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Haas chosen by Works Racing Motor Cycles

Haas chosen by Works Racing Motor Cycles

Added to MTDCNC by HAAS Automation on 03 December 2012

In the 1950s, Enzo Ferrari referred to precocious British Formula 1 teams as garagisti, a condescension suggesting that, as humble garage dwellers, they should be taken less seriously than the Maranello scuderia, which liked to see itself as motor racing aristocracy: a blue-blood in a sport of oily-rag upstarts. It would have been more accurate, however, if the “Old Man” had referred to his racing adversaries as shed-ites.

Englishmen are famed for many things, but the cultural, economic, and psychological importance of the garden shed is little known or understood beyond the country’s shores and borders.

Usually a relatively temporary wooden building, built on an allotment of land or adjacent to the owner’s home, a shed may have been bought as a flat pack from a DIY (Do-it-Yourself) superstore or, more typically, assembled and patched-up over generations from flotsam and jetsam, household junk, and anything to-hand when the roof springs a leak.

Some sheds are built simply as places of predictable calm, where a harried father and husband can escape the demands and emotional up-and-downs of family life, perhaps to read the newspaper. Others are places of quiet, after-hours industry, where beer is brewed, flies are tied, or wood is turned on ancient capstan lathes. Some sheds contain the manifestations of their owners’ childhood dreams: Perhaps a sprawling, lovingly detailed model railway, or even – and I’ve seen this with my own eyes – a 12-seat recreation of a vintage Picture Palace movie theatre. Often, there are few outward clues to what a modest, dilapidated shed may or may not contain. Windows are usually opaque with grime or pipe smoke; sheds are tidied and swept, but most are never cleaned, for fear they may lose their patina, or worse, fall apart.

The English love the idea of the underdog, and nothing houses that self-effacing concept quite as fittingly as the common garden shed, within which great goliath-slaying plans are hatched, and winning contraptions and inventions are tinkered with, usually over a mug of steaming tea.

Patrick Walker is what the vintage motorcycle fraternity affectionately refer to as a Fred-in-a-Shed supplier. Based in the West Midlands, his company, Works Racing Ltd, makes engine parts for treasured Norton Manx 500s from the 1950s and ’60s. His “factory” is nothing more than an unadorned, largely unprepossessing wooden shell next to the home he shares with his wife, three children, and two dogs, halfway along a muddy lane near Stratford-Upon- Avon, the birthplace of William Shakespeare. When the weather is fine, as it was on the day of my visit, Mr. Walker throws open the double door of his south-facing workplace and sunshine illuminates a curiosity shop of engines, halffinished restorations, work benches, vintage motorcycle memorabilia, and a Haas Mini Mill 2. It is a shed to be envied; a shed par-excellence.

As its name suggests, the Norton Manx (of or relating to the Isle of Man) was designed and developed to contest the annual Tourist Trophy (TT), the world’s oldest motorcycle road-race. The TT follows a circuitous 37-mile course through the villages, byways, and mountains of the island, and since 1907, the bravest bikers in the world – some privateers, others riding for works teams – have been coming here to test themselves and their machines. The first ever race was won by a Norton twin, and despite being eventually usurped, the English marque has always, for many, personified the TT spirit.

The Norton Manx 350/500cc of the late ’50s and early ’60s represent perhaps the company’s heyday, before the more technically advanced engines from Japan eventually forced them off the road. These days, “Manxs” are coveted machines, and although worth as much as $50,000, they are still campaigned with vigour and passion at nostalgia events like the Goodwood Revival, held every year and attended by such surviving motorcycle racing legends as Giacomo Agostini and John Surtees.

“My business partner Miles Robinson and I decided to start Works Racing Motor Cycles Ltd. in 2008, whilst racing at Goodwood,” says Patrick Walker, “probably as a result of drinking too much champagne. We thought that we would manufacture our own 350cc and 500cc engines and parts, and sell them to Norton owners around the world.” Just three years after that lightheaded moment, Works isn’t only building the engine, it’s also building the entire bike.

The engine Mr. Walker produces is aimed squarely at very competitive classic motorcycle racing. Works customers are racers through-and-through and, he says, they race to win, notwithstanding the historical value of their machines. “It’s vitally important that our engines have more power than the competition, so the engines are designed and made to very tight tolerances. Precision means power!”

Before starting Works Racing, Patrick Walker spent almost 20 years in high-performance engine development, which, he claims, was excellent training for his new venture. The early days of that training were spent at the original Norton Motorcycles Company, working alongside engineer Doug Hele, a name that will be familiar to Norton aficionados around the world. Mr. Hele was the last of the Norton engineers who was working on the Manx race bikes, in 1962.

“I’m really privileged to have been trained by Doug,” says Mr. Walker. “It’s a great link to the original company. But, I wanted to use all of the processes and know-how I’d learnt in my career, and apply them to producing a better version of a very old engine design. For example, instead of going to traditional pattern makers to produce our castings and moulds, we had all of our tooling for the foundry cut straight from the CAD models on CNC machines. That means the castings are extremely accurate, far more accurate than the originals.”

Despite his many years of engineering and engine development experience, Mr. Walker had limited hands-on experience with CNC machine tools or CAD/CAM software. “In my previous company, I managed a machine shop, and rarely had the chance to do any of the programming. When I began Works Racing, it took me about six month’s hard graft to design the complete engine in SolidWorks®. I was a reasonably competent CAD modeler, but not an expert, by any means. Because it’s an old engine, it was produced originally using wooden patterns, so there were lots of parts that were not easy, geometric shapes. Some of them were made by hand, which made modeling them quite a challenge. As a result, I ended up being pretty expert with CAD.”

Once the designs were finalised, the question became one of how to make them. Mr. Walker considered three different routes:

“We could have employed somebody and bought a machine; we could have subbed-out all our parts, which I suppose is the most obvious route; but we decided there was a third way, and that was to buy a machine, and have me drive it myself.” It was at that stage that he spoke to Haas UK – the exclusive Haas distributor for the UK – and eventually decided to buy a Haas Mini Mill 2, a compact, small-footprint CNC machine tool with singlephase power, making it ideal for the Works Racing shed, without having to upgrade the power supply.

“I took delivery of the Haas Mini-Mill,” Mr. Walker explains, “and the first thing I needed to do was to learn how to use it. Thankfully, it turned out to be a remarkably simple process. The machine is so intuitive to use I was able to produce all my jigs and fixtures and a full set of castings for the first engine in eight weeks, which was just remarkable.”

A particular advantage of designing the engine in 3D is that the CAD models can be used for finite element, stress, and thermal analysis. “We can really optimise the design of the parts. Mind you, they all have to be interchangeable or identical to the originals, so I haven’t made any big changes. Analysing the designs has allowed me to make lots of very subtle tweaks to improve durability and performance.”

The way Mr. Walker produces the many different engine castings is, he says, a little unusual. Rather than machining in batches of 10 or 20 parts, which would perhaps be the normal approach, he produces a complete engine-set, with parts machined as one-offs. “Instead of making 10 crankcases, 10 cylinder heads, 10 cam boxes, etc, before I start to build an engine, I actually make a set of everything to the customer’s exact specification. That engine then gets built and shipped before I start on the next. I use Planit’s Edgecam 3D CAM software to programme complex 3D profiles, such as combustion chambers. The SolidWorks-Edgecam-Haas arrangement is absolutely fundamental to our success. It’s a powerful and flexible combination.”

To reduce machining time lost as a result of multiple setups, Mr. Walker employs a simple, quick-release Stark SPEEDY® module plate, which allows him to make parts economically as one-offs, rather than as batches. “It’s a piece of equipment that is permanently fixed to the bed of my machine,” he says, “and it enables me to change from a chuck to a jig to a vise in literally 5 seconds. I don’t have to clock each time I change the jig or workholding. Each jig goes on in exactly the same position within a few microns. The plate works very well with the Haas machine.”

The decision to buy the Haas Mini Mill 2, rather than subcontract production to an external supplier, has enabled Works Racing to move ahead at its own pace and without risking or compromising quality and delivery. For the first 18 months of its existence, the company focused exclusively on producing engine parts, but more recently has moved into making and assembling complete bikes, and now offers an exact recreation of a 1962 500cc Manx Norton. In a second, smaller shed at the bottom of his garden, Mr. Walker keeps the black, powdercoated “Featherbed” frames that will eventually become customers’ Manx Nortons. The famous Featherbed was designed originally by the McCandless brothers of Belfast, Ireland, and was the frame of choice of racer Geoff Duke and his contemporaries in the 1950s.

“I’m really pleased with my Haas machine,” concludes Mr. Walker. “For a small, start-up company, it was a big investment decision to undertake the machining in-house, but it has definitely paid off. The Haas Mini Mill 2 is incredibly accurate, and the parts it’s making are excellent. It’s also reliable. For the two years I’ve had it, it hasn’t missed a beat, and if ever I need help, I just call Haas UK and they tell me what I need to know.”

It goes without saying that Patrick Walker is a dyed-in-the-wool Norton enthusiast. “I’ve always owned Nortons,” he says. “I’ve always been obsessed by the Norton story, and I’m also very proud to be associated with the new factory at Donnington Park. We’re official Historic Racing Partner to Norton, which is a great accolade. It’s really nice to be involved with those guys, and to feel like we’re helping keep the Norton name alive.”

During the off-season, Works Racing rarely opens its double door, except on those unseasonably warm and dry days that remind us spring will once again eventually come around. When it does, Patrick Walker’s customers will head to the country’s hallowed race venues to ride and race their finely-tuned and loved machines, and prove, if ever proof were needed, that great things can still come from the garden sheds of rural England.

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