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Small Farmer's Journal
PO Box 1627
Sisters, Oregon 97759
800-876-2893
541-549-2064
agrarian@smallfarmersjournal.com
Mon - Thu, 8am - 4pm PDT

The Craft of the Wheelwright

The Craft of the Wheelwright

by Daphne Turner of Ovingdean, UK
photographs by David Baker of Ovingdean, UK

In these days of standardization and the extensive use of metal wheels you might think there is little call for the centuries old craft of wheelwrighting, but the many demands on the skills of Gus Kitson in Suffolk, England, show this to be very far from the truth.

Despite many years experience of renovating all types of wagons and wheels even Gus can still be surprised by the types of items for which new or restored wooden wheels are required. Among these he can list a velocipede, an early type of wooden bicycle propelled by the rider’s feet pushing on the ground, the Maxwell motor car, hand barrow organs, wheel barrows both utilitarian and decorative, plus the more usual vehicles that range from small tip carts through baker’s and game carts to large farm wagons. Possibly his most widely known work to date has been the restoration of the Barron tree transplanter for the Botanical Gardens at Kew (see Small Farmer’s Journal, Winter 2002).

To cater for all these many and varied requirements he has renovated, or made in their entirety, wheels with diameters from 1 foot to 5 feet 5 inches and a width from 1 inch to 6 inches. But whatever the diameter and width the process is the same and the following photographs take the reader through methods used by Gus to produce a complete wheel from start to finish.

The Craft of the Wheelwright

The work commences with his colleague Basil Saunders turning a suitable piece of timber to produce the appropriately sized hub (or nave). Generally elm is the wood of choice but in some English counties where elm is not available other woods are used. The center of the hub is cut away in order to fit in a cast iron tapered box. The box has wings on its exterior and these fit into slots which hold it tightly in position and stop it spinning inside the hub when the wheel turns. Because the stub axles put on the end of the oak axles are of steel the different metallurgical properties of the cast iron box prevent the friction that would occur if the same metal were used for both parts.

The Craft of the Wheelwright

The hub is then taken to Gus’s workshop where he cuts out the marked mortices. These are holes into which the spokes are fitted and are stepped or staggered, not placed all on one level, to increase the strength of the hub between the spokes. The oak spokes are largely shaped by hand. Because all wheels vary in size it is not possible to implement a standard manufacturing process.

Once the spokes are prepared, the next stage is to push them into the prepared hub. No glue is used so it is vital the ends fit snuggly into the mortices. The two metal bands around the hub are put on by the same heating process used in the tyring — see further on.

The Craft of the Wheelwright

The Craft of the Wheelwright

The fellies (or felloes) are then made. The number required for each wheel varies according to the number of spokes in the wheel, each one taking two spokes, and a wheel can have up to 16 spokes.

The Craft of the Wheelwright

The fellies are held together by a dowel made of heart of oak and once all the necessary parts have been produced they are assembled into the basic wheel.

The Craft of the Wheelwright

Gus with a range of different sized wheels and parts, demonstrating how everything is put together.

The Craft of the Wheelwright

It is then time to make the enclosing metal tyre. A flat strip of iron is cut to the size of the circumference and the joint welded to make a complete circle.

The Craft of the Wheelwright

Once the wheel sections have been fitted together it is taken to the dished circular metal plate known as a tyring plate where it is clamped firmly into position using a metal bar that runs from the center of the plate through the tapered iron box. The traditional way of heating the iron tyre to obtain the required expansion is in a bonfire and the red hot band is then lifted by tongs and dropped over the rim of the wooden wheel.

The Craft of the Wheelwright

The wheelwright and his assistant now work quickly to hammer down the band to get it level with the plate and thus the side of the fellies, before pouring water on to quickly cool it before the timber catches fire and to ensure the metal shrinks evenly. As no adhesive is used in the assembly of the wooden parts and it is the metal tyre that ultimately ensures that everything remains in place and is fit for years of service it is vital that every care is taken at this stage, as indeed it has been during the earlier processes.

It now remains only to finish the wheel with the appropriate layers of varnish or paint, and this latter is the forte of John Barber (seen in the final photo). Known as Gus’s “apprentice” he has been warned by Gus that the apprenticeship will never end because this will mean increased wages that Gus cannot afford! But joking aside, John is a retired fisherman and a craftsman in his own right being a gifted sign writer and maker of model boats. He paints the wheel by hand with a primer, three coats of undercoat and two coats of gloss before applying the coach lines, thus putting the finishing touch to a marvelous piece of craftsmanship.

Spotlight On: How-To & Plans

Building a Community, Building a Barn

Building a Community, Building a Barn

by:
from issue:

One of the most striking aspects of this development is the strength and confidence that comes from this communal way of living. While it is impressive to build a barn in a day it seems even more impressive to imagine building four barns or six, and all the rest of the needs of a community. For these young Amish families the vision of a shared agricultural community is strong, and clear.

Horseshoeing Part 2A

Horseshoeing Part 2A

As there are well-formed and badly formed bodies, so there are well-formed and badly formed limbs and hoofs. The form of the hoof depends upon the position of the limb. A straight limb of normal direction possesses, as a rule, a regular hoof, while an oblique or crooked limb is accompanied by an irregular or oblique hoof. Hence, it is necessary, before discussing the various forms of the hoof, to consider briefly the various positions that may be assumed by the limbs.

A Horse Powered Round Bale Unroller

A Horse Powered Round Bale Unroller

by:
from issue:

We had experimented with unrolling the bales the year before and had decided to make a device that would let us move them with the horses and then unroll them. I used square tubing to make a simple frame with two arms attached to a cross piece which connected to a tongue. Small diagonal braces made the arrangement rigid and the arms had a right angle piece of square tubing on their ends which allowed a pin to be driven into the middle of the round bale from each side.

Forging Rings in the Farm Blacksmith Shop

Forging Rings in the Farm Blacksmith Shop

by:
from issue:

Fabricating steel rings is a common task in my small farm blacksmith shop. They are often used on tie-rings for my customer’s barns, chain latches on gates, neck yoke rings, etc. It’s simple enough to create a ring over the horn of the anvil or with the use of a bending fork, however, if you want to create multiple rings of the same diameter it’s worthwhile to build a hardy bending jig.

Harvesting Rainwater

Harvesting Rainwater

by:
from issue:

Collecting rainwater for use during dry months is an ancient practice that has never lost its value. Today, simple water collection systems made from recycled food barrels can mean a free source of non-potable water for plants, gardens, bird baths, and many other uses. Rainwater is ideal for all plants because it doesn’t contain dissolved minerals or added chemicals. One inch of rain falling on a 1,000 square foot roof yields approximately 600 gallons of water.

Horse Powered Snow Fencing and Sleigh Fencing

Horse Powered Snow Fencing and Sleigh Fencing

by:
from issue:

We were planning on having our cattle out in a sheltered field for the winter but a busy fall and early snows meant our usual fencing tool was going to be ineffective. Through the grazing season we use a reel barrow which allows us to carry posts and pay out or take in wire with a wheel barrow like device which works really well. But not on snow. This was the motivation for turning our sleigh into a “snow fencer” or a “sleigh barrow”.

Horseshoeing Part 2B

Horseshoeing Part 2B

If we observe horses moving unrestrained over level ground, we will notice differences in the carriage of the feet. Many deviations in the line of flight of hoofs and in the manner in which they are set to the ground occur; for example, horses heavily burdened or pulling heavy loads, and, therefore, not having free use of their limbs, project their limbs irregularly and meet the ground first with the toe; however, careful observation will detect the presence of one or the other of these lines of flight of the foot.

The Tip Cart

The Tip Cart

by:
from issue:

When horses were the main source of power on every farm, in the British Isles it was the tip-cart, rather than the wagon which was the most common vehicle, and for anyone farming with horses, it is still an extremely useful and versatile piece of equipment. The farm cart was used all over the country, indeed in some places wagons were scarcely used at all, and many small farms in other areas only used carts.

How To Prune

From Dusty Shelves: Pruning Guide from 1917

Farm Drum 32 Blacksmithing with Pete Cecil

Farm Drum #32: Blacksmithing with Pete Cecil – Finishing the Hook

Pete Cecil demonstrates basic blacksmithing techniques through crafting a hook in the forge.

Box Jaw Tongs & the Cow Poop Theory of Blacksmithing

Box Jaw Tongs & the Cow Poop Theory of Blacksmithing

by:
from issue:

Making a pair of tongs was a milestone for a lot of blacksmiths. In times gone past a Journeyman Smith meant just that, a smith that went upon a journey to learn more skills before taking a masters test. When the smith appeared at the door of a prospective employer, he/she would be required to demonstrate their skills. A yard stick for this was to make a pair of tongs.

Homemade Ground-Drive PTO Forecart

Homemade Ground-Drive PTO Forecart

by:
from issue:

As we start, consider a few things when building a pto cart. Are big drive tires necessary? Is a lot of weight needed? Imagine the cart in use. Try to see it working where you normally go and where you almost never go. Will it be safe and easy to mount or dismount? Can you access the controls of the implement conveniently? Is it easy to hook and unhook? Where is the balance point? I’m sure you will think of other details as you daydream about it.

Livestock Guardians

Introducing Your Guard Dog To New Livestock And Other Dogs

When you introduce new animals to an established herd or flock, you should observe your dog’s reactions and behavior for a few days. Since he will be curious anyway, it is a good idea to introduce him to the new animals while he is leashed or to place the new animals in a nearby area.

Audels Gardeners and Growers Guide

How to Store Vegetables

Potatoes may be safely stored in bits on a well drained spot. Spread a layer of straw for the floor. Pile the potatoes in a long, rather than a round pile. Cover the pile with straw or hay a foot deep.

Disc Harrow Requirements

Disc Harrow Requirements

by:
from issue:

One of the most important requirements is disc blade concavity, that is, correct concavity. Further along we set forth the purposes of disc concavity. We feel it is important enough to devote the extra time and words in a discussion of the subject, because seldom is disc concavity talked about, and very few know that there is difference enough to cause good and bad work.

Portable A-Frame

Portable A-Frame

by:
from issue:

These portable A-frames can be used for lots of lifting projects. Decades ago, when I was horselogging on the coast I used something similar to this to load my short logger truck. Great homemade tool.

Blacksmithing

Blacksmithing

from issue:

Modern farm machinery is largely of iron and steel construction, making an equipment of metal working tools necessary if satisfactory repairs are to be made. Forging operations consist of bending, upsetting, drawing out, welding, punching, drilling, riveting, thread-cutting, hardening, tempering, and annealing. Heat makes iron soft and ductile. Practically all forging operations on iron can be done more rapidly when it is at a high heat. Steel will not stand as high a temperature.

Small Farmer's Journal

Small Farmer's Journal
PO Box 1627
Sisters, Oregon 97759
800-876-2893
541-549-2064
agrarian@smallfarmersjournal.com
Mon - Thu, 8am - 4pm PDT