Saturday 18 February 2012

Bradley Workshop Open Day

Bradley Workshop Open Day
February 2012

I really like BW's increasing openness about its backroom operations, lock gate replacement, lock repairs and now one an open day at one of the two UK lock gate factories.

Bradley lock gate factory

The Bradley Works (pronounced Braid-lee) is located at the far end of the Bradley Arm, itself part of Brindley's old main line before the Coseley Tunnel was built. These days few boats make their way up this obscure arm but that didn't deter the hundreds of boaters who made the pilgrimage to this place, one of BW's holy of holy's.

Bradley works from the canal basin

The open day was on Thursday 16th, a working day but as I was in Birmingham I made a point of flexing my hours to give me time to drive to Tipton and take a quick look around.

We all see lock gates every day but did you know that each one is unique? They all have to be surveyed and then built to fit the gap which will have changed as the chamber has moved and settled over the years. In fact, each gate is about 11cm wider at the top than at the bottom, a variation which can be doubled when you allow for two gates.

Big boys toys

Each gate is a veritable work of art, lovingly created out of solid oak with inset steel reinforcements to add rigidity and integrity. It's when you see these huge balks of timber you see where the money goes. A few gate facts:

  • A single hinge post will have cost £500 for the timber
  • A whole gate will have cost £25k - £30k
  • Each gate will have taken one man three weeks to build
  • Most gates will last 20 years, maybe 25 max.
  • The site can make up to 160 gates each year

Perhaps the nicest thing is the enthusiasm of the staff for their herculean carpentry project. One of the workers has been there for over 20 years and commented that his first gate he ever made was for the Stourbridge dry dock and he has just built its replacement.

A skeleton gate

As something of a carpentry enthusiast I was fascinated by the construction methods employed. As well as the usual array of circular saws there were the vast planer / thicknessers and mortice cutters - everything built on a vast scale. But the most interesting facet for me was the construction  of the semicircular hinge posts - how do they create the perfect semi circle? I hunted for a monster spindle moulder but to no avail. A few questions revealed that they cut the 45 degree angles and then use electric planers to curve them by eye - and on a construction day the workshop would be knee deep in shavings. A little slice of heaven.

Having a balance beam added

There is loads more to this place than I can include in a single post so watch this space for more...


Halfie said...

Ah - the "comments" button has appeared! I was going to say that if you do venture up the Bradley Arm, as we did in 2005, battling an incredibly thick blanket of weed, it's worth trying to see if you can have an "unofficial" tour of the works. We did, and it was a highlight of the cruise.

Becca@Locksmith Adelaide said...

This very interesting blogs... a lot of things to learn on. It's amazing how they build such a boat like this. I'm going to follow your works here...