An understanding of ash – structural timbers

The short wheelbase saloon need for a strong ash frame underlying thin aluminium (or thinner fabric) is vital. The later steel bodies still have a large amount of timber for supporting sunroof, doors and interior trim.

Owners are often self-contained, wanting to learn new skills and save money at the same time when restoring their cars. I wanted to explore re-making some woodwork myself, but needed to contrast this with what I thought would be the expense of having ash sections made professionally. I’d investigated some local timber suppliers and found some had good discounted oddments bins purely in softwood. Another suggested that exact sizes would be more far expensive to provide than those in their discounted pre-cut area, which did have some reasonably priced kin-dried ash sections suitable for floorpan timbers if you are prepared to search. Presumably offcuts from larger jobs, they were planed, matched my sectional dimensions, and just need cutting to length and simple joints making. 

A visit to Herefordshire allowed a detour to visit Prior’s Motor Works – home to the father and son team specialising in ash components for Austin Sevens. Set in a rural orchard north east of Hereford, the buildings and grounds are evocative.

 

Taking several examples of degraded ash frame, my views changed quite considerably during my visit.

exposed, sectional wheel arch sections

Discussing the original construction method (a 1940s coachwork body kit essentially, with three cut sections making up the wheel arch), it became clear that using a lamination technique could reduce the number of water ingress points into the wheel arch and simplify the construction while adding strength – in a situation where originality was not paramount.

 

roof stringer beams

Simple templated items which are regularly made (even if the form is slightly different) are quick to produce for a professional and will benefit from an experienced eye in assessing the amount of sag in the original timber.

upper roof rails

For a more complex reproduction involving removal from a block then shaping, rebating and multiple jointing holes, both the speed of a professional and their economies of scale from bulk buying timber mean that it seemed a false economy to personally buy wood locally and do the work as a hobbyist. The store of seasoned ash (now predominantly tighter grained American rather than British) below:

 

door remnants

Dave Prior has had a fascination with history since childhood. With a love of objects made in the past doing a joint honours of Ancient History with Archaeology made sense. Modern archaeology involves a great deal of different techniques and theories and really focuses on how and why things were made. Working with Austin 7s – stripping them down and seeing what’s there – has, in my mind, really been a case of forensic archaeology. As time has gone by, it’s become something where I can spot the differences and work out “this is from that and that’s from this”.

Thus he was very interested to see the bag of door remains, quickly noticing differences in the feel of construction between these and the main body sections. A sensitivity for the knowledge gained from many other Austin 7 projects all adds up to another valuable source of evidence gathering that may determine which way forward is the most sensible.

 

Personal time is saved for assembly and preservation of the frame, but more importantly the use of replacement wood produced by craftspeople of repute adds something to the ongoing history of the car. It was interesting to see the formers used to create what may seem simple sections of wood, but reproducing an exact degree of twist originally intended demands rigour. Below, some sections of seat woodwork:

 

Make contact to see what woodwork kits they might be able to provide directly, as their collection of templates has grown to the extent that the only standard Austin bodies that they do not yet cover are the boat-tailed 2-seater (one being measured up as I write) and the early R-type saloon. Remember that if you are using well reproduced reproduction items, you are still at the mercy of the changes in shape of your own, perhaps 90 year old, car. Nippys particularly may have considerably changed over time in response to weaknesses in the floorpan or past repairs.

 

See their website and contact details here.

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