Day 9

Today was my last day in Colonial Williamsburg, the hotel like the rest of the town had started to feel like home and it was sad packing up and checking out. I was excited to spend another day in the Wheelwrights shop but saddened that it was my last, not only that but when I return (and I most certainly will) it could be at least a year down the line.

John, the Master of the shop, had a great job lined up for me today, chopping out some Elm nave/hub blanks. It’s probably about time I actually got stuck in and made myself useful as I have spent the majority of my stay relaxing and chatting away.

Part of my project is to research the materials used here by other wheelwrights, getting to work with the local Ash, Oak and Elm has been great and has given me a good understanding of the quality of the timber available here. Presented before me is a stack of beautiful American Elm, the task today was to remove the bulk of the sap wood and all the bark. To remove this you can split it away using a wedge or axe and a sledgehammer, or chop it away with a side axe… Cue the beautifully hand made Colonial Williamsburg side axe I was presented with at the weekend!…


American Elm in my opinion is so very similar in looks, toughness and quality to good quality English Elm. The only difference being that despite Dutch Elm Disease having a foothold here in the USA there is still a plentiful supply of American Elm in this area. Back in the UK the disease has had such a detrimental effect on the Elm population that We (as Wheelwrights) struggle to maintain any stock and have been forced to search for viable alternatives.




The side axe that I am beginning to grow used to takes very little effort to remove great chunks of the sapwood, despite a ‘minor’ hangover. This Elm is green and is a very recent victim of Dutch Elm disease, not that the effect has been detrimental to the quality of the wood itself. Green timber is always a joy to work as it chops like butter in comparison to dry or seasoned wood. If only I had access to such beautiful Elm back home, I find great satisfaction in helping chop out these blanks in the knowledge they will be used for some great projects here in years to come. John said something interesting whilst chopping,  “I probably won’t get to use these blocks of Elm” A sad thing to hear but also inspirational as despite his eventual retirement John is still dedicated to ensuring materials are ready for whoever takes the reins and continues the never ending task of producing and maintaining the many wheels and vehicles used here on site. The general consensus on drying timber is a year per inch of thickness so in the case of some of these blanks they could still be drying in 10 years time!


Parting ways at the end of the working day was tough, these people I had known before as ‘Facebook friends’ had now become real friends. Working alongside them in the workshop and taking time to socialise together has been an amazing experience that has inspired me in my own work. To see how the system of Master, Journeyman and Apprentice has worked here has made me feel much more confident about the apprenticeship scheme I have signed up for back home and has made me feel more positive for the future of Wheelwrighting in general.

I would like to take the chance to thank the Wheelwrights of Colonial Williamsburg for their help and support during my project so far, not only during my stay with them but by also assisting me in my forward journey, hospitality that will never be forgotten!

Thank you John, Paul and Andrew for an excellent time. (not forgetting all the other wonderful staff at Colonial Williamsburg).



Next stop Pennsylvania and Ohio…