’t think you get the full effect in a photo or two.  So this might help understand just how much force is really involved!

Once the gold is extracted, it is melted down to have its impurities removed, and cast into ingots.

Gold-6 Gold-5 Gold-4

This fiery brick is $150000 of pure gold.

Line Shaft Live

Probably the thing that I enjoy seeing more than anything else at Sovereign Hill, are all the line shaft driven machinery.  I’d love to have a workshop straight out of the 1890s.  I’d feel right at home.

This is one of the many working workshops at Sovereign Hill, powered by steam, and line shafts.

Shot by my daughter on an iPhone (without any encouragement from me – something starting to rub off?!! 🙂 )


Line Shaft Setup

It has taken just a little longer than I was expecting when I purchased some line shaft pulleys and belts 10 months ago, but I have finally had a chance to get them up and on display as I originally intended.

They do look a bit out of place, but that is in part the contrast of the old technology with the new, and also the clean, yet to be really filled (and ‘shedified’) workshop. Working on it!




SSYTC056 A ‘new’ tablesaw engine

At the local school fete, and the local (Port Philip) historic machinery society come each year with their eclectic collection of vehicles and machines.

A few looked like they would be ideal for powering a belt-driven machine, or a small workshop line shaft.

One I particularly looked at was indeed a motor that originally drove a tablesaw.

It is a 2.5HP petrol engine by the Sandwich Manufacturing Co, from 1926. It has a magneto ignition, and runs around 425RPM

It may be a 4 stroke, but when you watch the video, the movement of the lever under the magneto unit, and the valve operation is just how slow the firing rate is when the engine is idling.

A simple, clever regulating system means it just ticks over, firing the piston only when the motor slows below a certain speed. An impressively fuel efficient system. As load increases, the firing rate also automatically increases.

The ‘pot’ of boiling water is the cooling system. Instead of a radiator, the water is allowed to boil away, with the energy required to transition the water to steam being an effective method to pull heat out of the engine. Of course you have to monitor the water and oil level! The oil drip-feeds the engine, with just the required amount gravity fed in each stroke, which then works down past each surface needing to be lubricated.

An impressive unit from a bygone age.




SSYTC056 A ‘new’ tablesaw engine

A Package

The line shaft pulleys and belts have arrived, and they are as good, if not better than their photos.

Definitely showing their near 100 years of age (which is fine, in fact desired), they are a fine example of an age just passed.

Photo 6-05-13 10 44 35 Photo 6-05-13 10 44 45 Photo 6-05-13 10 53 03

I will definitely talk more about these when they are being set up as a display in the new shed, but just to mention, I was really intrigued by the 3 different leather belts.  One was thin strips of leather stitched together.  One was a single long length of leather (sure there are some joints in there, otherwise it would have been a world-record cow!) which is two wide pieces stitched together.  The last are short strips, with metal joiners ever couple of feet.  Sort of like a modern link V belt, you can increase or decrease the belt length by adding or removing segments.

Two of the belts are really cracked (the solid leather ones), but still pliable (just).  The third is very still indeed, so I will have to find out how to soften the leather enough to be able to properly install it around a couple of the pulleys.

Edit: I still have the plans for a small water wheel.  Be cool to scale the plans up a bit, and have this on the outside of the shed, perhaps even with a water pump providing a stream to turn it.

Link with the past

After reading my article on line shafts, Evan suggested I look at the following video on YouTube.

It is an excerpt from a 1981 documentary about a craftsman who is still using a water-powered (and line-shaft enabled) workshop from the 1840s.  It is 26 minutes long and does a pretty good job of documenting the creation of a project in this workshop.

The video starts with a bit of blacksmithing, which is interesting in its own right, but the majority of the video is about the creation of a large water trough for cattle, completed in a single day using techniques that are very similar to that a cooper would utilise to create a barrel. A very large barrel!

What I found fascinating, and really very invigorating and inspiring (used enough adjectives here?) is the machines in this workshop are practically no different from those in mine, and many others around the place.  We may utilise electricity rather than water power, but little else has changed.  We would be quite comfortable operating in a workshop of the 1840s, and in turn someone from that era would find ours very familiar as well.  Our links with our roots are not very long at all.

A tablesaw is still very recognisable as a tablesaw, as with the thicknesser, jointer, horizontal borer etc.  It seems the only really new technology in our workshops is the router, and even then it is quite possible the spindle moulder dates back far enough to be included in water powered workshops.  In 1925 they were still using flat-sided cutters, so that is something we can be grateful has improved over time! (Kickbacks would have been common, and incredibly violent).

So have a look at Ben Thresher’s mill, right out of the pages of history, and enjoy as I have, that we are still keeping these traditions alive in our own workshops.  The digital age of woodworking seems to be approaching, CNC, laser, 3D printing etc, so lets not allow our craft and skills to be lost in the way that digital photography has affected (what I call) chemical photography, and what computers and iTunes is slowly doing to music. (Had to end on a note of controversy!)

Line Shafts and Powering Machinery

We have not always had the luxury of small, compact, powerful electric motors for powering workshop machinery.  Instead, once workshops moved to having powered machinery at the start of the Industrial Revolution, they were using water, coal and fuel oil to to power the workshop.

Deutsch: Erste Dampfmaschine in der Dillinger ...

Deutsch: Erste Dampfmaschine in der Dillinger Hütte (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It would not be economic to run tiny steam engines, let alone split a river into multiple streams, one to each machine and its individual water wheel!  So instead there was one power source that drove a primary line shaft across the workshop, which with a series of pulleys and belts drove ancillary shafts, and from there to individual machines.

Line shaft and belt driven machinery. MACHINE ...


I posted a video on one working setup at Sovereign Hill in Ballarat where they demonstrate wagon wheel manufacture, back at Episode 79

Episode 79 Wagon Wheel Manufacture
Formats available: MPEG4 Video (.mp4), Quicktime (.mov), MPEG-4 Video (.m4v)

With the prospect of a new shed on the horizon (and especially one with a higher ceiling), I have already been visualising what the workshop may look like, including giving it some real character.  The romance of the old industrial age is something that does appeal, and where I can’t convert a workshop to run on line shafts (and the OHS implications in this day and age would melt the internet), I can still have some of the relics of this bygone age around, including a pseudo line shaft or two!

I already have one pulley that I bought from Chris Vesper a year or so ago – a very nice example of one, with classic timber laminations.


While one pulley is nice, having a small collection would be even better, and so I had a bit of a search around eBay.  The timing was perfect, as I not only found the following, I was very fortunate in winning the auction.

But this was was not just an auction of a few of the pulleys, but much more rarely, some leather belts as well.

w3 w1 w4 w5 w6

With such a cool collection, I’m thinking of recreating a bit of a line shaft setup, and the belts will really add to that effect 10 fold!  Now I just have to get them from the Blue Mountains to Melbourne!

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