Q. Does anyone make a small English wheel that would work on stainless steel trim? I have tried the old hammer and anvil method of straightening, along with block sanding, but it is an arduous process. Would I be further ahead if I could find a miniature version of the English wheel that would fit inside the trim?
Las Vegas, NV
Via the Internet
A. I have never seen a commercially made English wheel that is small enough to work on stainless trim, but you could certainly build one yourself. One of the cleverest builders of English wheels that I ever met was the late Jocko Johnson, and he made them in all sizes, from huge, traditional machines, to tiny ones based on C-clamps and Vise-Grip pliers of various sizes. They all worked to one degree or another and each version had applications it was well suited for.
Some of the challenges with stainless trim are the small size, complicated by the flanges they normally have on the edges, limiting access with tools like an English wheel. On larger pieces of trim, a properly sized English wheel could be helpful if the damage was near the center. Unfortunately, the smaller the size of the trim and the closer the damage is to the edge, the more difficult it will be to get the wheels to contact the damaged area.
While the hammer and anvil technique is admittedly slow, it does have the benefit of allowing you to work in more restricted areas than you could with a pint-sized English wheel. Also, one of the challenges of straightening trim is that the thin, delicate stainless is extremely easy to over-stretch. Often a hammer and dolly (or wooden back-up board) is a more precise and controllable method for removing damage. An English wheel has to "roll in" and "roll out" of any damaged areas, with the risk of stretching the metal next to the damage you’re trying to remove.
Here’s another tip you may find helpful for straightening trim. You can cast a temporary "slug" from solder that will be an exact fit for certain profiles. To do this, you start with an undamaged area of trim close to the area you want to repair. Then, you coat the inside with a release agent to keep the solder from sticking to the stainless trim—motor oil or WD-40 works well for this. Then, make two small "dams" from either metal or wood. Now you can melt some solder and pour it into the back side of the trim, filling the area between the dams.
Once this "slug" has solidified, you can remove the dams and tap the slug toward the damaged area. As this slug starts contacting the area you want to straighten, you can hammer against it from the outside, and the slug will provide a perfectly shaped "anvil" to hammer against. An additional benefit of using solder is, the soft material is less likely to stretch the metal than a steel dolly would. When the repair is completed, you can very carefully heat the solder slug to melt it out. Great care is needed at this stage to use the minimum amount of heat necessary, otherwise you could warp the trim.
There is a special low-temperature metal alloy called Cerrobenz that can be used instead of lead, with the advantage that you won’t risk overheating the stainless. Cerrobenz melts in boiling water.
You can email your questions to Professor hammer at firstname.lastname@example.org, or mail to: Covell Creative Metalworking, 106 Airport Blvd,. Suite 105, Freedom, CA 95019; you'll receive a personal reply. Ron Covell has made many DVDs on metalworking, and he offers an ongoing series or workshops across the nation. Check them out online at covell.biz, or call for a current schedule of workshops and a free catalog of DVDs. Phone (800) 747-4631, or (831) 768-0705. You'll also enjoy Ron's YouTube channel: youtube.com/user/covellron