Cutting wagon wheels out of plywood

I’ve had to make a ship wheel and wagon wheels for various plays in the past, and they always turn out okay but are quite time consuming. This time I needed a pair of wheels for a cart, and decided to just cut them out of plywood. They did need to be perfect circles because they actually get used practically.

I used 3/4″ standard fir plywood. Cheap, rough, but strong.

So here is how I did it in case you are curious. You will need various kinds of saws and a router.

Start with your square piece of plywood and measure to find the exact center. Drill a small hole in the center. Use a scrap piece of plywood to draw a circle by putting a screw in the center and then drilling a hole x inches away, where you want the radius. Stick your pencil through the hole and rotate the ‘compass’ piece in a circle.

Screw down a plunge router with a cutting bit so that it will cut the edge of the circle. Push it down into the plywood 1/16″ to 1/8″. You could cut right through the plywood, but that would be hard on the bit…this way you are tracing the circle for your jigsaw. Jigsaw very close to the cut line, then trim perfectly with the router all the way through the plywood. You will now have a perfect circle.

Use your stick to make a new circle inside, then trace and cut. Routing is not too practical for the inside (and it doesn’t have to be perfect here). Cut out the spokes with jigsaw and/or circular saw. Don’t cut off a spoke!

Cut out small circles to build out the middle axle and rout a small round on the cut edges to keep out the splinters.

Attach with 3/8″ lagbolts and washers, or whatever you want to use for an axle.

These proved to be quite strong but we only put about 80-100 pounds of load on them. I wouldn’t want to put much more without doubling them up. In our play we blocked up the front of the wagon so that the wheels were not quite touching the ground. Then the actor could walk on the wagon without it breaking.