• A truly gifted craftsman with a wheel passion

    This Monday saw me beating a path up to the Lancashire coast, just outside Southport, to visit a man with a passion for his chosen trade. I say chosen, but really it chose him as wheelwrighting was in the blood for 4th generation Master Wheelwright Phill Gregson. I spent a very happy half day chatting to Phill about his life and his work, which is remarkably diverse - not just making wooden wheels, but also coachbuilding with ash (he's currently restoring the ash frame of a 1960s fire engine for a client), but he has also worked on gypsy wagons. In fact he has his own wagon (and horses of course), which he and his wife drove some 870 miles down through England & France last year. Phill is a great traveller, communicator and teacher - a recent apprentice has just qualified and left to start his own business.

    The main reason for my visit was to see how Phill uses ash as part of the process of constructing traditional spoked wooden wheels. Three different sorts of timber are usually used in wheel construction - elm for the naves, oak for the spokes and ash for the felloes (pronounced fellies) - the outer rim of the wheel, with each felloe taking the ends of two spokes. The felloes are held together and kept in line either by dowels or triangular metal pins. The wheel is then usually tyred with a hoop of iron - a very skilled operation in its own right - involving fire and water and a few deft blows with sledges. Phill remembers many childhood days when his job was to run round the wheel with the water bucket making sure that the hoop contracted evenly and the heat did not burn the wood.

    You will see more and learn more in my forthcoming book about the ash tree to be published later this year.

    Meanwhile - many thanks Phill for a fascinating session and...

    To see more of what Phill does have a look at www.wheelwrighting.co.uk

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