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Making a cart step-by-step

See the steps involved in making a cart using traditional hand tools, as recorded in the summer of 1972 with wheelwright James Kelliher of Glenflesk, Co. Kerry.

Forming the shafts

The shafts formed the strong sides of the cart. In this photograph, James is paring down a shaft with a hatchet. The shafts were ‘struck out’ or marked prior to paring. After paring, the shafts were planed and shaved.

Setlocks and laths

The planing and shaving of the shafts gave their ends their distinctive round shape. When the shafts were complete, James planed the setlocks and laths that run across the seperated shafts to form the body of the cart.

Squaring the body

Once the setlocks and laths were ready, James squared the body of the cart ensuring the setlocks and laths were accurately marked on each shaft before mortices (holes) were cut out.

Cutting out mortices

James cut out the mortices in each shaft with a mallet and chisel. The shafts were then ready to receive the laths.

Making the body of the cart

To assemble the body of the cart, James drove the laths into the mortice holes using the back of a hatchet.


Fitting sidelaces on to laths.

Taking shape

Once the individually made cart pieces were assembled, the cart began to take shape.

Taking shape

The cart needed to be a robust vehicle. Here, the body of the cart is shown with shafts, laths, sidelaces, setlocks and bearer put together. The sidelaces were the timbers added to the setlocks and the bearer ran up the middle of the cart. Each component strengthened the cart.

Adding the axle

Next, James bolted on the axle and axle casing which would hold the cart wheels in place.

Making the floorboards

Floor boards were fitted to the cart and nailed into position. They too needed to be strong enough to carry the weight of the cart’s cargo.

Making the wheel stock

James used an auger to bore the wheel stock prior to cutting out mortices with a chisel. The mortices would hold the spokes of the wheel.

Making the spokes

With the spokes secure in the stock, James pared the ends of each spoke with a chisel to allow them fit into the felloes. The felloes are the curved sections that form the outer rim of the wheel

Making the wheels

James fitted the felloes onto the spokes using a hammer. Two spokes were fitted into each felloe.

The blacksmith

The wheel of the donkey cart was banded with an iron rim by blacksmith Martin Cusson. Martin measured the length of iron required by rolling the wheel along it and cutting it off after one rotation of the wheel.

Banding the wheel

Wheel of donkey cart being banded by Martin Cusson. Scarfing bar for joint.

Creating the circular shape

The measured iron was bent into a rough circular shape by the blacksmith but was not yet ready for fitting to the wheel.


Martin and his apprentice, Gerry Cronin, measured the circular band with a length of cord to ensure that it was the correct size for wheel.


In order to make the band flexible for fitting to the wheel, Martin and Gerry built a fire of turf and logs into the middle of which they placed the iron rim.


The heated band was taken directly from the fire and fitted around the wheel by the two men using tools called dogs that gripped the rim.

Cooling and constricting

The heated metal would immediately set the wooden wheel alight so cold water was poured on the rim to extinguish the flames and to cool and constrict the rim tight around the wooden wheel.


A sledge was used to tap the rim of the wheel at various points as necessary to move the band further to one side or the other.

Finishing the cart wheels

James Kelliher continued the work on the cart wheels. Using an auger, he made a hole in the stock for the box which enabled the wheels be fitted to the axle of the cart.

Painting and ready for use

With the wheels on and the metal staples for the draught chain attached, James' last task was to paint the cart and it was ready for use.

Explore more in our 'Tools of the Trade' online gallery

View an online gallery of the traditional hand tools used the process

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