Rebuild a Steering Wheel With Wood

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Introduction: Rebuild a Steering Wheel With Wood

The goal of this project is to improve my 1996 Toyota Land Cruiser steering wheel aspect.

The original steering wheel is covered by leather and painted with a specific gray paint. Unfortunately after 150.000 Km the paint start to ruin.

The first idea was to replace the whole steering wheel whit an after market wood one, but in may EU countries it is not allowed to remove the airbag (and I prefer to keep it) and after market solution normally do not provide air bag support. In addition, removing the air bag pad produce an annoying warning on the cockpit.

So I decided to replace the leather and rubber with wood and keep my original airbag pad.

With the right tools this can be a easy job, but I've not any kind of automatic tools.

I've and I've used only:

  • an hacksaw
  • a couple of scrapers
  • sandpaper
  • a caliber
  • an hummer
  • some holders
  • a Drimmel

I can't cut the wood precisely so I can't use thick laths and cut them to to compose the wheel using small pieces.

So I decided to use a thin lath of Samba (aka Ayous) wood (5x30x2500 mm) and to roll up the laths around the iron soul of the steering whell.

Patiently ring after ring I've covered the iron and sculpt the wood to rebild the original shape.

Let me know if you like the result and it comes to you the desire to do it too.

Stefano - Italy.

Step 1: Remove the Old Leater and Rubber

The job start removing any coverage by the wheel obtaining the iron rim.

Actually my sterring wheel is not in so bad condition so I've bought a used one to work without fear to fail.

Step 2: Fold the Samba Lath

It's time to prepare our raw material.

Samba is soft wood without venis. A 250 cm long lath is easy to fold an roll up just using warm water following this procedure:

  • Wet up the lath
  • gently start to fold it. Start just joining the two ends.
  • Fix with a velcro band and leave it for a while.
  • Wet up again with warm water and try to close the ring making one end slide over the other.
  • Repeat until the obtained ring is a little smaller than your steering wheel.

To make the lath to keep the ring shape close to the desired size let it dry up completely before to remove the bands.

I've used 4 laths 250 cm long form my job.

Step 3: First Rim

Now you have the material you need to rebuild your steering wheel.

Mine has some thicker parts where the spokes end. So I decide to scrap some notchs.

Now it's time to fix the first rim. Find the right length cutting the curved lath approximately and then more and more close to the right measure cutting small slice. Do not be afraid if will remain a small slot. It will be fixed at the and of the job.

To make easier the job overlap the joining point with a piece of lath. It will be completely scraped later during the finishing touch.

In the next step we will add other lath to the rim. One can choose to make the joining point in different position. This will produce a more robust connection. But this will produce a unaesthetic junction point in some places around the rim. Due too the fact the wood lath is curved, actually it do not try to move. So I've preferred to let all the joing point in the same point. At the end of the job, if the final result will be not satisfying, I'll cover the joying points with a small wood ring. Scraping this ring to the same level of the rim, it will appear perfectly integrated.

Step 4: Add Rings Inside

To avoid to scrap a large lath I've cut one in two parts and inserted inside the first ring.

Use holders to keep the laths close together. If some slot appears after removing the holder prepare a mix of sawdust, water, and vinyl glue. Use it as putty to close the slot. Or leave it: once arrived at the final touch you can use a wood paste to fill the gap.

Step 5: Add Rim on the Other Side

Repeat the same operation with the second half lath on the other side.

Step 6: Start to Trim

It's time to start to trim.

It is necessary to start now because we reached the halfway to cover the iron ring.

At this moment I'm able to scrap the wood as much close as possible to the final size being sure that the iron ring is perfectly centered in the wood cover.

The other option is to cover completely the iron ring and then start to trim, but it would be more complex to get the ring perfectly centered without see it.

Actually you can decide to change the size of the original steering wheel. I prefer to keep it.

To leave space for a final touch I've reduced the wood to the rubber size plus 1 mm in height and width.

Step 7: Add Internal Ring

Now it's time to add the internal ring that will close the shape.

I've prepared some space for the spokes and then simply fix the rim with glue.

Take care about the space you need to cover the spoke. Mine are angled so in the front I need to add laths keeping the shape flat. On the back it will be curved.

Step 8: Ttrim the Shape Between the Spokes

Now we start to work on the crown profile.

Step 9: Start Building Spoke Cover

To cover the metal spoke it is necessary to glue small pieces of laths.

Of course the internal part of the crown is curved so it is necessary to apply some pressure.

To make it easier use curved pieces of lath.

After four or five layers, depending on your requirement, you will be ready to sign the desired shape and start scrap the exceeding wood.

Step 10: Trim the Spokes

You can choose to shape your wood steering wheel in a personal version. So there is no rule in this step.

I've tried to replicated exactly the original one. So again I've preferred to proceed by step and trim the shape before to loose some reference point.

Of course the first cut is far to be shaped in the right way: this leave me margin to correct mistakes.

Step 11: Trim the Spokes' Back Side

After the first cut it is time to get closer to the final shape. For a perfect job I've put in place the back cover so I can see where to reduce and where not.

Step 12: Trim the Spokes' Front Side

Now it is time to do the same on the front side.

To obtain a perfect coupling I've installed the airbag pad. This give me the reference point.

Most of the work as been done using the sand paper and some stuff to have a useful shape. You can see my custom tool in the la image. In example to obtain a nice curve I've used a fiber glass stick covered by sandpaper.

Step 13: Final Retouch

It's now useful to put in place the airbag pad and the back cover to refine the shape.

On the back part of the rim I've cut the finger slots to grant a perfect grip even on the painted wood

Step 14: Colouring

Samba wood is almost white. I prefer my steering wheel to be more similar to an oak or walnut.

I've used the aniline colors and a finishing water paint.

In some point you will see some crack. It's normal. Wood is still alive and will continue to change slightly according the wetness and temperature.

Step 15: Installing

In the first image you can see the before and after. Actually I've bought a used steering wheel to work without fear on my original.

Hope you will enjoy

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    56 Discussions

    beautiful.....i can see you are a patient man as that project is a lot of work....

    that is a wonderful project. I am working woth my 18 year old son and I am trying to inspire him to do most of the work himself instead of "buying" new/replacement parts. this is a great example of what can be done. His car is a 1973 Mach 1 Mustang.

    1 reply

    I enjoyed following every step you made. Had no idea wooden wheels were made this way. Best Instrucable. If you want to make another wheel I suggest you build into it a steering knob and wrap it all around with a flat brass wire (under epoxy coat) to privent splintering and for looks aswell.

    1 reply

    Not sure this was the original method to build the '70 classic car's wood steering wheel. I've done this way because I've no CNC tools and I won't modify the metal structure. Probably the old builders started from a huge single piece of precious briar root whiteout using a metal core. About the knob, I know it is widely used specially on big trucks, but to me it is dangerous in off road driving where steering wheel can turns suddenly and wildly when the front wheels impact an unexpected obstacle.

    I say no. If you end up crashing it's going to break and splinter. this would have been good in the 60s when safety was holding onto the wheel tightly.

    1 reply

    I agree and I invite the ones that want to do this project to consider your warning. But believe me: in an crash that lead a Landcuriser HDJ80's steering wheel to break and splinter, nothing can save the driver anyway.

    If there isn't an airbag or any safety issues, I think it would be cool to make a new cover as well out of wood. This is simply beautiful! And quite the amazing first instructable!

    3 replies

    At least in EU it is not allowed to remove or modify any safety component in the car. But It could be possible to replace the plastic airbag pad cover that contains the device or simply cover it with a thin layer of paper. It can be painted exactly like the wood. The transparent paint should protect the paper.

    If I'll find a used one to work on I'll try. Thanks !

    Great work - looks really good.

    Replacing the airbag cover is a bad idea as it is a functional part of the airbag. E.g. the two horizontal lines besides the Toyota logo are not (only) for decoration - they are the designed split lines to let the bag out. Think of it that way: Whatever you put on the airbag and does not move away in exactly the correct way may get embedded into your face with the power of a boxer's punch...

    BTW: Did you get the wooden wheel through any kind of inspection?

    Thanks Verence, you are right. I was in doubt about that signs on the airbag and that was the reason I was looking for a used one to be my cavy. You solved my doubt and saved my time.

    I guess you mean inspection from public motor authority...

    Well, in Italy there is no way to get any official approval for this kind of mods

    Bravo Stefano.Tu può fare un business redditizio con questo.

    Very well resolved and done !!! Great job and big patience to do it.

    Congrats!

    pd: you have the best LC Toyota was made.

    1 reply