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He’s Been “Spinning Metal” For 50 Years
Robert Miller can turn a flat disk of metal into spheres, bowls and even urns. All he needs is the right dies. If you need a curved piece of thin metal, he can make it. He’s made cremation urns, reflectors for a Rolls Royce, and parts for old tractors.
    “I learned the trade from my grandfather, who learned it from my great, great uncle,” says Miller. “I started learning how to spin metal when I was 8 years old, and by 11 I was getting paid to make a part for one of his customers. I made thousands of those parts. It’s how I earned enough money for my first motorcycle.”
    Miller was graduating from high school when his grandfather sold his shop. The buyer needed a spinner and hired Miller. Four decades later, he is still practicing a trade that has to be seen to be believed. Attach a flat circular disk to a lathe and press a die against it. As the metal spins under that slight pressure, it begins to change shape, thinning and expanding where pressed.
    Miller says a particular piece may take multiple dies to get the final shape. He can spin solid pieces that work for a bullnose corner or rings for a metal basket. One customer wanted a cover for the pulley wheel on an older tractor. Miller did it.
    He has worked with steel, brass, copper, stainless steel and more. The type of metal isn’t the limiting factor, but for Miller, the thickness is.
    “I can spin 1/8-in. steel, but I had to turn down a job that was in 1/4-in. steel,” says Miller. “If I had bigger equipment, I could have done it.”
    Miller still does production work for major manufacturers, as well as custom jobs. However, most metal spinning work goes to low-wage markets like Mexico and India.
    “I made cremation urns for a retired art teacher who decorated them and sold them to funeral homes,” says Miller. “We used heavy-gauge aluminum, which is very durable, and spinning adds tensile strength to the material. The funeral homes marked the urns way up over what she charged and still went out of the country to buy them cheaper.”
    Miller’s own sons helped him with his work when they were growing up, but neither of them connected with it like he did. That’s okay with Miller.
    “Metal spinning is really rewarding work, but you have to love it or don’t do it,” he says. “I’ve spun every type of material that can be formed.”
    With more than 50 years under his belt, he still loves it.
    Contact: FARM SHOW Followup, Robert Miller, 8956 Perry Hwy., Erie, Penn. 16509 (ph 814 868-7906; metalspinner@aol.com)

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2020 - Volume #44, Issue #4