Cutting Wooden Gears with Ideal Grain

Woodworking Workshop
Cutting Wooden Gears with Ideal Grain

Understanding how the shape, type, and orientation of wood grain will change with temperature, weather, and age, and designing wooden objects to accommodate and even take advantage of those changes, is a lot of what separates a dabbler in carpentry from a pro.  Case in point, this article and series of videos by Ron Walters, hosted on Matthias Wandel’s legendary

Ron, who is a craftsman of wooden machines, has figured out that, to best withstand environmental changes, the grain in a wooden clock wheel should run in a circle around the circumference, and in radial “spokes” in the middle.  Real trees don’t grow that way, of course, so if you’re really serious about cutting wooden gears that will weather the seasons well, you need to cut them from blanks made up from a bunch of smaller pieces of wood arranged and glued so that the grain pattern, on the whole, is correct.

That, IMHO, is hardcore.  Click through below to see how it’s done.

Circumferential & Raidal Grain Solid Wood Wheels for the Solaris clock

6 thoughts on “Cutting Wooden Gears with Ideal Grain

  1. Dynamo Dan says:

    I use birch plywood with many thin plies for such things. I made a wheelbarrow cement mixer with gears using 9-ply half-inch for example. One thing I’m concerned about in this arrangement is the wrong grain orientation for strong teeth. I think the grain should run out into the teeth, rather than across them. The teeth will chip off easily if much torque is required.

    1. Sean Ragan says:

      Thank you, Dan. That’s a good point, that had not occurred to me at all when I wrote this. A tradeoff between environmental stability and mechanical strength, perhaps. I was going to suggest that the title should’ve been “Cutting Solid Wooden Gears With Ideal Grain,” (to exclude manufactured wood panels), but then these are not exactly “solid,” either, are they? Since they’re made up from a bunch of glued planks?

  2. MAKE | How-To: Homemade Plywood says:

    […] Walters makes mechanical clocks with intricate wooden parts. Recently, we linked out to his process for gluing up round wooden blanks with “ideal” grain patterns from which […]

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I am descended from 5,000 generations of tool-using primates. Also, I went to college and stuff. I am a long-time contributor to MAKE magazine and My work has also appeared in ReadyMade, c't – Magazin für Computertechnik, and The Wall Street Journal.

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