Lace the hub first: Fast wheel building

Here’s a tutorial I put together on how I lace wheels. After a little practice it only takes about 10 minutes to lace a wheel. With decent parts I can usually have a wheel ready to ride in half an hour.

There was some interest presented in another thread, so I thought I would share it as a new post.

Due to formatting it is a link to a google doc, but I will try to see what I can do to get it to work better as the body of a post.

Anyway, here it is!

Thanks Jtrops!

Yeah, that’s cool. Thanks for the write up. I’ve been thinking of a couple of projects that involved lacing up rims on a bike and a uni, but I was kind of intimidated by it. I have no clue when it comes to wheel building, so this should help.

Thanks a lot, that’s awesome!

Hopefully it will help the next time you build wheels. Let me know if you need more clarification, or if something just doesn’t seem right.

I may snap some photo’s to go along with it to help illustrate some things.


Thanks for starting this new thread just now, jtrops. For me it’s perfect timing!

My spokes just kept snapping, so I finally bought a full set of new ones on Ebay, which is a better way to insure uniformity of length than buying replacement spokes one at a time.

I knew my wheel needed to be re-tensioned, but I hesitated because it has some damage to the eyelets, as we discussed here. This time, just to be consistent, I think I will use washers on every spoke nipple, rather than just where the eyelets show more damage. Hopefully this change won’t affect ERD too much.

The washers, by the way, are standard washers for a #6 screw, available at almost any hardware store (at least in the US). I mention this because bike mechanics who have heard of rim washers are unbelievably rare, at least in my experience.

One possible reason my spokes have been breaking is that I rebuilt my wheel and reused the old spokes without paying any attention to which ones had been outside spokes and which ones had been inside spokes in their previous lives. Now I have read this post by the late Jobst Brandt. (I also ordered his famous book 8 days ago, so it should arrive soon). When I removed all my old spokes just now, about a third of them were not straight because they were replacement spokes, which I had had to bend to fit them into the weave.

Oh- I also followed your other advice, laying my unlaced rim on a very flat surface. Nothing wrong there!


i’m glad to have been able to help you. As for your ERD, it should be bigger by the thickness of two rim washers. I think a lot of bike mechanics don’t really know a lot about wheels anymore. Many shops don’t build wheels at all, they just sell prebuilt. So, it doesn’t surprise me that they haven’t heard of them. Most shops could order them. Sapim makes round or oval ones. I think the purpose made rim washers are much thinner than the hardware store variety. Either should do the job, only one will end up a little lighter.

Somewhat related, but here’s something else I’ve always wondered about.

I hear reference to right and left handed drilled rims. According to your document, every rim I’ve ever built (with exception to dual spoke hole rims), has been ‘left’ handed (key spoke one spoke away from the valve hole.

Is this common? Just wondering if I’ve been lucky in getting all the same rims, or if the other handedness is just less common or nonexistent anymore.

Just one of those things I’ve always wondered. I’m waiting on spokes for some 650B road wheels, at that point I can try your method!

According to Sheldon Brown:

Hmm… it’s a good question. I don’t know that I’ve paid much attention to which is more predominant. I’ve just looked at the rim before each build and, laced the hub accordingly.

Interestingly, I just walked out to my shop and picked up two rims randomly. One is RH, and the other is LH. So, based on one insignificant data point I would say 50/50 chance of one or the other. Honestly though it is probably brand specific. It probably doesn’t change within one make of rim, and a lot of the taiwanese rims are made in the same factory (I think Kinlin).

I learned how to build wheels from the owner of the bike shop where I worked for 10 years. He had been building wheels for decades before that, and had learned from another old hand. So, the term was passed on to me in a traditional way, not through books, or the internet. Somewhere along the line drilling was referred to as “right handed,” or “left handed,” and it was just passed along. I don’t think it really matters what you call it as long as you understand the relationship between the rim drilling, and the hub lacing. Of course it helps to have terms that everyone understands if you are trying to communicate, so I guess it’s good that I defined the term as I learned it since even Sheldon didn’t explain it further than to say it exists.

This is how I’m doing for over 20 years now.

Basicly the reverse of disassembling, and so you don’t have to bend spokes.
Not only faster, also more fool-proof and better for the 1st “truing”.

The wheel-builder recordkeeper (hourrecord) at the time -Jan Oskam- (at the era without decent wheel-building machines), recognizes he’s easily beaten with this method.
But he still counts. It always make me laugh when I see people doing that.

Hey Leo, do you use any spoke prep? Jtrops uses linseed oil, some people use grease, some use a special product marketed just for spokes. I used bicycle chain oil last time, and some of my spokes came loose, but not necessarily because of the chain oil. It’s quite possible I didn’t tighten them enough to begin with, as that wheel build was my first. Later I tightened them too much (or at least by the wrong method)!

Any suggestions are welcome. While the bike forums I have glanced at tend to be divided over whether to use linseed oil, I like to practice hopping up long stairways -not an activity most bicyclists are known for- so I may need to do more to secure my spokes than they do. If I’m going to use linseed oil, should I put my old spoke nipples in solvent to remove the chain oil?

I’ve always used Triflow (chain oil) and never had a problem. If the wheel is tensioned properly spokes shouldn’t be coming loose.

If I ever felt the need for some type of thread locker (which would only ever be on the non-drive side of a rear bike wheel) I’d use boiled linseed oil.

I have built wheels with Tri-flo, Wheelsmith Spoke Prep, grease, and boiled linseed oil. All of them do a good job lubing the threads, and acting as anti-seize. The Spoke Prep, and the boiled linseed oil also act as a mild thread locker. I don’t think Spoke Prep works any better than boiled linseed oil, but it is less messy. For the price difference I haven’t had a problem cleaning the wheel once it’s finished.

As long as the tension is high enough that the spokes are never slack (cyclic loading) then you shouldn’t have problems with spokes loosening. Of course this also assumes you don’t have twisted spokes. Any of the products described above will help prevent twisting to a great degree.

I built a set of wheels last year that had Sapim Laser spokes, with aluminum nipples, a combo that is prone to twisting. With the boiled linseed oil the wheels came up to tension easily, and I had no problems with twisting spokes. I had my spoke pliers ready, and never needed them.

And here it comes, formatted for the forum!

Wheel Building Tutorial

Hub, Spokes, Nipples, Rim

Nipple Driver, Spoke wrench, (optional: Truing stand, Dishing Tool)

This tutorial assumes:

  • Spokes
    • You have the correct spoke length for your wheel.
    • You have prepped the spoke threads with your preferred media (I use boiled linseed oil).
    • You have the spokes identified in some way for the right and left side of the wheel (unless it is a symmetrical build).
  • Rim
    • You have a right handed rim. If you have a left handed rim just substitute “left” anywhere you see “right” in the instructions.
    • You have prepped the nipple holes (I use grease, and if it doesn’t have eyelets I chamfer the edge of the holes)
  • You will be building a standard “3x” lacing pattern. For different “cross” just count a different number away from the “key spoke”.
  • These instructions are for “outside pulling.” Once you understand the pattern you can change variables to make symmetrical/asymmetrical lacing, or inside/outside pulling.[/LIST]



  • To start you need to look at your rim to determine if it is a right handed rim, or a left handed rim. To do this look down at the valve hole, and notice how the spokes are offset. If the hole to the right of the valve is closer to you it is a right handed rim. This is important because it will tell you how to lace the hub.
  • On the opposite side of the hub the spoke holes are offset from the ones on this side. If you push one outside spoke (head in) through, and across the hub you will see that there is a hole on either side of it. Start lacing the opposite flange with a spoke in the hole on the right side of your key spoke from the inside. Now continue to lace both flanges.
  • If you want to build “Outside Pulling” you will use one of the outside spokes as your first spoke next to the valve hole. This is your “key” spoke.
  • Take a moment and orient the inside spokes so that they are in the pushing direction, and the outside ones in the pulling direction. This step makes it so that the spokes won’t have to be bent later on.
  • For a standard “3x” build you would then count three inside spokes to the left of the key. This will cross the outside spoke and attach at the next spoke hole to the right of the first spoke (on this side of the wheel).
  • Now take the next outside spoke to the right, and the next inside spoke to the right of the last pair you crossed, and attach them to the rim. Continue around until the whole side is laced.
  • Follow your key spoke back to the hub, and sight the corresponding spoke to the right of it on the opposite flange.
  • Find the inside spoke that is three “inside spokes” away from the that one, and cross the two. Attach them in the second, and fourth holes to the right of the valve.
  • Lace this side in the same fashion as the other one by crossing each next pair and attaching to the rim. [/LIST]

    That’s it. After a little practice it goes really fast. Then you just need to establish spoke “set”, tension and true.

  • Pierrox, Thanks for reformatting it for the forum.

    Sheldon Brown:

    So it sounds like your method is a way to get through this faster and more error-prone option mentioned by Sheldon. Is that right?

    Not having to bend the spokes sounds good, though when you install them in four sections on a new wheel that hasn’t yet been tensioned, you don’t really have to bend them that much either, as I recall. It’s just replacing them one by one that requires a lot of bending, and the bends don’t really go away afterwards, it seemed to me.

    Your explanation also makes it very clear what left-handed and right-handed rims are. My KH20FL is left-handed, at least if I am looking down on it from above where the tire was.

    I don’t completely understand Step 4 of the “Building” section. Which spokes are in the “pushing” direction and the “pulling” direction? Some photos or diagrams might be good here if you wanted to make this tutorial really complete- either that or an explanation of how this tutorial differs from Sheldon Brown’s, so that people can use his diagrams while following this tutorial. I hope my questions aren’t too dumb, I’m just hoping to avoid a repeat of what happened after my last build: a spoke breaking every few weeks. Thanks for all your help.

    I didn’t intend for this to be a comprehensive tutorial from the beginning. More of a tutorial for people who have a basic understanding of how to build a wheel, and want to be able to do it faster. I will add the body of this post to the tutorial, and of course let me know if there is anything else that could use clarification.

    I’ll try to answer your post in order.

    1. I think the way I build wheels must be what Sheldon is referring to, but I don’t know why it has a higher potential for error. My guess would be that you’re as likely to lace it wrong either way, but that you may not realize it until you have the whole wheel laced. If you are lacing it via Sheldon’s method you will have at most half the wheel built before you realize the error. This is why it is very important that you take a moment to get the rim handedness correct, and to decide if you are lacing symmetric/asymmetric. If you understand enough to make these decisions then the method I use will be much faster (not slightly faster as Sheldon says).

    2. Whenever you add spokes to one side after the other side has spokes in it you run into the problem of bending the outside spokes just to lace the hub. This becomes more of a problem as the opposite flange is populated with more spokes. I don’t think subtle bending of the spokes is a real problem, but for the strongest wheel possible you want to establish a “set” to the spokes that gives each spoke the truest run from the hub to the nipple. Any bend that resists the “set” introduces a potential problem for proper tension later.

    3. Pulling/Pushing=Trailing/Leading. You need to know which direction the hub will turn once it is installed on the cycle. When you look at the hub some spokes will be trailing, or pointing to the back, these are “Pulling” spokes. The spokes that are leading, or pointing to the front are “Pushing” spokes. To be honest the terms are probably not correct from an engineering perspective, but those are the terms I learned when I started building wheels.

    No problem, happy to help!
    If you want to update the explanations, quote my previous post, and just remove the (QUOTE) marks between brackets.