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.
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