Ship's Helm




Making a Ship's Helm From Scrap Timber.

Step 1: Making Rings for Front, Back and Centre

make two rings and two centres from plywood.Use a large size compass ( I made one for an earlier project ) and scribe two set of concentric circles. Outer diameter is 600mm, inner diameter is 400mm. This plywood is 3mm thick. Dont worry, it is quite robust !!
Now make two circles for the center. These are 155mm diam. Please don't ask why. I was winging it.

Step 2: Layout

lay one ring good side down and place one centre in the center.

Step 3: Positioning the Spokes

Here I used some scrap pine saved from a caravan wall. So This wood is easy to find. Usual routine is to remove old nails and glue. Staples can be cut flush and filed down.( angle grinder is time saver). These pieces are approximately 45mm by 20 mm. You will need one length at a mininmum of 1000mm. Then six lengths at a minimum of 470mm approx.
Position these so that they will intercept in the middle of the center circle. There was much scratching of head at this stage.

Step 4: A Sneak Preview

If you have placed the rough spokes at 90 degrees and 45 degrees, lay the other ring and centre on top and have a look. Well I just had to get my wife to come and take these pictures. At this point My brain started to wake up and I could see what the finished helm would look like. A combination square or a right angle triangle should be used to help position the spokes. This is where I determined the length of the spokes. They extend past the outer ring by 180mm approx. Depends on how savage you are with the next step !! ( I hope you have marked the centre of the center circles )

Step 5: Shaping the Spokes

If you are happy with the spoke length take one spoke and mark it for filing to shape the hand grip.
Here I used my combination square. Well, the ruler part anyway. Hindsight says make a template of the profile you want. When you have set those guidelines in pencil, place the "proto spoke" in a vice and start filing. I used a new rasp file capable of removing metal as it will work really well on pine.Dont forget to keep the rasp clean. Good idea to wear gloves too as rasps are good at removing skin.

Step 6: Fitting Spokes to Center Circles (Hubs)

if by now you are happy with your spokes, clap your hands because you may set them up on the center circle ( now known as a HUB ). Make sure you have marked all angles on the hub in pencil
Start with the long spoke and tack it in position with cabinet nails. ( I hate nails ).
Then position the shorter spokes as you did before. 90 degree ones first and tack in position.
Now the 45 degree spokes.
Check lengths from the centre as you may have to adjust for thickness of the 90 degree spokes. Placing one of the large rings on this assembly will help determine if adjustment is needed. If you need to, cut a bit off the inside end, or glue in a spacer to lengthen the spoke. Or open a beer.

Step 7: Can Hardly Wait... Fitting the Outer Rings

Having assembled the spokes to the hub, you can now add tack one of the outer rings in position. Care should be taken to ensure symmetry here . Or do you want an eccentric helm? OK, stand back and have a look !!!!! Wow . I was amazed at what was happening.

Step 8: Varnish,Stain or Paint the Inside

Now that one side has been assembled you should seal the wood. I used Wattyl New Baltic Birch Pine stain and varnish ....Just slap it on. The runs in the varnish are not critical and can add a bit of rustic appeal. NOTE : dont paint the plywood at this stage as you will need to apply some glue to the inside of the plywood next .

Step 9: Blocking the Spokes

I figured I would need to strengthen the spokes and prevent them from pulling out of place. Hence, you need to make these blocks. These ones are scrap pine leftover from the spokes - 45 x 25mm- cut to the width of the ring less 6mm. Glue these in position . Aquadhere or Bondall are both suitable glues. You can add a cabinet nail or two to hold them while glue sets. They should be positioned with the radius of the circle in mind AND short enough to accomodate plywood infill sections. Ensure glue is dry before starting the next step

Step 10: Creating Infill Sections

Infill sections you will make from 3mm plywood. It is advisable to use a flexible ruler to measure the length of th outer circle from spoke to spoke inside.( I borrowed my daudghter's).
These sections are vitually strips of plywood cut to the same width as the spokes.
To curve them, simply score them at regular intervals to a depth NO GREATER THAN HALFWAY as shown in the photo. The closer together the scorings are, the smoother the curve will be.
Adjustable clamps are very desirable at this point. These infill sections should have their nice side to the outside - the scoring done on the inside.
The infill sections for the inner diameter are formed in a similar manner. But I found it desirable to make a few extra scores/cuts because the curve is somewhat tighter

Step 11: Outside View of Infill Section

Just an extra view of the first infill sections.

Step 12: Clamping Sections in Position

Because I dont like nails, I glued and clamped the sections in postion. It is a little bit slower but allows you to have another beer !!!

Step 13: Infill Section Close Up

A closer view of near complete infilled section between the spokes. NOTE the extra scoring on the inner section. Lots of glue as well. Kind of like welding.

Step 14: Levitation

Now we can make a mount to which the helm will be fixed.
I used some left over pine timber . A length of 900mm was suitable for my height to handle the helm comfortably when complete. So, 900x90x50mm. One end rounded . I used an electric jig saw and rough shaped the end. Finish off with that rasp to a nice rounded top end. Them Use a router to make a reasonable edge. Drill a hole through the end to accomodate the axil for the helm. I used a 80x9mm bolt and nut. Washers as well.Use the same varnish as before. Suspend the timber from something so you can varnish in one go. (levitation ?)

Step 15: Attach Outer Cover

While the varnish for the helm mount is drying,fit the remaining outer ring to the helm. I fixed it in position with cabinet screws as they have a nice wide flange on them and they are quite decorative.
Apply some varnish to this component

Step 16: Varnish the Outer Ring

Apply varnish to the remaining outer ring.

Step 17: Fit Axle .

Obtain a mounting bracket or plate like the one shown. This one was to be used for mounting a shade sail to the house. But, never mind. The wind can destroy these sails. This one fits beautifully to the centre of the helm's hub. It is a good idea to place the bolt in it first !!! The hub cover is just fixed to the spokes with cabinet nails. The axle bracket being fixed with cabinet screws to the spokes.

Step 18: Attach Hub Cover

Fix front hub cover using cabinet screws . Screw them into the spokes. PRE-DRILL first to avoid wood splitting.

Step 19: Set Up Your Helm.

If you are happy with the way things are going, position the helm on its mount. then bolt it in place with the axle bolt, washers and nut. You can adjust tension of the nut to enable helm rotation.
I fixed the mount to a panel of leftover kitchen white laminated sheeting I found at the rubbish tip!!
using angle brackets and screws.

Step 20: Varnish to Your Hearts Content

The helm is now at a comfortable height to apply the last load of varnish. A couple of beers are great at this point.
GOOD LUCK, AND FAIR WINDS. email me if you have questions.



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    4 Discussions


    9 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks for getting back in touch about your version of the Ship's Helm - It looks like yours will be able to steer a hardy ship and endure the rough seas.



    Thankyou for your positive comments. Will you be making a helm??. If yes, please let me know. I would love to see yours. Brian H made a terrific Pirate helm, and that gave me the inspiration to build mine. Cheers me hearties !!!

    Mr. Rig It

    9 years ago on Introduction

    Nice job! Great use of materials, lots of photos, and it came out looking great!