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Glass Cylinder Heads For A Flathead Ford ...


I have always wanted to build a coffee table out of an engine block. I have seen hundreds of them over the past 30 years, and knew I wanted something different and unique.

I rounded up a well used Flathead Ford block that had spent it's golden years outside in the elements in a salvage yard. It was not cracked but the cylinder walls had some serious pitting and the valve seats were totally gone. It was the perfect candidate.

After the tear down, cleaning, sandblasting and putting the engine block up on wheels, I delivered the block to the local grain auger manufacturing company who has a state of the art powder coating line. They will coat most anything you want any color as long as it is red.

Being an alumni of that fine institution during my high school years years, helped make the arrangements to get the block powder coated. The idea was not to spend a million dollars on this project but still end up with something unique.  Having a Flathead Ford block show up on the powder coat paint line normally reserved for grain augers and related hardware caused quite a stir with the employees.

With the block back it was time to figure out the cover for the intake.  I rounded up a piece of 3/8" tempered aluminum and delivered it to the local machine shop who drilled the holes to match the intake gasket. Next up, I polished the aluminum to a mirror finish and fitted it to the Flathead block using stainless button head cap screws. So far so good!

One of my dealers had this pair of Flathead headers that were customer returns. They worked perfect for this project with only a slight modification.

Because this is a build it as I go project, I have gotten a lot of "supervision and input" from the locals. It is also amazing how a project like this draws out a lot of hidden talent.  One of my best friends from High School,  Daryl Klataske was back visiting his mother when he stopped down and saw the project. After I explained what I was doing and why... he got kind of a twisted look on his face then began to smile...

"What if you put LED lights in the cylinders and made them fire in the correct firing order..." Wow that would be cool I say... but how in the heck could you do that...? I was secretly hoping I was asking the right guy for the answer.

I was.  Daryl is an electrical engineer and also builds model railroad circuits and has more than a little experience with LED circuits and controls. "I think we could even make it so than if you had a small accelerator pedal we could make the light speed up and slow down with the movement of the gas pedal and we could hide all of the circuitry under the intake cover..." That was an offer I couldn't refuse. I honestly had not thought of using LED lighting.

So now I need to find a way to show the LED lighting off. That is when I came up with the idea of glass cylinder heads. My original plan was to make plexiglass cylinder heads, but then with the LED lighting inside of the cylinders, I realized glass would be much more impressive. Now comes the "How am I gonna build glass cylinder heads...?"

Enter one Gary Jones, president of Manko Glass in Manhattan Kansas. I have known Gary for many years, even back when his glass manufacturing company was less than 6 employees. Needless to say the company is much bigger now with plants also located in Denver Colorado and Des Moines Iowa.

There is not much Manko cannot make in glass, including sky scraper windows, custom glass shower and storm doors and custom table tops. The question was... could they make glass Flathead Ford cylinder heads? I was hoping to find out!

I took a head gasket down to Gary and explained what I wanted. There was a pause and hesitation. I said  "you no doubt get bored making storm windows and shower doors all day along with a few custom glass table need a challenge, here is one...."

" Leave this with me and I will work on it and call you in a few weeks..." True to his word, Gary did just that, and said "Your project will be a challenge because you are wanting 24 holes drilled in a piece of glass with some of those holes less than a half inch from the edge of the glass...we will try it and see what happens."

I said I wanted to be there to witness the event and to see how this was going to happen.. He explained that he has a very large (and expensive) CNC machine for glass that can accept a glass sheet  96 inches wide x 144 inches in length.  I had no idea there was such a thing.  "When we get it scheduled, I will call you."  I also wanted to see how they were going to hold the glass in position while they machined it and drilled the holes. That would be worth the price of admission.

I arrived on G day (glass day) with a dozen donuts and watched them machine out the heads. I was totally blown away. I had no idea you could do that to glass with such precision.

This is how they hold the glass in place while it is being machined. Think tongue on metal hand railing in dead of winter... only 100 times stronger!

If you have ever wondered how they drill holes in glass, now you know...

Here is the finished product ready for polishing. Who could ask for anything more.

Rob and Nathan  made the process look easy which it was clearly not. Rob on the left wrote the program and did the actual machine work. Nathan on the right did the polishing to the mirror finish. Just as working with metal... the glass has some rough edges after it has been machined. The polishing of glass is much more difficult,  and the end result can make or break the project...literally. The glass cylinder heads came out perfect!  10/18/17.

Update - 11/5/17
During final fitting of the glass cylinder heads it was discovered that there were two extra holes in the glass cylinder heads that didn't need to be there. So after some discussion it was decided to make a second set which actually required the making of three sets (It is very difficult to machine glass and drill 24 holes in each piece and get each of those holes exactly centered, which they eventually did) to get things just right. Rob and Nathan are clearly perfectionists...and "good enough" is not in their vocabulary.

Machining glass is always a challenge and drilling 24 holes in a single piece of glass is asking a lot and really tempting fate! But happy to say the third set fit like a glove. During the making of the third set I also got to watch more of the polishing process which I will share with you here.

Just like when polishing metal they start out with 100 grit to polish all of the edges. That first polish is the tricky polishing, because that is where their are the most rough edges and the easiest to snag the polishing belt. it is also the most critical, if you do not lay down a good foundation,  the next two polishes will be a lot more work, and will not come out well.

Next up they go over all of the same surfaces with 250 grit. Finally they finish up with 400 grit. There is a knack to polishing glass and not snagging the polishing belt on the rough edges or burning the glass by polishing in one place to long and getting the glass hot. Here Nathan shows how it is done.

The Master At Work.

The 250 Grit Comes Next...

And Finally The 400 Grit For A Mirror Finish.

They Apply This To The Polishing Belt To Help Prevent Snags...

This is the finished product. It is kind of a strange view and plays tricks with your mind. Common sense says you should not see that head gasket exposed but it is there. The glass has just a slight green tint to it so in your mind you know something is there, but something in the overall view is not quite right. I got my unique and different.

Here is a close up view. now we are ready for the lighting. Daryl has been working on that and he sent me a link to what he thinks we should use. The more that I get into this project the more I realize this build could not have happened five years ago. The technology to mill and drill holes in glass with the accuracy needed for the cylinder heads has not been around all of that long. Also the LED lighting we need for the cylinders has also not been around that long. So the old adage is true...timing is everything.

Finding the hardware for the glass cylinder heads also proved to be a challenge. I needed 50 rubber washers no bigger than 3/4" in diameter (so as not to end up covering part of the cylinder opening)  with 3/8 diameter holes in the center to go over the stock studs in the engine block...and then 48 more washers to go under the stainless acorn nuts that also had a rubber washer on the back side to protect the glass. 

The plain rubber washers came from an electronic computer supply house. They are used as insulators to mount circuit boards. Another outside the box event.

The washers on top, (which had to be the same diameter as those on the bottom. came from a company that supplies hardware to assemble grain bins which need a water tight seal on the roof.  I bet neither company had any idea where their washers would end up.

I also got really good at installing helicoils... as there were eleven stripped threaded holes in this block,  seven of the head stud holes, and four of the exhaust threads were stripped. The block has clearly had a hard life and somebody had gotten a little carried away when tightening bolts. 

The Lighting
Now it is time to work on the lighting in the cylinders. The plan is to put LED lighting in the cylinders and have them light in the same order as the firing order of a Flathead Ford engine. You can blame that idea on the first CARS movie. Their are pistons supporting the canopy at Flo's Cafe which is lit with neon using the firing order of a Flathead Ford V8. Having done numerous projects for the movie studios I watch for the little details like that. 

The red rings around the pistons and spark plugs on the roof flash on and off in the firing order of a Flathead Ford V8.

Here is the type of LED lighting we plan to use. It comes with an adhesive back that we can stick directly to the walls of the cylinders. Because the walls of the cylinders have been powder coated and are smooth the LED's should stick really well. Daryl is working on a controller and the related software that we will hide underneath the intake cover. The closer this project is to being done the more exciting it is...stay tuned for more updates.

This is the LED lighting we plan to use. It is a special high output LED lighting and comes in multiple colors. We will experiment and may use a mixture of the red and yellow to simulate the firing inside of the cylinder. This is an example of the YELLOW color.

Here is an example of the High output LEDs in RED. They are definitely bright and should do the trick. I cant wait to see this at night.

Update - 2/11/18
Things are progressing along. Daryl is working on the software and related circuit boards. We tend to think alike in that when somebody says..."hey, you can't do that..." it becomes a challenge for us to prove them wrong. We also get to have a lot of fun in the process.

So the next step in this project is to build the circuit boards and write the computer software program that will control the LED lights in the cylinders and also the intake and exhaust valves.

So for the purpose of the circuit board, the lights on the board will be red and be in the same position on the circuit board as they are on the engine block. So on the circuit board we need the lights to flash exactly as they will in the cylinders.

We also want to be able to control the rate of flash so when we add an accelerator pedal, the speed of the flash in the cylinders will match the accelerator pedal.

Also... we are going to use smaller LED lights in the intake and exhaust holes that will light just before and just after when the cylinder fires

So there will also be lights on the circuit board to represent each of the intake and exhaust LED's.

Daryl is clearly on a roll and keeps coming up with more ideas and enhancements which then allows me to offer more ideals from the mechanical side. This project is becoming waaay to much fun!

From Daryl I learned... it is easier to build a small scale circuit board to test your software and formulas, then build the full size board after you get the bugs worked out of the test circuit board.

We are at the test stage of a circuit board now, so here is the sample Daryl sent to me. The green light will be ignition key on. The Red lights represent the cylinders and the order in which they fire. They will be in the same circuit as the large LED lights located in the cylinders. The upper left is number one.

The green and yellow lights (lower right) represent the LED lights that will be in the intake and exhaust. They too will be in the same circuit as the actual LED lights in the intake and exhaust.

While this is not the final product is gives you some idea how things will operate and it gives Daryl a way to check out his software writing, and circuit board building skills.

Look closely under the circuit boards and you can see part of the massive formula's Daryl had to work out to get to this point.  Clearly this takes a little more that a few dinner napkins from McDonald's. Little doubt, Daryl is the right man for the job!

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About Me

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Since 1987, Fifth Avenue owner, Randy Rundle, has been making antique, classic and special interest vehicles more reliable and fun to drive.