Sure, tomorrow’s technology makes our lives easier, but sometimes, it’s the master craftsmanship of yesteryear that still floors us today.
Take this video that features the painstaking process of fabricating 1,080-pound wooden wheels for 20-mule Borax wagons the old-fashioned way—complete with oak blocks, rollers, lathes and a dedicated team of craftsmen with the patience of Job. A wheelwright is mastery alone. But at this scale, the artistry is downright unbelievable.
Since the video can be a little slow-moving at times (the narrator’s voice is as soothing as watching Sunday afternoon golf), here are the highlights in case you want to skip to the juiciest parts:
- 00:32 Running 300-pound oak blocks through an old-fashioned lathe to reduce them to manageable hubs
- 1:44 Cutting out holes for the mortices
- 2:37 Building out the bands for the hubs with a 3-roll roller
- 5:48 Cutting the spokes to size
- 7:36 Painstakingly cutting 136 felly sections (rims) for two wheels
- 8:55 Wheel assembly, one spoke at a time
- 12:21 Assembling and sanding the felly sections
- 14:29 The finished wheel, ready to size in for the iron (it now takes two men to handle the increasingly ponderous wheel)
- 15:04 Preparing the iron for tires
- 15:40 Fitting of the 600-pound steel tires held over a massive bonfire
- 17:26 Setting the iron tires over the wooden wheels (they have 2 garden hoses running continuously around the wheel to cool it down)
- 19:17 Raising the now 1080-pound wheels up in all their glory