Practical Carriage Building

Compiled by M.T. Richardson, Vol.1. 1891

Making Wagon Wheels

To make wheels, three kinds of wood are essential, for hubs, spokes, and rims, all of which should be of any good quality and perfectly dry, especially the spokes and rims. It does not matter so much if the hubs are not thoroughly seasoned, as the shrinkage later on will have a tendency to make the spokes tighter. The first thing to do is to attend to the mortises, for I have never yet found a hub that was perfectly mortised. To that end I put a wooden plug in the center of the hub, about five or six inches long, drive it tightly into it until it reaches nearly to the face end, and fasten a gauge, by means of a log screw, and use it just as if I were ready to drive the spokes, with only this difference-in place of a spoke I take a small stick which will easily pass into the mortises, and by pressing the same with the forefinger tight against the front side of the mortise, it will show you at a glance where to trim your mortise to correspond with the dish that you will give your wheel, which is one-sixteenth of an inch for a hind and one-eighth for a front wheel. I consider this a very important point to attend to, for the reason that the spokes, when driven, will rest naturally. Besides it insures easier work and getting a true wheel.

Next comes the trimming of the hubs to fit the spokes into the mortises. Too much care and accuracy cannot be exercised in doing this job. One of the main points is to have the tenons all alike in thickness-not wedge-like; that is, your tenons should not be thicker at the shoulder than at the point. Every part of the same should help to support the spoke. A spoke tenon should fill the mortise on all sides. A spoke should not be driven too tightly for it is, you take a part of the strength from it. Before proceeding to drive your spokes, have two bands put on the hub, within half an inch of the mortises, to prevent splitting while the spoke is being driven. I am speaking of oak hubs for farm wagons. I have built light buggy wheels with elm hubs, without any bands; but elm wood is not so apt to split.) The back of a spoke tenon should be tapered about three-thirty-seconds of an inch from the shoulder, and the mortise on that part should be one-eight inch. As to the manner of driving spokes experience has taught me that gluing them in is the best method; but the glue should not applied on the tenon, but in the mortise.

After the spokes are driven, the next thing is putting on the rims. For this purpose find out how high you want the wheel, and mark it. Then take a small stick let it rest against the hub, put a brad awl through at your mark, scratch them off, and saw off what is over your height.

For boring the tenons, which is next in order, have your spokes pointed. I do this with a draw knife, for I have your spokes pointed. I do this with a draw knife, for I get my tenons always in the center, and have less wood to cut with the hollow auger than I would if they were pointed with the tool called a spoke pointer. The tenon should not run in a straight line with the spoke, but should drop as much as there is dish in the wheel. Your felloe must hang down on the back side, and not incline toward the hub. The size of the tenon for wheels, from the narrowest up to three inch rims, should always be governed by the tread the wheel is to have, making them about one-sixteenth less than one-third of the tread. By following this rule, you will find that you are getting a much stronger wheel than you would with larger holes in the felloes. A felloe, or rim, should be driven pretty snug without splitting the same, to get strength for the wheel, and to do away with wedging-up, which is injurious to any wheel.

In order to try an experiment, I once put on to a set of new wagon wheels a bent rim, one and three-quarters by two and one-quarter inches, in which I bored the holes in the rim for the spokes only half through, which gave me the other half all solid wood, at the same time adding more strength to the spoke tenons, by having them shortened. That wagon, though used five years, hasn’t been sent to a wagon or blacksmith’s shop for repairs since, and it looks just as sound as the day it went from my shop.

Having the rims on the wheels, the next thing to do is to trim your felloes on the outside, to receive the tire. This, what I call the face-side of the rim, should be square; that is, when you hold a straight edge across your felloe, it should be square. As to the tread of the rim, when I have my front side planed off straight, I take the gauge and mark off the width, which is one-sixteenth less than the width of the tire, in order to preserve the paint on the rim.

After the wheels are tired, another difficult job is to be done, namely setting the boxes. Now, a good many may say that there is no difficulty about it, and that any apprentice can do this; but I believe that the run of a wagon or a buggy depends a good deal on the setting of the boxes. They may become loose, after running but a short time, or even the breaking of a box in the wheel is sometimes traced back to faulty setting. I do not wish to be misunderstood. When I speak here of setting boxes, I mean to perform the work with hand tools. With the machines used now in nearly every shop it is not so difficult to do it. The box should be so inserted that the wheel runs true. To accomplish this, drive your box tight at the front end, with a little space on the rear end to give you a chance to true it up by wedging.-By C.B.