The word wheel maker comes from the Old English words wrytha and work, and it refers to tradesmen who made or repaired wooden wheels for horse-drawn vehicles. They were also involved in making and repairing other items such as carts, traps and coaches.
A typical wheel consists of three main parts: the hub or nave, the spokes and the felloes (the rims) around the outside. Wooden wheels were traditionally made from elm for the nave, oak for the spokes and ash for the felloes. Sometimes hickory was used for lighter wheels as it is easier to bend.
Medieval wheelwrights first built the hub or nave and then worked from there to make the spokes and rim/felloe segments. Over millennia, the appearance of the wheel barely changed; subtle changes in design helped improve its strength and functionality.
The Art of Wheel Making: A Look into the Craftsmanship of Wheelwrights
Modern wheelwrights still build and repair a wide range of wooden wheels for horse-drawn vehicles, as well as making rims and drums for motor vehicles. They often use tools such as chisels and drills.
Earlier wheels were bound by rawhide which was applied wet and shrank as it dried, compressing the woodwork together. Over time, straking was developed and the tyres were banded with iron plates which protected the wheel against wear and helped it to stay together.
In the modern world wheelwrights can be found in rural areas and in towns. They build and repair a wide range of wheels, from small home wheel frames to large wheels used on buses and trucks. They can be found in workshops or in their own homes and may also work for a local business, or in a wheel-making shop.