Mark W

How To Build A Wheel.

52 posts in this topic

Building wheels is pretty simple and straight forward when you know what you're doing. People seem to assume there's some sort of black magic involved with building wheels and adjusting spokes and so on, but there really isn't. To stop people wasting their time and money sending their wheels to people to build and paying £10-20 for a job they could easily do themselves, here's a wheel building guide.

This is my old wheel. The spokes, as you can see in the top pic, were a little too long. Therefore, you get what happened in the bottom pic. Many times. Not ideal.

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As a result of this, I decided I'd get some new spokes (not some 5-year-old spokes that came on an Onza complete that are 5mm too long...), and re-lace my wheel. If you've got all new bits, it's super easy, if you're reusing the same hub and/or rim it takes a bit longer to de-lace it, but just work around each spoke loosening off the nipples, then take the hub out when they're all off.

Anyway, you will need:

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The right amount of spokes + nipples, a hub, a rim, a GOOD spoke key, some sort of screwdriver (using the one on my Specialized EMT tool here) and a blob of grease/some oil. This is the grease I used:

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Fluoro. Nice.

Just to clarify: I am lacing this wheel 36 hole, 4 cross. This guide will cover any amount of spoke builds with any amount of crosses, you just adapt it slightly.

The grease or oil is to put on the spoke threads to make sure that the nipple tightens the spoke up nicely and evenly, instead of sticking at some points and twisting the spoke instead of moving down the thread.

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Lightly wipe the spoke in the grease or put on a few drops of oil. You don't need much, just a little to get it moving nicely.

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Then, you need to insert the spoke. Place the hub so the drive side is facing up towards you. For the first spokes on each side, you place them through so the head of the spoke is on the OUTSIDE of the hub flange. It doesn't matter which hole, especially if it's a new hub.

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Look at your rim. To make sure you have room to slip the valve of a pump in to access the valve, you need to put this first spoke in to the right side of the valve hole as you look at the rim, thus:

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Having slide the spoke through the spoke hole, attach the nipple to the spoke:

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For mine, I did 3 full turns of it just using my hand, although you can bring the screwdriver into the equation now if you can be arsed. However many turns you do, make sure you do the same amount on every spoke. I cannot emphasize that enough - make sure it's the same amount on all of them. Also, don't go nuts and put too much tension on. When you come to twisting the hub and lacing the last set of spokes in on each side, it will be a complete bitch, so don't put too much on too soon. If you're having trouble remembering which way to turn the nipple, just make a thumbs down sign with your RIGHT hand. The thumb points in the direction the nipple needs to go to tighten up the spoke, and your fingers curl away in the direction you need to turn the spoke (which is clockwise as you look down). You can use this right hand rule though to easily recall which way to turn it when you're trueing your wheel at a later stage.

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Now we need to insert the next spoke. As you look down at your hub, miss out a hole to the RIGHT of the first spoke. The second spoke needs to have a single hole between it and the first spoke. Insert the second spoke so it's head-out again.

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Counting 3 holes to the right of your first spoke in the rim, place the spoke in. You need to leave one hole for each of the other groups of spokes: the non-drive head-out spoke, the drive head-in spoke and the non-drive head-in spoke. Therefore, you leave out 3 holes and then place your new spoke into the correct hole.

Attach the nipple with the same amount of turns you did to the first (so again, for me that was 3 full turns).

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Finished drive-side, having followed the same routine for all the rest of them.

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Flip the wheel over.

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We now need to do the head-out spokes on the non-drive side. As you can see, I placed two spokes in to demonstrate which hole you need. The drive-side spoke there is the first one I put in, aka the one next to the valve. The spoke holes are slightly offset to the drive side, so you can lace it properly. You want to choose the hole (highlighted by the green spoke) that is slightly to the left of the drive side spoke.

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Having fired that spoke into the correct hole with the head to the outside of the flange, you then place the spoke into the spoke hole to the left (that's AWAY from the valve hole) of the first spoke.

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Insert the second spoke missing out a hole to the left of the first non-drive spoke, head-out again.

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This next spoke goes in to the first hole to the left of the second drive-side spoke.

Repeat until that side's done:

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Flip over the wheel.

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We now have to twist the hub so that we can lace in the crossing spokes. Grip the rim with one hand (or lay it on your lap) and grab the sprocket/cassette body/anything you can get a hold on. You need to twist the hub so that the spokes next to the valve hole point away. This means spinning it clockwise. You'll know when you've spun it enough because the nipples will be tight-ish against the rim, as you can see in the pic here:

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We now need to start installing the head-in spokes. Slide the first one into the one of the empty holes between the head-out spokes on the drive-side.

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This is where you can check if you've spun the hub correctly. To make it easier, lay this new spoke across the other spokes, as shown below.

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This is a FOUR CROSS build. As you can see, it crosses one spoke inside the flange, one spoke just after, another just after that, then the last one further out. However, if we laced it so it was going over all the spokes, nothing good would happen. You need to under-lace the last spoke, e.g.:

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If you are doing a 3 cross wheel, your hub won't have spun as far round as my 4 cross wheel did, and you will only cross over 3 holes. You still underlace the outside crossed spoke which will be the third spoke for you. The same goes for 2 cross, or indeed 5 cross.

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You place this newly laced drive-side spoke into the next hole to the right of each pair of spokes you have currently in the rim. It'll also be pretty obvious which hole to go into 'cos it'll only reach one of the two of each pair of empty holes, but again, the first hole to the right of each currently installed pair of spokes.

As before, just repeat until you've done all the necessary drive-side spokes.

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Ta-daaaaaaaaa.

You will notice on this pic that the spokes look like spaghetti, and indeed my hub appears to be in on the piss. Do not worry about this if your's is like this too; when you install the last set of spokes and you rack up the tension, the hub will naturally be pulled so it is straight and true, unless you have majorly f**ked up the build.

Flip your hub over so we can do the non-drive head-in spokes.

Insert the spoke like you did with the head-in drive side spoke, and lace it similarly to how you had to lace the last set of drive-side spokes:

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Now the hub's being pulled in different directions, it may well be that the spokes aren't all sticking up through the rim nicely, and as such you'll need to possibly use the screwdriver to reach the tops of the nipples so you can tighten them up correctly:

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Continue doing all the last set of spokes.

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This is what my wheel looked like at this stage. Again, notice how the spokes are all wobbly and weird, and the hub's still not perfectly aligned - this isn't a bad thing. As you tighten the spokes up, it WILL be pulled right, so don't worry about it.

You now need to add tension to each spoke. This is the most time consuming part of the build (unless you've had to de-lace an old wheel, in which case, it's the joint most time consuming part of the build :P). Get your good quality spoke key (hint hint - a good spoke key is worth it's weight in gold, which is generally a pretty accurate statement. Either way, if you aren't rounding off your nipples all the time or it's super tight to fit on, you'll build the wheel a load faster and more accurately). This is the one I used:

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It's just a triangular Park Tools spoke key. Choose the hole that fits best.

You now need to start off at an easily rememberable point (e.g. the valve hole or the join of the rim) and work around each spoke, adding tension as you go. Make sure you add the same amount of tension to each spoke. If you do this, your wheel will require very little in the way of adjustment afterwards.

I added 3 full turns to each spoke as I went around. In the end, I ended up (including the first 3 full turns I originally did on the nipples) doing 5 sets of 3 full turns, and then 1 set of 2 full turns, then 2 sets of one full turn each time just to get to the final, correct tension. This will vary depending on build, spokes, nipples, etc., so by no means is 19 turns the optimum amount. However, don't try and add all the tension at once because it'll be hard to judge when the tension is correct, simply because as you tighten each spoke, it is pulling the hub and other spokes laced over it to some extent, so turning the first spoke til you can't turn it any more may not be the best idea. Slow and steady wins the race.

Continue adding tension until you can feel the spoke key is pretty hard to turn. If you have a tensionometer (or whatever they're called :P) you can use that to see if the tension is correct, but for most people just squeezing the X's of the cross over spokes will usually let you feel how you're coming along. Getting it so the spokes are firm but not rock solid is generally the best bet. Too loose isn't great, but neither is too tight. You'll learn over time how much tension you need.

Every now and again, it's also best to de-stress your wheel. Lay the wheel down on it's side, so the axle is touching the floor. Then, using one hand of opposing sides of the rim, press down. If you haven't used much oil (or any at all), you may hear the spokes pop and ping as they settle. When the nipples don't spin nicely and twist the spoke, it means they don't have the same amount of tension as others, and when you de-stress the wheel it removes the twists from the spokes.

Because I'd lubed the spokes up and been very careful when I added tension, my wheel ended up needing virtually no adjustment or trueing at all. The hub was centred, it was almost completely true, and there was very little up and down play. With dishing on some wheels, you may need to go over it and make sure the rim is properly located, BUT with the correct length spokes it should pull across of it's own accord.

Anyways, after doing all of the above you'll have built a wheel. Woo. Here is a blurry pic of mine:

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Like I said - this guide covers all regular ways of crossing spokes (e.g. 2x, 3x, 4x, 5x) and all amounts of spokes (e.g. 28, 32, 36, 40, 48, etc.), so just adapt the technique to suit your needs.

It sounds tech when you read it, but when you're building it starts to make sense, and once you've done one or two builds you'll know it off by heart.

Just give it a go (Y)

EDIT: I've probably left something out or whatever, so if you can see I've done anything blatantly wrong just post below...

2 people like this

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"Lawnmowerman" with your avatar and sig confused the shit out of me at first. I was originally looking for you to PM you to say I was gonna do it but I couldn't see Trialsboy online :P

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Hahahahaha you silly boy. I am Trialsboy560 everyone sorry for the confusion :lol:

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All looks pretty rinky dink (:P) Mark... little tip for the grease/oil - lace the wheel first (to the point you've said with a bit of thread showing) and then drop a bit of oil into the threads. Much easier and less messy!

Bedding the spokes into the hub/themselves is something else that's worth doing too, but that's an additional step... If you can build a wheel then a little bit of extra tensioning/truing a few rides down the line shouldn't hurt.

Anyway, decent guide Mark, I'd not have the patience to do all that!

Oh, and triangle Park spoke keys are finger-eaters :lol:

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Ah, fair enough. I was careful with the grease and only used a little amount so I didn't get it everywhere except for one spoke which I dropped into the grease blob :-

I wasn't really sure how to go into the bedding in part, I know how you do it 'n' stuff, but for most people like you said, just riding it and then giving it a quick check after a week or two seems to work.

With this one, 'cos I was re-building a wheel I made sure I laced the wheel so the spokes were in 'fresh' holes, as in the spokes weren't going the same way that the last spoke had gone in that, just 'cos it was a 4x wheel not 3x so I thought with the change in angle it'd have issues with slipping into the old groove. Was that the right thing to do?

That Park tool is a bit of a whore, but it's not soooooo bad :P For putting uber tension on it sucks balls, but just for tweaking stuff it's not too bad...

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Fantabulous! (Y)

Deffo going to give it a go after reading that, feel much more confident.

.....thanks Mark.

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Cool, glad it's helped :) It's a piece of piss to build a wheel, so go for it (Y) I did mine in about 45 minutes incl. taking pics 'n' stuff, just sitting in the sun in my garden. Not the best way to spend a sunny afternoon, but not one of the worst ;)

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Going to use your method (with grease etc) tomorrow. I've always had problems with the hub not being in the centre of the wheel and could NEVER get it right :( But my rear wheel is so bad at the moment that it'll be much better even if I don't get it right...

If some of you have a perfect pitch, it might be a good idea to tap the spokes with a screwdriver and listen to the sound they make. A high pitch is made by a tense spoke and a low pitch by a loose one.

edit: and this way you can get even tension in all spokes, probably resulting in a straight wheel? Just make sure they all make the same sound.

Edited by Inur

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I'm gonna use this guide next time.

Edited by bhups

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Here's the one i used. LINK

OBM's is rather good but if you did have any trouble try the one above for more help.

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Sweet, thats quality. I'll be pulling my old sheel apart at the weekend!

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im annoyed that u didnt clean ur hub wen u build that thing:P

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im annoyed that u didnt clean ur hub wen u build that thing:P

I thought the same thing dave......

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Short of getting some bleach and an old toothbrush, a lot of that shit's not coming off. Either way, it'd get dirty again in 0.2seconds of riding natural, so meh :P

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I have a different way of getting the first spokes in, I did it at tartybikes HQ and adam thought I was gone in the head :S it worked though.

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Personally, I prefer to build one side then the other - but I won't explain that as it'll probably just confuse matters but it does make it easier on some MTB wheels where the hub flanges are different sizes.

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I just do it like that with all builds, even with different spoke lengths. Just have a pile of one and a pile of the other, works fine :)

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I just do it like that with all builds, even with different spoke lengths. Just have a pile of one and a pile of the other, works fine :)

done it like that folowed the guide but some of the spokes seem to be to long?? i built a echo 06 rear rim on to a onza t pro 05 rear heub with the t pro spokes some to long very confusing :S

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done it like that folowed the guide but some of the spokes seem to be to long?? i built a echo 06 rear rim on to a onza t pro 05 rear heub with the t pro spokes some to long very confusing :S

Always best to get new spokes when you get a new rim.

Because of the different shapes of the rim, some have curves, some are flat etc, they'll take different length spokes.

This counts for hubs too, different flange sizes etc.

Give Tarty' a ring, and ask them what spoke length you'd need for the Echo rim, and whatever (T-Pro?) hub.

Just don't bodge it by cutting the spokes down, as it'd be a bitch to tru in the future. ;)

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I've always found those spokey ones to be pretty good in all honesty, just be careful and you shouldn't round any heads!

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Bump of a sort - thanks for this Mark!

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I have done it all, think its correct, but my first 6 spokes in fitted, are poking out :huh: ?

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I have done it all, think its correct, but my first 6 spokes in fitted, are poking out :huh: ?

That happened to me before what you need to do is,

Loosen All your nipples (till there all the same length down the thread)

Tighten them in the normal system again :P

It worked when i built mine

Good luck :D

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Rebuilt my wheel yesterday and it was so much easier than I expected. It also fixed the problem I had with the wheel moving when riding. Great guide, Thanks.

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