Making wooden wheels


It is not difficult to make wooden wheels, although not many people manage to do it well. Actually, most other companies arenít able to produce a good wheel. This is because they may have read about, eventually studied it or mixed a lot of experimentation with common sense, they still lack the real knowledge of how it was actually done. De Poort didnít have to do so, because the company never stopped building wooden wheels. The knowledge was transmitted from generation to generation, and this for more than 400 years!

Therefore we like very much to support our fellow craftsmen by pointing out some of the most common mistakes.

First of all we have to start with the making of the nave. This has to be be made out of one piece of wood. It has to contain the heart of the tree, preferably in the middle. It is absolutely wrong to use quartered wood, because that doesnít contain the heart! Besides, for the larger sections this is very difficult to find. This is why a lot of Ďimitatorsí qlue different pieces together. Another mistake! Using glue in making wheels is absolutely forbidden. Nevertheless the heart should be drilled out of the wood at an early stage in the drying proces. In order to do so you can best fix the trunk on a spokebench.

It is possible to put it on the lathe by using two plugs that are pressed in each side of the hole. It doesnít have to be completely dry. A drying period of five to ten years is usually enough. This in contrast to the spokes, that should be absolutely dry.

Put the dry wood in the less dry and not the other way around is the meaning of an old flemish saying:

Wie 't natte hout in 't droge steekt,

Die ziet alras dat het zich wreekt.

Maar heeft hij 't droog in 't nat gepast,

Dan zit zijn lasch voor immer vast

This is why De Poort is always maintaining a stock of more than one thousand spokes, stored away on the open atticks of the different workshops.

These spokes are cut out in the traditional way. They are not sawn! We buy complete trees cutting them in pieces a little bit longer than a spoke (usually about 70 cm). Than the spokes are cleft out of the trunk and stored away to dry. Than they are cut roughly in the definite form by hand or machine and are stored again to dry further. Before they are cut to there definitive form tenons are cut on the largest side.

Now comes the most important part in the making of the wheel! The putting of the spokes in the nave. The nave, which is provided with holes meant to contain the tenons of the spokes, is put on the spokebench or spokepit. It is held tight by the use of wooden Ďkeysí that can offer an awkwardly strong force! Try finding a vice large enough to hold a round piece of wood about 30 cm across. People often ask if glue is used or whether you have to boil or steam the nave first or how well the spokes have to fitÖ Well we donít have to boil the nave if it is sane enough (and we use a lot of very hard robinia for the naves!), and the holes donít have to fit at all: meaning they are just to small. The tenons have to be about 10% wider than the holes. The spokes are smashed in the nave by using a metal hammer, being exactly heavy enough for the size of the spoke. We use a series of (steel!) hammers starting from five pounds going up by two pounds and after the 15 pound hammer by five pounds to a hammer of 55 pounds! Luckily we donít have to use this last one oftenÖ

After the spokes it is time for the rim. It consists out of a number of felloes, usually one for each pair of spokes. These are usually sawn out of a thick piece of oak or elm, using a template to fit the felloes on the wood. It isnít much work to produce these using a modern bandsaw. Originally however they had to be cut out by hand! Fitting them to the spokes is something else. The spokes still have to be provided with pens. We can use a machine for this, but when these pens have to be made on a small wheel, they canít be placed radially, so we have to make them by hand: a very tedious job.