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Wooden Wheel Restoration Tips


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I was wondering if anyone had any tips for restoring wooden wheels. Mine appear to be in good shape, and the spokes appear to be tight. However, one of the fellows I talked to said he would build new wheels out of a pattern of the old one.

I would like to keep the car as original as possible, so I was wondering if this is necessary. I talked to another guy that said you can use fibreglass resin to soak/coat the wheels after they have been sanded. Has anyone out there had any success restoring their wooden wheels? If so, what method did you use?

I should mention that I don't want to paint the wheels. I was hoping to stain/oil and then laquer them. Does anyone know what the wheels of these cars were like from factory?

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That's how I want my DA wheels to look too, although I think they were painted at the factory to match the body. Mine were originally anyway. I figure the next owner can paint over those natural grain spokes if he/she chooses. While I own it, I'll enjoy the natural look. I plan to paint the hub and the wheel itself to match the body or the fenders. I've seen some with silver rims and that is sharp too.

JMHO:)

Rod

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I was wondering if anyone had any tips for restoring wooden wheels. Mine appear to be in good shape, and the spokes appear to be tight. However, one of the fellows I talked to said he would build new wheels out of a pattern of the old one.

I would like to keep the car as original as possible, so I was wondering if this is necessary. I talked to another guy that said you can use fibreglass resin to soak/coat the wheels after they have been sanded. Has anyone out there had any success restoring their wooden wheels? If so, what method did you use?

I should mention that I don't want to paint the wheels. I was hoping to stain/oil and then laquer them. Does anyone know what the wheels of these cars were like from factory?

If your wheels are in good shape I.E no loose spokes, not an un-godly amount of shimming of the spokes, appear to run true than I would not do anything to them other than refinish them. Nothing wrong with old wood wheels just as long as they are stable.

I would not suggest using fiberglass resin, seems sorta foolish to suggest as wood needs to breath, expand and contract which it can do even if painted or sealed but if you were to lock that wood behind a clear resin they may start giving you problems. Just my opinion.

We would need to determine a prod. date for your car to even begin narrowing down ( if there is a definitive answer ) what your wheels would have been finished in originally.

I know later cars were offered either way, natural finish or painted, I also know that dealers in many cases kept an inventory of wheels either in primer or natural finish to either change at customers request or maybe as an up-grade for a slow moving car on the lot ect.

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I am currently working on the wooden wheels for my 32. I am using a wood safe paint stripper to get the five layers of paint off. I then scrape with a putty knife. I then sand using a triangle tipped "multi-tool" with 60-80 grit paper then I will follow up with 120. It has been working very well. I plan on duct taping the wood and sand blasting the the metal. I will then paint the metal and use a man o war marine grade varnish on the wheels. With a wood wheel being so unique the non-painted look is the only way to go:) oh and I would wear a mask while sanding that old paint. Who knows what era the paint came from.

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The biggest problem with boiled linseed oil is that it has no UV protection. It will allow the wood to naturally grey. Obviously it will take more time to grey if it is not in direct sunlight but remember that on those beautiful car show days and trips.

Would it help to give them a coat of something else, after the linseed oil, to protect the wood? I think it is a nice look.

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That's a great looking wheel Phil! Very cool! I'm not done with mine yet. I still have a lot more sanding to do. I did the linseed oil to get an idea of what it would look like left natural instead of painting. I'll be putting some kind of varnish or something else on it to protect the wood when I'm done.

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My wheels were originally painted dark green w/ a blue body. I thought that looked weird, so went to natural wood wheels. Rather than hand scraping I took the spokes out of the wheel, numbered their location and lightly sanded w/ a belt sander before 2 coats of varnish. This way I could strip the felloe and wheel drum completely before repaint. Then I reinstalled the spokes.

BTW Phil your wheel does look beautiful! ...especially w/ the original painted decoration...I too, get comments about wood wheels as most people's experience w/ 1930 era cars has been in seeing a Model A with their wire wheels.

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Bob, how did you go about re-installing your spokes?, While your at it can you maybe give us a step by step. Dissasemble to assemble. I guess there is more than one way of doing it and maybe there is an easier way than I am aware of. Thanks

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Jason, I do one wheel at a time so as not to mix up the various spokes. I started by taking off the drum. I hammered out the carriage bolts using a piece of wood as a buffer; same with the hub. I marked the spokes in order ( though they fit together only a certain way like a puzzle) w/ a white out pen on the back upper side of spokes where the markings will be covered by the brake drum. Then with a rubber mallet I started gently hammering out the spokes a little at a time all the way around the wheel....after several times around the wheel a spoke or two come out making removal of the remaining spokes easy. I used stripper and a wire wheel to remove paint / rust on the rim, felloe, carriage bolts & wheel clamps before repaint. I used a belt sander gently on each spoke on visible surfaces only to save my markings and ensure that I kept a tight fit between spokes. After I got off the old finish and any gray weathering I finished the spokes w/ a couple of coats of varnish.

Jan Arnett had a good way of putting the wheel back together which I basically followed. I got 2 flat plates of 1/4" steel along w/ a styrafoam cup and a long allthread, washers and nuts for each end. I drilled a hole in each of the steel plates for the allthread to go through. I organized the spokes. I placed the felloe facing down on a flat wood surface and then centered one of the steel plates in the middle. I put one end of allthread through the plate and secured w/ nut and washer. At this point the allthread is sticking straight up w/ a steel plate as its base. I then placed the hub over the allthread following with the upside down styrafoam cup which fit in the hub( I made a hole in base of cup to slide down the allthread) . I then took the spokes one at a time and arranged them around the styrafoam cup like a teepee inserting the "doweled" end of spokes into felloe. Then I took the remaning metal plate over the allthread w/ nut and washer following. I started tightening the nut on top which forced the metal plate down on the spokes. This compressed the styrafoam cup and since all spokes were fitting together the metal plate compressed them around the hub. The hub doesn't allow the spokes to be fully tight to back of hub, so I finished w/ the rubber mallet on the spokes where the brake drum fit as I didn't want to risk damaging the finish. Lastly, I reinstalled brake drum, carriage bolts and wheel clamps.

I hope all this makes sense...basically you're compressing the spokes back onto hub. Again, I did this only one wheel at a time. I did stripe one wheel, but my results weren't that great. i think I may get one of those Beugler striping tools and try that. I'm sure there are many ways of doing this...this is just what worked for me....I did see someone's post where they marked the felloe for spoke locations too; I didn't do that. Hope this helps out.

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Yes it does Bob, I have done 4 wheels myself on a Hudson that I had a few years ago. I believe the hubs are different than my Dodge but dissasembly and assembly sounds about the same.

We had one fellow a few weeks ago that mentioned putting back together a spoke at a time and I am still trying to figure out how its done like that.

I thought maybe there was a chance you had done it this way, thanks for the great explanation.

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  • 2 years later...

HI I have spent most of my working life working on wooden boats of all size. Fiberglass resin wount hold up, it wont bond to wood for long and the sunlight will kill it, eventually it will go yellow and peel off. You can use Epoxy Resin, that will soak in and will stabilize the wood, but you need to cover with a UV protected varnish, four or five coats of marine varnish. not polyurethane no matter what it says on the can. its a lot of work and the Epoxy Resin is a one way trip, if the car was to be kept inside, and the wood is at a stable moisture level, you could achieve a beautiful finish. I like a less harsh approach, I use 1/2 Kerosene, 1/2 Boiled Linseed oil, and darken it with a 1/4 pine tar. You have to shop around for the pine tar you need the best oil. Mix it with the Kero the add the Linseed oil. Two or three coats allowing the stuff to soak well in. You can then finish with a Yacht varnish couple of coats should do. I have been using this on woods like teak for years it holds up the best, and due to the oil in teak is difficulty stuff to work with. Its best to avoid to much build up of any product. because it cant move like the wood and will and will break down in the end. You will end up with a very traditional look and know that you are protecting you wheels.

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I've heard in my Vintage Chev site that many restorers use this method (as set out by 49Plymouth). A recent post indicated one of the members made a suitable container and soaked the entire wheel in the mixture for couple of days to ensure wood was fully saturated. If I recall, his plan was then to leave them natural, a great look on these old cars. If they start to show signs of dryiong ot after 5-10 years, simply dip them again. Wagon wheels makers 100 years ago followed similar types of process and their spokes and felloes would last 50 years. On the contrary, if sealed (with paint or varnish) and exposed to moisture, the trapped moisture can cause spokes to rot in 10 years or so.

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I was wondering if anyone had any tips for restoring wooden wheels. Mine appear to be in good shape, and the spokes appear to be tight. However, one of the fellows I talked to said he would build new wheels out of a pattern of the old one.

I would like to keep the car as original as possible, so I was wondering if this is necessary. I talked to another guy that said you can use fibreglass resin to soak/coat the wheels after they have been sanded. Has anyone out there had any success restoring their wooden wheels? If so, what method did you use?

I should mention that I don't want to paint the wheels. I was hoping to stain/oil and then laquer them. Does anyone know what the wheels of these cars were like from factory?

I've just started on my (1918 DB Touring) wheels, and a couple are soaked in oil/grease' How do I get that out of the wood?

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I've just started on my (1918 DB Touring) wheels, and a couple are soaked in oil/grease' How do I get that out of the wood?

If you are wanting to paint the wheels then the following will NOT apply.

If you are wanting to stain or varnish the wheels with a clear coat then you will need to bleach the oil stains out. After removing or stripping any painted surfaces from the wheels proceed with the following:

Here is a decent video tip on the process.

Before bleaching oil stained wood you may want to use a type of degreaser ( I have always used lacquer thinner ) in order to draw out any oily or greasy contaminants that are trapped in the wood. I like lacquer thinner because it does two things: 1.) It breaks down the oil composition and 2.) Because it evaporates quickly it dries the wood out fast so you can continue to work with it with limited down time.

After you have removed the oily stains as much as possible then begin the bleaching process.

1.) After you've bleached and removed the area where the stains are you'll need to neutralize it and let it set for a day and sand lightly with fine grit paper just to knock off any raised wood burrs.

2.) You'll then want to bleach the entire surface of all spokes to make sure they are all uniform in appearance and color (you will notice they are all considerably whiter but uniform in appearance once they dry out). Fine steel wool is recommended for this final bleaching by the way...

3.) After neutralizing and drying the wood with a fine cotton cloth you will want to wait at least 24-48 hours to begin sanding making sure that all moisture is out of the wood. (*be careful of the raised wood when hand drying with cloth, potential of splinters and possibility of tearing back the wood in tiny strips if you catch a corner* Try using a blow dryer at this stage instead)

4.)Moving onto the final stages of sanding and staining:

Once your happy with the dryness and with the sanding then begin with your final top coats of stain or clear coats of your choice.

There are a few bleaching techniques and products available on the market. Everything from household bleach to kits sold at your local hardware store. Do some research and educate yourself a little at first and it will make it easier on you once you decide what method you choose.

Doing a quick search on the internet will yield many different sites and videos that discuss bleaching techniques. I've listed a few of them below. Good luck, and let us know how your project goes.

http://www.woodcentral.com/bparticles/woodbleach.shtml

http://www.craftsman-style.info/finishing/007-bleaching.htm

http://antiquerestorers.com/Articles/jeff/using_wood_bleach.htm

http://www.oldwoodies.com/shoptalk_bleach.htm

and so on...

If you've ever seen any wood wheels with dark stains in the wood it's because they have trapped the stains in the wood, meaning they never bleached them or didn't bleach them enough. Remember you can't go to light when bleaching so don't be afraid of it. You can always go darker with stains or colored varnish/lacquer but you have to have a clean uniform surface to work with or you'll see the imperfections through the clear coat.

Edited by 30DodgePanel (see edit history)
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If it was me, I would use Oxalic Acid. it is what is commonly used to bleach wood. be careful using strong alkaline products. wood can stand acid but not alkaline. if you do, make sure to remove it all with plenty fresh water.use bronze wool, not steel wool. there is always the chance of leaving behind particles of steel and they will rust if exposed to the wet leaving rust stains.

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If it was me, I would use Oxalic Acid. it is what is commonly used to bleach wood. be careful using strong alkaline products. wood can stand acid but not alkaline. if you do, make sure to remove it all with plenty fresh water.use bronze wool, not steel wool. there is always the chance of leaving behind particles of steel and they will rust if exposed to the wet leaving rust stains.

Right on! I used oxalic acid on my '24 reo spokes and they came out great. It will even get rid of grey weathering, makes them look like brand new wood.

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  • 6 years later...

Greetings, I have a 1917 REO Roadster model R. Within the last five years it moved from New Hampshire to Bend, Oregon and the wheels seem to have dried out and shrunk.  One of the rims is now slipping on the wheel.  Does anyone have a recommendation for a method to rehydrate the wheel then keep it expanded?  I've heard mention of soaking the wheel in anti-freeze, was wondering if there were other methods out there.  In the attached photo marked Wheel 1 you can see how the rim is starting to slip.

 

Thanks

REO Wheel 1.jpg

REO Wheel 2.jpg

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Linseed oil would be your best bet. To be really successful you would need to submerge them for a couple of days each. As for sealing them you could try a linseed oil based sealer/lacquer. 
You would have to leave a bit of time before you coated them. Not sure how well it will stick you could try a test piece. 
Other than trying to seal them you could just redcoat them every so often. The worst thing for wooden spoke wheels is leaving them unsealed when they are in good condition. 
 

Your shed floor looks like mine full of bloody pin oak leaves 🍁 hahah 

Edited by Mattml430 (see edit history)
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9 hours ago, Keith1917REO said:

Greetings, I have a 1917 REO Roadster model R.

Hi Keith, I have no suggestion about your wheels, but I will suggest that you join us in the REOfour Group.  (https://groups.io/g/REOfour)

It's free and you can connect with other owners of four cylinder REOs.  We'd love to see your car and hear about your progress.  Peter

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Sounds like a wheelwright is in your future. Fortunately we have one in the PNW, just North of Vancouver, WA. 
Tom Dessert,  360-nine one zero-4362 in Battleground, WA. Next time you are in the Portland/Vancouver area, take a wheel to Tom for expert diagnosis and service.   -    Carl 

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1 hour ago, Ron Lawson said:

Mix the linseed oil with Kerosene or turps that way yo get better penetration 

I agree, mix boiled Linseed oil fairly thin with turpentine, it is what many natural woodworkers do. you can buy raw linseed oil but it will not dry and will pick up dust.

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The truth is that once any timber in a wheel has shrunk until the felloe or spoke is loose it is unsafe. 
The main occurrence of failure is during a side loading when cornering.
All timber in a wheel should be a very very tight press fit
Any remedy is only a short term fix and will not last.

Expanding by soaking in water will only last until the timber dries out again.

A matter of days.

Soaking in linseed oil is a longer fix but the oil will continue to run out of the wood (bleed) during use.

There is also the option of shimming using a special spoke jack to push out the felloe and insert a shim under the dowel end of the spoke.

You do run the risk of pushing the rim out of round.

I will try to find my pictures of this. The spoke jack comes up on ebay from time to time but I would not recommend this fix for wooden felloes.

If the spoke or rim is loose then the only real permanent fix is to replace the wood.

A934F4A8-E673-48A2-89E8-4D718873C1B1.jpeg.b2b5de249d60bd4bcd66bf5fbbb01c08.jpeg

Tucker was the guy who invented / patented this.

 

FDD42692-84FD-4FCA-8C29-98CEAA50F144.jpeg.f416d7514080c21be545b549ef04aca4.jpeg

 

This is the spoke jack I have.

 

EE6F58E1-0827-47FF-AA8C-E96044B90585.jpeg.de8c3839d8df7c035f106aa1b360e93f.jpeg

 

These are the shims.

 

78077F6E-B55D-42C7-B612-88F5A68C0651.jpeg.dfaf3ec9146636d649957ced5aa61783.jpeg

 

Good luck.

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22 hours ago, PFindlay said:

Hi Keith, I have no suggestion about your wheels, but I will suggest that you join us in the REOfour Group.  (https://groups.io/g/REOfour)

It's free and you can connect with other owners of four cylinder REOs.  We'd love to see your car and hear about your progress.  Peter

 

Hi Peter Findlay - I a man Keith's mom. My great grandfather bought her new. My dad, at age 13, bought it from him when he was going to get rid of it. It will go to my son at some point. When my folks were first married this was their car. One of Dad's job was teaching colleges level physics and calculus. The college paper had a story that the youngest instructor was driving the oldest car. Suggestions here have been good. I now have a contact here in Bend Oregon for helping with this problem. Will figure posting some pictures.

Edited by JB1917reo
Typos (see edit history)
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