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These 1080-pound wooden wagon wheels are hand-built. What?

Monday, Dec 16, 2019

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

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