There’s no doubt that some crafts are easier to keep alive than others and the art of Wheelwrighting strikes me as one that would fall pretty low on the popular past times list. Working outside is enough to put most people off and you have to question if all that fire and steam might upset the neighbours … then there’s the dilemma of what to do with all those wheels, they’d make for a pretty obscure gift! When a craft makes for a poor hobby it falls on those who practise it for a living to keep the skills going and pass on the knowledge. Wheelwriting is certainly a niche but fortunately it seems the demand for traditional cart wheels is great enough to keep at least a few craftsmen busy.
Today I have another clip from the European Woodworking show and this time it’s a look at John Tiplady – the Suffolk Wheelwright, I managed to catch him just as the metal was getting hot enough to lift out of the fire and over the timber wheel. It seemed so simple watching it performed like this but of course that’s a sign of someone who knows what he’s doing. The designing of a wheel like this must be filled with complications and I think it’s a great example of knowledge being power. There’s a huge amount of skill needed to craft the wheel but it’s a keen understanding of the materials and their characteristics that’s vital to it lasting. You couldn’t get far without the know how to work out the diameter needed for the metal tire or understanding its levels of contraction and expansion. The timber selection is just as important and traditionally this would be elm at the hub for its uniform strength, oak for rugged spokes and ash for the curved rim as it is tough yet inherently flexible.
I think is fantastic that chaps like John will continue to use this knowledge and I’m sure there’s a lot that other’s can glean and pull in to their own crafts particularly when the emphasise is on being functional and tough rather than simply sitting pretty.
You can learn more about John at his website : http://www.suffolkwheelwright.co.uk/