Finishing steering wheel with wood

Wooden steering wheel. Inserts for wood. Veneering. Moscow. Part 1.

Why is the steering wheel with wood inserts called wooden steering wheel? In today’s automobiles (I, and never met at all) rarely do wood inserts made of solid wood – usually it is veneered. The veneered inserts on the steering wheel look like a real wooden steering wheel.

I myself really like all the finishing beauty that brings the layout to life.

After all, what is a wooden steering wheel without veneer? It is scary to take it in my hands… One owner of an automobile, after seeing my steering wheel layout, got so worried that he began to doubt whether he needed a wooden steering wheel. I myself thought that he would refuse to order). But it was too late – the rudder was in the works and he had to worry about it. The result, as they say, surpassed all his expectations – he was as happy with the wooden steering wheel as a child! And then all the inserts in the cabin of the car rolled up in wood.

But now I have to paint the steering wheel with wood grain inlay with black paint before covering it with leather so the customer doesn’t get scared). And this glue does not stick to the paint and after showing the wooden steering wheel to the owner needs to wash it off.

01.And this is how this snag looks without veneer and leather. Where there should be wood inserts on the rim are monolithic fiberglass inserts. So, now you understand, what it really is – a wooden steering wheel… In general, all inserts for wood in modern automobile salon are made by technology of veneering. Veneering of detail with veneer – a thin sheet of natural wood – is called so. Consider this process on the example of making a wooden steering wheel.

Making wooden inserts on the steering wheel requires a solid base, since after gluing, during drying, the veneer shrinks strongly and tends to deform the part (the force is enormous). About making wood inserts from fiberglass, I’ll tell you later, in another article.

02. I will immediately note that this brand veneer “East Indian rosewood” on the Range Rover Sport is far from a gift for veneering. Unlike veneer of all sorts of “curly” roots, it does not lay easily on a curved surface. It’s something a craftsman will have to struggle with.

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Wood inlays begin by cutting sheets of veneer to the size of the sectors of the upper and lower parts of the wooden steering wheel. And even earlier, the veneer maker warned me that the size of the top wood insert on the steering wheel must match the width of the veneer strip (veneers are sold a certain size).

The veneer master cut a trapezoid shaped piece out of the veneer for the top wood insert.

03. As with any gluing, in veneering both surfaces are smeared with glue. Brush on the fiberglass top wood insert and the underside of the veneer blank near the rudder.

04. Aim and put the rudder to the veneer. It is more convenient to put the rudder wood insert on a piece of veneer on the table – it is better to see the wood pattern relative to the rudder.

05. On the wooden steering wheel turned over to us, you can already see that it is impossible to veneer the wood insert all around with one piece of veneer – wood is not rubber, it is not stretched over a bent cylinder. Especially a wood with long stiff fibers, like ours. Therefore we will glue GRP wood inserts from the front and back sides as separate pieces, and join them on the outer and inner sides of the rudder. In the photo you can see the beginning of the work, when the craftsman is cutting the veneer along the fibers to fit them. There are also transverse cuts outside the gluing area – just to give more flexibility to the lower section of the veneer, separating unwanted fragments.

06. So, by slicing along and across the wood, we gradually wrap the top half of the wood inlay “fiberglass-style”. Do not pay attention to the overlaps and divergence of the wood fragments for now. Roughly trim the dangling edges of the veneer outside and inside the wood rudder with a small allowance.

07. A paper painter’s tape will help make a precise, even edge of the top of the wood veneer insert. Glue the tape to the edge of the veneer and cut off any excess wood sticking out from under the tape with a sharp knife.

08. The outer part of the veneer was laid with overlaps, but the veneer fibers on the inner side of the wood insert were separated – wedge-shaped gaps were formed. And in the middle there is a “hole” in the form of a tick.

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09. The problem is solved simply. We cut out a piece of veneer in the shape of a “tick” and glue it into the gap in the wood inlay. Professionalism of the master is just in the selection of a pattern and color of this piece of veneer for the patch.

10. But the steering wheel will become wooden after we veneer the bottom half of the wood insert. The order of gluing is the same as at the top, only the edges of the veneer will need to be neatly docked.

11. This is where the craftsmanship is needed! Carefully trim the edge of the veneer to match the cut line of the top wood plate with the bottom.

12. an interesting point of compromise in veneering the little-visible side of the wooden rudder. The craftsman notched the bottom piece of veneer not along the fibers, but across. This is so that the “tick” of the gap between the fibers is not covered (see photos #08 and 09)… This place can not be seen on the steering wheel installed in the car. Such a compromise.

13. The glued and dried wood inserts on the wooden steering wheel are processed with sandpaper. It is very difficult for a person uninitiated into the secrets of veneering to distinguish glued pieces of veneer on the prepared for lacquering wood inlay, and moreover, then to notice something under the glitter of varnish.

More articles about steering wheel tuning

More articles about steering wheel tuning:

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Finishing steering wheel with wood

The purpose of this project is to improve the steering wheel of my 1996 Toyota Land Cruiser. The original steering wheel is covered with leather and painted with a special gray paint. Unfortunately, after 150,000 miles the paint starts to deteriorate.

The first idea was to replace the entire steering wheel with a non-standard steering wheel with wood trim offered in the markets. But in EU countries it is not allowed to remove the airbag (and I prefer to keep it), and besides, non-standard solutions usually do not provide airbag support. Also, removing the airbag leads to a constant annoying warning in the cabin.

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So I decided to replace the leather and rubber with wood myself and keep my original airbag.

With the right tools it can be an easy job, but I didn’t have any specialized tools.


I only used a hacksaw, a couple of scrapers, sandpaper, gauge, hammer, clamps and a drill.

I wouldn’t be able to cut the wood accurately enough, so I wouldn’t be able to use thick overlays and assemble the wheel from those pieces.

So I decided to use thin strips of Samba wood (aka Ayous) with dimensions (5x30x2500mm) and make the overlays around the iron core of the steering wheel.

Patiently, ring by ring, I covered the iron core and molded the wood into its original shape.

Step 1: Remove the old leather and rubber.

The work begins by removing any coating of the steering wheel before reaching the iron rim.

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My steering wheel isn’t actually in that bad of a condition, so I bought another used steering wheel so I could work without fear of messing something up.

Step 2: Bend the samba bar.

Let’s prepare our raw material.

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Samba is a soft wood without veins. The 250 cm long bar is easy to bend and roll into a ring with just warm water in the following sequence:

1. Wet the plank 2. Start bending it carefully. Start simply by joining the two ends together. 3. Secure the ends with Velcro and leave it for a while. 4. Moisten again with warm water and try to close the ring by sliding one end against the other. 5.Repeat until you get a ring slightly smaller than the steering wheel.

For the bar to keep the shape of the ring close to the desired size let it dry completely, and only then remove the fasteners.

I used four 250 cm long strips for my work.

Step 3: First rim.

Now you have the material you need to rebuild your rudder with.


My rim has some thick parts where the spokes connect. So I decided to make notches there.


Now it’s time, to fix the first rim. First find the approximate length to cut the curved bar, and then cut in small pieces, closer and closer to the correct size. Don’t be afraid if a small gap remains. This will be corrected later on.

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To make it easier to work, the slats overlap a little at the connection point. This will be completely scraped off later, during the finishing touch.

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In the next step, we will add another slat on the rim. You can make sure the connection point is in a different position. This would result in a more secure connection. But it will be an unaesthetic connection in some places around the edge. Due to the fact that the wood slat is curved, it will actually be stationary.


So I preferred to have all the joints at the same point. At the end of the job, if the end result is not to my liking, I will cover the connection point with a small wooden ring. I will sand this ring at the level of the rim and it will look great and integrate into the overall picture.

Step 4: Add the rings inside.

To avoid breaking the large bar, I cut one into 2 pieces and inserted inside the first ring . Insert 1 half ring on one side. Use clamps to hold the slats together.

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If any gap appears after removing the clips, prepare a mixture of sawdust, water and vinyl glue. Use it as a putty to close the gap. Or leave it: at the end, you can use wood paste to fill the gap.

Step 5: Add the half ring on the other side.

Repeat the same operation with the other half of the bar on the other side.

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Step 6: Begin to baste.

We start grinding now because we’re halfway through covering the iron ring.

At this time, I can mill the wood as close to the final size as possible and be sure that the iron ring stays perfectly in the center of the wood coating.



Another option is to mill after the iron ring is fully coated, but it is more difficult to keep the iron rim centered.

You can resize the original steering wheel if you wish. I prefer to keep it.To leave room for the final fit, I’ve milled the bars to the size of the original rubber, plus 1mm in height and width.


Step 7: Add the inner ring.

We add the inner ring, to complete the shape. I cut out the spots for the spokes and then just fixed the bar with glue.

Step 8: Fitting the shape between the spokes.

Now we work on the inside profile.

Step 9: Covering the spokes with wood.

To cover the metal spokes, we need to glue small pieces of slats.

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Of course, the inside of the crown is curved, so some pressure is required. To make it easier, use the curved pieces of the slats.

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After four or five layers, depending on your requirements, you can get the thickness you want and start grinding away the excess wood.

Step 10: Fitting the wood spoke.


You can shape your wooden spoke to your preference. Thus, there are no rules at this step.


I tried to reproduce the original. So, once again, I chose to proceed step by step and trim the shape, checking with some reference points.


Of course the first cut is far from the final shape: a margin remains to correct mistakes.

Step 11: The back side of the spoke.

After the first pass, fitting closer to the final shape. I put the back cover in place so I can see where to cut and where not to cut.


Step 12: The front side of the spoke.

We do the same thing on the front side.

To get a perfect surface fit, I installed the airbag pad. This would give me a reference point.

Most of the work was done with sandpaper and some things with the right shape.


You can see my tools in the photo. For example, to get a nice curve, I used a fiberglass stick covered with sandpaper.

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Step 13: Final touches.

Now we put the airbag and back cover in place to refine the shape.


On the back of the rim, I cut indentations for the fingers to ensure a perfect grip even on the stained wood.


Step 14: Painting.

Samba wood is almost white.


I prefer my steering wheel to look more like oak or walnut.

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I used aniline colors and finishing water paints.

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At some point you will see some cracks. This is normal. The wood is still alive and will continue to change slightly depending on humidity and temperature.

Step 15: Installation.


You can see the before and after result in the first photo. I actually bought a used steering wheel to work without fear for my original. I hope you enjoyed it.

And I also want to mention one more thing, especially concerning Ukraine, if you need to make a new license plate for your car, it is not a problem. There is an excellent company that is engaged in the production of numbers, quickly, high quality and not expensive.

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