I have seen several post of people building their own wheels. While I really dont have an interest in being a full time wheel builder, I do like to know how to do things, so I signed up for a class.
I went up to Portland and took a class at Sugar Wheel Works. Jude works with you in advance to find out what type of wheel you want to build, then orders all the parts, then teaches you how to build them (in her shop).
The first day was simply an overview of wheel building, and then we actually laced up the rims. There were 3 of us in the class, and each of us had a completely differnt wheel planned, so poor jude had lots to do to keep us straight.
My wheels were pretty easy as I was using radial on the front, and 2 cross on the drive and radial on the non drive side on the rear. I think it took me about 2 hours with the instruction to get my two rims laced up.
The second day was the actual build. I was using Cxray spokes so I didnt have to do stress relieving, and had to use another tool to hold the spoke straight as I tightened the nipples. All I can say was it was a true experience. It took me about 4 hours, but I got that wheel within 1.5 in radial and lateral, and all spokes almost perfect on uniform tension.
It was harder than I thought, when you start, that wheel moves both up and down, as well as side to side, and you have to watch your dish. So turning those spokes can end up with some very funny results until you get a feel for how far, and how much, and which spokes to loosen and which to tighten.
I had a flight back so I didnt get all the way through the second wheel, but I was moving twice as fast on that one, when I ran out of time.
I think I could do a fine job of truing a set of wheels that has gotten out, and making sure they are all equal tension and are radially true. I think I would need a book with reference materials in it to design and build a set from scratch at this point.
I will go on and add, that I see lots of folks talking about building their own wheels and even their bike shop building wheels for them. Watching someone who truly builds 50-60 wheelsets a week is a true artform. I think as with most things, that many of the LBS guys who build a set or two each month, and all of the home guys who may build a set a year, dont hold a candle to the real wheel builders. Her wheelbuiding equipment is like nothing I have ever seen for sale to a home guy or even LBS. She was able to put mics on both the true and radial and measure the extents. She had very exacting limits that she wouldn't ship a wheel above. I would bet those limits are half what most LBS do, and more than that for the home hobbiest. I dont see how even on the park pro model, that you could duplicate what she did with tolerances.
Her spoke tension gage alone was 250 bucks compared to the park model of 60 bucks. She even developed a tension standard that she uses to calibrate the parks for classes.
I probably will build a set of wheels one day, and will most definitely take care of my wheels better in the future (as I bought a set of tools from her to do so), but the best thing I learned in the class, is if you really want a pro set of wheels built, one that will be perfect and stay perfect, I dont think I am qualified and most LBS are not qualified, go to a real honest to go wheel builder.