The Wheelwright

By

Cree Vicar Dave – SASS Life # 49907

I’m a millwright by trade and I enjoy building props for Cowboy Action Shooting™. So when I spy something with the old West appeal I consider what it would take to manufacture it. Wood spoke wheels have just that allure to me. Especially those made out of red oak. It says in Ecclesiastes 9:10 "Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the grave, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge, nor wisdom." At my age I find myself planning more projects than my allotted time may allow.

In the old days there were skilled tradesmen known as wheelwrights. They made wood spoked wheels in all sizes to be used on wagons to wheel barrows. With the industrial revolution the wood wheels evolved into steel spoke wheels. Today there are a few wheelwrights around. The Amish have helped keep the trade alive.

 

I had thought about building wood spoke wheels for some time so I decided to move the plans to make them to the front burner. I looked at old wagon wheels and at new gun cart wheels and asked a few questions. Then I put my hands to work using the knowledge learned stored up in the old noggin.

First thing on the list was to check my supply of rough sawn red oak. (Air dried oak should be three or more years old.) Mostly 2"x10" wood was used for this project. The wood was planed to a little over 1 1/2" thick. Then I took a piece of paper and laid out the wheel. I am sure glad I stayed awake in drafting class. The knowledge I learned there has come in handy several times. You only need to lay out half the wheel’s profile in the diameter of your choice. You can use a large compass, trammels or a string with a pencil tied to the end. I used the string and pencil because I could not remember where I had hid the trammel points. Next comes the choice of the size and number of segments in the felly. (Felly ="the exterior rim or a segment of the rim of a wheel supported by spokes." Webster’s) Felly segments were made 1 1/2" thick and around 2 1/4" for height. If your wood is pine or other finished lumber from a lumberyard, you may have to cut the felly a little less than 2 1/4" high if you want to cut three segments at a time out of a cross section. The hub and the number and size of the spokes are then considered. The type and size of tire will also have to be thought out. Depending on the grade of the wood, it takes two to three 2"x10"x8’ boards to get two wheels.

I divided the felly into 8 segments and used 12 spokes because it seemed more expedient. But I’ve seen wheels with 6 segments with two spokes per segment and 8 with 2 respectively. The felly, hub and spoke size was calculated. I cut the fellys. The ends of the felly segments were sawn where they join to receive a 3/16" by 3/4" piece of wood the height of the segment. But you could just as well use biscuits. Then the segments were dry fit. I glued them together using exterior wood glue and "Dap" Acrylic Silicone Clear Caulk. This was all clamped together with a ratchet strap.

The center hub was cut around 5 5/8" diameter and the same thickness as the felly 1 1/2". Then using a 30°/60° triangle the hub was laid out with 12 flat sides on the outer diameter (or tangent) to accommodate the spokes. Pocket screw holes were placed in each 1 1/2" flat to hold spokes in place. After surmising the spoke size I taper cut them 1 1/2" square to 1" square. Then the felly was laid out to receive the spokes and drilled. The spokes were then turned on the small end to fit in the felly holes and each spoke was shaved to a square to round appearance. The felly, hub and spokes were dry fitted then glued and pocket screw assembled. The pocket screws go in through the back side of the hub and are covered up with the back outer hub. You can build out the outer hub sides as wide as wanted using round cut wood. I used a 3/4" thick x 6 1/2" dia. wood piece on the backside and on the front I used a piece 1 1/2" thick cut 6 1/2" diameter tapered down to 4 1/2" diameter. When sanded and installed it gives the appearance of the real thing. Make sure you think about the hole size of the hub and whether you drill the holes before or after the wheel is assembled. The best way I could figure was to use a drill press and drill the holes in all the three hub parts and place the copper pipe into them then glue and screw together. I drilled the hub holes 7/8" and used a 3/4" copper pipe as a bushing and 3/4" threaded rod as an axle. Bushing and axle size can be larger. A strip of sheet metal was used for the tire held on with counter sunk deck screws. The original type tire works better but requires a lot more resources. Stain and polyurethane varnish finished it off or you could paint them.

 

The first set of wheels were 42" in diameter, with 8 felly segments and 12 spokes. The second set I made were 36" diameter with six felly segments, two spokes per segment so I could use the same type hub. I made templates for the felly segments and hub. The wheels look great as they are for decorations or can be used as prop wheels. Be sure to adhere to all safety rules when working on projects. They are fairly easy to build for anyone with wood working skills. Actual size drawings of Hub, Spoke and Felly segments for the two sizes of wheels may be obtained for a donation to Sucker Creek Saddle & Gun Club.

 

 

Hope to see you on the trail.

God bless,

Cree Vicar Dave