As bicycle mechanics, our wrenching gives us a lot of enjoyment and saves us money too. But one thing that many mechanics shy away from is wheel building... dunno why... but maybe it is just too intimidating for many folks. But wheel building isn't rocket science and building your own can save you some money. I've found that building my own wheels doesn't really save me that much money on new wheel sets... but it allows me to get exactly the wheels that I want for a given purpose without the expense of going to a custom builder.
But where wheel building can really save you a ton of money is in allowing you to repair and reuse parts that would otherwise go into the junk pile. I often run into wheels that have great hubs and tapped out rims... or great wheel sets that only need to be reworked and re-tensioned.
I was in my LBS last Saturday buying some parts when in comes a guy carrying a set of used wheels.
He told the shop guy, "These are the wheels that I replaced with that set that I bought from you... you guys want them?"
Shop guy: "Nah... we'd just throw them away if you leave them here."
Wheel guy: "Well, they won't stay true... so they're no good to me."
So I figured that I'd offer the guy a few dollars on the off chance that I could scavenge some parts from the wheels. He refused to take any money and gave them to me... pointing to where they sat across the room.
After the guy left, the shop guys told me about how they'd worked on those wheels several times and couldn't make them behave. Hmmm...
I grabbed the wheels as I left the shop, and discovered that these weren't the crappy wheels that I'd expected. Barely worn Mavic Open Pro rims laced to almost new Ultegra hubs... and he'd left a brand new set of Hutchinson Fusion tires installed!
When I got around to inspecting them at length, I discovered that about half of the nipples were rounded off... no wonder they couldn't be adjusted.
So I replaced all of the nipples... loosened the tension all around the wheels... and started tightening up everything just like I was building a new wheel.
It looked like someone started trying to true these wheels and ended up getting the spokes so tight that the nipples started to round off, and they didn't know how to recover and make the wheel right. So the only thing wrong with the wheels is that they were an unevenly tensioned mess because neither the shop mechanics nor the owner knew how to build or properly true a wheel.
I ended up with a like new set of top shelf wheels for the price of a handful of nipples and a couple of hours of work.
So guys... learn to build your own wheels. Think about it. If you don't know how to adjust a derailleur, it costs you $15 or $20 to have it done for you. Don't know how to adjust a headset? $10. But if you don't know how to fix a wheel... like this guy... it can cost you hundreds of dollars.