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Glass Cylinder Heads For A Flathead Ford


The how and the why of building glass cylinder heads for a Flathead Ford block starts with the "why" part of the equation...

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 its 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 growing up 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. The washers on top, (which had to be the same diameter as those on the bottom. came from a hardware company that supplies hardware to companies that assemble grain bins which need a water tight seal on the roof. These are the washers they use on the roof of grain bins. 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. Who knew that they had torque to yield studs back then...

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. The sign at the hotel was lit 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. 

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.

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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.