Photos: Kristofer Henry, 44 Bikes
Photos: Kristofer Henry, 44 Bikes

As a custom bike manufacturer, I make all my own tooling. Most of it is advanced or heavy duty, but I’ve also made some simple, elegant tools from old spokes.

This tutorial is for a nipple driver, which winds the nipples — the little pieces that hold the spokes to the rims — into the rim. It’s made easily on a bike stand with a pair of pliers.

When lacing a wheel (or spoking a wheel, the first step of a wheel build), the most time consuming part is individually threading the nipples to the bike spoke heads. Nipple drivers aid in this step. The first couple spokes are easy because you have a lot of slack, because the spokes can be pushed very far through the rims’ spoke holes. But as more spokes are added and the hub is centered, this task becomes trickier, and you definitely need something to hold the spoke, push it through the hole in the rim, and twist it on to the spoke head to a uniform distance for each spoke. A nipple driver, like this one, helps with that task.


Project Steps

Bend the Spoke

Start with the spoke head facing left or right. Mark the center of the spoke. From the center, steadily wrap both sides of the the spoke around the object (in this case, a Park bench mount stand) drawing the two tips close to one another.

TIP: As you bend the spoke from the center, only go until it’s “U” shaped. You can then bend and fine tune each side, sneaking up on them as the two ends come together while leaving some space at the end to clip the spoke ends together in a tidy fashion.

Adjust the End

If you have to, use the pliers to straighten the head a touch so it faces UP.

Add the Nipple

Thread the spoke on as far as it will go. If you want to get it good and tight, use a spoke wrench to tighten it even further down onto the spoke.

Snap Together to Finish

Push the two ends together so the spoke head catches the other end of the spoke. Now with nipple driver in one hand and pliers in the other, straighten the end of the spoke shaft to the desired angle to lock it all together. If you want, you can solder the end together.

PRO HACK: Pin Vise

If you have a pin vise in your toolbox for holding small items, this is a great way to make a quick nipple driver that actually works really well and the speed at which you can lace a rim increases dramatically.

I prefer a pin vise that has a head that rotates at one end. Take a spoke, thread the nipple on as far as it will go, and clip the tip off, leaving about 1.5″ of spoke left with nipple. Now install in the pin vise and drive your nipples with speed. The end of the spoke left exposed also acts as a “stop” for when threading spokes and you can thread each and every spoke onto each nipple with the identical depth, so your starting point for truing is identical on every spoke.