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The NEW Harbor Freight English Wheel...

Discussion in 'The Hokey Ass Message Board' started by CRH, Jan 29, 2012.

  1. CRH
    Joined: Apr 30, 2006
    Posts: 554

    from Utah

    It doesn't show online, but the local HF carries a new design that looks to be identical to the Woodward Fab and Baileigh entry-level floor standing English wheels.


    First of all, this is only a post about what I have found by observation. It is not to expose any company nor is it to advertise for HF! This is just my journey for a cheap but usable and modifiable English wheel.

    I purchased the previous HF model around 3 years ago with plans to stiffen and modify it as different owners have shown online. It sat in its box until a week ago, when I saw the new HF wheel and noticed it looking a little better. So I finally decided to open my old one and assemble it, and see how it works. The upper (large) wheel rolls wavy from side to side, as though it was either turned way off or the bearing races are not straight.

    -This is the older model-

    The next annoying surprise was that the thumb wheel screw that is to tighten the lower shaft in place was NOT THREADED! It came with perfectly parallel machined "rings" instead of actual threads! I am only familiar with making threads on a lathe or with a tap & die set, so this baffled me... It felt like a bored or angry employee lathe-turned perfect little rings onto the screw with tedious spacing, just to annoy a future customer. (I am sure that there is some real explanation for the threadlike rings other than someone turning each one by hand on a lathe). So I had to make a new thumbscrew out of a 1/2" bolt and some round scrap. After machining the bolt and handle, and enlarging the shaft hole, I tapped 1/2 threads and installed the new screw.

    -The screw on the left is the factory shaft with parallel "rings"????!!!-

    -Here is the thumbscrew I made installed-

    And then, even after sloppily building up and turning down the LOOSE lower shaft, it still fit very loose. So I became emotionally annoyed and angry and immediately posted the whole wheel on local classifieds and sold it.

    Now I still wanted the new HF one, especially since it had much less play when I last saw it. So I headed to HF with a 20% off coupon and picked one up for $239.99 plus tax. I was anxious as I got it home, thinking " If this is HALF as sloppy as the other one, I not going through with my plans to stiffen and modify this one either! I'll just send it back!"

    And after putting it together, I must admit I was impressed. The upper wheel rolls MUCH better. I haven't tested it with a micrometer, but its feel and view is nice.

    The bearings are smaller and look to be of different manufacture. They run TEN TIMES better than the bearings on the previous HF wheel, which appear banged into place AND sound like jagged scraping metal.

    -Even though the picture is deceiving, the left wheel is the crappy one-

    The upper and (single) lower wheel that this new HF wheel came with are both somewhat finished with an abrasive, and are much smoother than the old ones. And they both run nice and true, especially compared to the horrible out-of-round wheels from the previous model.

    Probably the best for me is that the lower adjustable shaft assembly is machined much tighter, and there is little play. I liked the quick adjust mechanism also, but realized quickly that it is just that: quick "adjust". I had imagined it being a quick release, but realized fast that with a frame this flexible, the quick adjust lower anvil assembly cannot fully release sheet metal from the wheels by lowering it; it just lessens pressure.


    The other bummer is that I had purchased the extra lower anvils back when I bought the first HF E-wheel, and now the shafts wont fit the slots on my new one. So I wasted some time learning how to use my mill drill better and machined them down to fit the new holder.

    -You can see the notch I machined deeper on the old style shaft-

    So all in all, I am actually pleased with this newer rendition of the HF English wheel. It has uglier paint than the first one and just as much flex, but it looks to be exactly the candidate for modifying and making into a usable tool for the patch panels I like to make and occasional "custom" work. For me, this helps my Saturday religion expand! Does Harbor Freight still stock 99% garbage? Yes! But I can make this one work for my hobby use just fine.

    I just posted this in case anyone else wondered about the new HF model, or the Baileigh and Woodward Fab equivalents, as I did.
    Last edited: Feb 5, 2012
  2. rockable
    Joined: Dec 21, 2009
    Posts: 2,794


    Cool. I have read all the horror stories about the original model. Glad to see they've improved it. Keep us posted on how it actually works on sheet metal.

    Do you think you will still need to stiffen it?
  3. hoggyrubber
    Joined: Aug 30, 2008
    Posts: 568


    i bought one of the closeouts for of the old model and found the same thing on the threads. it took me a couple of minutes to figure out why it wouldn't thread in! ha, i don't know how they did the rings. i think i just ran a die down and rethreaded the shaft. the bearings on mine seem fairly true but it isn't ridged enough.
  4. Brad54
    Joined: Apr 15, 2004
    Posts: 6,008

    from Atl Ga

    Regarding the rigidity of the frame:
    I took a couple classes with Ron Covell,and one of the things he said that I found interesting was that he has both one of the old classic-style cast steel frame English wheels, and a modern one (I'm sure its not HF!)
    He said the modern one has a lot more flex to the frame, while the old style one doesn't flex much at all.

    He said he prefers the less rigid E-wheel, because it's more forgiving. You have to make more passes with it to get the same amount of curvature to the panel, but because you're doing it in smaller increments, you don't "lose" it so quickly because of one or two mistakes.

    I haven't formed anything on an E-wheel, but it makes sense to me.

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  5. CRH
    Joined: Apr 30, 2006
    Posts: 554

    from Utah

    My first little rollings of scrap sheet metal turned out great. I am already on pause for the major modifications I planned on doing with the original one, even though this one has about the same flex. It just seems to work fine for my needs, even with the flex.

    I also have read the Covell info about wheels, and cast iron vs. steel. Interesting!
  6. Hot Rods Ta Hell
    Joined: Apr 20, 2008
    Posts: 4,029

    Hot Rods Ta Hell

    Thanks for the review. I saw the new wheel listed in their flyer but it's not yet in stock/on display in the local store. At $300 + the upper and lower anvils, it gets into some $$$. I was considering building a wheel frame and buying a set of Hoosire Profile anvils, but if this one is workable, I may step up.
    Is it truly the same as the Woodward and Baleigh E wheels?
    Anyone know if Hoosier anvils would fit the HF frame?
  7. oldandkrusty
    Joined: Oct 8, 2002
    Posts: 2,096


    In the previous threads concerning the flex in the HF E-wheels, many responders were quick to jump on the bandwagon of how critical it is to ensure that there is not any present or to minimize what might be there. So, being an amateur I thought that it was cast in stone that such was the case. Then, just like this poster I was talking to Ron Covell and he shot that theory down in his usual lucid and convincing manner. He firmly believes that the flex everone is so stoked up about is not really as harmful as they believe. And he proves it by contuinually rolling out many fantastic pieces of art at all of his demonstrations. And he believes that, with practice, anyone can produce quality pieces of rolled metal using basic equipment, such as the HF E-wheel. However, he does state that if you graduate to doing large pieces, such as tops and door skins, that it might be better to have a larger more rigid E-wheel.

    So, I will continue to use my HF cheapo and smile every time I see the rant against the low priced spread! The pieces I have made have turned out just fine. Thanks, Ron...
  8. CRH
    Joined: Apr 30, 2006
    Posts: 554

    from Utah

    I wonder if the Hoosier wheels could fit; I would imagine you would have to make or modify the spindle thingies they ride in to fit the holder.
  9. Mindover
    Joined: Jan 18, 2009
    Posts: 1,625

    from England

    A review from a pro...

    I got sent one of these, well the earlier version (not by HF but the same machine) to use and review, first I was impressed that it was possible to buy a machine like this at all for the money. I have two large cast machines in my business. (see photo).
    The machine is not a pro machine, it is not intended to be one.There are many things about the machine that are not great, the lower wheels are not true (not concentric), the quick release is a waste of time. The wheels are not all that smooth or polished. The frame is not that strong but in my opinion it is up to the job. The flex in the frame probably helps offset the possible problems that could be caused by the wheels not being true.

    On the plus side the machine worked well for making small parts. I made several small panels on it and I found that none of the imperfections I highlighted above caused any real problems. If you want to make large sections of panels you need to invest more money and buy or make a better machine but if you are looking for something to make small repair sections or to learn on this is a cheap machine.

    I make panels for a living so I thought my opinion might help.



    One thing I would add is that there is a lot more to making panels than having a wheeling machine, it is possible to make panels without one.
    Last edited: Feb 5, 2012
  10. Roger53
    Joined: Aug 8, 2010
    Posts: 383


    Hi all just my 1cents I have one of the old model HF wheels . I used it as is for a time and it does work ok on 20 g. and under .I'm about half way threw beefing up to 18g. Hope it's not boo boo on my part. Over all there a good starting wheel.
  11. hillbilly4008
    Joined: Feb 13, 2009
    Posts: 2,905

    from Rome NY

    I am building my own frame as we speak. I went into my local HF to look at their anvils, I spun the anvils on the display and watched to see how true they were. Oh my lord was that upper wheel crap! It was about 1/8" out of round. The lower anvil looked ok. Perhaps I'll grab a set and have a local machine shop true them up.

    I gotta say, the new version definatly looks much better.
  12. Black Primer
    Joined: Oct 1, 2007
    Posts: 966

    Black Primer

    I just picked up the new style wheel for $239 with a coupon. How can you beat that. I think its a great price for an entry level tool for a novice like me to learn on.
  13. 400 4spd.
    Joined: Jan 23, 2011
    Posts: 53

    400 4spd.

    How can you tell the earlier machine from the newer? My local H.F. has had the same yellow machine on display for a couple of years now. I don't know about what is boxed up.
  14. gwarren007
    Joined: Apr 3, 2010
    Posts: 385


    Date of manufacture?

    Older one may not have a quick release?
  15. the older one has a rounded top C frame at the back and the newer one has a cut, angled and welded back section on the top, the older one has stationary welded top wheel brackets, the new one has a removable upper wheel bracket ( probably to allow for alignment)

    so does any body using the new HF version have any comments on how they like it? looks to be the same as the Baleigh EW28 and the woodward fab model? rumor has it Santa is bringing one my way.....

    thks Bob
  16. Marty Strode
    Joined: Apr 28, 2011
    Posts: 4,579

    Marty Strode

    I bought mine about 5 years ago, had to exchange the top wheel. Sure, it has flex and flaws, but for the price, it allows me to go things I couldn't otherwise do. Down the road I would like to get something better. I have compared the current one to mine, and found the bearing in the top wheel of the new one is much better, you can tell by how long it spins freely.
  17. So I just happened to take the minivan to work today that has the big box in the back of it.....I told the Mrs that I would empty the box out so she could wrap something for under the I opened the box at work and just had to see how the unit was made... mind you I couldn't move the box or slide it forward its that this thing is heavy, the welds look great, no obvious defects in the parts, ugly yellow color but paint quality was high. I looked at the big wheel (8") this was heavy to pick up with one hand and has to be over 20 lbs. the big wheel comes mounted on the bracket and I gave it a quarter spin and it turned for over 15 seconds on the first spin , I was impressed. I held a piece of paper along the bottom of the bracket arms to judge runout and I couldn't see any even with moving the paper closer and closer to the wheel until it finally hit the wheel. so we are really close to being true could not tell on side to side runout but holding my thumb nail up to it I could not see or feel any. I will use a dial indicator when I get it set up at home after Christmas. the lower anvil spun nicely and sat in the lower frame bracket with some movement. it appears the diameter of the anvil shaft is slightly smaller then the machined bracket openings. it appears to be able to be shimmed out really easily to make it a no slop fit. I don't know if the movement there is a good thing and designed in to it or just at the ends of the quality control limits. I will measure the rest of the anvil shafts and make some determinations from there. the Styrofoam boxing insert had the openings for all the anvils so if this was a Baileigh Unit it would have come with the anvils... hard to asses the polish on the big wheel or smaller anvil they have oil on them and I didn't really have the ability to clean them off and eyeball them for level of polishing. the 20 minute first unboxing comments are all positive.
  18. well the good impressions continue....since the boss wants to wrap the box I just could not leave it unassembled in the garage, now could I? something might get lost. so all the bolt holes lined up, all the bolt threadings in the frame were clean and tight, paint quality was very high. welding grinding/finishing was about what you would expect, in some spots you couldn't see the weld, a few other spots were about the level of a High School metal project. Not bad just noticeable. wheel run out on lower anvil and top wheel is very very slight if at all.....I am going to have to measure this with a dial micrometer. I could see some side to side run out with my eye but certainly not much. this puppy is heavy that's for sure. I cleaned the top wheel and looked for quality of the polish and it looked really nice, I have not pushed any metal through it yet and that may have to wait until the boss is asleep or Christmas which ever comes first :). happy with the purchase so far...



  19. Be sure to let us know how you like it and its workings.
  20. My pal Dave bought one several years ago and we used it to get the compound curves to do a top in a 34 chevy coupe.

    Dave nor myself have ever used a english wheel and had to learn by trial and error.

    It's not the greatest piece of equipment but for the hobbyist that lives in the real world and doesn't have a unlimited budget it will so the job.




    Also used it to make the tunnel. HRP


  21. patmanta
    Joined: May 10, 2011
    Posts: 3,504

    from Woburn, MA

    I'd say it more than paid for itself right there.
    HOTRODPRIMER likes this.
  22. wow that is some nice work.....I got this one project too late...I bought the Bitchin trans tunnel.....

    oh well theres always a next time. this is the new frame, only real difference I can see is the angled and welded back and the large wheel is on a bracket that can be easily aligned to the bottom anvil. I hope my work comes out as nice as yours did.

    patmanta likes this.

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