Spinning Wheel: Prototype

This wasn’t a smart technique. It worked but I wouldn’t recommend it. 

(Note: You can read about the beginning of the spinning wheel here.)

If you have read Nancy Hiller’s book Making Things Work, then you know that woodworking comes down to problem solving. I honestly believe that I can make anything given enough time. But I haven’t made everything. There is a gap between what I think I can do and what I’ve actually done. Everything interesting happens in that gap. It’s the place where I learn the most, am stretched the farthest, and have the most potential for growth. For me, the gap is the most satisfying place to be.


The goal was to replicate the original as close as possible. But I’d never made a spinning wheel before. I have made round windows, arched entryways, and curved moldings, so some techniques could overlap. My first task was to gather information to find out. I made a full-size drawing of the wheel and noted critical dimensions. I also pondered how it was put together and made some construction notes. There was something else about this wheel that I wanted to understand too; why it came apart? I didn’t want to recreate the fault in the wheel, so I had to consider what made the lamination come apart in the first place. Was it the glue? Was it wood movement? Was it something else?

Why did it come apart? 

After I had gleaned all the information I could from observation the next step was researching how other wheels were made. A few years ago, I invested in all the issues of Fine Woodworking on disc. It has a searchable database that makes leafing through the library easy. Thankfully, they had included a couple of articles on spinning wheels. I had also found a couple of books online, but they were self-published and expensive.

Since I had limited information on how to go about making a spinning wheel, I wanted to make a prototype. In my first job as a woodworker we were required to make prototypes (we called them “samples”) of everything. Since our customers were contractors, designers, etc. we had to be able to give them something they could show their clients. Making prototypes was a great way to dial in the details, but it was also necessary for determining our machining process. And it saved money in the long run.

I had no way of know if the original was assembled like this, but I wanted some way to register both sides of the turned hub. The pins were a simple solution. Though I probably didn’t need one through each spoke. 

I like to use standard MDF to make a prototype because it is cheap and machines easily. And I planned to screw up. The irony is that it doesn’t feel like screwing up when you are approaching a prototype from an educational view point. Each mishap is a learning experience where you are working out the kinks in the plan to formulate a better strategy.

I know many woodworkers who don’t draw plans or make mock ups before they start building. I admire the people who can keep all that information in their heads, but I’m not one of them. And if woodworking is problem solving then a prototype is the tangible solution.

And when you’re done you can burn it, so no one will know.


What’s your thoughts on prototypes?


7 Comments Add yours

  1. marvthompson says:

    I do prototype and sketch out the parts of a project, although my drawing skills are rudimentary at best. I tend to use the materials I am going to have in the final pieces. That way if the prototype is dead on I save a step or two. If there is a mechanical failure I can adjust the process or material and once again save time and frustration. I generally work on small scale projects so material costs aren’t to large a factor in the prototype.


    1. Eric Key says:

      The logic of your methods makes perfect sense. And if I did a price comparison between the “cheap” material I use for prototypes and the “real” material, I bet the difference would be minimal. Interesting insight. Thanks!


  2. hbm-la says:

    Aren’t they all prototypes? Admittedly, pretty costly, but, still…. My professional life was full of firsts which made the drudgery of repetition work bearable.


    1. Eric Key says:

      Ha! That is a good point. I suppose if we had the opportunity to remake projects after the first run we would all change things. I agree, having things to do that stretches our minds and abilities is a perfect way to get past the dull and mundane.


  3. Paul Hawkinson says:

    In the boat line, we mock up any number of new parts . Many great ideas just flat don’t work.

    The delamed spinning wheel looks like oak. Long lasting glue joints in oak can be a challenge. Epoxy won’t last. I have heard that the polyurethane glues do well.


    1. Eric Key says:

      I’ve never heard about oak resisting glue. On a few places in the wheel I used hide glue, but for the main lamination of the rim I used Titebond II. Hopefully it stays together. 🙂


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s