HOOPING THE WHEEL Back to the Main Historical Society page
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The Wheelwright's Shop

Barwicker No.40

In Part 3, I described how the dished cart wheel was made. The next job for the wheelwright was to prepare the wheel tor the tyre. The tyre for the farm cart wheel was not less than 3½ in. wide and more often than not 4in. wide, so that it did not sink into the ground. You needed a f l a t iron bar at least ½ in. thick and some 15ft. long. Most cart wheels were 4ft. 6in. to 4ft.8in. in diameter.

Sometimes the village blacksmith made the tyre and also put on the wheel but we always did this ourselves. All wheelwright's shops had a blacksmith's hearth and a tyre bending machine. They also had a hooping plate. This was a heavy metal disc approximately 6ft. in diameter and lin. thick with a 15ins. to 16ins. hole in the centre. This was also dished and was set up on brickwork outside in the yard and was 12in. to 14in. above ground level.

When the wheel rim had been made perfectly round, it was laid flat on the wheel stool, concave side up, and then the circumference was measured with the 'traveller'. This was a small wheel about 8 ins. in diameter held in a fork (like a bicycle front wheel). There was a starting mark on this wheel, cut with a hacksaw blade. You put a heavy pencil mark on the rim of the wheel and lined up the mark on the traveller and in an anticlockwise direction with tool in your right hand, you went round the wheel one complete circuit. When you reached the pencil mark you put a chalk mark on the traveller. This operation was repeated a second time to make sure it was exact.

The traveller was then run on the bar of iron to the correct number of circulations. This operation was repeated a second time and a chalk mark made on the iron bar. The blacksmith or the wheelwright had now to make a decision where to cut the iron bar in the right place so that when it was bent into the hoop and welded up in the tire it was 1¾ in. less in circumference than the wheel. Only men of many years experience could do this. It had to be exact first time. To intend was not good enough. There was no way you could try it beforehand.

The bar of iron was then rolled through the bending machine. It took two men to wind it through whilst the blacksmith kept it at right angles to the rollers. The hoop was then welded up in the fire. The wheel was placed on the hooping plate face down, that is the concave side down. It was fastened down with a lin. round threaded bar which screwed into a nut underneath the hooping plate. The bar went through the centre of the nave and prevented the wheel being dished too much as the red hot hoop contracted.

To get the boop hot it was laid flat on the ground near the hooping plate and packed off the ground about 3ins. Shavings and waste wood were piled all round and set alight. There was a tool to keep pulling it round as the fire burned. This was to ensure an even beat all round. ~hen the hoop was a dull red all round it was ready. By this time it would have expanded the 1¾in. and should drop easily over the rim of the wheel. This was the time of 'make or break' and everybody was keyed up. There was some shouting and swearing to see that all the tools t ha t might be required were at hand, such as 'big 'ammer', little big 'ammer' 'tongs', 'hooping dogs', 'buckets of water' and 'long roller' to put under the red hot hoop to roll it away from the fire.

Three men picked it up with the tongs (you could feel the heat on your legs) and lowered it onto the wheel. There was a smell of wood burning. The tongs were thrown out of the way and the hoop was eased over the rim with the hooping dogs. The 'big 'ammers' were then used to send the hoop right down to the hooping plate, which ensured that the wheel would be true and out of twist.

When this was complete there was an urgent call for 'watter' and as you poured it on the hot iron hoop your eyes were smarting from the wood smoke and hot steam. You now began to see one reason why the hooping plate was dished. It held the water against the hoop otherwise it would have been wasted. All the time now you could hear the sharp cracks as the hoop contracted and compressed the wheel into a smaller circle. You also saw the reason why the wheel was screwed down to the hooping plate through the nave. It. was to prevent the wheel being dished too much whilst the hoop was cooling down.

The wheel was unscrewed and lifted upright. You examined it to see that all the spokes and felloe joints were truly home and just to make sure, as the wheel was being trundled back to the workshop for cleaning and painting, each spoke in turn was given a smart blow 'wi little big 'ammer'.

After the wheel was returned to the workshop, it was laid flat in the wheels tool and cleaned up ready for painting. The rim was splintered a little at the outer edges where the red-hot tyre had been forced over and it had to be cleanly chiselled away. The smoke-blackened felloes were scraped clean using a piece of glass and then sandpaper.

There was yet one more skilled job for the wheelwright, to fit the cast steel 'bush' in the centre of the nave to run on the axle arm. First the auger hole in the centre of the nave was enlarged with the 'buzz', a special tool for the job. Then another special blacksmith-made gadget called the 'bushing engine' was used to cut the centre of the nave to the exact shape and size of the bush.

It consisted of a 1¼in. threaded bar about 3 ft. long with a cutter holder in the centre of its length. This cutter bar passed through the enlarged hole in the centre of the nave and was held in place with a bracket at each end of the nave. It took some time to set this up true and central. You used dividers to do this.

The metal bush was 10½ins. long. It was tapered 3¾ins. diameter at the front end and 3⅜ins. at the back end, with an enlargement to 5in. diameter and 2½ins. long. This was called the 'box' and it slipped onto an enlargement on the rear of the axle arm. The metal was ½in. thick.

When you were satisfied that the cutter bar was set correctly, the wheel was reared upright against the bench and with the handle that fitted onto the square end of the cutter bar , you turned it clockwise until the cutter was half way through the nave. The cutter was withdrawn and set forward a little and the operation was repeated until the correct diameter of 3¼ins. was achieved. The wheel was then turned round back to front and the cutter turned in from the back of the nave. This time it was a 3⅝ins. diameter hole to allow far the tapered bush.

While still working from the back, there was the 'box way' to cut. This only went in 2½ins. and was 5ins. in diameter. The wheel was then turned round again and working from the front the 'cup way' was cut. This went in 3ins. or so and was 4½ins. diameter. This made roam for the collar and lynch pin, which prevented the wheel coming off, and also the brass grease cup which kept the axle arm greased.

When all the cutting was finished and the clumsy bushing engine removed there was a clean cut hole through the nave, the shape of the bush it was to receive. It was so neat, as if it had been turned on a lathe. The wheel was put face down on a heavy block of wood kept for this purpose. The metal bush was put in its socket and driven home with a heavy long-handled mallet.

It was now time to test if the wheel revolved in a true plane. It would never do if it had a wobble from side to side. The cart body was turned upside down on the workshop floor and the wheel lifted onto :1ts axle arm. The piece of wood was placed on the floor and the wheel given a gentle spin. As the wheel came round it pushed the wood away a little. Then after half a turn there would be a gap between the block of wood and the wheel rim. This showed how much wobble there was.

To solve this problem, oak wedges were driven into the back of the elm nave to wedge the bush over so that the wheel revolved in a true plane. Allowance had been made for this contingency when the hole for the bush was being cut.

This done, the wheel was ready for painting. Maroon with off- white lining were the colours at Barwick.

"By Gow for now!"

Tony Shinn

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