People love the look of old-style wooden wheels, but being able to make them is another thing.
The challenge is that we no longer use the same methods or materials that they used back when they first made wooden wheels. So, how do you make old-style wooden wheels using readily available materials and familiar processes?
That was the challenge that I faced when I needed wheels for the old-fashioned cart I use to transport and display my wares when exhibiting at craft shows.
First off, there is no need to spend any more money than necessary, so start by picking up some old bicycle rims. You can always find old, broken down bikes at garage sales, flea markets, junk yards and even garbage bins. There are many shapes of rim, but the flattest ones are the easiest to use. (See cross section)
You will need some 1/2″ plywood and some 2″ or 3″ pine. Don’t worry about finding or buying clear pine (i.e. without knots), as you will use the parts of the plank between the knots. I used 5/4″ pine for my wheels, but 1″ would work just as well.
You will need to work with the size of the rim you are using and work the exact dimensions for your project out to the suit the size of your rim.
As your rims may have seen some rough bumps along the way, they may not be perfectly round. Therefore measure and note the average inside diameter of your rims. This will give you the main measurement for the total diameter of your wooden spokes A & B. Mark out parts A&B on a clear part of your material.
As you adjust the diameter for different sized rims than mine, the key is to line up the face of the hub and the outermost edge of the wooden spoke, on the front.
A&B are similar, but different. They both have housings for a halving joint, but they are on different sides.
Part C is a little less than half of the A&B parts. That is important to consider when you calculate for the thickness of wood that you use. Notice that the inside edge of C is angled to fit between A&B. Glue parts D. Trim the centre of the wheel so that it is rounded.
Cut a good chamfer on the face of the spokes and round the back. It is easier to do this chamfering before assembly. Chamfering is not just for decoration. It reduces the weight where strength is not needed and removes wood that would become damaged anyway.
I use a 1/2″ threaded rod for an axle. The axle runs in an axle box or thimble (i.e. a piece of copper pipe). Make the hole in the wood just a little larger than the pipe diameter. The pipe is retained by washers. Drill the outside end of the axle and use a pin to keep the nut on.
Drill a hole for the axle.
Mitre the inside end of C to 90º. Note that part C is a little shorter than half of A or B. Work out the exact dimensions to suit the size of your rim and the thickness of your wood.
Glue it in place with a D part on each side.
Cut two discs E from 1/2″ plywood. Drill centres for axle. Screw and glue.
Make a disc F from a piece of 2″ material. Drill for axle nut and axle.
Screw and glue.
Fit assembly into rim G. Screw through the rim. If the rim is an old one, it will have holes from the bike spokes. Use these if convenient (generally they are not).
Put on tire and tube. Inflate.
Adjust these measurements to suit the size of your rims
The flattest rims are the easiest to use