I make wooden wheels usually for Horse drawn Carriages, but can also be for Vintage Cars, Cannons, Traditional Wheel barrows, some early Farm Machinery, and most recently Bicycles.
I have also made wheels for western themed light fittings, and a Market Barrow for an Opera Company.
Historically the centre of the wheel called the hub or nave is turned from Elm but following Dutch Elm disease that’s almost impossible to get in suitable sizes, so in recent years I have been using Ash. The spokes which vary in number and thickness depending upon what the wheel is used for are usually Ash or Oak. In the USA they like to use Hickory.
The outer wooden rim called the Felloes ( pronounced fellies) in Europe is made up of sections cut from a solid plank, with each section covering two spokes. In other parts of the world they steam bend wood into semi circular sections so a wheel is made up of two felloes. Each method is hotly defended by their respective craftsmen.
The final part is the metal rim, on early vehicles this was rolled from strip steel to form a circle and welded by the heat of the blacksmiths forge. With the development of tarmacadam roads and rubber tyres in the 18c, solid rubber tyres started to appear which require a rolled steel band / tyre beneath them to fix to. The actual method of fixing again varies from continent to continent.
The fun part of being a wheelwright is fitting the steel tyre which is rolled to a very fine tolerance, and then heated in a fire to expand it, slipped over the wooden wheel whilst hot, and then quenched with water. The larger they tyre the greater the steel expands, the easier it is. Small tyres are much harder to fit.
The largest wheel I have ever made is 2mts. Inspired by fellow wheelwrights in Canada who had sent me pictures of a 25ft wheel they had made for a Film set. I decided to make the largest wheel I could but was limited by the height of my workshop door. The smallest wheel is a wheelbarrow wheel.
If you would like to see my making a wheel from start to finish there is a set of videos on my youtube channel