This year to promote my business I am appearing at several country shows which has caused me a problem but then I have thoroughly enjoyed creating the solution. I suspect the first of many miniatures I make.
As a wheelwright all of my work is for someone. A customer has come along, commissioned me to repair or build a new wheel, and when I finish they take it away. I never really have examples of my work lying around to show, and certainly not enough to make a stall look busy.
The solution then is to make some. I have now made a several types of wheel, ranging from a carriage wheel with a rubber tyre to a wheel barrow wheel with a steel tyre, so something for everyone.
The Hardest Wheels
However along the way I decided to make as a demonstration piece, a miniature carriage which can be used to ferry “stuff” around a garden. Based very loosely on a American Conesta Wagon it features 4 traditionally made wagon wheels with steel tyres, of which fitting the tyres was the hardest part. The traditional method is to heat the steel tyre in a fire so it expands. Then whilst hot you quickly slip it over the wooden rim, and then shrink the expanded steel rim by pouring on water. When it goes well its great fun, when it doesn’t ……. The problem with small wheels is there isn’t sufficient length of steel in the tyre to get any meaningful expansion, and that’s why smaller wheels are the hardest wheels to make.
For the first time I have used an enamel high gloss paint, designed for the steam trains so once cured it provides a tough shiny finish – perfect when I then add some white enamel pinstripes
The end result as you can see from the picture is a magnificent miniature wagon and I can see it being very popular at our rural shows this summer, starting at the Suffolk Show in May. See you there.
A recent project which also turned into a video for the heritagecraft youtube channel was to make a pair of wooden wheelbarrow wheels.
Now its often said the smaller the wheel the harder it is too make and having made a number of small wheels lately I can understand the sentiment.
A wheelbarrow wheel differs from a conventional carriage wheel in that its set flat. If you look at a carriage wheel you will see the spokes are set at an angle which causes the rim to set out from the vehicle which is referred to as being “dished”. the degree of dish is a much debated topic at wheelwrights gatherings. The theory has it that the heavier the load the greater the dish up too a maximum about 5 degrees. Whereas a wheelbarrow wheel doesn’t have dish, its flat as its designed to be supported between two shafts.
This project comprises two 16 inch wheelbarrow wheels each with 8 spokes. By way of a change the spokes were turned on a lathe, rather than using a spoke shave. The wheel is then finished by the fitting of a solid steel tyre, heated up in a fire to expand the steel, slipped over the wheel and then shrunk back with water. So watch the process have a look at the Heritagecraft youtube channel.
We are now making these wheels as a standard design and can be purchased online via www.fitzrobbie.co.uk
For someone who doesn’t claim to be a chair doctor I spend a lot of time working with chairs. Historically a wheelwright would have worked on chairs as the skills and techniques are complementary.
In this instance I found this Victorian chair frame in a local farm sale for the princely sum of 50p. At Some point in its life someone had attempted a refurbishment and had cut away the original woven cane seat and back, replacing it with plywood, and then liberally and badly applied gloss white paint.
The first task was to remove the plywood and strip back the paint to reveal a fine mahogany frame underneath. The freshly revealed wood work was then sanded, sealed, and French Polished, including one coat of Red Polish to accentuate the colour of the natural wood.
Finally the seat and back was re caned with the original split cane. We cant claim its as new after all its a 150 year old chair, but its certainly good for a number of years yet. Having finished it we can attest to its comfort. A very comfortable chair.
There is a natural affinity between making wheels and making chairs, both require similar tools and techniques. Both involve working with wood, jointing it at odd angles, turning on a lathe and steaming wood to shape. We cut similar joints, circular tenon’s and use the same tools to cut and shape the wood, Drawknives and Spoke Shaves
If you look back in History before the days of industrialisation, The wheelwright would create anything made out of wood for a village in the same way the blacksmith would craft anything from metal. So in addition to wheels the wheelwright would make furniture, and even serve as the undertaker, building the coffins and the hearse. Now it so happens I have made a few coffins for theatrical purposes, however that’s a facet of life I am quite prepared to let others deal with.
So Whilst I may have bypassed Coffin making I continue the practice of a wheelwright who looks at all forms of wood work, in particular I practice the trade of a Chair Doctor. I make new and repair old chairs. I am particularly fond of making Shaker style chairs and rocking chairs, I appreciate the design and it fits my skill set. Turned wooden legs and woven seats be it rush, cane, or shaker tape. The picture at the top shows a shaker style bench, with turned cherry wood with a woven rush cord seat. A product of our workshop. If you would like one or something similar get in touch.