richardkell (richardkell) wrote,

watching metal spinners at work......

Quite by chance  a few minutes ago I stumbled upon vids for metal spinning.

Takes me back to when I had to work it out myself without ever seeing a metal spinner in action.

For Hardy 'Zane Grey' Big Game reels circa 1980 when we developed them I needed to spin three or four sizes of end cover in stainless sheet; I still have a couple at the workshop as parts trays thirty two years later. These parts as with all of the 'Zane Grey' componentry would be finished to our usual high standard, all exterior surfaces would be filed, papered and buffed to mirror finish 'Swansdown' mops and 'Radio Rouge'. 

The vids really do convey to me how the metal 'flows' when all is going well, I can actually feel the process as I see it on youtube.  I would have a few rejects until I worked it out, in fact the feel is unmistakable and I can remember exactly how it felt once you have realised the trick.  The largest was something like seven inches diameter with a one inch deep lip spun over a former in the lathe and held to a tolerance so as to match the turned flange in the skeletonised reel frame. The Big Game reels were all handmade by me and developed through many stages and re-thinks from whatever was in our heads guided by visits and discussion with my boss Raymond in his office, lots of sketching and practical workshop development;  I was the right man in the right job, a young lad with a model engineering and high end home workshop background ie the ornamental lathe and the history of technology.

There had been a man in a nearby factory on the same industrial estate that had lost his life in a fire in the 'Summerland' entertainments complex, he had been a metal spinner but without his guidance his dusty tools conveyed little to me; I remember going round to have a look but I was no further forward. Written sources were scant to say the least circa 1980, so it was really playing about and thinking hard to see how it might be done. The trick actually is quite a unique plastic flow of metal that until seen or felt cannot be appreciated. I could find nothing in print that hinted at this and until I had hit upon it all I was making was crumpled bits of scrap metal. Perhaps the little I did find written about it was by authors that didn't realise the 'trick', I've seen this before in connection with hand turning and 'brass finishing' where the vital element or feel for the job is not present, they are merely just writers never having done it or are trying to hide the secret. A fine example is by Gazeley, incredible book, incredible writer but following him you will not get to how to use the hand graver on metal; a vital indipensable part of my workshop technique. 

Best NOT try this at home until you have experience. ....'Howie' at DMF, Birmingham. ..... 'Metspin' large dia cowl.

and below is some very clever sheet metalwork, replacement fenders for a Lagonda ....

I think what characterises the work of these men is that with their experience and practical abilities the job arrives at how they want it, not by chance or fluke but by their own controlled effort. Nothing CNC ... just old fashioned hand, eye, brain.   

Postscript. I've always found good quality sheet metalwork as being not easy to get a good clean precise result unless I go slowly, perhaps its the machinists or the toolmakers eye, an example being the side tanks for my live steam 0-6-0 'Boxhill'. I'm more of a turning and milling man, or even handfiles before that and perhaps am looking for too perfect a result. It would perhaps seem bizarre to get the depth and breadth of experience that I have with nothing more than hand files these days; more's the pity. Its good character development as well as learning your trade, you learn all about things called hard slog, working to a standard and developing the skill to get there, hand-eye co-ordination and I remember wanting so much to hit a high standard with basic old fashioned methods.  All this appears now lost in our race to be 'modern'. I remember as a kid really enjoying the process of flanging little boiler end plates from bits of copper sheet but everything at that age was always a struggle, getting my Dad to buy the right tackle for silver soldering was hell, in the end I had to wait till I got a working wage and bought it myself, rural remoteness did not help either. Sometimes I think the way my Dad parted with money it was like peeling off skin.

A book on the shelves here I've not touched for many years once opened is immediately recognisable, I was looking at my Dads technical books long before I could read, in fact I was a late reader and from say seven years old onwards material like this would fascinate me, even if at that young age I couldn't follow it all, pictures and illustrations were my way into it. Theres a lot to be said for dipping into books that are beyond your present abilities, I'm sure it fetches you on. Thats why the strict linear progression we have in schools to me seems sometimes odd; you never get a chance to peep over the parapet to see what lies beyond. 

'How to Work Sheet Metal' is written by Herbert J Dyer and is one of the Percival Marshall series of handbooks from sixty or seventy years ago written for the keen amateur and I've just wondered if originally the text was from the States. The copy here is dated 1950 but I'm thinking it goes back earlier than that. Its a good introduction and its a shame for the content to lie hidden on the shelves, the text as well as the illustrations is very worthwhile, heres some content below, click to enlarge for a clearer image.





The text of the above is very good, very much the mark of the seasoned practical man. I used to think some of the other titles I have here from my Dads collection of Percival Marshall Handbooks leave a little bit to be desired, for instance their 'Toolmaking Hints and Tips' another book I would be looking at before I could even read is a bit on the thin side and there is so much more that could be included. But then again they would have constraints of production costs and perhaps at the time there was still the rationing of paper.

To clarify, I use this blog to post articles and information that I hope are of interest to others, anything to do with tools, craftsmanship and workshop things, my main selling website with paypal facility is managed by my web-man Alan Culpitt ie for my honing guides and woodworkers bevel gauge, dovetail markers, etc ...

Tags: hardy zane grey, metal spinning, percival marshall handbooks, sheet metalwork, skilled craftsmen, the jenny, wired edges

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