How to Make a Ship Wheel

Written by megan shoop
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How to Make a Ship Wheel
Ships' wheels decorate walls of studies and other formal or semi-formal rooms. (la barre d'un bateau image by MONIQUE POUZET from

During the heyday of sailing ships, the captain manned a large wooden wheel to control the rudder of the ship, turning the ship in and out of ocean currents. Today, ships' wheels usually adorn walls in nautical-themed rooms or as pieces of vintage art. Either way, you can create your own ship's wheel to create a nautical decor You do not need to be a master carpenter, or a ship's captain, to create an authentic-looking ship's wheel; you need only a few items available from craft stores.

Skill level:

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Things you need

  • Wooden circle, 2-foot wide (for outer wheel)
  • Wooden disc, 6-inch wide
  • Measuring tape
  • 6 Lathed chair legs, 1- to 2-inches thick
  • Electric hand saw
  • Sandpaper
  • Wood glue
  • Paper towels
  • Wooden finials
  • Soft cloth
  • Gel wood stain
  • Water-based varnish

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  1. 1

    Lay the wooden circle on a flat surface with the wooden disc in its exact centre. Measure from the outer edge of the wooden disc to the inner edge of the wooden circle. The measurement should be about 9 inches. This is how long the lathed chair legs must be.

  2. 2

    Cut the chair legs to the proper length with an electric handsaw. Make sure the cuts are perfectly straight.

  3. 3

    Fit your chair legs into the space between the outer edge of the disc and the inner edge of the circle. They should fit snugly, but you will notice that the flat ends of the legs are not flush against the round edges of the disc and circle.

  4. 4

    Sand the top of each chair leg in a back-and-forth rounding motion, creating a very slight outward arch. Do the same at the bottom of each chair leg, but create an inward-curving arch. When finished, the legs should fit smoothly against the disc and circle. Glue them into place with wood glue. Allow the glue to dry overnight.

  5. 5

    Glue wooden finials (available at craft stores) to the outside of the circle, right above each chair leg. These are the handles of your ship's wheel. Wipe away excess glue right away with a paper towel. Allow the glue to dry overnight.

  6. 6

    Gently sand your ships' wheel and wipe it down with a soft cloth. Stain the wheel, making sure to reach in all the nooks and crannies. Allow the stain to dry overnight.

  7. 7

    Varnish the wheel with water-based varnish. Allow to dry for 1 hour. Sand the entire wheel lightly and varnish again. This gives the wheel a smooth, shiny finish.

Tips and warnings

  • Make several wheels of different designs and sizes for a whole-wall display.
  • Leave the centre of a few wheels open to hold photos. You can also cut pictures into wedges for a multi-photo frame in the larger wheels.
  • Your chair legs may be as fancy or as plain as you like. Ships' wheels were often highly decorated.
  • Choose finials with smooth, elegant, slender shapes so that they are easy to grip. This adds realism.
  • Gel stain is water-based and easy to clean up.

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