The working of a circular piece of metal on a lathe into various shapes using a lathe and hand tools alone.
|Historic area of significance
|Area currently practised
|Origin in the UK
It has been said that art of metal spinning originated from the Egyptions and Chinese although the earliest evidence of this skill comes from a wooden carving from the Middle Ages. It depicts a man in the process of spinning vessels with another man in the background who seems to be turning a large wheel which would have supplied the spinning motion to the machine via a belt.
Metal spinning in the early days would have been human-powered but as time went on the introduction of water and steam power changed this by running the lathes from over head pulleys using a fast and loose style pulley system. Even when electricity became available these overhead pulley systems where still used but these days each spinning lathe has its own motor fitted which runs the spindle via belt and pulley and is covered by a guard for safety.
The most popular spinning lathes which are still used today are made by Wilson of Birmingham and Taylor of Birmingham and generally made between 1930s and 1970s. Little has changed over time in the actual process and skill of metal spinning which is why these lathes are still used today, plus the build quality of these British made machines have stood the test of time.
Spinning metal involves manipulating a round flat sheet of metal around a mandrel/chuck/tool of the desired shape and size using only hand tools. The mandrel/chuck/tool can be made from various materials.
Commercial and industrial would be turned/machined from steel and hardened, being the best for more mass produced parts. One-offs and low volume work can be made from wood or engineering nylon which can be cut to shape by hand on the spinning lathe.
All the hand tools used for spinning are made by the spinner. For spinning aluminium, copper, brass and silver you would use a round steel bar shaped at one end and set in a large wooden handle which goes under the arm (ash being a popular choice). For spinning stainless steel, steel, zintec, titanium, tantalum, and inconel you use similar tools as above but instead of a shaped end the spinner would fit a bearing which would be shaped to suit the job – flat, round, cornering and beading wheels are most common.
Metal spinning is used in cookware, lighting, decorative, artistic, industrial, commercial, aerospace and nuclear industries and can achieve end products that machine made or pressed products can not do with out a lot of tooling and set up costs.
An experienced metal spinner can spin to tolerances as tight as 0.1mm in all variations of metal.
- Silver spinning (also classified as a sub-craft of goldsmithing). According to the Goldsmiths’ Company there have been no known trainees in silver spinning in recent years.
Issues affecting the viability of the craft
Craftspeople currently known