Wagon Wheel Information , Wagon Wheel History
A Wagon Wheel, especially an American wagon wheel is made like no other wagon wheel in the world. There is no doubt that the invention of the wheel is one of the most important inventions in history. The reason you do not see a flood of wagon wheels from China into the America market is because there has never been a machine made that can build an American type Wagon Wheel, it is a labor intensive project and most of the time the person building the wagon wheel is an artesian.
Solid Wagon Wheel To A Spoked Wagon Wheel
The first wagon wheel was a solid pieces of wood, heavy, hard to make round and not wobble. The first known spoke wagon wheel which was much a lighter wagon wheel, easier to make round and to control the wobble was around 2000 BC, it was a thousand years before an iron tire would be added to the spoked wagon wheel.
There has not been a lot of progress made in the making of a wagon wheel over the years. True, with power tools and equipment we can now build the parts quicker than when the parts had to be made by hand. However, we make a wagon wheel today basically the same way a wagon wheel was made 150 years ago, the only difference is today we do not use a draw knife to make the spokes; we turn them on a lathe. There are a few more modern methods we use today in making a wagon wheel; however, we have tools in our shop that are over 100 years old.
About The Wheelwright
One of the most important factors in making a good wagon wheel wheel is a properly trained Wheelwright. You can’t be flipping burgers this week and be a Wheelwright next week, it takes years to master the knowledge needed being a cross between a carpenter and a blacksmith. Math skills and precise measuring skills are a major requirement for a Wheelwright.
It Is All About The Wood In Wood Wagon Wheels
A real American Wagon Wheel is made from Hickory Wood; there are some companies that build their wheels with Oak or Ash. However, Hickory is the hardest wood grown in North America and the best wood to build a functional working wagon wheel. The hub of the American Wood Wagon Wheel should be made from Ash which is also an American Hard Wood, however, less hard than Hickory which keeps the hub from splitting.
The second most important factor in building the Wagon Wheel is that the Wagon Wheel must be round so that it rolls properly and that depends on the Wheelwright and the wood that is used. No matter how good the Wheelwright is, the wood that is used to make the Wagon Wheel must be the best, must be seasoned and must have a low moisture content, we try to get our wood between 10 – 15% moisture content for our wheels and we use only the best grades of wood available to us. If properly seasoned timber with low moisture content is not used over a period of time the wagon wheel parts will shrink and the wagon wheel will fall apart.
As any good wood worker knows, laminated wood is much stronger than a solid piece of wood. Before lamination hubs would be hand made from a solid piece of wood, today we take several pieces of wood, laminate the pieces together, mortise (cut the holes for the spokes) and drill the axle hole for the axle. There are two different methods used to mortise a hub, straight, where all the holes are in the center of the hub in a straight line and offset, where each spoke hole is left and then right of center.
Carriage Wheels, and some wagon wheels and cannon wheels have metal hubs. There were a number of reasons for the use of metal hubs, one was for strength and another was for the ease of being able to work on replacement of parts on the wheel if needed. With time, the metal hubs also became lighter which allowed them to be used on the lighter and faster carriages, buggies and buckboards.
Wagon Wheels Parts
The felloe's, which is the outside wooden part of the wheel that the steel tires attaches to can be made in two ways, the wheel can either have bent felloe's or cut felloe's. Bent felloe's are placed into a steam cabinet until the fibers of the wood become hot and moist and then placed into a jig and bent into the shape of the wheel that is being made. After a certain thickness,
the wood is too thick to be steamed bent and must be cut which can mean as many as six – eight different cut parts to make the complete felloe's. The felloe's also hold one end of the spokes in place on the outside of the wheel.
Most all carriage wheels, cannon wheels and wagon wheels have been dished, one of the main reasons the wheel is dished is strength. Dished wheels were invented by the Romans, from Egyptian time's war chariots were built with flat wheels or straight wheels; while this type of wheel was great for fast speed making a turn with this type of wheel was not for making turn. If you made a turn with a straight wheel at high speeds it would put pressure on the hub and the wheel to fail. The only way to make a safe turn with the flat or straight wheels was to slow the chariot down to almost a stop in order to make a turn, however, not very efficient.
The Romans were superior engineers and knew that coming to a stop to make a turn was not the way to win a war. The Romans figured out that putting an iron tire on the wheel while it was hot and let it cool down would pull the wheel together and dish the wheel or cause the center of the hub to be off center not straight. With the wheel dished, it caused the hub to be braced by the spokes unlike the spokes in a straight wheel, the dish would offset the force that would be generated in a turn at a high speed and would allow war chariots to be efficient. Wagon wheels for the most part have been made that this way until the twentieth century.
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