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Wheels continued

Poster: Tom Rettie <tom@his.com>

The industrious Earl Dafydd writes:

>Period wheels are not planar (flat) but cupped, for a number of very good
>reasons (single wheels as for wheelbarrows excepted).  They are held
>together by no glue, by no pins -- the rim of the wheel is a single metal
>band that binds the pieces together.

That's interesting...my research had indicated that the shrink-to-fit iron
tire was a sixteenth century innovation.  According to Joseph Gies in
"Cathederal Forge, and Waterwheel" tires before that consisted of iron
plates nailed to the wheel rim (pp 218-220).  Unfortunately, he doesn't
talk in detail about wagon wheel construction; obviously that would require
a different form of wheel construction than spokes and felloes held
together by the tire.  I've seen descriptions of other methods for building
wheels, but they have been for mill and water wheels, which involve a
different set of forces and wear.

As a side note, he also dates the movable forecarriage to the fourteenth
century, though he asserts that it was slow to be adopted.

>I forgot to mention one other thing -- I have found no evidence for solid
>(slab) wheels.  All the examples I've found so far are spoked wheels.  The
>finely-carved wagon in the Oseberg burial, for example (Viking); the
>wagons and wheelbarrows illustrated in the Lutrell Psalter; many other
>wheelbarrow examples.  Spoked wheels.  No solid wheels.
>Counterexamples invited, of course.  If anyone's seen any, I'd be glad to
>hear of it (with references, of course).

Well, as long as you ask.  Agostino Ramelli's 16th century "Ingenious
Machines" illustrates both (apparently) solid and spoked wheels.  He even
has a "bridge" wagon that travels on spoked carriage wheels on land, and
are replaced with small solid wheels when the bridge is maneuvered into
position.  His mining carts have both large spoked and small solid wheels
(for climbing ramps).

Going back a little farther, there's an illustration of the Grand Pont in
Paris that shows barrels being moved on a flatbed cart with solid wheels
about knee-high (Bibliotheque Nationale, ms fr. 2092 -- 14th century, I
think).  This picture also illustrates a single-wheeled barrow with a
spoked wheel.

Another cart is shown in Pieter the Elder's The Battle Between Carnival and
Lent (15th century).  There are two carts actually, one with board sides,
the other flat.  Both carts appear to have small solid wheels and are
pulled by ropes.

You're quite right though that carts and wagons are most often shown with
spoked wheels.  I suspect that that solid wheels were a relative rarity,
used for very heavy objects (like barrels) moved short distances.

A war cart is also on my list of to-build projects -- anyone who comes up
with a workable design, please do share -- it sounds like there's a lot of
interest in this subject.

Your obedient servant,


Tom Rettie                                         tom@his.com
Heather Bryden                                 bryden@hers.com

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