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I Forge Iron

How to make your wire wheel a little less scarry.


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Wire wheels never scared me, more of an annoyance due to the wires being thrown. In the gunsmith's shop we wire wheeled the heavy rust off with a wheel on a bench grinder. During the process I usually ended up with a few wires stuck in my shop apron. Eye protection is a must with these.

Wire wheels on a bench grinder need to be reversed every so often to keep the edges sharp. The only part of the wire that does any work is the tip. As they are used the tips get bent/worn back, and by flipping the wheel around it gets the tips pointed back forwards. Makes a huge difference in how well they work.

With mounted wheels, like that one, if they get too badly rounded you can dress them on a disc sander, or grinder to bring the tips back to working order. Preferably dress them the opposite direction of the wheels rotation to push any burr forward. Do not overheat the wire, and soften it.

The big thing is to let the wheel do the work, too much pressure only bends the wires, and doesn't allow the tips to do the work. It also promotes kickbacks.

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I'm suddenly afraid of your dentist! Then again my dentist gets upset because I don't get fully numb from the shot, and after stopping him once I tell him to take it easy and finish the job a little slower! He gets his nose all out of joint over working on someone with "inadequate anesthesia"

I'll remember those points on reversing the wheel. I always like my wire wheel going as close to rated speed as possible since it seems to be hardest for feel and takes the most off in one pass.

Phil

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No problems reversing the wheel, as they are made to go on either direction. The only wheels that I knw of that don't throw wires are the ones that have had plastic molded around the wires. Otherwise they all toss a wire or two when you use them.

At the gunsmithing shop I would flip the wheel around fairly frequently to keep it working at peak performance. You could tell when it was time to reverse it, as it would burnish the surface rather than clean it. With the wire wheel on a bench grinder you leave the guard off so you can utilize the wheel best. Sometimes you have to get at weird angles to hit all of the parts that you want to. With the guard off it was easy to flip it around fairly quickly.

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It needs to be mentioned that so far y'all have been talking about a bench grinder. Wire wheels have a bad habit of grabbing and throwing things so please keep the original OEM or secondary guards in place. Jim Paw Paw Wilson had a 3/8 inch square stock S hook jerked out of his hands and thrown back into his face breaking his safety glasses and fracturing his skull.

Bench grinders grab sleeve shirts, and loose clothing when you least expect it. The grinder does not turn loose of the clothing as you raise your arm AND the grinder into the air trying to get away. It continues to run and continues to eat the shirt with hopes of chewing on your hand and or arm.

Hand held angle grinders grab onto corners and edges of metal and change direction in a instant. They too like to grab clothes, leather aprons, and blue jeans. I had one fellow tell me he had a wire brush on an angle grinder climb up his pants leg and actually rip his shirt off his body. I donated a t-shirt to an angle grinder once, using most of the shirt to stall the motor. Now I use a leather apron if I use the angle grinder.

The wires are thrown as the grinder is used. Leather aprons protects the body in most cases, but not all the time. Please keep in mind the wires that do not hit your apron or body and can travel remarkable distances to get to the dog, or the wife as she calls you to dinner or the phone. Grinding sparks are a good indication of the distance the wires (flechettes) can travel.

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I will second Glenn's cautionary tale. I had an S hook ripped out of my hand and it hit my finger as it went by, breaking a small blood vessel, but thankfully nothing else. It hurt, and scared me. I thought I was treating the wire wheel with great respect, too.

I was wearing gloves, an apron, a long sleeved close-fitting shirt, and a full face shield. I was also standing slightly to the side - out of the direct "throwing path" of the wire wheel.

I've thought recently that I will avoid putting a wire wheel on a full speed bench grinder. Perhaps the "router speed control" will help.

As several have already said, it is very important that you think about the dangers to yourself and others as you work. Don't be afraid to stop working and think about better / safer ways to do something, or wait until a child has left the area.

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It's never a good idea to wire wheel anything sharp, hook or claw shaped unless your using absolute extreme care and wearing a face shield plus gloves and perhaps even an apron. I've used a wire wheel constantly for about 5 years on a 1HP long arm buffer. I've seen it catch things and throw them at the wall hard enough to bust the drywall. I've even had it tear a piece of jewelry that had claws in it from my grip and embed the claw in my palm. That was not fun. That said though wire wheels are some of the best tools you can have in your shop. If I ever have a rotary controller like this i'll definitely give it a shot when using my angle grinder and a cup brush.

Most of my wire wheeling is done on this. Wire wheel on one side, buffer on the other. Probably the best 150$ i've ever spent.


Copyrighted photo removed and a link placed into the text.

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I really like Bill Epps' method. He suggests using the Harbor Freight polisher with variable speed universal motor. Max RPM is 3000. Use a good quality wire wheel, and you should have no problem with stickers. Also, it is very easy to control. If you work it too hard, it can grab or wear you out. Fortunately, the tool is weak and is much easier to control that that scary angle grinder in the photo above (the router speed control is a big help, though). And, before you bear down hard enough to bend the wires in the rotary brush lessening its effectiveness, the weak low quality Harbor Freight motor will emit a "you are working me too hard" smell.

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I was taught to NEVER wear gloves when operating a grinder, buffer, wire wheel , or any other rotating equipment. That is because the glove can get caught and pull your hand in. I was taught that if it is getting too hot you cool it off, or use something like vise grips, or a pin vise to hold what you are working on. You also do not have the dexterity, and may not have the best grip on the part when wearing them. The other thing that causes parts to get snagged is pushing too hard on the wheel, let the wheel do the work. You also have to be mindful of where all of the part is , not just the area that you are working on.

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Travis -

Thanks for the link to the safety (lack of) stories and the grisly photo's. It's important to see that stuff. It's odd that the guy who lost some of his finger sliced it off on the guard. Angle grinders are so effective and so dangerous, especially with a grabby wire wheel. If you are using wire wheels to remove scale and raise highlights they don't need to be spinning at 10K+ rpm's.

One of the motorcycle forums I check out now and then has a section where you can post pictures of when things go wrong. Protruding bones, huge lacerations, etc... Usually the poster has a coinciding thread in the classifieds. Really helps to slow you down and be smart.

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My wire wheel is a far cry from OSHA approved. I have a 1/2 hp DC motor (on a variable speed control) with the arbor adaptor on the shaft. It's a baby version on the monster we have in the maintenance shop where I work. There are no gaurds but there is also nothing for it to redirect with or catch on. When it yanks something away (and it does happen from time to time) it throws it across the shop away from me.

I also have a foot switch on it so as soon as I move my foot it dies.

Kendrick

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  • 3 weeks later...

Take it from someone not smart enough to learn the old adage that a wire wheel is is the most dangerous tool in our shops. First let me say that the one and only time I have gone to the emergency room blacksmithing was from a wire wheel accident. I have always taken safety precautions but in this event I was brushing an item that was too large with too many bends to be safe. I other words I was rushing. It ended up that the wire wheel grabbed the item and threw it back into my hand. Some major internal washing to remove dirt by the doctors and 14 stitches an I was good as knew. However, I have now started to take a lot more precautions. I starting using air powered angle grinders which do not have nearly the kick-back of electric grinders. I have also started using much thinner diameter wheels and wheel widths.

I want to remind everyone is that is is probably still the most dangerous tool in the shop. If you get that feeling that you might get hurt, stop. Our bodies are our most important tools in this craft protect yourself

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