The Mesopotamian Advantage

It was not invented in Mesopotamia by any stretch of the imagination, but it was there that the oldest known version of the wheel was found, dating back around 5500 years.

Wheels have not really come a long way since those days.  Sure, they have pneumatics now (mostly)


bearings, treads.  But they are still round (usually!)

0Ok, so they may be the exception to the normal rules, the mainstream wheels are more like this

DSCN4299and as a pretty good rendition of the wheel, this

Hummer-Wheel-clipped-webIt is the last wheel that is of particular interest, for obvious reasons.  If you need to do a double take, go ahead.  Yes, it is a toy wheel, and what’s more, you don’t have to buy it – with a few typical workshop tools, you can easily make a set with a tablesaw, bandsaw, router table and disk sander.

If coming up with the steps required to make such a fine looking wheel looks a bit beyond you, the Toys and Joys DVD provides almost 40 minutes of step by step instructions on how to make them yourself.

Video_1_clipped136357461751467f59e7ffe13669327855179bd32005ccI watched it this afternoon, and now I’m really inspired to go out and make some myself (and the vehicles to go with them!)

FirefoxScreenSnapz002Yes, an excuse to show that Humvee again!  Of course if you want to get ultra-modern, you could make one like the tyre at the top of the post!

The same steps to make these wheels will also make tractor style tread wheels as well.

farm tractor plans

You can get the DVD from Professional Woodworkers Supplies, and I was a little dubious – a whole DVD just on making a wheel?  But I did find it very interesting – a whole range of jigs they use (and show you how to make and use) to produce whole sets of wheels easily, to get all the different chamfers, treads, inserts etc from the gentlemen who are “Toys and Joys” in the US.

So there is no need to buy wheels like this, or compromise your realistic wooden toy with wheels from a wheelcutting bit.  With a few steps, and jigs, realistic wheels are definitely achievable, and it may be that manners maketh man, but it is wheels that maketh the toy.

Tormek’in it up

First cab off the ranks for Summer is a bit of unlearning, then getting a day of turning instruction from a master turner. So that is going to be quite an experience! I’ve developed many bad habits as it happens.

First things first however – I can’t take many of my turning chisels in their current condition, so have been giving them a decent sharpen, and there is only one way I know to achieve that: the Tormek T7.

The standard wheel is excellent for minor repairs, and resharpens, but some of these tools need a serious reshape. It can be done on the standard wheel, but it takes time and wears the stone (and I don’t have “free stones for life”)

So what is the solution? Two other stones. One I use for HSS is the Blackstone Silicon Tormek wheel. It is the same grit as the standard stone (220 grit), but it cuts HSS fast. The other stone (and no, not the 4000 grit Japanese stone) is your everyday grinder with a Al-Oxide wheel. This can be used to do significant material removal before moving over to the Tormek.

Now you might very well ask what is the point of having a Tormek if you are just going to use a grinder, and especially, how do you ensure what you grind off with the high speed grinder is right, and you don’t find yourself having to do a complete reshape on the Tormek anyway?

The simple answer is to treat the high speed grinder as if it is the Tormek, complete with using the same jigs and the same setup distances and angles. This is achieved by fitting the BGM 100 to your standard grinder. This kit includes a block mount and the standard Tormek arm which your normal collection of Tormek jigs will obviously fit.

After a light shape (given how aggressive the wheels cut, you don’t need more than a light touch), you can then return to the T7 to finish the job, without excessive wear of the wheel. As far a heat buildup from the high speed grinder – you don’t need excessive force, and don’t rush what will work very quickly anyway ensures you don’t burn the steel.

Back on the T7, and the choices are standard wheel, the Blackstone Silicon (at the rear) and the Japanese stone (in the foreground). That is one soft wheel!

Gold Fever

Made a trip to Sovereign Hill, Ballarat.  Never been there before (having not gone to school in Victoria), and was thoroughly impressed with the whole place.  Thought it’d be interesting to have a brief look at the wagon making in this post.  It is only superficial – I’d need a whole day there just looking at that one topic to do justice to what they have there.

Visiting Days of Old

Started the day with a ride in one of their stagecoaches – they work hard – leather shocks, heavy brakes (particularly down-hill), a significant amount of unsprung weight and no pneumatic tyres.

Touring the Diggings

They sure do look the part.

Belt Drives

On site there is a fully fitted workshop, and fully functional including the overhead belt drives (which are very cool)


What they drive are some incredible machines, massive linishers, auto lathes etc.  I took some video which I’ll edit up in a week or so.

Wheel Shop

We’d all kill for workshops like this – both their size, and capabilities.

Drilling the Bore

When manufacturing a wagon wheel, you can do so it all by hand (as it would have been early on), but the processes were improved and refined, and automation increased. I was very surprised just how sophisticated it had become.

Machining the Hub

This unusual looking contraption took the shaping of the hub from a process that could produce about 8/day, to one that could turn out 600. It peels the outside to the right diameter with a veneer knife, then a couple of shaping cutters to form the ends. (Video to come for this and the next machine)

Power, Auto Indexing Mortiser

This one absolutely rocks – it is a mortiser, but not only does it form the mortise in quite an impressive method, but the operator sets it up and walks away – it indexes to each position, predrills and mortises the entire hub.

Steam Timber Bender

Around the rest of the workshop, there are plenty of other interesting machines including this steam bender.  In the foreground are a bunch of wheel hubs.  I guess they are there because there a heaps of demos, and not so many wheels made, so these hubs feed the steam bender boiler.

Wood Store

Lots of stock, and it is all racked properly for drying (and more hubs!)

Wagon Shop

From the wheel manufacturing area to the wagons themselves, we see more traditional woodworking areas. (Traditional as far as what we would expect that is)

New Wagon Under Construction

They only use traditional machines and techniques here – wonder how easy it would be to do something like this in a modern workshop.

Finished Wagons

By the end of the day, there were a few changes.

The Ghost of Weekends Past

Not really sure what happened to the weekend – vanished in a puff of ethereal smoke (or was that just a cloud of MDF dust that got so dense it momentarily became self-aware?).  The workshop is covered in the stuff, despite 20 cubic metres/hr of air filtration, and the 2HP TruPro dusty.  Some of the tools are insufficiently (dust) guarded, particularly the router table, which, being under significant rework has lost connection to the standard collection system.  If all the MDF dust got wet, it’d probably papier mache together into to a mold that I could cast copies of Stu’s Shed from.

Come the end of the current project, there will have to be a major cleanup/dust-off out there, and a vow (which I typically can never stick to) of not starting any more projects until the proper systems are fully in place and working.

I was out there last last night (hope the neighbours are still talking with me!) fighting to get the kitchens close to completion.

Aaron from Torque Workcentres came for a visit yesterday morning (we started the day at 6:30am to get the maximum possible done), and we got my Torque Workcentre running like an impressively well oiled machine (or not, as the case may be – inside joke).  It is working exceedingly well – the main arm that supports the tool (router typically) now glides along the X axis with the lightest touch of a finger.  There are more adjustments for the machine than I was aware of – there has been a lot of thought put into the engineering, and it really makes a difference all the subtle tweaks that can be done.  I’ll document those in future articles.

I was going to have the MDF top flush with the cast iron router table, but late last night got sick of trying to get it all sorted, so decided instead to stick with how it was originally designed, and mounted the MDF directly to the workcentre.  I still maintained the cast iron router table at one end, and just accepted I’ve lost some working range.  It isn’t a huge amount, and it may not have any real impact on me anyway – time will tell.  I was using the router table, and the Torque Workcentre happily last night, so both router positions are well justified.  If you don’t have/need a cast iron router table, then cutting an opening for the router mounting plate at the right end of the table, directly into the MDF is a good solution.

I didn’t photograph it, but I set the pin routing guide into the table – this is a metal pin with a small diameter end (7mm) that engages into a template channel so the overhead router cuts identical items.  In this case, my “channel” was a single hole, and the router was offset to one side, resulting in probably the easiest circle I have ever cut or routed.  Ever!

In this case, I was only routing a partial depth pattern – a circle cut with a cove bit, repeated in 4 locations and with 2 different diameters to produce the stove ‘elements’

Kitchen Detail

I was quickly switching from tablesaw, bandsaw, disk sander, linisher, router table, torque workcentre, drill press and Domino, turning out component after component.  When a workshop is set up properly, it is amazing how easy and quickly tasks become.

Cut an opening for a sink? Done.  Duplicate the opening on the router table? Done.  Stack-cut a handle for the oven, then round the edges? Done.  Join it accurately and strongly to the project? Done. Elements cut, wheels made. Fun stuff.

Cutting Toy Wheels

Using the Carb-i-tool wheel cutter, scrap MDF was utilised to produce stacks of wheels.  Here the Lidwig Claw can be seen being used to good effect, holding the 4″ dust collection hose right at the point of shaving and dust creation.

So a profitable weekend – just don’t know where it went so fast. There is still a few small tasks to do to finish the cabinets off, then they can head out to their new homes for painting, and playing.

New Carb-i-tool Wheel Cutter

I while back, I was waxing lyrical about the virtues of the Carb-i-tool Wheel Cutter, and more recently again for the wooden vehicle exercise.

Since I acquired my wheel cutters (40mm, 50mm and 60mm), Carb-i-tool have come out with a redesigned cutter to address requests they have received over the years to have a raised hub, rather than a recessed one.

From what I can gather, this new wheel profile will be replacing the old design, so once the original stocks are gone only the raised wheel hub version will be available.

I happen to like both for different projects fwiw.

Old and New Wheel Cutters

Old and New Wheel Cutters

The old profile is shown here to the left of the new cutter.

Please note, as I have pointed out before, that these are NOT for the router, despite the initial appearance to be like a router bit.  They are a large profile, with no anti-kickback features, and are not designed for router speeds.  They are designed to be used with a drill press, and even then if you don’t adequately clamp down the timber they can still grab and spin it at significant enough speeds to really hurt, as my fingers can still testify.


Old vs New Wheels During Cut

Here you can see the old and new profiles being cut side-by-side. You slowly plunge the bit into the timber, cutting the profile, and when it is fully formed, you stop and flip the workpiece over, and using the centre hole as the guide, cut the wheel from the opposite side until it comes free. (Check out the video on Stu’s Shed TV).

New and Old Wheels

New and Old Wheels

Here are the resulting as-formed wheels.  One thing I haven’t tried which will be an interesting exercise, is to use one profile from one side, and the other profile for the other side and see what sort of wheel that produces.

The rim on the edge of the wheel is very thin and easy to remove.  You can carefully snap it off with your fingers, or sand it off (which is how I’ve been doing it recently) by inserting a short dowel as an axle, and gently rubbing the wheel up against a (running) disk sander, tilting it at  slight angle so it sands and spins at the same time.

In any case, these wheel cutters can be used to extract every bit of use from your offcuts, leaving you with a mountain of wheels, and a bin full of religious waste (very holy). Given the profile is solid tungsten carbide, you will get a LOT of wheels from these cutters before they even need sharpening, and with commercially produced wheels costing around $A0.55 for a 38mm wheel $A1.50 for a 50mm wheel and $A2.20 for a 63mm wheel, the cost of the cutter will be recouped in no time at all. (I’m sure there are other suppliers that are potentially cheaper, but that was the result of a quick Google search finding one of the main Australian suppliers).

Hmm $2.20 a wheel – perhaps I should start making them commercially after all – I’d only have to make 20 an hour to have a reasonable income 🙂  However, before anyone else asks – no – I’m not selling wheels!  If you want some – go buy a cutter and make your own!

The wheel cutters each cost around $A115, or 52 wheels.  Given one of my toy trucks needs 18 wheels, that’s only about 3 trucks worth! (Or 13 toy cars – see – it isn’t that expensive)

%d bloggers like this: