This Instructable describes an animated ship's wheel similar to the one seen in Disney's Pirate's of the Caribbean ride at DL and WDW. I apologize for the lack of interim photos, but I did this many years ago before the Instructables website existed. I mainly offer this as inspiration for you to design your own, since I think the concept development is most of the fun anyway. I laid the entire project out in Solidworks, however the files are unfortunately long gone.
Step 1: Planning
I started by researching the wheel portion assuming I would just purchase a small ship's wheel on Ebay. I wanted a wheel that would work in scale with the cheap standard four foot tall blow-molded skeletons sold in most Halloween stores. I quickly realized that a purchased ship's wheel would not work. They were far too large and/or expensive. I did find smaller ones, but they were not scaled down, just reduced in diameter. They also looked too realistic in that I wanted a Disney-esque look that was more whimsical and cartoony.
I walked around the local Big Box store looking for inspiration and found some inexpensive balustrade spindles that were about 7 1/2" tall. They would work perfectly for the spokes of my wheel, and for the handles with some modifications.
Step 2: The Wheel
The structure of the wheel is made entirely of standard 2" framing lumber. The hub is a six-sided block which is attached to the six balustrade parts (they were shortened slightly for looks). The outer wheel is made from six 60 degree quadrants made from standard 2" studs biscuited together for strength. The six quadrants were notched to accept both the inner spokes and the outer handles, and the whole thing was clamped and glued together. I used epoxy rather than glue for gap filling and for extra strength. To cover all the joints, give the illusion that the spindles go all the way through and simulate a routered bead edge, I added a layer of 1/4" poplar quadrants and filled and sanded them flush.
The vertical support is made from standard 3/4" pine on three sides with a hollow back. The rounded top is made from 2 solid pieces of 2" lumber glued together so I would have some meat to attach the wheel axle to. I fabbed some simulated cleats out of stock lumber and additional balustrade parts at the bottom.
Step 3: The Mechanics
I mounted a bolt thru the upper portion of the vertical support that would act as the axle for the wheel. I drilled a hole in the hub of the wheel and hammered a length of copper pipe into the hub and slipped a few plastic bushings over the bolt threads to make the wheel spin freely. I made a push rod out of a length of threaded rod attached to a small brick of ABS plastic I had in the shop. The mating post in the hub was made out of a few plastic spacers and washers and a screw into the wooden hub.
Step 4: The Drive System
For the drive system, I started with an old paper shredder gear motor that I used for a few years. It was nice and small, but it made too much noise. Last year, I switched to an automotive windshield wiper motor that I bought on Ebay for $8.00. The new motor is whisper quiet, but it's larger and more visible. This is not a problem as the porch is dark and the wheel stands behind a treasure chest that hides the motor nicely.
The original design also had no stand. I would run a bolt between the wood decking on our porch and attach it with a wingnut thru the bottom of the vertical stand, but that grew tiresome. A few years ago, I added a stand with some slits in it to simulate decking. It is way easier to store and set up now and you don't really see it anyway.
Step 5: Demo Video
Here's a demo video of the finished product showing some additional detail of how the wheel was made and how it functions.
Step 6: Conclusion and Halloween Video
Anyway, that's about it for the wheel. I made a simple stand for my skeleton and attached the hands to two of the wheel handles so that when the wheel moves, it appears that the Pirate is doing the work. I sprayed the wheel randomly with some dayglow green spray paint and placed a blacklight behind the treasure chest that illuminates the pirate and ship's wheel with a sickly green glow.
Below is a video featuring the wheel from our Halloween setup of a few years ago. At this time, it still had the noisy paper shredder motor. You can see in the earlier video that it is much quieter now.
I'm very happy with how this project turned out and we always get a lot of compliments from out visitors. I hope you enjoy this Instructable and I encourage you to take a crack at building your own. Thanks for watching!