wheelbuilding with arup

This is the method that I am currently using to build your wheels.

The current method 2008

Since creating my method page I have built a substantial amount of wheels and have made a few small changes to my method, but it's still my 3-cross pre-cross method. I'm going to mainly outline the changes to my original method here and the reasons why I have made them. This is the method that I use for for building my wheels.


I'm going to start with the checklist first so that you get an overview of the process and then go into the details. It's almost the same as my first method but with a few changes in procedure and a few extra steps.

  1. Prepare all tools and parts
  2. Oil the spoke threads, linseed for radial
  3. Thread one side of hub
  4. Check heads out position
  5. Thread other side of hub
  6. Place hub on truing stand, finger tight
  7. Check which is drive side, heads out forward
  8. Cross and tie spokes
  9. Remove hub and place key spokes in holes
  10. Add extra oil to tips, fit nipples
  11. Fit nipples up to two thirds of thread
  12. Remove ties
  13. Bend spokes inwards
  14. Tighten each nipple to end of thread
  15. Develop 'initial tension'
  16. Oil between nipple and rim hole
  17. Work on concentric truing
  18. Work on lateral truing
  19. Tighten each nipple one turn
  20. Check tension and dish
  21. Work on dishing if required
  22. Stress spokes by squeezing or twisting
  23. Increase tension by one turn
  24. Stress wheel on floor by pressing down
  25. Fine lateral truing
  26. Increase tension to recommended amount
  27. Fine truing
  28. Fit rim tape
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Get Ready

Nothing interrupts your workflow more than having to go searching for tools or parts. So have it all there in front of you. All the tools that you'll be needing as outlined on the tools page. And all the parts such as the hub, rim and spokes. Make sure you have have enough work space so that you can leave it there if you have to stop rather than have to put it all away. It's much easier to come back to it when you feel inspired.

A drop of oil

A little goes a long way. This will help you reach higher tension and will also enable easier truing later on in the life of the wheel. If it's a radial pattern then linseed oil is a good choice as it will lock the threads because it's easier for the nipples to unravel in a radially laced wheel. You can either dip the ends of the spokes into the oil and then wipe off the excess or you can apply a few drops to the threads.

You'll find that this is different to the other method where I suggest oiling the threads later on in the process. But I find that it's much easier to do at this stage but it does mean that you risk getting a bit of oil on the side of the rim. You can always wipe it off though.

some oil on the threadsdipping threads in linseed oil

A game of two halves

What I used to do was to put all the spokes through the holes in the hub and then cross them or not in the case of radially laced wheels. But with crossed patterns one thing that used to happen was that I would misalign the left and right side. Then I'd have to remove the spokes on one side and relace them. So now I put the spokes into one side of the hub only, whether it's crossed or radial.

Most rims are what I call "left handed" by which I mean that when you hold the rim perpendicular to you with the valve hole at the top, the hole to the left of the valve hole will be closer to you than the right one. So the spokes need to be laced into the hub to fit this pattern. Once the spokes have been laced onto one side it's then easy to make a check before lacing the other side to make sure. I explain the technique on the tips page.

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All tied up

When both sides of the hub have been laced it's time to check which will be the drive side. This isn't so important for front wheels or for double fixed hubs. The heads out spokes will be pointing forwards. After you have established this you can begin to cross and tie the spokes. I find that it's easier to put the hub onto the stand to do this. One side first then the other. It's easier that way. Tight enough to hold but easy enough to remove later on.

Make sure that the spokes cross so that the ends or the threads are the same distance away from the centre. This will make it easier to find a point to place the valve hole and to place the ends of the spokes into the holes in the rim.

Fitting the nipples

Carefully unscrew the track nuts as they should only be finger tight and then while you hold the crossed and tied hub in one hand put the rim over one side of the two uprights of your truing stand. Then replace the hub and now secure it tight with the spanner or allen key depending on the hub you are using. Find the valve hole and align it to one of the gaps. This will work for 2 and 3-cross patterns but not for 4-cross. Put the spoke on either side of the valve hole through and after applying a tiny drop of oil to the tip of the spokes thread the nipples about two thirds of the way.

Why not all the way to the end of the thread? I used to do this too as time saver. But if you have measured your spokes a bit on the short side then you'll find that you'll reach initial tension too early. So I like to leave a few threads showing just to be on the safe side. Margin for error if you will.

Continue to place the ends of the spokes through the holes in the rim and threading the nipples after applying a bit more oil. Alternate left and right sides just to check that you don't end up with two in a row on the same side. About half way round the rim or before you'll reach a point where the end of the spoke won't reach far enough through for you to fit the nipple with your fingers. You won't be able to put oil on it either. So now is the time to use the nipple clamp. Grip the nipple onto the end of the clamp and put half a drop of oil into the end of the nipple. Guide the nipple through the hole and then turn it onto the spoke threads. Twist and release.

One final check. Go round the hole rim and check that each spoke has a nipple on it and that they alternate left and right. Use the kitchen paper to wipe off any excess oil.

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Radial lacing

If you are building a radially laced wheel then you won't be tying but you can end up misaligning the spokes on one side. To avoid this happening what I do is to fit the spokes into the rim on one side, adding an extra drop of linseed oil to each nipple and then fit the other side. I tend to build radially laced wheels with the spokes with their heads out but you can do it the other way too.

the “benjamin” stage

Time to remove all the ties. You might find that some of them snap. I find that the ties tend to last for about 2 pairs of wheels before a few start to break. That's what happens when you bend wire back and forth. If a few snap then it's best to chuck the lot and cut a new set for your next wheel rather than use them again. They only cost £1.50 a roll. If they are good then keep them for the next build bent at the centre.

When the ties are off it's time to bend the spokes inwards. It's time to “bend ’em in”. Get it? I know, it's silly, but it helps me to remember. What you do is to put your hands on either side of the wheel near the hub and squeeze them together. This causes the heads in spokes to bend ever so slightly inwards and get into better alignment with the angle between the hub flange and rim hole. This will allow for a more even tension and hence a stronger wheel.

Initial tension

When you first fit the nipples so that a few threads are still showing they are still very loose, which makes it easy to bend them in. Now it's time to gradually increase the tension. The first stage in this process is what I call initial tension. This is a point at which the level of tension begins to have an effect on the shape of the rim. The spoke is essentially just a piece of wire and it's going to be pulling on the rim from the hub. The lowest level of tension where this pulling occurs is what I define as initial tension.

As I mentioned earlier you may reach this point before you have turned each nipple to the end of the thread. You can tell if this is going to happen. But if you have calculated your lengths correctly it usually happens a turn or two after that. So turn each nipple to he end of the thread. You can do this just with your fingers or use the stubby screwdriver.

Now turn each nipple one turn and feel the tension. If they are all still quite loose add another turn to each nipple. Use the stubby screwdriver or the nipple wrench. When you can feel the slightest amount of effort needed to turn the nipple you are getting close to initial tension.

Quarter, half or none

When you can feel initial tension approaching you'll need to tighten each nipple by a differing amount. I call this the quarter, half or none method. Go by feel and turn the nipple by a quarter or half turn depending on how loose or tight it is. If it is tight ish then don't turn it at all. They won't all be at the same tension but near enough and just beginning to have an effect on the wheel.

Oil between nipple and rim

At this point I tend to add another drop of oil this time between the nipple and the rim. It will seem that one drop is too much but as you turn the nipples the oil will spread around them. This will become more significant when the tension increases and make it easier to turn and reach the recommended tension for that rim. Wipe off any excess.

a drop of oil between the nipple and rim

a drop of oil between the nipple and rim (left)

Concentric truing

I tend to start with the concentric truing because it requires the greatest number of turns. This is of course available when the tension is lower. Most guides recommend that you tighten the main area by one turn and the nipples next to it by a quarter turn. I don't follow this rule as I think it's too much of a change to the overall tension. I simply work in pairs of spokes and tighten each pair a half turn. The outer edge of the rim touches the guide where the diameter is larger than the average and you'll hear scraping sounds when this happens. Keep tightening gradually until no more scraping sound is heard. Bear in mind that there may slight blob or lump at the join. Sometimes trying to correct the roundness without taking note of any imperfections in the join will lead to uneven tension. Lower quality rims will have a lower quality join. So your level of roundness will be based on this.

Lateral truing

This is what most people tend think is truing a wheel. You'll need to do this before you can work on the dishing. Again use your eyes and your ears. Make sure that the wheel is securely fastened on the stand and bring the guide close up to the braking surface area of the rim. At this stage I try and get it within 2-3 mm. Fine truing, accurate to ½mm comes later on. Working at that level of accuracy is not necessary at this time as the stages of tensioning and stressing will cause it to go out of true and cause you a lot of frustration.

As with the concentric truing you can use your ears by setting the guide so that there is a slight scraping sound when the rim touches it. This is where you have to adjust the nipples. I tend to work with quarter turns. Only one ¼ turn at a time. Each ¼ turn affects the whole wheel, so rather than try to correct one spot on the wheel just make each part a little better and gradually the overall rim will come into true. Remember it only has to be good enough to enable you to complete the next stage.

A whole turn

When you have your wheel roughly laterally true then it's time to start increasing the tension. Turn each nipple a full turn. I haven't explained this above but the way to increase the tension of a spoke no matter if it's a full turn on just a fraction of a turn is to turn the nipple to just beyond the required point by about an eighth of a turn and then turn it back. Why is this necessary? This stops you from twisting the spoke. If you put your thumb and forefinger on the spoke and grip it while you tighten the nipple then you'll be able to feel the twisting action and then you'll feel it settling back to it's original position.


I build mainly track wheels that really don't need to be dished. That just means that they are dished dead centre. But if you are building wheels that need to be dished off-centre such as geared rear wheels or even front wheels with disc brakes then it better to have different spoke lengths for each side. You can think of dishing as you would imagine the height of a cone. For a centrally dished wheel the height of the cone would be equal on both sides. As you can see this stage cannot be completed if the wheel is not laterally true. Using the dishing gauge you can see if the height of the cone is what you need or how close it is.

Tightening the spokes on one side increases the height of the cone on the other side and vice versa. Again I will use only ¼ turns and then check the dish again. Tighten one side of the rim only and then measure the dish again. If you don't have a dishing tool or dishing gauge then you can simply turn the wheel around on the stand and use that as a way to check it.

Stressed out

When you start to ride your new wheels they will have experienced no stress. Even though most roads are pretty even some are not. And sometimes you'll be hopping on and off kerbs not to mention taking the weight of your body forwards and back. The wheel sits between you and the road and gets a jolly good squeeze. A little bit of pre-stressing allows you to sort of test the weak points or loose points. Sometimes a nipple will not be properly seated or a spoke has become overly twisted. Or even the spoke head in the hub hole. By applying a bit of pre-stressing you can root out these things and make sure that the wheel stands on its own and handle the higher levels of stress that are to come.

One way to do this is grab pairs of spokes with your hands and squeeze them. The other way is twist one spoke around the other where they cross with a tool. I use the stubby screwdriver. Just enough to get a twist but so much that you risk damaging the spokes. After you have stressed all the spokes you should laterally true the wheel and if this is not required then you know that your wheel can stand on its own.

One more turn

After stressing and checking the lateral truing it's time to increase the overall tension by one whole turn. And then stress it again, but this time in a slightly different way.

Wobble board

Remove the wheel from the stand and take it somewhere where you won't risk damaging the floor. I use the kitchen. While holding diametrically opposite sides of the wheel press the centre onto the floor. You may experience a very slight movement or hear a sound. Do it every four spokes and then turn it over and do it again. I squeeze it by leaning forward and putting about half my body weight onto it. Again, the idea is to create stress without the risk of damage. Now it's time to start the fine truing.

Fine truing

Using only ¼ turns work on more accurate truing and then work toward the rim being a hair's breadth away from the guide. I usually go for about ½mm accuracy. When you have achieved this it's time to increase the tension to the recommended amount. Some rim manufacturers do publish these figures but others don't so you have to take an average. I usually go for around 110Kgf. Perhaps a bit more if the rim is a good one and can take it.

Recommended tension

You will need a spoke tensiometer to do this which takes a lot of the guesswork out of it. There are two things to consider. First the relative tension. The tension of the spokes will not be identical and they don't need to be so. But they should fall within a short range. According to Park Tools the various tension measurements should fall within 20% of the average. The other is the average tension and using the TM-1 from Park Tools I usually go for 24 on the scale with double butted spokes.

Having increased the tension to the required amount check the truing once more and stress one more time if you think it's necessary. We're almost there.

checking the spoke tensionfitting the rim tape

Checking the final spoke tension (left)

Fitting the rim tape (right)

Fitting the rim tape

Just make sure that the hole is in the right place. I favour the cloth tape above the plastic one as it's much easier to fit and remove and can be reused. I think that it can be fitted more easily while the wheel is still on the stand but you may think otherwise. Do it the way that is easier for you. That's it, job done. Put on the tyre and tube and get riding.