Do wheels have to be cast iron?

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Mr Ron
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Do wheels have to be cast iron?

Post by Mr Ron » Wed Nov 20, 2019 5:34 pm

Everyone who builds an engine uses cast iron. That means they have to make patterns which may require drawing and pattern duplication. What is wrong in using solid steel round bars, slicing off and turning on the lathe, using soft jaws for repeated accuracy. Is there something about cast iron that is better than steel? After all, the rims on steam locomotive drivers are steel, pressed on to cast iron centers.
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Re: Do wheels have to be cast iron?

Post by SteveM » Wed Nov 20, 2019 5:37 pm

I took a steel bar, made slices and made wheels out of them.

Mine are just flat and don't have the indented sides like nice cast wheels do. Not pretty, but they are round and they roll. They will be hidden inside a frame, so you won't see them.

I think part of the reason for casting is not having to machine all of that.


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Re: Do wheels have to be cast iron?

Post by rkcarguy » Wed Nov 20, 2019 5:42 pm

My opinion, no. I'm using steel for all my wheels. It has better grip, is stronger, and has better wear characteristics than cast iron. I have access to a laser through my workplace and have them cut me blanks from 1" plate. Then I bore/ream the center hole, drill a drive dog hole, and slide them onto a fixture/hub chucked up in the lathe so I can turn the face and tread profile.
However, for 1.5/1.6" scale, castings are readily available and cheap, and fairly easy to turn being they cast in the most of the shape. I'm modeling in 2" scale so I don't have a choice.

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Re: Do wheels have to be cast iron?

Post by Dick_Morris » Wed Nov 20, 2019 5:48 pm

In some ways steel is better. It lasts longer and has better traction than cast iron. Cast iron is the traditional material because that was the most practical way to get the spoke or Boxpox shapes. Now we can do the same thing with CNC. Some have fabricated wheels from rings, spokes, and the crank boss and brazed all the parts together. Others have started with a piece of plate and used a rotary table to cut the spokes. One friend built wheels out of plate and drilled big holes to give a simulation of a disk type drive wheel.

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Re: Do wheels have to be cast iron?

Post by Glenn Brooks » Wed Nov 20, 2019 5:59 pm

Ron, one reason to still use cast iron is that most commercial shops can’t laser cut or water jet cut cut steel plate over 1” thickness. So If you need say 1.50” thread width, they can’t do it. Same with diameter’s over 12”.

If you flame cut thicker (steel)material, the cut surfaces become hardened and are nearly impossible to machine unless you anneal the parts or grind off the flame cut areas - both tedious work...

Ok, 3 reasons...😚 :lol:

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Re: Do wheels have to be cast iron?

Post by rkcarguy » Wed Nov 20, 2019 7:54 pm

There are several places that water jet thick plates, we've ordered some in 1-1/2" and 2" stainless, but you have to get your wallet out. It's typically when there can't be any warping when we order water jet cut parts. Can also have the center pieces laser cut from 3/4" or 1" plate WITH the spokes and then machine them and press on thick wall pipe or tube tires for a wider tread. Lots of options that really depend on what you have access to for equipment and materials, and/or how deep your pockets are. I take great pride in making one's junk into parts for my RR lol, but have access to some pretty great equipment through work too.

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Re: Do wheels have to be cast iron?

Post by RONALD » Wed Nov 20, 2019 9:03 pm

When I did my wheel castings, in Lost Foam and from match plates, there were a few iron foundries still around.

A steel foundry would have been out of the question for lots of technical reasons, tho I could have tried.

Anyway as it turned out, I got those wheels poured for free because I had done the owner a favor; FREE trumps anything else!

A steel blank would require lots and lots of work to achieve what I got by casting.

The first photo is of iron wheels done in Lost Foam. The second, iron wheels from a match plate.
Lost Foam047.jpg

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Re: Do wheels have to be cast iron?

Post by PeterCraymer » Thu Nov 21, 2019 8:31 am


Can we talk about the N&W castings shown? Looks like a light driver, T-95 Commonwealth tender truck and pilot truck casting for an N&W J. Is this for 1 1/2" scale?



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Re: Do wheels have to be cast iron?

Post by Pontiacguy1 » Thu Nov 21, 2019 8:49 am

Most are cast iron because that is the easiest and cheapest way to make the wheels with multiple spokes, counterweights, crankpin and axle bosses, etc... and on freight cars, a lot of them are cast iron so that they can have the fluted backs on them, and possibly raised lettering as well. It is the features you need that dictated using a casting or not. Now with CNC, that need has diminished some, but a lot of times there is just no easy replacement for a casting. If you want to machine your stuff out of solid steel, then go right ahead. In fact, I've seen some cast iron wheels that looks like the pattern was made on a primitive CNC and then copies cast.

Yes, steel will wear longer and be more durable in a lot of ways. You can always use steel tires over your cast iron wheels just like the prototypes did. There were other types tried: I've seen locomotive and car wheels made from cast bronze, cast aluminum, cast iron, cast steel. I've also seen them machined from solid steel or solid aluminum, and even plastics in a couple of cases. If you used bronze for your wheels, or aluminum, I'd put steel tires on them. There's a lot more than one way to do something, and I've seen successful and unsuccessful versions of just about every type of material imaginable used for wheels. It depends on the application and how its used.

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Re: Do wheels have to be cast iron?

Post by Benjamin Maggi » Thu Nov 21, 2019 8:54 am

I used slices of steel for my wheels, and not just for the traction. The castings I wanted were only available in the UK and were priced much too high for what they were. I bought steel, asked a forum member to cut the decorative profile on the fronts of them with his CNC mill, and then turned them on the lathe.

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Re: Do wheels have to be cast iron?

Post by jscarmozza » Thu Nov 21, 2019 9:20 am

I cast a few car wheels from brass and shrunk on a steel tire and they seem to work fine, never tried it with a driver.
P.s. RONALD you make some really fine castings!

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Re: Do wheels have to be cast iron?

Post by wewilliams » Fri Nov 22, 2019 5:07 am

I was thinking about that too if push came to shove - glad to see I am not so crazy.

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