The Art of Metal Spinning

Metal spinning artisan helps tractor restorers solve parts puzzle

| July 2005

It's a quandary faced by every restorer: Sooner or later, the need arises for a part that's out of production, unavailable and beyond the talents of the average hobbyist. At times like those, craftsmen adept at dying arts come to the rescue.

With yet another tractor restoration project on the front burner, I was recently confronted by the need for a custom-crafted part. This time, I would need the assistance of a person skilled in metal spinning. You don't hear much about metal spinning anymore, but it's an old craft. Metal spinning was introduced in this country in the early 1600s but traces its roots back as far as 3,000 years.

Simply explained, in metal spinning a sheet metal disc is fastened between centers in a spinning lathe. A pattern is placed at the headstock of the lathe center, and the piece is then formed by applying varying amounts of pressure on tools (rollers on long handles) positioned on the rotating pattern. Metal spinning is a useful (and necessary) process in creating cups, domes, bowls or anything that is both round and has depth.

Having worked as an Industrial Arts teacher for 32 years, I am aware of the process. In a basic metals class, my students completed a unit introducing them to the metal spinning lathe. My current project, however, involves much more detailed turning, well beyond my basic knowledge.

Fortunately, I had heard about a man at Liberty, Ind., who performs metal spinning. After I tracked him down, he invited me to visit his shop, where he boasted of holding the parking spot reserved for the "employee of the year." Jack Hodgin has a sense of humor: He is not only the owner but also sole employee of his business.

Jack worked with metal spinning on a part-time basis for many years before he decided to try doing the work full-time. "I always wanted to be my own boss," he says, "so I decided to buy some equipment and work for myself." This October Jack will celebrate 22 years in business. A combination of solid problem-solving skills and resourcefulness has been every bit as useful as specialized equipment. Jack's approach is simple: "If someone else made it, why can't I?"