In a dimly lit
workshop on the outskirts of Glenarm in County Antrim,
the skills of the wheelwright alive. With a mind as
sharp as his chisels, his passion for craftmanship
unblunted by time, or the loss of a world that turned
on wheels made of wood.
Davey George has kept the wheels turning for 60 years
Davey, who turned 80 in December 2004, still demonstrates
the art of wheel-making that he learned as an apprentice
in McMullan's joinery shop during the second world
war. His first lesson in wheelmaking, he says, was
how to select the trees that would be felled for the
timber that would, after at least 11 months seasoning,
become the raw material for carts for the farmers of
He explains that Elm was needed for the nave, or hub,
of the wheel because it resisted water well and didn't
was important because the mortises for the spokes,
usually 12, had to be cut from it as well as being
for the axle.
Whereabouts in the forest the
tree grew also affected the qualities of the
did the gender
of the tree.
A female tree was the one wanted
and Davey learned to recognise a female tree by
appearance. "The bark of a female tree," he
says, " is finer than the male, its whole
appearance tidier and more elegant. "In
the whole of nature, it's only birds where that's
the case. The hen is a dull, drab thing, not
like the rooster or the peacock, for instance."
Oak was used for the spokes because there is a certain
amount of 'give' in it. Ash was the choice for
the outer ring because of its strength and because
well with the iron hoop that
completed the wheel.
Once the timber was felled and cut into slabs it was
carefully stored to allow it to season. "Those
slabs were then stacked with wedges in between to provide
making sure they dried
out evenly." says Davey. Taking care of the materials
from the very beginning meant that the finished product,
would last for 40 or 50 years,
depending of course on what its working life was like.