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These wheelbuilding tips were gleaned from a discussion of wheelbuilding on the mailing list firstname.lastname@example.org in February 1998.
Dave Fitch writes:
Personally, having both been on a wheel building course at the lbs and built 15 odd pairs of wheels I'd say some of Sheldon Brown's wheel building advice is a little dubious. Especially the bit about locktite on spokes.
[Jim Frost adds: I'll second that. Jobst Brandt (author of The Bicycle Wheel) suggests medium-weight machine oil, and that's what I did the first time out, but I prefer grease -- it works better when the wheel is tight and it stays around longer. Absolutely do not put any kind of fixative on them. If you're having a problem with nipples coming loose then you're not building the wheels tight enough. This is easily correctable even after-the-fact.]
The main thing is to understand how to lace a wheel. Once you understand that, you can move on. If you don't understand that, you'll be unavoidably detained! Don't think that if you can copy another wheel you'll understand how to lace wheels: that's not quite how it works!
Make sure that when you sight down the valve of your inner tube to the hub that the only places spokes are crossing are really close to the hub. Otherwise you'll have a hell of a time trying to pump up your tires!
Grease the threads. You can always wipe off excess later. :-)
Take your time. Listen to music.
Double-eyeletted rims are easier to lace as the spoke nipples don't go wandering inside the rims.
A wee itty-bitty screwdriver is pretty useful for the initial lacing stuff: you don't want anything with a long blade or handle as it will just get in your way. I seem to recall Stanley used to make a pretty useful looking stubbly little 'driver. I use one that come free with a copy of Audiophile magazine, bought soley 'cause I thought that the screwdriver just happened to be a useful size :-)
[JF adds: If you're swapping rims (eg because one is worn out or dented) then a power screwdriver is a godsend. It's not quite so useful when putting the nipples on, though, because you're interested in setting the nipple up to an exact looseness (more on that in a minute).]
[Dave responds: Not having such a high-tech bit of machinery, I couldn't say! From what I've heard though, some newbies try and use power-screwdrivers to true things up, which is why I didn't mention em! This may of course be the lbs version of an urban legend... :-)]
Get a *good* spoke key. I wouldn't recommend the Park ones as you can get better: the ones I use ("Spokey") have a round plastic body with the key at the bottom and will grip the three corners of the spoke nipple. (The Park ones only grip two.) I have never stripped a nipple with this tool, though I have with the Park ones. (Knock on wood now...!) Don't use one of those tools that claims to have three (or more) sizes on it: you'll end up using the wrong one at the wrong time and you may strip a nipple.
When the wheel is loose, turn the nipples a full turn. As tension increases, decrease this amount until you're moving a quarter of a turn when your wheel's almost done.
[JF: When the wheel is tight you should still be turning a half turn and then back a quarter turn. This helps unwind the spokes.]
[Dave: If you often do the spoke unwinding thing then you don't have to worry so much about unwinding: different methods, same results.]
When the wheel's still pretty slack, bend *each* spoke where it comes through the flange so that the spokes lie flatter, i.e. try and bend the first inch of each spoke towards the [closest] flange of the hub. Under pressure the spokes will stretch and deform into this position: you've just helped 'em along.
[JF: Jobst suggests squeezing spoke pairs together (hard!) to help this process too.]
Don't worry about spoke tension, wheel-dish, true etc.: *get the damn thing round* (i.e. radially true).
[JF: Jobst suggests tightening the nipples down until only two threads are visible after initial lacing. This takes out most of the looseness and sets things up very close to even all the way around; future corrections are usually pretty easy (modulus manufacturing differences).]
[Dave: My point was meant to be (obviously should have expanded on it!) that it is significantly easier, (in my experience...!) all things being equal, to make a round wheel true than it is to make a true wheel round, especially if there's any significant tension in the spokes.]
*Now* worry about everything else. :-)
Once it's round, keep it round...
Alternate between working on roundness and truing. Otherwise you may go spare. Listen to the radio. When the song changes, or the politician lies (or whatever other benchmark you wish to use) switch from roundness to true and vice versa.
In my experience, (unless you buy one of the *really expensive* Park truing stands) all the self-centering truing stands you can buy *don't*. Either be prepared to swap the wheel around or get a dishing tool.
[JF: I'll second that. Even the expensive Park truing stands aren't really self-centering, although it's not usually too far off. There are some good reasons to buy the expensive Park stands if you're building a lot of wheels, but if you're like me and a hobbyist it's a lot of money for little gain. My first set of wheels was built using a high-end Park stand, but all the subsequent ones were built on a Park Consumer stand (TS-6 I think) -- it works just as well for half the cost. The only really substantial difference between them is that the more expensive stand doesn't require the removal of the skewer, a major convenience if you're doing a lot of wheel work.
The one Park stand I suggest you avoid is the really cheap one that comes bundled with the truing tool. It's crap. Get one with metal feelers.]
I'd recommend any stand that will allow you to adjust *both* roundness and lateral true *at the same time*, especially as changing one often affects the other... :-) The Minoura ones do this, though the better models are easier to work with and I think better value for your money.
[JF: All of the Park stands except the cheapo one I mentioned above do this. The thing to look for is the feelers should be notched. The rim fits into the notch.]
Consider your application and use of your new dishing tool *carefully*. Otherwise you *will*, I *absolutely* *positively* *guarantee* it, tighten the spokes on the *wrong* side of the wheel. Should you make this mistake, laugh, smile, and tighten the spokes on the other side now. Whatever you do, don't keep tightening the wrong side hoping it'll end up ok. It don't work like that... :-)
[JF: Yea, it's obvious and I still screwed it up the first time; go figure. Luckily it's obvious when you screw it up and it's really easy to correct.]
Check that your front wheel isn't dished. Just because all the spokes are the same length doesn't mean that the rim will automagically end up centered between the lock nuts on your hubs.
When you think your wheel is done, it's round, true and dished correctly, make sure that you've unwound any spokes that have gotten wound up. Take a dish-towel/tea-towel, and fold it in half. Do it again, like four or five times. Take this squareish piece of cloth (which should now be, oh, half an inch thick or more) and put it on a table. (You're doing this to preserve the table, BTW, not your wheel. Ignore this bit of advice and your significant other/landlord will be unimpressed with the cute surface marks your axles leave behind.) Place the axle of your wheel on this pile of fabric, grip the opposite sides of the rim with *both* hands, and then lean on your wheel and put it under tension. Rotate said wheel 30 degrees and repeat. Repeat until you've rotated the wheel through 180 degrees. It will flex a bit as you stress it (depending on how tight your spokes are), and your spokes will re-seat themselves and any ones which are twisted will straighten up again.
[JF: An alternative technique is to throw the wheel on your bike and ride it around the block. Does the same thing and doesn't hurt the furniture :-).]
[Dave: Yeah, but then you don't have to put the tires and tubes on, inflate, carry the bike downstairs, ride carry it up, strip the tires off... ooh, I'm sounding pretty bloody lazy aren't I???]
Don't forget to do stress-relief as well. You can use Sheldon Brown's crank-between-the-spokes bit, or Jobst Brandt's squeezing parallel spokes method.
Now re-true it.
Repeat the previous two steps until your wheel is a happy little camper of roundness, trueness and tension.
Install rim tape. You did buy rim tape didn't you??
Gaze munificently upon your new masterpiece. PS: Don't sue me if anything goes wrong... :-)
[JF adds: Great tips. Sheldon's site isn't bad other than the locktite thing, but I really suggest that any budding wheelbuilder pick up a copy of Jobst Brandt's The Bicyle Wheel. There are some arguments about his conclusions in some areas but the general background is valuable and the the directions for building a wheel are excellent; I built my first wheel, which is still in service despite fairly brutal treatment, by simply following instructions.
The only thing that I found to be difficult was determining proper tension. Jobst's technique of tightening until it becomes unstable works with wimpy rims like the MA2, but the novice wheelbuilder doesn't have the experience to balance the wheel correctly so it will seem to happen sooner than it really does. I got some great advice from a local wheelbuilder: after I rode the thing for a little while I retrued it and added another half turn to each nipple. The wheel was mucho strong at that point. In addition I went back to it after I'd built and tended to more wheels and tried again, resulting in even more tension.
Speaking about even tension, that brings up another point. After the wheel gets pretty tight whack the spokes with the spoke wrench to produce a ping. The pings for each of the spokes should be the same, or very close. If any one of them is higher or lower you have uneven tension, which is bad. Loosen high tension spokes or tighten low-tension spokes. Correct truing and roundness errors that result on the adjacent spokes.]
[Dave: Getting proper tension: I've seen people refuse to tighten a wheel because of the creaking of the spokes and nipples, which freaked them out and made them think the wheel was under tremendous stress when actually it was just a sign that they hadn't used enough grease on the threads... :-)
Proper tension is one of them things that you've just got to learn by practice. Or by purchasing one of them really expensive spoke tensioning thingies... That's part of the reason I'd recommend only turning the nipples a quarter turn when the wheel gets tight, just so you feel that you're in control and gradually building up tension, rather than trying to make it all tense at once.
I've found that it helps to squeeze the spokes a lot as you spin the wheel and true it: if you notice some are tighter than others (or looser) you can focus on them, so that instead of tightening up one side and loosening the other you might just loosen one side or tighten the other. Never forget that spokes work in pairs... :-)]
Myra: And here's a warning of my own: there is a big temptation to be creative and try cool spoke patterns once you get the hang of building wheels. However, don't radially lace Shimano hubs. It adds extra stress radially from the center of the hub, and the hubs aren't designed to deal with it. The instructions that come with hubs states that the warantee is voided if you use radial lacing, and my LBS reports having problems with non-working bearing resulting from radial lacing. On the other hand, I have friends with radially laced Shimano wheels, and they seem to be OK. So try it if you want, but don't blame me if your hubs fail!