wheelright tyring a wheel

Last weekend I watched Phill Gregson tyring a wheel at the National Forest woodfair. This is the culmination of one of the most iconic traditional woodworking crafts. Wheelwrighting has everything, understanding of the raw material, oak for the spokes, elm for the hub or nave, ash for the rim or fellows (pronounced fellies). The wheel is dished rather than flat so like an umbrella it is held under tension by the iron rim or tyre which literally ties it together. This is the stand with two wheels all made up and ready for tyring.

 The finished wheel is measured and the tyre made up slightly smaller than the wheel circumference. How much smaller is down to the experience of the wheelwright, on these wheels Phill made them 1″ smaller. If some of the joints had more slack to take up or on an old nave with splits to close up he may give a little more compression by making the tyre smaller. The tyre is then heated in a bonfire to make it expand enough to fit over the wheel.

 The hot rim is lifted out the fire and now everything has to happen in seconds.

 Phill and his apprentice pick the tyre up with tongs

 drop it over the wheel

 and start hammering it down
, see the smoke as the rim immediately starts charring.

 they spin round and round hammering down to get it secured evenly in place.

 Then comes the water to start cooling the rim.

 The water stops the rim charring the wood too much and cools the rim so it shrinks into place compressing the wheel by just the right amount.

 they carry on hammering as it cools to make sure it is sitting down correctly.

 nearly there

 and the finished wheel is popped off the tyring platform and taken for a dip in a trough to finish the cooling.

 There is no time to loose as the other rim is still in the fire, the apprentice sets the second wheel up ready.

out comes the tyre and another 2 minutes frantic activity commences.

 It’s a bit like steam bending large timbers in that several days work culminate in a few minutes critical activity where everyone has to be prepared and know what they are doing, if it goes wrong the weeks work is wasted.

and here is the finished wheel cooling off in the trough

 Some may think Phill looks young for a wheelwright, at a recent dinner at the worshipful company of wheelwrights it was asked how many of them would be working in 20 years, on reflection they decided there were only a couple that would be working in 10 years. Despite being only 29 Phill has more accumulated craft knowledge than most craftspeople twice his age. He is the fourth generation wheelwright in his family and was apprenticed to his grandfather. He has already tyred thousands of wheels no two the same, each one a learning experience.

 This is his website and this was the first time I saw him tyre a wheel under the watchful eye of his grandad in 2004, I guess that would have made him 21

3 Responses to wheelright tyring a wheel

  1. Alex August 31, 2012 at 6:09 pm #

    Thanks Robin, another interesting blog. I'm now sat wondering what I'll be doing in ten years time. Will I be able to follow my walling and woodcraft dreams, or back in an office?

  2. Phill Gregson September 10, 2012 at 10:53 am #

    Hi Robin, Thanks for the fantastic write up! You managed to capture my work so accurately! Many thanks, Phill Gregson, Wheelwright.

  3. MDF Board October 10, 2012 at 9:09 am #

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