Essential tools for building bicycle wheels.
Tools of the trade
A decent nipple wrench or spoke key and a good eye is all that you'll need to build a wheel. It can be done that way but to make your life easier and to be more accurate with your build I recommend the following tools. If you want to follow my way of building wheels then this is what I use. I will describe them in the order I have used them on the method_two page.
Oiling the threads
If you have a look at the original method page you'll see that I have used general lubricating oil. But recently I have been using Finish Line which is great chain lube good general lube. For radially laced wheels I use linseed oil. It's used on cricket bats and in the putty of window frames and sets hard. There are commercial thread locking compounds available for this purpose such as DT Swiss Prolock, but linseed oil is the traditional one and I one I use.
Finish Line lubricating oil (left)
Linseed oil (right)
Wiping off the excess oil
Next you'll need the kitchen paper to wipe off the excess oil and you'll need it later on too when you oil the space between the nipple and the rim hole. I find that one sheet is ample for a pair of wheels, but then I'm quite stingy with my kitchen paper. The other place where you'll find oil is on the braking surface of the rim. Once the tips (threads) have been oiled they end up touching the rim and getting a bit of oil on there.
A wheel truing stand
Some say that you don't really need a wheel truing stand and that you can simply use the forks of your bike upside down. But I disagree here even if you're only building a wheel or two. Get yourself a decent stand. If you're only building your own pair you can easily sell it again. The one I use I bought new but at a discounted price. It's the Park TS-7 which is only just above the entry level truing stands. If I was building more than the one wheel a week that I do now I might consider the higher model like the TS-2. But not really necessary unless you're doing many wheels a day. I haven't used any of the entry level truing stands so I'm not going to pass comment.
The truing stand is not only for the purpose of truing but simply for holding the wheel in place while you work on tying the crosses or fitting rim tape. It's just very handy for all of the stages of building a wheel.
Kitchen paper (left)
Park TS-7 wheel truing stand (right)
All tied up
I've been looking for some sort of clip to hold the crossed spokes in place while I place each spoke into the rim but I haven't come up with a better solution than these bag ties. This is the garden wire tie that you can find in any hardware shop. I tend to bend them into little U shapes before I start crossing and tying. I tend to give each one three twists. That is enough to keep them in place and not too much of a pain to remove. You can use them for three or four wheel sets before the bending and twisting will cause the wire to break. But that's cool as they're only £1.50 for that roll.
Too make your nipples easily accessible and to stop them rolling off the table some sort of little dish or saucer is handy. I used to use a coffee jar lid but now I use this candle holder. I like the sound it makes when I pour the nipples into it.
Garden wire or bag ties (left)
Nitelite candle holder as nipple tray (right)
The nipple clamp
I use three ways to turn the nipples, excluding my finger tips, which is to use the nipple wrench, the stubby screw driver and the nipple clamp. If you don't have a nipple clamp you can use a spare spoke and place your nipple on the end. It's a bit fiddly but does the job. I had to do this when working on a v-section rim where my nipple clamp didn't fit. But even if you're not working on v-section rims you'll still need one. You can secure about half of the nipple by hand simply turning them with your finger tips. But when the threads only just poke through the other side of the rim you'll need that clamp. So get one. It's also handy for removing nipples if you make a mistake. And it goes without saying that it avoids losing nipples in the gap!
A stubby screw driver
There is a stage in the process when you need to tighten the nipples from about halfway to the end of the thread. You can do a little with your fingers and then it's the job of the stubby screwdriver. Why not the nipple wrench? Because at this stage you're not really doing any precision work and you're turning the nipples more than once. So much easier with the screwdriver. Why do I suggest a stubby screwdriver? Because it's much easier to locate the screwdriver head into the nipple head slot. There are special nipple driver screwdrivers but this one will cost around £3.00 from a hardware shop and do the job just as well. It also comes in handy when it comes to stressing the spokes and you twist one around the other: you can put your finger on the end of the screwdriver.
Nipple clamp (left)
Stubby screwdriver (right)
Securing your hub to the stand
Finger tight is fine for when you are tying the spokes with the garden wire but when it comes to actually truing the wheel you need to fix it firmly to avoid inaccuracies. Most fixed rear hubs will have a 15mm track nut but others such as the Goldtec or Phil Wood will need a 6mm allen key or hex wrench. Having a decent sized one allows you to fix and remove the wheel easily. You'll need to do this toward the end of the job when you're checking the tensioning and dish.
Decent sized 15mm spanner (left)
Long handled 6mm allen key (right)
The most essential tool
Now the tool that you really can't do without - the spoke key or nipple wrench. They come in various shapes and sizes. The one I have here is made by Pedros. It's 3.2mm and fits nearly all the nipples I work with. The rubbery grip is handy too. There are other more advanced on the market like the adjustable ones but I've never really found a need for them. This one does it all.
Going full circle now to a point even before the start of your wheel build and that is calculating the length of your spokes. If you use Damon Rinard's spocalc spreadsheet then you'll need three basic measurements from the hub - the centre to flange distance, the flange diameter and the diameter of the spoke holes. In order go get accurate measurements you'll need this kind of tool. Always good to measure your own if you can.
The essential spoke key or nipple wrench (left)
Vernier calipers (right)
That's about it for tools. You could probably use a pair of latex gloves if you're dealing with used wheels, a spoke ruler and a measuring tape for measuring the ERD or effective rim diameter. I find that the above is a more than adequate tool set and I rarely need anything else.