Carl’s Index Wheels – How to Make

Photo: Carl’s Index Wheels – How to Make 1

This is the first of two blog entries. The first blog entry covers how to make “Carl’s Index Wheels”. The second blog entry covers how to use “Carl’s Index Wheels”. You may want to read the second blog entry first. After you see how the index wheels are used you may decide that you want to make your own.

I learned everything in both blog entries, a long time ago, in a week long class with Al Stirt at the “Center for Furniture Craftsmanship” in Maine. Al Stirt’s idea and method. My enhanced index wheels.


Photo: Why? (cbf_index_wheel_why)

Making your own index wheels is not an easy project. It is actually a lot of work. Thus, most people are going to look at this blog entry and wonder why on earth would I ever go to all this trouble when I can just purchase an index wheel on the web?

The short answer is, I am documenting how I make my index wheels here so my students can make their own. Just like the ones I have in my studio. Some day you may come to one of my classes and maybe you will change your mind when you see how I do things.

The long answer is, because my index wheels are designed to do odd numbers. Like 3, 5, 7 or 9 divisions. Most things in nature are odd numbers. Flowers often have an odd number of pedals. Artwork based on odd numbers looks better.

Off the shelf index wheels, often ONLY do even numbers. They are based on powers of 2. 12, 24, 48, etc divisions. My index wheels also do even numbers. They are good for even or odd numbers.

You can divide my 28 spokes index wheel by 2 to get 14 or 7 spokes. 7 is an odd number.

You can divide my 36 spokes index wheel by 2 to get 18 or 9 and divide 36 by 3 to get 12 and then divide by 2 to get 6, or 3 spokes. 3 and 9 are odd numbers.

You can divide my 40 spokes index wheel by … You can divide by 48 spokes index wheel by …

My index wheels have lots of markings that make them easy to use. Red dots on every other division, blue dots on every 4th division, etc. Red, green, blue, etc highlights on 8", 9", 10", etc diameter circles.

Photo: Download PDF Files (cbf_polar_graph_xx_spokes_4up_2_800) How To Use Carl’s Index Wheels

Check out my “Carl’s Index Wheels – How To Use” blog entry.

I use my index wheels "on" and "OFF" of the lathe. When I use them OFF of the lathe, the way I use them may not qualify them as "index wheels" in your mind. But, I don't known what else to call them.

When I use them "on" the lathe I use them on the tailstock side of the lathe! Not on the headstock side. See my “Carl’s Index Wheels – How To Use” blog entry. Thus, my index wheels DO NOT have a 1-1/4" hole in the center that fits over the threads on lathe headstock.

If you want to use my index wheels on the headstock side then there is no reason why you can't drill a 1-1/4" hole in the center of my index wheels. Or what ever size hole you need for your lathe.

Make Your Own

Here is how you can make your own index wheels.

Print Index Wheels

A small index wheel that fits on US standard 8.5" x 11" paper is to small to be useful. You need to print the index wheel on 16" x 16" wide paper using a plotter.

Photo: Download PDF Files (cbf_polar_graph_xx_spokes_4up_2_800) Download PDF Files

Download the following PDF files.

cbf_polar_graph_28_spokes_life.pdf 1.40 MB
cbf_polar_graph_36_spokes_life.pdf 1.43 MB
cbf_polar_graph_40_spokes_life.pdf 1.41 MB
cbf_polar_graph_48_spokes_life.pdf 1.52 MB

I created these PDF files in Photoshop from scratch. They are based on the "Circle Divided into 36 Segments" files available on Al Stirt's web site. Al's idea. My enhanced graphics.

I drew my index wheels in Photoshop and saved them as Photoshop PDF files. All vector graphics! So, text and lines will print nice and sharp at any scale on any printer or plotter. They are designed to print on 16" x 16" paper.

Photoshop is not the best tool for the job. But, it was the one I had and knew how to use with my eyes closed. Adding the colored highlight circles in Photoshop was easy. The text and lines were a pain. A big plus in Photoshop is I could set the page size to 16" x 16" and generated a PDF with vector graphics and text. Photoshop knows how to gen files that plotters like!

Photo: Print at Local Print Shop (staples_printing) Print at Local Print Shop

Put the above PDF files on a CD or SD card and take them to your office store (Staples, OfficeMax, etc).

You may be able to submit the files directly from the web. But, I would not! Getting what you want, often requires showing up in person and being persistent.

Photo: Plot the PDF Files (hp_t830_plotter) Plot the PDF Files

Your local print shop should PLOT the files on paper that is at least 16" wide. Most print shops have a HP T830 Plotter or similar. The plotter prints on paper up to 36" wide. See photo on right.

Most print shops only have 36" wide paper. If you ask for 16" wide they print on 36" wide and then trim it down to 16". If you ask for 24" wide paper they still use 36" wide paper and may charge you for only 24" wide paper. Loading different paper is a pain in the backside. Often, it will not happen and asking for it will make you not welcome.

I like to plot on standard, plain old every day paper. No thick stuff! No gloss paper! Nothing special. Later, I spray the paper with polyurethane to create a tough surface.

These plotters are used for plotting old fashion BLUEPRINTS or fancy photos. Big PHOTOs cost big bucks! Ask for a BLUEPRINT. Blueprints are cheap.

Note: I had one of these plotters when I worked for IBM. I know how they work. I have done everything wrong. Played with all the possible options and settings. Until, I got it right. I known how to create PDF files that will print on a plotter at precisely the size I want.

Photo: Plot in COLOR on 16 Plot in COLOR on 16″ Wide or Wider Paper

Ask for a BLUEPRINT Plot on 18" x 24" plain old every day paper.

Tell them over and over and over! NO SCALE TO FIT!

16" wide by 16" tall paper is saved in my PDF files. If you print them on 18" x 24" paper with NO SCALE TO FIT you will end up with a 16" x 16" wide plot on 18" x 24" paper.

Print ONE TEST COPY first! Take a tape measure with you to the store. CONFIRM that the outside circle on the plot is 15.5" across.

Your local print shop should (MUST) be able to directly submit the PDF files to the plotter. The PDF files contain vector graphics (lines) and vector text. Thus, they can be printed at any scale and you still get nice crisp lines and text. DO NOT let them convert the PDF files to image (jpg, png, etc) files!

Give them your CD or SD card with the PDF files on it and ask them to load it on the PC connected directly to the plotter. Then plot from that PC.

Note: If the print shop has trouble printing 16" x 16" then they may need to manually override the paper size when they print the PDF files. On the PDF print menu go to the bottom of the “Page Size” scroll down thru the menu and select “Custom Paper Size”. Then input width = 16.0″ and height = 16.0″

Glue Plots to 1/4″ Plywood

I like to put 4 plots on 2 pieces of plywood. One on the front and back of each piece of plywood. I want the plots on the front and back to be precisely lined up so when I make the plywood round (cut it out) the plots on the front and back do not get screwed up. This takes a little planning and careful work. See my process below.

Photo: Get Ready (index_wheel_make_01) Get Ready

  1. Purchase some 1/4" plywood. Any good plywood will do. I like to use 1/4" birch plywood. Two pieces that are 16" x 16" x 1/4".
  2. Purchase a can of 3M Super 77 Spray Adhesive. "77" has been around for along time. They have changed the can and the name a little over time. But, it still the same great stuff. I like 77 because it is INSTANTLY permanent! Really permanent!
  3. Get some paper towel ready. See photo. The paper towel is used to press down and smooth out the paper AFTER you have applied glue to the paper and placed it where you want it.
  4. Rough cut your paper plots round with scissors. Leave roughly 1/8" of an inch of paper beyond the last line. See photo.

Photo: The Push Pin Trick (index_wheel_make_02) The Push Pin Trick

The pencil in the photo at right points to a push pin with a clear top and a small drill.

I use a push pin to precisely line up the plots on front and back of plywood.

Drill a very small hole in the center of 16" x 16" plywood. Your push pin should fit snugly in this hole. See photo. Make a hole in the center of each plot with your push pin.

Photo: Get Ready to Glue (index_wheel_make_03) Get Ready to Glue

We are going to glue ONE half at a time on ONE side at a time.

Use the push pin to center a plot on one side of plywood. Then TEMPORARILY tape down ONE half with low tack masking tape. See photo. I like to use Purple Masking Tape.

Note: The push pin is not in the center of the index wheel in the photo. It SHOULD BE! You just can't get good help these days.

Photo: Mask and Glue (index_wheel_make_04) Mask and Glue

BEWARE! 3M Super 77 is the stickiest stuff on the face of the earth! Things INSTANTLY stick together! Permanently! You CAN NOT reposition things. Thus you MUST get it right the first time.

If you get it on your fingers or on the top of your plot you will not be happy! Thus you MUST completely mask off any place you do not want it!

  1. Fold half of the plot back and use scrap paper (brown paper in photo) to COMPLETELY mask off everything except the back of your plot. See photo.
  2. Spray two coats of Super 77 on back of half of the plot. I spray one coat top to bottom and the 2nd coat left to right.

    I ONLY spray the paper. NOT the paper and the wood. Spraying the wood creates to much glue thickness and a mess.
  3. Remove the paper mask over the plywood. The brown paper on the right in photo.
  4. CAREFULLY and SLOWLY roll the paper onto the plywood WHILE pressing it down and smoothing it out with a wad of paper towel.

    If you get glue on the paper towel. Replace it immediately.
  5. Remove the temporary masking tape from the other half and repeat the above process.

    DO NOT forget to COMPLETELY mask off anything you don't want glue on.
  6. Flip the plywood over and repeat the above process with your 2nd plot.

    DO NOT forget to line up the plot on the back and front with your push pin.

    If you are really good you will end up with the hanging holes on the front and back lined up in a good place. See "Drill Hanging Hole" step below.

Photo: Spray with Polyurethane (index_wheel_make_05) Spray with Polyurethane

I spray the index wheels with 2 coats of satin polyurethane to make the cheap paper tough and water proof.

Photo: Make them Sort of Round (index_wheel_make_06) Make them Sort of Round

Cut out the index wheels. See photo. I cut outside of the line because I sand them round. See next steps.

Photo: Super Glue the Edges (index_wheel_make_07) Super Glue the Edges

Supper glue down any edges that may have come lose. Places were you did not get enough 3M Supper 77 all the way to the edge.

I use medium super glue. NO accelerator!

Photo: Sand them Round (index_wheel_make_08) Sand them Round

I jam chuck the index wheels and then sand them round. I also ease over the edges a bit. I use 120, 180 and then 220 grit. See photo.

Use what every you have on the headstock side. A jam chuck, a 4 jaw chuck, a face plate, etc. The tailstock holds the index wheel in place. No screws, glue, etc.

Sanding is the way to go here! Trying to use a bowl gouge, or whatever here will probably be an instant disaster.

You may have to super glue the edges again after sanding.

Photo: Drill Hanging Hole (index_wheel_make_08) Drill Hanging Hole

I like to hang my index wheels up when not in use. Thus I drill a 3/4" hanging hole. See photo.


The above index wheels are my 3rd generation design. Here are my 1st and 2nd generation designs.

Photo: 1st Generation Index Wheel (index_wheel_g1) 1st Generation Index Wheel

Here is my 1st generation index wheel. I made this index wheel after taking a class with Al Stirt at the Center for Furniture Craftsmanship in Maine.

The white print out in the center is from Al's web site. I learned how to use the wheel from Al. All the above stuff is based on what I learned form Al.

You can see that I extended Al's printout with pencil. Then I added red dots every other division. Green dots, every 4th division, etc.

Photo: 2nd Generation Index Wheel (index_wheel_g2) 2nd Generation Index Wheel

Here is my 2nd generation index wheel. I generated my own Polar Graph Paper using an on line tool at

Then I highlighted every other circle with orange, pink, green, etc Highlighters pens. I added red dots every other division. Etc.

I made 4 versions of this wheel. 28 spokes, 36 spokes, etc.

I used these wheels for a long time. Until, I got tired of making copies of them for my students. Highlighting all of the circles and adding the dots, got to be to much work for each student. That's when I decided to draw the above index wheels in Photoshop.

This is the index wheel design that I documented long ago in my “Power CarvingTextures” blog entry.