• 1.Wheel Related Questions
  • How do I know if my tires are tight enough?

    Often times I hear the comment, “My wheels look good enough.” This is one of those occasions where looks can be deceiving. There are certain things to look for concerning wheels, however. Where you will notice signs of loosening tires are at the joints where the folloe ends meet and where the spokes enter the felloes. As the tire loosens, these joints begin to open up and you will see spaces develop where there should be none. If the wheels are painted, such as on a vehicle that is being put into use, often you will see the paint beginning to crack where the spokes enter the hub, where the spokes enter the felloes, and where the folloes adjoin.


    When looks can be deceiving, a sure way to determine if the tires are tight is to listen to them. What I mean by ‘listen’ is by both picking up the wheel about six inches and dropping it onto a solid concrete floor, or by rapping it with a hammer. If the tire is tight, in either case, a tight tire will have a distinctive ring and a loose tire will have a definite thud, often emitting dust or rust from under the tire.

  • Can I just soak my wheels to tighten them up?

    Soaking your wheels is a good idea if it is with linseed oil. I know we hear many times about how granddad put his wheels in the creek, or water trough, over night to tighten them up, and it worked – for a short time. Once the water leaves the wood, however, the tires are as loose, or looser, than they were to start with. This approach was an emergency fix to an immediate need. In those days, when the grain needed to be hauled, or the hay fed, there sometimes wasn’t the time (or maybe the money) to take the wheels to the blacksmith and have them tightened properly.


    The surest way to avoid damage to your wheels is to have the tires reset properly. By this I mean having the tires resized and reset. During this process, any rust or dry rotted wood will be removed and the tire set on solid wood again. After this has been done, then do the linseed treatment to the wheel to preserve the integrity of the wood and minimize the drying process. Not all loosening of the tires is because of the wood drying out, but keeping the wheel oiled will minimize this factor.

  • Can I oil my wheels even if they are painted?

    Painted wheels will also accept oil, especially if they are submerged in a felloe trough. When the oil has been heated, or thinned, it will penetrate under the tire and any little crack or opening in the paint. Many of the automotive finishes used today are an acrylic, or urethane, which does not allow direct penetration, but older oil based finishes are conducive to allowing oiling. Many of the vehicles restored by individuals will have been painted with an oil base paint and are fine being oiled.

  • What kind of oil should I use?

    Boiled linseed oil is best. Raw linseed will leave a gooey film and never really dry, but boiled linseed oil will dry. Heated linseed oil will penetrate better than cold, but do not heat above 180 degrees or it will spontaneously combust. A safer approach is to thin the oil 50% with mineral spirits or paint thinner. This will also thin the oil for penetration and aid in drying.

  • How often should I have my wheels checked?

    This is often directly related to your driving conditions. How often you drive, what type of roads you drive on, having steel tires or rubber tires, summer or winter, all play into a wheel’s condition. The last few summers we’ve had here in the west have been extremely dry and many wheels have been loose by late summer, but many are finding that by winter, or early spring, their wheels have taken on moisture from the increase in humidity in the air and have tightened back up. Conversely, wheels that are marginal through the winter often times are real loose in the summer. Humidity conditions out west are drastically different than the east, or mid-west, and each climate offers its own factors.


    Steel tires will loosen faster than rubber tires will, especially when driven on pavement or gravel roads. Vehicles driven everyday will loosen up faster than vehicles driven once or twice a year in a parade. Since wheels are an important factor in your vehicle’s safety, check them often and don’t put off having them tightened or repaired. Often times that will be the cheapest insurance, for every ones safety, you can buy!

  • Does changing to rubber tires take away from originality?

    Not in the sense that they are a modern conversion. As I understand, rubber tires were being experimented with clear back in 1865. They became prominently used in eastern cities in the very early 1900’s to accommodate the cobblestone streets. If your vehicle originally came with steel tires and you are restoring for 100% originality, then yes, they would take away from its originality, but if you are restoring for usability, they are not detracting from an original configuration of horse drawn vehicles.

  • My wheels are old, but are they ok?

    Much of the answer to this question revolves around heftiness of the wheels and your intentions for use. Light delicate wheels that are showing signs of dry rot, or weather checking, are not ideal candidates for heavy use. On the other hand, heavy wagon wheels that have 3” or 4” tires can stand quite a bit of weather checking and still have a reasonably solid core; they may not be aesthetically beautiful, but can be structurally sound. These heavy wheels could most likely stand some heavy use yet. Old wheels that have not been used for years ought to have tires reset as a minimum. Any dry wood and rust that has accumulated between the tire and the felloe needs to be removed and the tire set on solid wood again. Otherwise, during use, this will work its way out and the tires will quickly loosen, possibly allowing damage to the wheels. These older wheels are a prime candidate for linseed oil.

  • What kind of grease should I use for my wheels?

    This is one area of concern that is sometimes made to be more of an issue than it needs to be. The old homemade grease mixture of lard and tar concoction, to the production axle grease, doubtfully compares to the quality of greases we have available today. The open boxing style wheels do require constant maintenance, but using a quality wheel bearing grease is, in my opinion, still far superior to what was available back when. If you desire grease that is heavier than a wheel bearing grease, semi-tractor fifth wheel grease comes as close to old style grease as you can get. Quantity does not make up for quality. I often get wheels in for repairs that I first have to put through the car wash because of the excessive quantities of grease. You need to grease your wheels regularly, but not excessively. Old time rule of thumb that I’ve heard often was, “Once a day or every 25 miles.”

  • What about adding grease fittings to my wheels?

    When I see this done, it is usually by drilling and tapping through the hub and drilling a hole clear through the boxing. It may seem like a quick, easy solution to greasing the wheels, but there are draw backs to doing this. This goes back to understanding how the boxing is installed into the hub. When the center of the hub is bored to accept the boxing, there is a slight cavity left directly under the spoke tendons that fasten into the hub. This is done so if a hard jar is received to the wheel directly where the spoke is, that jar is not transferred through the spoke, to the boxing and possibly breaking the boxing. When a grease fitting is added to the wheel by drilling a hole through the hub and boxing, this cavity becomes filled with grease, which permeates the wood hub and eventually could cause the boxing to loose its grip and back out of the hub.


    The one approach I have seen that works well is center boring a hole through the center of the axle spindle to about the half the length of the spindle and then vertically drilling a hole to intersect this hole. The grease fitting is then fastened to the center of the nut end of the axle. This does not work so well with farm wagon gears because the axle is wooden inside the skein and the skein bolt also interferes. On medium sized axles with open centered nuts, this works ok. The draw back here is catching the fitting on a fence post. Overall, carrying an axle jack that requires only one lifting action, makes greasing the wheels a minor chore. It’s sort of like taking out the trash; maybe not the most fun, but something you just gotta do.

  • Can I buy the parts and fix my own wheels?

    Absolutely! Just about anything is available on the market today. One thing to be aware of though is that there is always custom fitting to be expected. Not every spoke is going to fit perfectly in its proper sized hub, and felloes don’t come bent to half inch (or even inch) increments. That is one of the challenges today in fixing wheels; the broad range and variety of wheels out there. If one was a wheelwright for Studebaker or Winona wagon companies, you would be building maybe several dozen styles or sizes of wheels for their vehicles; you would use their spokes on their hubs and use their felloes. Today we have available a limited number of spoke and felloe manufacturers and we have to accommodate these styles and designs into all the makes and styles of wheels out there. Can you do it? Sure. Is it just buying parts and assembling them?   No. Are you ready for a challenge? Turn your mind off of the square thinking mode and onto the round thinking mode and have at it.

  • What is “dish?”

    Dish is a term referring to the concave nature of a wheel. As one looks across the face of a wheel, it can be seen that the hub is recessed back from the plane of view, from tire to tire, across the wheel. Dish has a dual purpose in a wheel:


    1. Dish stabilizes the hub against the side thrust forces exerted by the weight of the carriage, through the axle, to the hub. The angle of the spokes out of the hub, to the felloes, creates a triangulating truss-like construction which resists the outward thrust placed upon the hub during abrupt turns, or side hill terrains, which would otherwise collapse the wheel.
    2. Secondarily, the presence of dish aids in the deflection of mud from the body of the carriage, which was a concern in the more elegant ladies carriages. There are times when dish was increased to aid in this deflection, more than would have been necessary for structural purposes.
  • Can wheels have too much dish?

    As with most things, there can be too much of a good thing, but rarely is this a problem except in extremely old and deteriorated wheels. Often rear wheels will appear to have more dish than front wheels, when in fact the angle of the spokes out of the hub might actually be the same, but, due to longer spokes, they only appear to have more. Vehicles made specifically for mountainous terrain or high speed turning, such as chuck wagon racing, will have a greater amount of dish placed into the wheels than others, to counteract the higher thrust placed on these wheels. When wheels gain more dish, the axles should be regauged to match the dish in the wheels.

  • How much does it cost to fix wheels?

    Generally wheels in need of complete rebuilding can be estimated fairly close, but sometimes wheels in need of a few repairs need to be disassembled before an accurate estimate can be arrived at. There are spoke tendons into the hubs and felloes than can not be inspected until disassembly takes place, and the condition of the felloes under the tires can not be viewed until the tires have been removed. For overview purposes, you can refer to the ‘Wheels’ section of this site to estimate costs. By measuring spoke sizes, as measured in line with the hub length, and felloe size, as measured by width of tire and diameter of wheel, and adding either tire size resetting or retiring, you can estimate expenses involved in fixing wheels.


    For example: Say you have a set of wagon wheels that have set in one place for quite a while and the felloes are deteriorated, along with the spokes that were on the bottom side of the wheel. For illustration purposes, we’ll say these are 2” tires, 42” front wheels and 50” rear wheels, and they have 2 1/4” spokes, of which 3 are bad on each wheel. If we refer back to the wheels section, we will see 2 1/4” spokes cost $18.00 each, new 2” felloes (bent) cost $85.00 for the fronts and $88.00 for the rear and setting tires costs $60.00 each. So we would have expenses in the front of $199.00 ($54.00 for spokes, $85.00 for felloes, $60.00 for tires), and $202.00 for the rear ($54.00 for spokes, $88.00 for felloes, $60.00 for tires). Total repairs, in this scenario, would be $802.00. This same procedure works for buggy wheels as well.

    (Or you can call and I’ll help you figure it out.)

  • 2.Vehicle Related Questions
  • What should I look for when buying an old buggy?

    There are two ways I would approach this:


    1. “The basket case.” If you are looking for a vehicle for a personal restoration project, you will have to evaluate it, keeping in mind your comfort zone in regard to wood working, iron working, painting, and upholstery. What ever you are not comfortable with, you will have to figure on contracting out. I would focus on having enough wood left intact to provide the basic patterns necessary in the replication process. You would also like to have a complete set of original irons; if the wood is intact, you would probably find irons intact also. You also want to make sure the original hubs (minimum) are matching the axles; this will provide the boxings, inside the hub, to fit the axles. This approach is basically the ‘basket case’ approach; making the assumption that a complete restoration is ahead.
    2. “The collector’s case.” This approach requires considerably more awareness of horse drawn vehicles. The collector is usually interested in a particular class or style of vehicle or in a particular manufacturer of a vehicle. This also requires a familiarity with general vehicle styles and finishes. This falls into a similar category as counterfeit money; once you are able to recognize the authentic, the counterfeit should stand out like a sore thumb. Because of the broad range of vehicles and manufacturers, it is next to impossible to touch on all issues in a little attempt like this, but issues like striping, trimming, smithing and overall presentation will become recognizable to different individuals, depending on their areas on interest.
  • How do I make sure I have the right shafts for my horse?

    Fitting shafts to your horse involves measuring width at the tips of the shafts and length of the shafts from the cross bar to the shaft tips. Width at the tips is correlated to the width of your horse at the girth. This is where the belly band and shaft loops are positioned. The shaft tips should fit comfortably through the shaft loops on the harness without either rubbing the horse or pulling out excessively.



    Length should be measured from the position on your tug (or trace) that will hook to the singletree, to the point of the shoulder on your horse. The length of the shafts should correlate with this measurement, not allowing the tips of the shafts to protrude past the point of the shoulders on your horse. Most tugs will allow some adjustment to permit you to move your horse either forward or back in the shafts to adjust this position.

  • What size singletree should I use?

    The lengths of singletrees used on carts or buggy shafts are determined by the cross bar length rather than horse size. The idea is to have the tugs, or traces, follow along the shafts for a cleaner appearance. When hitching in pairs the singletree lengths are then fit to the horse size. There are some ‘rules of thumb’, but personal preference plays a part also. This comes down to how close you like the tugs to your horses’ hind quarters when hitched; the more restrained you like your horse, the shorter the singletree. Generally wheelers will need more room than swings or leaders.


    Some general rules of thumb are:


    22” and 24” are your pony ranges

    26” and 28” are the mule ranges

    30” is the saddle horse size

    32” is the light draft - draft/cross range

    34” is the 1800# to 2000# area

    36” is ton and over


    When skidding or pulling a stone boat, where the singletree is low to the ground, it is recommended to increase singletree length by one size for added maneuverability.

  • What are the most common woods used in carriages?

    Most framing is done with oaks and ash, although I have seen some done in maple. I have even seen some farm wagon axles made out of maple, though this would be uncommon. Most of the side panels on buggies, carriages, and coaches are poplar. Some wagon boxes are cottonwood, but most would be poplar also. Most hitch equipment uses hickory, until you get into heavy hitching where you will find more oak and ash.

  • What are hounds?

    ‘Hounds’ is a term referring to brace supports in a wagon gear. The bracing from the reach to the rear axle are often referred to as reach hounds, reach braces, or crotch hounds. The bracing in the front axle that accepts the tongue are referred to as front hounds. The curved pieces attached to the back of the tongue itself are also referred to as tongue hounds.

  • How long should my tongue be?

    Tongue lengths are often measured from the doubletree pin to the neckyoke stop, but should correlate to the horse size. Style of doubletree will also affect tongue length. A carriage pole with a double tree that has the singletrees mounted directly on top of the evener bar will be shorter than a wagon tongue with a doubletree that has singletrees mounted in front of the evener, even though the same horses might be hitched to either. To fit length, fasten a neckyoke to the pole straps and measure from the neckyoke back to the point of attachment on the tugs that will hook to the singletrees.

  • What are reaches and perches?

    Both, in essence, are the same, in function. Both are coupling sticks between the front axle and the rear axle in an undercarriage. Heavier wagons are referred to as having reaches whereas lighter buggies are referred to as having perches.

  • Can I use shafts and a pole on the same buggy?

    Generally, yes. This is one of the few measurements that seem to have become a standard in the horse drawn industry. As always, there are exceptions to the rule, but general measurement between points of attachment on the front axles is 43” center to center. This allows interchangeability between shafts and poles.

  • What kind of paint or finish should I use?

    Many shops are using automotive finishes today, mainly because they are chemically activated and require less time in an unstable state. For the average restorer, the equipment required to apply these paints and the experience necessary, isn’t worth the investment or training. Many suppliers will not sell to the general public because of these factors. It is even questionable whether this approach to painting is acceptable. To many interested in authenticity, it is not.


    There are many good quality enamels on the market today that are very functional to refinishing. Generally, you want to stay with oil based paints and stay away from latex type paint. Even more important that the paint you use is the primer you use. The primer is the layer that adheres to the surface, or not. Most, if not all, problems that involve peeling revolve around this first layer. Use the best you can find! After that, the quality of the finish is not so much determined upon the brand or quality of the paint, but in the hours and hours of sanding out imperfections during the priming process. Multiple layers of priming + hours of sanding = nice paint job!