Proper Finish For Natural Wood Artillery Wheels

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    I am having the wooden wheels on my 1933 1236 rebuilt.  From what I understand, the previous owner had the wheels redone back when he got the car, but now the wheels are very loose and need to be tightened up.  Bob Lederer looked at them and said that it appears that whoever did the wheels in the past didn’t dry the wood properly, and the wood has shrunk too much to be repaired.  He suggested Stutzman Wheel Service in Baltic, OH.  He highly recommended their workmanship.  He also explained that if the wheels are to be painted body color, a lot of hand sanding is required to get the correct smooth finish, and since my car has natural wood wheels, we won’t have to go through that much sanding.  I contacted Noah Stutzman, and asked him if he could spray the wheels with a clear coating after he’s rebuilt them, and he said no, his shop doesn’t do that type of finishing as they concentrate on the rebuilding.  My question is what would be a good finish for the wheels?  I’ve used varatane varnish on some wooden yard furniture, and am pretty disappointed in the results.  What would be a good product to finish the wheels with?


    Ken Muellner



    Well, I can’t answer the finish question, but will make a comment.  To replace wooden spokes, the wood is dried to a very low moisture content.  The wheels are then assembled, and the wood absorbs moisture from the air to swell and tighten the wheel.  I want to say that it’s dried to about 2% moisture and then gets up to about 15% moisture content, but those may not be the right numbers.

    Either way, you don’t want to seal the wood right after the wheels are rebuilt.  I was told once that you should wait at least two months before sealing or finishing wood, to let them tighten correctly.

    Also, make sure the rebuilder knows you’re going to leave the wood natural rather than paint it. This should influence the wood that he uses, so that he makes cosmetically appealing spokes.


    I had Noah Stutzman do wheels for my 1912 Hudson a decade ago. Superb quality at a reasonable price! Being cheap, I declined the small extra cost for clear ‘varnish ‘ grade wood. When I picked them up they were so beautiful that I decided that I would NOT paint them. I found that minimal sanding was needed to prep for a varnished finish. They have endured lots of tour abuse including stream crossings and driving in heavy downpours but still look fabulous.

    Here is what I did, drawing on my wooden boat restoration experience:
    Carefully tack clothed every surface just before applying anything. Dust kills!
    Applied Cuprinol Clear around all joints while rotating wheels about 90 degrees at each application to use gravity to improve saturation into the joints
    Applied Cuprinol Clear to entire surface after adding a very tiny amount of a golden oak stain to my taste
    Applied 5 light coats of a high quality ‘Spar’ varnish being careful to avoid runs & doing only 2 wheels per day.
    Use only a high quality very fine bristle brush for varnish. Backbrush lightly and frequently while the brush is fairly dry, but do it very quickly before moving on the next area. The biggest appearance issues will show up at transition areas, so try to not go too far too quickly.

    I will only use a varnish that will allow re-coating within 3-4 hours without requiring sanding. The brand that I used back then has since gone to a water based formula that I do not trust, but there are other brands that will allow recoating the same day without sanding. Timing recoats is usually a narrow window. You do not want to have to sand between coats except to smooth any runs. If you do that, make sure you tack cloth the entire area very carefully before the next varnish coat.

    Good luck!



    That is great information and I would only add that I believe one uses a High Quality, Very Fine, Natural Bristle Brush.

    Most paint brushes these days are polyester bristle and that is NOT what one wants to use when using Spar Varnish, or any other sort of varnish.

    I too varnished a good amount of mahogany on my 30-foot sloop.

    The varnish needs to be redone / touched-up each year, but it is THE thing to use if you love your sailing or power craft.

    Apropos of wheels, those on my Series 80 have been painted for at least 50-years, and likely much longer.



    Thanks for all of the info guys.  I had asked Noah if he could varnish the wheels but he declined, saying he doesn’t want to tie up the shop space that long.  I was hoping to bring my car to Hershey this year, to introduce it to the PAS, but the timing here just would not work that well.  I hope to get the wheels to his shop next week, or considering the Easter weekend, the next week so it appears that I might not have the wheels back in time.  Can I put the unfinished wheels back on the car without damaging the wheels?  One oddity about my car is that the 4 road wheels are 17.5 x 17’s while the spares are 17.0 x 17’s.  Due to garage space considerations as well as parking in the city, I’ve decided to just do the 4 road wheels at this time.  I put the spares on the right side of the car, backed the car into the garage in its space against the wall, and took off the left tires and left the left side on jack stands.  Considering I’m not going to use the spares in rotation on the road, just use them as spares, it’s probably all right if they’re a little wobbly.  Considering what David said about waiting a couple of months before varnishing, it would probably be August before I would be varnishing them.  I’d like to take the car to several local shows during this time, so I’m a little concerned about damaging the wheels by using them during this remoisturizing time.


    I don’t think you’d damage the wheels once done, it’s just that they need a little time to swell and be really tight.  You might discuss that matter with your wheel guy.  Even though more expensive, I’ve always used Calimers for wood wheels, and know he has a special drying room that gets the wood very dry, and the 1.5% moisture is what I remember him telling me.  I would assume all wheelwrights do the same, but don’t know that for a fact.

    I’d hate for my semi-educated comments to be the reason you missed shows!  David Coco Winchester Va.



    Glad to hear you’re making good progress on your car.  Regarding the wood wheel refinish, a few weeks in the springtime Chicago weather will stabilize the moisture content, so don’t worry about it.  I can highly recommend Z-Spar Captain’s Varnish for your job.  Being an antique wood boat guy, I’ve used this product for over 40 years and have been very pleased with its performance.  Stay away from urathanes, epoxys, and other modern magic finishes.   This is an old fashioned spar varnish with good build qualities and flexibility.  I’ve even used it in the interior woodwork of my Pierce with beautiful results.  Check out Jamestown Distributors web site for ordering.  They also are a great resource for hard to find fasteners and odd ball supplies for restoration.  The antique boat guys and old car guys have a lot of common needs.  A couple of coats of varnish will protect your new wheels enough to attend the annual meet at Hershey, so no excuses.  We are all anxious to see your new car.

    Hope this helps, see you in June

    Tom Barrett,   Cleveland, Ohio



    Thanks to all for all of the advice on the wheels.  I’m running them over to have the tires dismounted this morning, and then I will have to call Stutzman to see if they will be open this week during the Easter Holidays.  Right now, I’m not anticipating bringing the car this year as I don’t think I’ll have everything done in time for Hershey, but still plan on coming.  It’s not the end of the world, and this way it will allow me to accept David Coco’s invite to ride in his beautiful tourer.  I got drafted as a driver last time.  I don’t consider any of the advice irrelevant, as there are issues with these things that I would have never thought of.  Hopefully, I might even drive the car to Gilmore in August.  Everything mechanical is done, outside of the wheels I just have to touch up some paint chips.

    Tom, thanks for the advice on the varnish.  How are you coming along with your cars after that terrible incident.  Was Bob Lederer able to help you?


    Ken Muellner




    Thank s for asking.  Victoria will have to be restored.  I’ve lined up an interior man who is just finishing up doing a 1930 interior, but can’t do that until body work and top is finished,  so it will be out of circulation for quite a while.  The coupe was not damaged as badly, but a major cleanup will be needed.  No water entered interior, so just smoke to deal with.  Newly replated  radiator shell was discolored and that’s a big deal to remove and redo.  That will be a winter project.  Still hoping to take that one to Hershey.

    Tom Barrett, Cleveland


    Well, I got the wheels off of the car, loaded them in the pickup, and went hell bent for leather down to Noah Stutzman’s shop in Baltic, OH.  What a nice gentleman!  He showed me his operation, and will let me know when the wheels were done.  I talked to him about finishing the wheels, and he was pretty much in favor of sealing them sooner rather than later.  The humidity changes in the Midwest can be very severe.

    One man at Bob Lederer’s shop recommended using a product called Clark’s Clear Penetrating Epoxy Sealer on the wheels, a two part sealer.  When I went to the manufacturer’s website, most of the recommended uses were for deteriorated wood, so I contacted them and asked their advice.  They suggested using their MultiWoodPrime sealer on new wood. It soaks into the wood and seals it.  I still have to look into the Cuprinol.

    At this point in time I think I will probably be at Hershey, but driving modern.  I have a driveshaft to drop off from Scott Stantsy’s shop and I really don’t want to miss you guys.  I was thinking about giving Tom a call when I flew through Cleveland, but I was running late and wanted to get home.  As it was I left for Baltic at 0430, and didn’t get home until 2330.  I was dead tired….too much construction on I-80!

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