There are no templates for success with a craft like wheel building, each of us creates a personal system unique to our situation. Since we never finish honing the craft, it pays to study other builders who are willing to share.
My building began with the lofty goal of making a living in a competitive market. Learning how to build was easy compared to deciding which techniques belonged in my process. Many are reputed to make better wheels but there are not enough hours in the day to follow all logical programs. You have to make hard decisions to end up with an approach that fits and works.
Today’s post shares four techniques admired by many builders, some of which I adopted and some passed over. Next post will review four more and a third in this series covers three additional.
1. Second guessing component matching
A ton of time (money) can be wasted trying too hard to master super subtle component factors. You will see brass nipples on drive side spokes and aluminum on non-drive side. How about lighter spokes in the front wheel? Should light rims be laced with stiffer/heavier spokes (compensation) or with light spokes (consistency)?
We sometimes pursue new combinations to see what happens, your own R&D. The down side is a likelihood of not learning much. True testing requires many samples and controls in order to not be fooled by statistically invalid results. By all means, experiment but take care to not over-interpret outcomes or waste precious time.
Advice: limit over thinking and over design until you are well beyond break-even. Sticking with smart, standard solutions can pay off in time and inventory cost.
2. Tooling for lacing
Anyone who masters lacing in their lap can admire good lacing fixtures. Hub stubs with full rim supports can be cleverly adjustable, marked with scales to speed adjustment, and portable. However, none actually shortcuts basic building technique. Each costs money and takes time to adjust, use, and store.
Some busy, advanced workshops have tried multiple lacing fixtures but decide lap lacing to be preferable—nothing to setup or take down. Several builders can be on the same step (lacing) without running out of space or equipment.
Advice: get one if you find it really smart and attractive but don’t assume a lacing fixture is mandatory to build successfully.
3. Punching spoke heads into hub flange holes
DT once offered a punch to drive spoke heads into the flange. The punch strikes the logo face of the spoke head, knocking it down into the spoke hole assuring a more secure fit. This technique’s been done for a century.
Spoke heads used to be crude—back sides had ridges where die halves met as the head is formed. These ugly (but small enough to miss) features meant the head would not sit neatly in the hub hole. Hammering it forced both together. With today’s perfectionist spokes there’s no such need.
Tapping on each spoke head may be soothing for some but I fear for hubs. Few if any hubs expect to be hammered from the side. Nothing bad may happen but it takes time if you’re careful. Is this time you should be spending? We decided that, no, it was not essential.
Spokes are predominantly steel and hubs, aluminum. When tensions are full, these days higher than ever, the spoke forces itself where it must go. It’s hard and small and the flange deforms as needed. The need for a punch and mallet is minimal.
Advice: you can pass on hub punching.
4. Twist control
When nipples are turned at high tension, spokes want to wind up. There are a variety of pliers, grips, and slots available to hold the spoke from winding up. Wind up is bad for the spoke material, especially at a transition (round to blade, larger to smaller diameter) but also at the thread. No windup solution tool helps the stress riser at the first thread.
Best would be dispensing with windup tools. Today’s excellent spoke and nipple threads (standard with most top brands) PLUS a super low friction thread compound can eliminate twist all the way to finished tension. Keep twist resist tools in your box and try and minmize their use.
Resisting twist helps protect spoke metal, as mentioned, but it also keeps spokes from being a bit wound up in the finished wheel. If residual windup is present, the wheel will make pinging sounds and possibly go a bit out of true on the first ride. To make wheels more stable, twist must be prevented. I recommend backing off after every tightening move. Just turn the nipple CCW after each CW tightening (viewed from the nipple end).
If you use effective lube between nipple and rim AND a good thread compound, you can easily feel spoke windup in your wrench hand. You can feel a bit of help when you rotate CCW (twist wants to unwind). If you turn too far, you feel the beginning of twist—resisting further windup. This intuition is quickly learned with practice. A small “twitch” (1/4 turn reverse rotation) after each adjustment becomes instinctive. It will save you much time wasted gripping spokes and side springing finished wheels to release windup.
Advice: minimize windup with lubrication and by backing off.
Next post I’ll cover four more areas of concern: rim washers, pre-stressing, tying, and aging. The last in this series, pt 3, will address three more. The continuing message: there are numerous steps you could incorporate into your process but any that add time or cost must be vigilantly judged lest your building becomes too slow to succeed.