Mike T.'s Wheelbuilding


My Wheelbuilding Tools.  Last update - June 26th 2016 - Dish gauge.


While it is possible to build a wheel with just a spoke wrench and the bike frame and fork for a wheel stand, some extra tools make the job somewhat easier.  They don't have to be expensive tools; some of them already exist in the home and workshop and the rest are affordably available.  They will last a lifetime.

Here is the stuff I use to build my wheels.  This will hopefully give you ideas and inspiration to copy them or come up with your own ideas.

The first two sets of tools we're going to cover are measuring tools for rims and hubs.  We need to measure these parts so that we have accurate figures to plug into a spoke calculator.  I can't stress enough that accuracy is extremely important.  We don't need machine shop micrometer accuracy but we do need accurate reading of a millimeter ruler, a spoke ruler, dummy spokes and possibly a vernier caliper.

The most important measurment for spoke calculator input is rim ERD (Effective Rim Diameter) as it is the largest measurment and has the greatest impact on spoke length calculation.  Yes, spokes come in incremental lengths of 2mm (usually) and we do have a leeway of +/-1mm but.....inaccuracies can be accumulative and when round up your spoke lengths from calculated lengths (almost always in fractions) to available lengths, accumulated inaccuracies might tip you into choosing spokes that are 2mm too long or 2mm too short.  Even I have been victim of this so I can't stress the importance of accurate measuring and repeated double-checks.  The old saying "meaure twice, cut once" fits here but let me change it to "Measure five times, buy spokes once".  And if you keep getting conflicting measurement no matter how hard you try, average them out and you'll probably be dead on.

ERD, hub and spoke measurement tools

Definition of ERD - "The distance, in millimeters, between the end of one spoke, in a finished wheel, to the end of the other spoke that is diametrically opposite in that wheel." 

As we need to gauge where the ends of the spokes will be in the finished wheel (that isn't spoked yet!) we have to use creative ways to get that measurement.  My page on ERD Measurment shows ways to do this.

    - Dummy spokes

For Method 1 on the ERD Measurment page we need two old spokes.  They can be spokes of any length.  We need two nipples too and I strongly urge you to use the exact nipples that you intend to use for the wheels.  When you buy nipples, always get a few extra - for any breakage, loss or times like this when we need them for measuring.

For Method 2, I tell you how to make and adjust them on my ERD measuring page.


    - Ruler

I prefer to use a good quality steel meter ruler for measuring ERD.  The world's finest, by Starrett goes for about $245 but I chose a $20 tool-store version.  It must read in millimeters.
For the Roger Musson method on my ERD measuring page, you can download and print a paper ruler.  It should be glued onto 1/4" thick cardboard (I used two layers of 1/8" stuff for mine).

    - Vernier caliper

These are great for the home workshop and can be used for many measuring and gauging jobs, not just wheelbuilding.  A decent set can be had for under $30.  My Method 1 on the ERD page shows mine being used for nipple measurement.


    - Spoke ruler

For measuring spokes.  Every wheelbuilder needs a special, dedicated spoke ruler.  I always check the spokes I buy before building (trust no-one!).  Hang the spoke's j-bend from the hole, let it dangle, clamp it to the ruler with the thumb and read the length.




- Hub measurement tools

I prefer to use my vernier caliper for the accuracy it provides.  You can use a mm ruler or mark a card with the dimensions and measure that.  Please don't use measurements you find on the internet on in spoke calculator databases.  What happens if the numbers are incorrect or you pick the wrong model?



Wheel building tools

    - Spoke Wrenches

Whatever you do, get a good spokewrench as it will last a lifetime.  Cheap ones will round off the nipples quickly.  Get the right size for your spoke nipples - usually 14g nipples take a 3.3 or 3.25 wrench.

Above is my current collection of spoke wrenches.  Please don't ever buy the one in the top left corner.  This is a multi-size wrench and it is Walmart quality and its precision is poor.
Get a good one.  No, get TWO good ones for when you can't find one or you drop one and it goes under the workbench.  Nothing that goes under a workbench can ever be found again.

Clockwise from there -

The black Park wrench.  A good stand-by but my least favorite for comfort.  This goes with me on rides.
The red Cyclus - a wonderful $7 tool.  Plastic with a hardened steel insert. Very light and comfortable.  A great one to carry on rides.  From Wheel Fanatyk.
The red P&K Lie - a precision made $25 wrench.  From Wheel Fanatyk.
The blue Unior - a well-made $20 wrench.  From Bike Hub Store.
The silver one in the center is my decades old Cyclo.  It's a U-shaped 2-sided wrench (more on that below) and I use it when there is no tension on the spokes.  It's quick & easy to use.

    - Dish gauge

Spend ten minutes and make yourself this fine dish gauge that's featured in Roger Musson's e-book.

I modified the feeler thingie from Roger's design so that it fits around the QR instead of having to remove it every time.
Just touch the spoke to the hub "locknut", clamp with your thumb, turn the wheel around (don't let the feeler move!) and check the other side.
If you can't figure out the dimensions, buy Roger's e-book as the gauge was his idea.


    - Nipple starter

When using rims without double eyelets we must use some form of tool to insert nipples so that they don't get lost inside the rim and we spend 1/2 the day trying to shake them out.  The cheapest one is one of the better ones too - the Q-Tip.  Cut off one of the buds, sharpen the end and off ya go.  Then there are store-bought ones of many forms.  

The middle one is the fine Mulfinger from BikeHubStore.com and it's the one I now use.


   - Nipple driver

My poor-man's nipple driver works very well.  It's just a cheap worn out old Phillips screwdriver with two webs ground off.


    - Bladed spoke holding tool

This is for holding bladed spokes (like Sapim CX-Ray) when tightening.  It prevents twist - or removes it if you get careless.


    - Supplies

Other handy stuff for wheelbuilding is -

Grease, oil, anti-seize compound, masking tape, Q-Tips, Sharpie marker, pencil & paper, rags, isopropyl alcohol (for cleaning wheels after building), needle point oiler.


- Other stuff

Here is some other things that I use but they are far from being necessary.  I built wheels for almost 50 years without these.  In fact, the table and the tensiometer are new to me in the past 3 months;  the wheel stand - about 4 years ago.

Shown is my Roger Musson Wheelpro wheel stand**, the incredible digital Wheelfanatyk spoke tension meter and my home-built wheel spoking and truing table.  It sits on saw horses.  That's solid cherry trim on the table to add a touch of posh!

** The plans to make one of these stands are in Roger's e-book.

My wheelbuilding table set up for rim spoking.  The center post is the height of a dangling spoke + 1". -



That's it folks - all I own.