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Finishing wooden spokes natural


rhurst
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Has anyone used oxalic acid to lighten the oak spokes on a wheel?

Do you have to neutralize the acid with water after you apply it?

Don't really want to use water with the grain open.  Will use sanding

sealer after I get the black stains out of the grain. Any help would

be appreciated.

Robert

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What make of car has oak spokes??  I believe they are probably Hickory.  Oak is too brittle.  Hickory is pound for pound stronger than steel and is slightly flexible.

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Chances are the stains are there because the wheels were painted. You don't say how early the car is but "natural" spokes are probably a product of the late 20s and 30s. Prior to that virtually all wheels were painted and the chances are that most were painted right up to the end of their use. Varnished spokes on a brass-era car are likely never appropriate. (I say "likely" because I'm judging from period photographs, never having seen any of these cars when they were in daily use. I've yet to see a photo of a pre-1925 car with wood wheels that looked as if the wheels were varnished.)

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If the wheels were in our shop we would use oxalic acid to bleach the water stains, rinse with water then coat with West System Epoxy. We would then sand and apply a second coat of West System or any other epoxy coating. We would not varnish the wheels. We would spray them with automotive clear tinted to look like varnish. The oxalic acid works best if you brush it on and leave the wheels out in the sun. May take several applications of oxalic before you see results. Don't believe anyone who tries to tell you wood wheels have to "breathe". They don't.

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I have spent the last 40 years on yachts and have learned a fair bit of caring for wood that is in the elements.
 I have wooden demountable  wheels on my 1930 LaSalle. They were pretty stained when I got them but I wanted to keep them “natural”. I sanded them, bleached with oxalic acid several times, then thoroughly    rinsed the wheels to get all of the acid out of the grain, dried and sanded off the fuzz. I did stain them because the ash was lighter then I wanted. I applied 6 coats of Spar varnish sanding between coats. Then pin stripped them for effect. 
 As epoxy cures it gets very hard. Wooden wheels tend to flex and over time will crack the epoxy allowing moisture and dirt to enter and cause the area to darken. Epoxy doesn’t have any UV filters in it and will yellow and craze, then crack over time. As stated in the above reply, epoxy has to be top coated with something containing UV filters.Trying to repair damaged epoxy is very difficult and the repair usually sticks out noticeably. 
 Spar Varnish is made for protecting wood that is out in the weather, (not that you will use your car like when is was built), but has UV filters and is made to flex with the swelling and contraction of the wood. If you get a scuff or gouge in it, you just sand and reapply the varnish in light coats until the damaged area is filled. Yes, if looked at very closely, one can detect the repair but if done correctly, it’s hardly noticeable.

 That’s my 2 cents.

 

Captain Wayne Elsworth

 

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Edited by yachtflame (see edit history)
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I have been told by a very prominent restorer of high-end brass cars (who I don't feel free to name) that the salient point is condition, not age. Wood shrinks across the grain, not in the direction of the grain so while it may be necessary to shim the spokes outward from the hub to tighten them, if they are entirely sound they are no weaker when they are 100 years old than they were when new.

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Years ago we had a client who decided to do what he could before turning his one of a kind 1908 vehicle over to us for restoration.  I told him he could save some $ if he were to strip the ugly paint from the wood wheels. On his own he decided that sandblasting the wood wheels would be the most efficient way to remove the paint. It was but it also ruined the wheels,  as you can imagine.

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If the floor joists in my 107-year-old house are any indication, the wood only gets stronger with age. It's just pine and it's like iron at this point--it bends 16-penny nails and knocks the edge off of drill bits. I can only imagine what hickory spokes would be like after all these years.

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Back in the Day... ( 1920's and 30's)... there were much rougher roads... and the hickory flexes real nicely ... just like an ax handle ......  I have owned and driven many wooden spoked wheel,  cars and trucks, long distances...... hitting pot holes and crossing railroad tracks, at speeds  of 50-60 mph..... the wood absorbs the shock and flexes with it...... some of these wheels were 80-90 years old... no problem..... very durable and made for rough roads..... that is my experience.... 

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Robert,

Please see my recent comments re : your posting "loose wooden spokes" in the "What is it?" Section of "Photo and Video Forums".

 

Also, THE GREATEST FORCE AND LOADING OF A ROAD USED WHEEL IS UNDER BRAKING. FAILURE COULD BE IMMEDIATE AND CATASTROPHIC !!!!!

 

Here is a picture of my original and unrestored 1924 Cadillac. The poor old thing suffered a repaint way back 60 years ago. Fortunately in original colors, but the wheels also took the repaint. Stripping down to bare wood showed the spokes to be as new. Particular attention must be payed to the end grain where the spokes go through the felloes. Rot prone area. I just couldn't paint over the beautiful hickory, so I did this to the wheels. "Natural" finish was an option on Cadillacs of the '20s, but plated hub bolts was not. People  like the way the wheels look, and a future owner will find it easier to go back to paint, than to do the corruption I inflicted on the "Old Hickory". 96 years, 63,000 miles.        -     Carl 

 

 

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Edited by C Carl (see edit history)
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Thanks so much for all your advice.  I was going to use a clear coat to finish the spokes but now I know that it

will not flex and will crack.  I will use marine spar varnish.  Since the wheels are on the car (a 1923 Hudson Super 6)

I do not feel comfortable rinsing off the oxaclic acid so will skip that step and use a little bleach.  Will that hurt the wood?

Hope mine come out as nice as C Carl's.

Robert

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Hi Robert !

Well, here is a close up of what the '24 Cad wheels look like. Now this is 30 year old urethane spar varnish. But I am fanatic about almost never parking in the sun. In spite of rainy Seattle, I don't get caught in very much of it at all. What have you done about the loose spokes ?      -    CC 

 

 

4E73FDE7-6C30-4660-8E05-C92B310CA4ED.jpeg

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I have done my wheels several times from bare wood.  I found that marine grades spar varnish was the best in my case.  As my car was on all types of roads and trails every day of the year, sat out in the sun rain and snow for at least nine hours every working day and ran about a thousand miles a month I found that urethane and other products would chip and then peel.  I seemed to me that the spar varnish was softer and did not chip for that reason.  Once I went back to spar varnish I would just lightly sand the spokes and apply another coat every four or five years. 

By the way 1930 Custom Sedans were the first Pontiacs' to have "Natural Finish" spokes as standard.  Prior to that all factory wheels were painted even though replacement wheels could be ordered painted or natural.

6 hours ago, yachtflame said:

I did stain them because the ash was lighter then I wanted.

 I believe they are probably Hickory.  Oak and Ash are too brittle.  Hickory is pound for pound stronger than steel and is slightly flexible.

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Hi Robert,

theres been a lot of good advice given here. Spar varnish and clear coated epoxy are both used these days and you will hear plus or minuses on both. I believe the epoxy with the clear coat is a faster to be finished process and that is why many have gone that route. I did a ton of research on the subject and spoke with a few wheelwrights about. I used oxalic acid on my wheels and flushed many times with clear water but when I sanded them, my eyes still burned some. You should also use baking soda with the water to neutralize the acid, you’ll be much happier you did. I then used an old brew of high quality pine tar, linseed oil, and kerosene to put the rich color back in that had been bleached out. I personally am not a fan of the blonde, plastic looking wheels I seethese days that have been bleached out and epoxy/cleared. I applied a total of 14 coats of a high quality, medium tint, marine spar varnish to my wheels. Each was sanded in between coats, first with a rougher paper, then as the coats progress, with fine paper, with the last few being with a gray pad. I prefer the look of seeing some grain to the wood so again, something not really able to do with the epoxy/clear coat finish. Do NOT use steel wool instead of sandpaper or scuff pads as the wool can remain in the grain and rust , leaving iron staining again. I also blasted the steel rims being careful not to hit the masked off spokes and used dental picks to remove any paint that was deep into the grain. I have over 900 hours in my 6 wheels, and though I would never want to do them again, the result of all those hours show. The car won its first junior it’s first show out and was immediately nominated for a national award which it won, the Ransom E Olds award. On the show field in Hershey the wheels became a focal point of many of the photographers. So yes, all the work, my color and finish choices were worth it. It comes down to what you want.

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These wheels of the early '30s, with the shorter, very stout wood spokes, really are spectacular. Nothing of the period looks as good to my eyes. Some of the big,heavy luxury classics were occasionally so equipped. Not very common, but extremely impressive when seen.   I have seen a picture of a very early V16 Cadillac 7 passenger touring, black with wood spokes. If my memory is accurate, the huge touring had a medium brown leather interior which went particularly well with the spokes. Formidable appearance, I like the looks of it more than any other 16. And that is saying a lot, considering so many different V16 Cadillacs there are. And considering how many wood spoke wheels I have seen in the flesh and pictured, Ted : your '32 Olds wheels are second to none. In the years to come, you will spend more time looking at, and admiring your wheels than the time you spent perfecting them. And that is saying a lot !!!    -    Carl 

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Thank you for those kind words Carl. The artillery type wheels definitely have a unique look. When I first looked at my wheels after paint/ pinstriping, my impression was that of some sort of 3D effect and I realize the many coats of varnish giving depth, plus the combination of colors with the sprocket design pattern is what gives the wheels a spectacular look.

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Wow some beautiful work on those wheels.  I think I saw your car at the Hershey show this year.  I was taking photos of wheels to get an idea

of what I wanted to do to my 1923 Hudson.  Solved the loose spoke problem by tightened a few loose nuts. All the wood looks and feels sound.

Here is a photo of where I am in the process. Don't want to do the sanding sealer before I get the black streaks out. Bleach may do the trick?

Robert

Hudson Wheel 2-26-20.JPG

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Automotive clear will not crack if you add a flex agent as recommended when spraying plastic bumpers etc. As a test we sprayed a length of plastic welting with clear with a flex agent. We were able to literally tie the welting in knots without the clear cracking. Am I confused but doesn't "artillery wheels" refer to wheels with steel "spokes" rather than to wood wheels? 

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Answer to Carl

The 1923 Hudson I have has only rear brakes.

These are the hardest ones to clean.  The front wheels have been easier.

No one has mentioned the use of sanding sealer?  Can it be used before

the spar varnish?   Between coats of spar varnish I would think you could

use steel wool 0000 since the wood is now sealed it wouldn't get in the

grain?  Any thoughts?

Robert

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Fault me, but the last set I restored I sprayed with with a couple coats of spar vanish using rattle cans and 0000 steel wooling between coats and then fine pumice for final finish - they were not mirror shiny, but were smooth and ... - that car won an AACA National Prize with the next owner (who did not touch the wheels).  

 

On the one following I painted the wheels/spokes.

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Here is my suggestion, particularly in that the front wheels have no brakes, and are so dead simple to R&R. Make life easy on yourself, and learn how to stain and varnish your wheels by removing the front wheels and doing them "on the bench". That way, you will learn HOW to do the job, and perhaps one or two ways how NOT to do it by practicing on the easy ones first. Look : I don't know how young and limber you are. For all I know you may be a sixth circle yogic master of the contortionist arts capable of holding an inverted full-lotus with with crossed eyes while whistling Yankee Doodle and simultaneously practicing the feats of the great "flatuliste", Josef Pujol, (a.k.a. "Le Petomaine" of days of yore). If you are capable of that, go ahead and work, make your mistakes, and learn on the wheels "in situ". I heartily invite any critique of this strategy. Failing such criticism, as I recommended at the outset here, "make life easy on yourself". And then you will be in a position to consider how to tackle the rear wheels.

 

When I was young and limber, my dad had me do the brightwork on his sailboats. Wet fine sanding until the previous coat became very slightly cloudy. But please inquire for specific, perhaps easy living, modern techniques when and where you purchase your chosen magic fluids. Ain't this AACA place just wonderful, Robert ? I am terrified of the coming demic, be it epi, or pan, it will kill sick, old me. The forums give me a chance of escaping my fears by having fun writing, and possibly coming up with something to offer my friends here. Thanks for the opportunity, Robert. I hope all who read this will get to see the beauty you will bring out of your wood spoke wheels !                           Old, stiff, pain ridden, fading,        -     Cadillac Carl 

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Love the reply Cadillac Carl and all the advice.

I have switched my time in the gym to time under the Hudson.

I can tell by your answer that you have been in the same position a time or two. Still pretty limber at 76 but

on occasion I just doze off and take a nap while on my creeper. The whole world looks different from two inches

above the floor. Trial and error is a method I've used many times before but may not have enough time this time

around..........

Robert

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5 hours ago, Restorer32 said:

Am I confused but doesn't "artillery wheels" refer to wheels with steel "spokes" rather than to wood wheels? 

No the term "artillery" refers to the style of wheel as was used on artillery pieces from the Boer War and prior.  In the '30's car makers started making steel wheels that looked like the wood spoke ones probably partly because of maintenance.  "Artillery Wheels" as such need a prefix either wood or steel.  

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3 hours ago, yachtflame said:

A brain fart!

I have never had one of those today, yet.  I expect there will be several soon.  The "Golden Years" seem to be full of them.

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  • 11 months later...

One Crown Virus year later : How are you getting on, Robert ? Also, are there some pictures posted somewhere of your 1923 Hudson sedan ? I am a member of the small subset who admire old closed cars every bit as much as the open ones.    -   Carl 

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Cole Motor Cars, including brass era cars, had standard hickory painted wheels or optional natural wood finish.  Late teens and 20s cars also offered optional Di-steel wheels, which were a solid steel dish wheel.  From what i can tell, my 1920 touring car has its original natural wood finish wheels, although covered in 100 years of caked on grease and grime and crud.  I'm in the process of sanding and refinishing them with marine spar varnish.  I am not using oxalic acid as I want the wood grain to be evident and not bleached out.  My 1919 roadster has non-original white painted wood spoke wheels.  I will eventually sand them and finish them the same as the touring car.  Pictures are of the same wheel, before and after.  Long ways from being finished.

RF Before.jpg

RF Varnished.jpg

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