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While this wheel is at least 74 years old, it can go back to work tomorrow. It is 20 inches across the grips and six inches deep from mounting plate to hub. It has its wood drum for traditional, manual steering. The grips were missing so I turned new, old-style wood ones and added heavy-duty stainless steel bolts to secure them. Questions? 207 657-2117

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Believe it or not, these small wheels are used to steer everything from little steam launches to the largest lobster boats. This helm is only 12 inches from grip to grip, and four inches deep. All the metal is bronze. The wheel and drum turn freely on the bronze mounting plate. I suspect it came from a small yacht or fishing boat in the days before hydraulic systems became the norm.

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In the early years of modern yachting, from around 1910 to1920, pleasure sailors loved the little ships wheels that were made for the new, motor-powered yachts. The fancy turnings of the spokes and the fine tapers of the grips were pleasing additions to the wood paneling of the boats.

A few manufacturers still supply these pretty little wheels with their boats. Our example is typical of the style and that can be seen today. Measuring only 17 inches across, it is one of the smallest of its type and is probably 50 or 60 years old.

It has a brass hub with a bit of chrome plating still evident. It is made for a one-inch, tapering to a three-quarter inch, shaft. It is still tight and good for a replacement in a restored classic vessel.

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Wooden ships wheels came into use beginning in the early 18th century. By 1790 they were in common use on larger ships though smaller, more humble vessels like fishing schooners and coastal cargo boats still retained use of the bare tiller.

In the mid-19th century, iron foundries began manufacturing wheels in wrought and cast iron. Many of the old shipmasters insisted on having steering stations on deck, with helms exposed to the weather. It was easier to read the wind. Iron wheels held up better in sun and weather.

Our iron wheel was made by Edson of Boston. It measures 30 inches tip to tip. It has a cast iron hub and a cast iron bow, with wrought iron spokes and oak grips. The iron is heavily galvanized to retard rust. The hub is bored for a one-inch shaft. This is a good, practical working helm. I had one like it on a skipjack I captained on the Chesapeake some years ago.

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Here is a well-used example of a veteran boat helm. It shows its years at sea but there is plenty of life in it yet. It is probably made of mahogany; old wood can be hard to identify.

At 18 inches, this wheel surely came from a small yacht or pleasure craft. Of course, here in Maine nothing goes to waste. When a yacht becomes a little ragged, it is likely to pass into the hands of an enterprising salvor or fisherman.

It has brass hardware that was originally plated in chrome. Some of that plating has worn away revealing the brass beneath. The wheel still has its 10-inch bronze shaft attached to the back of the hub. This is easily removed for shipping.

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It’s always nice to find a good, old-fashioned ships wheel like this one.

Heavily built of solid teak, obviously it was meant for a merchant vessel or fishing craft. The eight spokes radiate from a heavy iron hub that is covered on the front by a brass boss, or plate.

The wheel measures 39 inches across and still has its natural wood finish. The king spoke is marked by a prominent “wedding band” carved in relief so it can be easily recognized by feel in the dark. The wheel weighs 33 1/2 pounds and was made to fit a keyed, 1 1/8 inch shaft. Nothing fancy or yachty, just the real thing.

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This unusual little wheel may have once graced a little steam launch. I found it here in Maine and suspect it was last used aboard a lobster boat.

It has five grips and is only 11 inches (28 cm) across the grips. It still has the spool for the tiller rope and its mounting plate on the back.

I have cleaned the facing side of the wheel to show its burnished bronze finish. I rarely find these small, functional wheels. The wood grips are in good condition and are attached with heavy bronze bolts.