How to Turn Wooden Wheels

Written by judy filarecki
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How to Turn Wooden Wheels
Round shapes magically appear from a square piece of wood. (Woodman at work image by CJD from Fotolia.com)

Wooden wheels add life to any special toys you make for your children, grandchildren or the child within you. Of course to make these wheels, you have to turn them first on a wood lathe to make them perfectly round and smooth. To turn wooden wheels, it does take some specialised tools, including a wood lathe, and a moderate amount of skill with these tools. After a few practice runs, however, you should be able to produce some perfect wheels for those toys, which will get a lot of use over the years.

Skill level:
Easy

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Things you need

  • Wood lathe
  • Wood
  • Center finder
  • Center point
  • Wood chisel
  • Wooden mallet
  • Calipers
  • Roughing gouge
  • Parting tool
  • Spindle gouge
  • Fine sandpaper
  • Fine-toothed handsaw

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Instructions

  1. 1

    Select a piece of wood which is three-quarters of an inch wider in both directions than the diameter of the wheels you want to turn. Cut the length of the board so it is four times the width of the wheels, plus one-fourth to one-half inch space per wheel for working room and 3 extra inches for attaching to the lathe. Adjust this length if you are making more than four wheels.

  2. 2

    Mark the centre of the ends of the board with a centre finder so you have two lines at right angles to each other. Punch a small indent with a centre point on one end. Tap the other end with a chisel to make grooves along the two perpendicular lines

  3. 3

    Put the end with the grooves against the drive headstock spindle. Align it so the four sharp edges of the spindle dig into the grooves you made. Hit the other end with the wooden mallet to drive it onto the spindle securely.

  4. 4

    Move the tailstock toward the end with the hole punched in the centre until the tailstock barrel point goes into the hole. Lock it into position. Force the pin in farther by turning the wheel that moves the tailstock barrel into the wood. Lock it in place.

  5. 5

    Adjust the tool rest so it is just below the centre of the wood. Position it so it is about one-fourth of an inch from the corners of the wood. Rotate the wood to check that it does not hit the tool rest.

  6. 6

    Round out the square wood stock with a roughing gouge. Smooth it out with a skew chisel. Measure the diameter with the caliper to ensure you have about a one-fourth-inch width greater than the finished diameter.

  7. 7

    Mark the width of each wheel and the one-fourth-to-one-half-inch spaces in between. Turn the lathe on and hold the pencil to draw a line at each mark around the stock. Place the parting tool against the turning wood in the space areas and slowly make a groove into the wood one-fourth of the depth to the centre. Make the groove the width of the marked space.

  8. 8

    Begin shaping the curve of the wheels with a spindle gouge. Use the caliper to check the diameter. Work on each wheel a little at a time. Increase the depth of the spacer groove as needed with the parting tool.

  9. 9

    Continue slowly until you are almost at the finished diameter for each wheel. Take fine sandpaper and hold it lightly against the wheels to smooth them out and bring them to the final diameter.

  10. 10

    Progressively increase the groove between each wheel with the parting tool until there is about one-eighth- to one-fourth-inch of wood remaining. Remove the stock from the lathe and cut the wheels apart with a fine-toothed handsaw.

Tips and warnings

  • If making more than four wheels per board, add the wheel width and spacing for the number of wheels you are making plus the extra 3 inches.
  • Check the tailstock barrel frequently and tighten as needed.
  • Make the sides of the wheels fancier by tilting the parting tool slightly in each direction to create an impression.
  • Follow all manufacturer safety instructions.

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