Jan 30 2011

1970s Soldner wheel

As I’ve mentioned previously, the Soldner wheel we have is over 30 years old and was bought way back when Lowell was in art school. Over that period of time, very little has ever gone wrong with it: 15 yrs or so ago, the rectifier was replaced; 2 or 3 yrs ago the bearings on the motor went; and this past year, the Powerstat (transformer) went.

The year before the motor went on the Soldner, the motor went out on the Creative Industries wheel we had. (I think we sent the motor back to them to be tested.) Since there were no markings on that motor (of course) and because the company was not willing to share who the manufacturer was or any other details, we were pretty much forced to buy the motor from them (I hate proprietary parts on machinery. You always wonder if you can get the part cheaper elsewhere). Anyways, so when the motor went out on the Soldner, I was expecting the same kind of thing.

I called Bluebird (who have been manufacturing Soldner wheels and clay mixers for a while now) and while they helped me as much as they could, they couldn’t really tell me much about the wheels made before they took over. So, I called Paul Soldner. Based on the info I gave him, he said he probably built this wheel himself. He said he put them together so you could just buy the parts off the shelf making it easy for a potter to fix the wheel by him/herself. He thought he got those motors from Graingers. So, checked online to see if they still had that Dayton model, and sure enough, they did! Put the new motor on and I was back in business.

Then last year there was something funny with the power flow. I’d be in the middle of throwing and the power would fade in and out for a couple of seconds at a time, intermittently. This went on for about a month, then one day the wheel just stopped altogether.

Soldner PedalSo.. I bravely took the cover off the pedal housing and looked. I had no idea what I was looking at. LOL There was only one little spot I saw on one of the connections that looked a little burnt, where arcing may have occurred, on one of the prongs off of the direction switch. So we replaced the switch, and the connecting wire, ..nothing.

I drew up this wiring diagram (schematic) before I got started then had a few friends with similar wheels from the same time period, go through it with me over the phone to make sure I hadn’t missed anything. I hadn’t. Wiring diagram for Soldner wheel

Next, I tested the circuit using a voltmeter and found out the problem was the Powerstat (variable transformer), the big round thing with the copper wire wrapped on it. Looking a little closer, I did notice that some of the copper was discolored black in one section. Replacing it wasn’t any big deal, just a matter of reconnecting all the wires as per my diagram. Put everything back in place, replaced the housing cover, plugged it in, held my breath, pressed the pedal, and … it worked! I am no electrician and I felt victorious that I’d fixed it!

I had heard that if you take a Soldner pedal and put it on any wheel, that you could make it, pretty much run like a Soldner. In fact, I think Paul Soldner even told me that in our phone call. Since I was feeling pretty confident, I thought I would buy all the parts and build a pedal myself (just because I could), optimistic that I could transform the Creative Industries wheel (which died again a year after I replaced the motor). I have most of the parts, but I haven’t quite gotten there though.. heheh

In case you’re looking for parts for your ‘vintage’ Soldner wheel, I found a virtually brand new (I think it was a floor model) Powerstat on eBay at a very good price, a spare rectifier (changes AC to DC) there as well (radio shack doesn’t have the right one), and then the rest of the parts (the 7 amp breaker, the switches, etc) at a marine supply place. None of the parts were very expensive and it is really easy to put them in yourself. There are some variations between wheels made in different years (eg one friend’s of mine I think has a capacitor that mine does not). And the new Bluebird Soldner wheels, while very nice themselves, have a completely different schematic. When I did up my wiring diagram I did send them a copy for their records.. just in case someone else called looking for help.

Thanks to you Paul, wherever you are. RIP Paul Soldner 1921 – 2011