Day 7

And another glorious day dawns over Colonial Williamsburg. In the Wheelwrights shop I found a beautiful Elm nave/hub already turned and set out for mortices, waiting for me to start work on. I had an uneasy feeling today, despite my confidence as a Wheelwright this was Andrews nave, he had selected, roughed out, turned and marked it out for morticing himself, to make a mistake on this would be catastrophic and I would never forgive myself.Bevelling mortices

I do apologise for my meanderings as I do tend to think everyone reading my blogs has an in depth understanding of Wheelwrighting and understands exactly what I am on about, I will do my best to explain the processes in a universally understandable way but please point out to me if I start babbling in Wheelwrights code!

The mortice in a nave/hub is the socket into which a spoke is fitted, generally ‘modern’ wooden wheels have parallel rectangular mortices, the general consensus is that wheels in the 1700’s would have tapered or bevelled mortices, also known as plug mortices. These bevelled mortices are hand cut and are shaped to receive the trapezoid shaped spokes I talked about in my earlier blogs whilst also being angled to allow for the dish of the wheel. The dish of the wheel is the degree in which the spokes lean forwards/outwards, this gives the wheel a dished effect and allows for a massive increase in lateral strength.Phill bevelling mortices

There are a few things required to cut bevelled mortices by hand, a mallet and sharp chisel, a brace and bits (drills) a whalebone gauge, straight edge and plenty of patience! A whalebone gauge is a straight stick mounted to the front face of the nave/hub used to accurately measure the point at which the spokes should meet the fellows (the curved wooden outer sections).

The process starts with drilling holes into the nave to remove the bulk of the waste wood from the site of the mortice. The chisel is then used to roughly chop out as much wood as possible before paring the edges down gently, checking alignment with the straight edge. Any errors here could make the spokes end up pointing all over the place, leaving the wheel extremely wonky!

Spoked wheel

Morticing the nave without the pressure to produce was great fun, back home a job like this would be a real chore, only because my livelihood depends on producing in as fast a time as possible. Working here as a guest has been great, although I find it hard to step back, unwind and enjoy the experience without the urge to get stuck in, not that I was making mortices at anywhere near a productive pace as I am so easily distracted.


Tomorrow we will be straking wheels! Can’t wait to have a go, it’s a rare opportunity back home so it will be great to see how they do it here…