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A general wheelbuild question

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A general wheelbuild question

Old 06-30-08, 08:50 AM
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dake13
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A general wheelbuild question

I'm building my first set of wheels. The main things I'm relying on are Sheldon's site and the chapter from the Barnett manual. I'm not only trying to learn how to build an actual pair of wheels, but also to get a general sense of what makes a good wheel. 36 spokes, 3 cross.

From the step when the nipples are first threaded on the spokes, I'm a little confused. Each nipple is threaded on to the spoke, all are very loose, and there are two or so threads on the spoke exposed. From here I methodically tighten each one, checking dish and truing, until the wheel is true.

From what I understand, a good wheel should have roughly equal tension on each of the spokes. The whole thing should become true bit by bit. But as I bring it into shape, it seems to me I have some spokes with a lot of tension and some spokes with very little. The wheel wobbled a bit, and I can correct the wobble, but the tension on the spokes seems uneven. I'm thinking of backing off on all the spokes, back to the 2 threads exposed from the nipple stage, to see if I can keep the spoke tension more even.

My question is, how concerned should I be with keeping the tension on each spoke relatively even? I can go along and correct wobbles here and there, but is it possible that I'm going to build a lousy wheel with some spokes too loose and some too tight, but the wheel still appears "true"? I understand such a wheel would come out of true once ridden anyway, right? And is this what a tensiometer does, read the tension of each spoke so they're pretty close to one another?

Hope this makes sense...
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Old 06-30-08, 08:53 AM
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I'm eager to hear some answers on this tension vs. true is a confusing subject for me, and I've built half a dozen wheels now.
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Old 06-30-08, 09:05 AM
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Is the rim brand new and did you verify it was true before you started building it? (Placing it on a glass table top is the best way to check this)

If the rim is used or slightly warped to begin with, you have no choice but to build with uneven tension. If the rim was in good shape, it shouldn't vary by much more than about 10 kgf (spokes on the same side only) unless you brought it up to tension incorrectly.

It sounds like you started off correctly, though. I thread them on lightly, then go around turning them until the threads are just covered (unless that starts to add noticeable tension, then I go back and expose 2 threads on each), then I tighten them up 1/2 turn at a time until they are close to desired tension. From there, I true round and then side, and check the tension periodically. I'd rather have a 1mm wobble than go beyond the 10 kgf variance.
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Old 06-30-08, 09:15 AM
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Originally Posted by urbanknight View Post
Is the rim brand new and did you verify it was true before you started building it? (Placing it on a glass table top is the best way to check this)

If the rim is used or slightly warped to begin with, you have no choice but to build with uneven tension. If the rim was in good shape, it shouldn't vary by much more than about 10 kgf (spokes on the same side only) unless you brought it up to tension incorrectly.

It sounds like you started off correctly, though. I thread them on lightly, then go around turning them until the threads are just covered (unless that starts to add noticeable tension, then I go back and expose 2 threads on each), then I tighten them up 1/2 turn at a time until they are close to desired tension. From there, I true round and then side, and check the tension periodically. I'd rather have a 1mm wobble than go beyond the 10 kgf variance.
The rims are new and true. I should have said, I don't have any way of checking tension beyond plucking the spoke and feeling it.
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Old 06-30-08, 09:59 AM
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Without looking at your wheel I have a few ideas.

It's possible to lace up the entire wheel with the two sides off by one hole. If you do that you'll find you have two tight spokes followed by two loose spokes as you go around the rim. The solution is to take the wheel apart and relace it.

I once worked on a wheel that gave me fits. After about the third try at laceing it I took it apart and measured all of the spokes. SURPRISE! Somebody, probably while taking inventory, dumped a bunch of spokes that were almost the same length together in one box.

The third possibility is you just haven't been precise enough as you brought the spokes up to tension. I think this is the time in the wheelbuilding process to be slow and meticulous. If you're working with a good quality rim and you're careful to bring all of the spokes up to tension evenly, you may find that you have very little trueing to do.
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Old 06-30-08, 11:46 AM
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Originally Posted by dake13 View Post
My question is, how concerned should I be with keeping the tension on each spoke relatively even?
My experience has been that even tensioning trumps perfectly true. After a good quality spoke wrench, having a basic park tensiometer is more important than having a truing stand or dishing gauge. However, if you're starting with a cheap or used rim that is a little less than true, using your brake pads as a truing guide gets to be a major PITA. I invest a lot of time tensioning my wheels and if 0.5-1.0mm short of true is as close as I can get while keeping the spokes within the aforementioned 10kgf of one another, then I'm just going to have to live with it. It compromises the brake setup some but I'd rather have the stronger wheel.
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Old 06-30-08, 12:33 PM
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Just to be sure, you're not concerned that one side has more tension than the other on a rear wheel, right? Assuming that, did you stress relieve the spokes? This also makes sure they are seated properly. If some of them are not seated properly, they will probably ring differently.
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Old 06-30-08, 12:42 PM
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First, compare to an already build wheel to insure that you haven't made any gross lacing errors.

And, as Urbanknight indicates, there will be unbalance on the rear wheel. Non-drive side will only have about 60% of the tension of the drive side. Of course, they should be balanced on the front. With a decent rim, it isn't difficult to hold spoke-to-spoke tension to 5% variation, or less.
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Old 06-30-08, 01:22 PM
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Originally Posted by cachehiker View Post
My experience has been that even tensioning trumps perfectly true. After a good quality spoke wrench, having a basic park tensiometer is more important than having a truing stand or dishing gauge. However, if you're starting with a cheap or used rim that is a little less than true, using your brake pads as a truing guide gets to be a major PITA. I invest a lot of time tensioning my wheels and if 0.5-1.0mm short of true is as close as I can get while keeping the spokes within the aforementioned 10kgf of one another, then I'm just going to have to live with it. It compromises the brake setup some but I'd rather have the stronger wheel.
Let's start with the goofy measurement of kgf. There is no such thing as a kilogram-force measurement. Kilogram (or any gram measurement) is a measure of mass and is independent of gravitational effects. A kilogram is the same amount of material whether in earth's gravitational field, the moon's, the sun's or in free fall.

Force, on the other hand, isn't necessarily independent of gravitational effects. The real measurement you should be using is the Newton which is 9.8 times the 'kgf' that is incorrectly used by Park.

However, since Park uses it and you have used it, I'll stick with it rather than do all the conversions. Park says the following about spoke tension:

Relative tension is the tension of a spoke in comparison to the tension of one or more other spokes. A wheel with spokes that are within plus or minus 20% of the wheel's average spoke tension is generally considered to have acceptable relative tension.

If you do the math, that means that for a spoke at 100 kgf (980 N), the acceptable range of tension can vary from 80 kgf to 120 kgf. That's far more then the 10kgf you use and is one hell of a range. It also says to me that spoke tension isn't nearly as critical as you make it out to be. A tensionometer is certainly not more important the a dishing tool or a truing stand. You can build wheels without either of those...although they make the job easier...just as you can build reliable strong wheels without a tensionometer.

I've built many, many wheels without a tensionometer. I even have one of them but it sits in my tool drawer and is never used. As long as you get the wheel reasonably straight and round and use incremental steps in tensioning the wheel, the tensions won't be that far off.
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Old 06-30-08, 01:29 PM
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Originally Posted by Joshua A.C. New View Post
I'm eager to hear some answers on this tension vs. true is a confusing subject for me, and I've built half a dozen wheels now.
Well, that's where the skill comes in - to get the best possible balance between tension and trueness. It doesn't take much to throw you off from perfect, rim out of round or out of true prior to laceing, missing the count a little when starting the nipples...

And it also depends on the intended usage, for a commuter durability is probably preferable over a minor wobble, while for other applications truest possible wheel might be of bigger interest than durability.
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Old 06-30-08, 01:42 PM
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Originally Posted by urbanknight View Post
Just to be sure, you're not concerned that one side has more tension than the other on a rear wheel, right? Assuming that, did you stress relieve the spokes? This also makes sure they are seated properly. If some of them are not seated properly, they will probably ring differently.
No, it's not one side or the other, it's random spokes here and there. As far as lacing errors (mentioned by other posters), I laced them up very, very meticulously with blue tape labels as Barnett recommends.

Very helpful posts - thank you. Just to be clear, though, I have uneven tension here and there in the spokes, but this isn't such a big deal - I can back them and try to get the tension more even. It's more that I wanted to get a general sense of how important spoke tension is. Because it seems to this beginner that one could lace up a wheel, get it reasonably true, but have relatively big differences in the spoke tension from nipple to nipple.
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Old 06-30-08, 01:57 PM
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I wouldn't back it off and try again. Experience tells me that it only makes it worse. True the wheel up and as long as the spokes aren't dangerously loose or dangerously tight, you'll be fine (as cyccocommute suggests). Spoke tension is much more sensitive in low spoke count wheels with thin spokes... as I found out the hard way.

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Old 06-30-08, 01:58 PM
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are you lacing up a front or rear?
did you mix two different lengths of spokes? Did you get the correct spoke length to begin with? I've laced up a wheel and run into your same problem and realized 1/2 of my wheel had the wrong length spoke given to me by the shop.
are you trying to tighten each spoke a full turn? - you should tighten each spoke 1/2 tunn at most when bringing a wheel up to tension - any more and the wheel will get "fracked up" as the fist spokes will be pulling very tight by the time you get around to the last spokes.


VERY IMPORTANT:
strait from sheldon site
The key spoke will be next to or one hole away from the valve hole in the rim.
did you start correctly? if you started next to the valve hole and you were supposed to be one hole away this can mess you up. (and vice vesa)

Last edited by cbchess; 06-30-08 at 02:04 PM. Reason: sheldon knows best
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Old 06-30-08, 02:37 PM
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Originally Posted by urbanknight View Post
I wouldn't back it off and try again. Experience tells me that it only makes it worse. True the wheel up and as long as the spokes are dangerously loose or dangerously tight, you'll be fine (as cyccocommute suggests). Spoke tension is much more sensitive in low spoke count wheels with thin spokes... as I found out the hard way.
Um...I know you mean 'aren't'
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Old 06-30-08, 02:54 PM
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Originally Posted by cyccommute View Post
Um...I know you mean 'aren't'
fixed
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Old 06-30-08, 03:49 PM
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Originally Posted by cyccommute View Post
Let's start with the goofy measurement of kgf.
True. Kgf is not a proper unit if you're using the metric system. I think Park did it because many Americans can remember how to convert kg to lbs at sea level but most are left completely clueless when confronted with the concept of a Newton.

I only built nine wheels without a tensiometer and I hit seven out of nine. Two of the five rear wheels had to be retrued and tightened 1/2 turn per spoke a couple of times before they would stay true. Since acquiring a tensiometer, I have built another dozen and not a single one has ever required truing. If I had it to do over again, I'd still buy the spoke wrench and the tensiometer first just to feel secure that I won't likely have to revisit a previous build.

It's also bad enough that I build them on my coffee table. I'd rather not go out and dig up my nearest known good wheel and add it to the clutter in order to assess spoke tension. Girlfriends already give me way too much grief about the numerous projects scattered around the basement.

Prior to last week's MS ride, my buddy Bill asked to borrow my tensiometer so he could check the wheels on his old Trek. There were three non-drive side spokes tensioned at 500 Newtons which I'm sure is far enough outside the plus minus 20% range to be of concern to both of us. This was after he'd taken the wheels to the LBS for truing. Even after building 20 wheels, I won't trust my own "feel" for spoke tension for a while yet. My distrust of the typical 17 year old LBS employee's "feel" for spoke tension has repeatedly been justified as well. I've even been let down by an experienced shop mechanic's "feel" for spoke tension. This and their repeatedly missing bad rim tape is probably the single biggest reason I started wrenching on my own bikes.

Gerd Schraner's Art Of Wheelbuilding is mostly responsible for my obsession with tensioning and overall, I'd accept plus or minus 20% with a problem rim if I could keep all of the non-drive side spokes above the 600 Newton line. However, when starting with a quality rim like a Mavic XC717, I've found that plus or minus 10 kgf is not that difficult to achieve while still staying within 0.5mm of true.

Also, when I say plus or minus 10 kgf, that means some of them are bound to hit those limits. It does not represent a "six sigma" manufacturing tolerance where 95% of your samples are going to end up within plus or minus 4 kgf and only the occasional "flyer" will approach the limits you're trying to maintain. I don't build wheels for a living either and am utterly unconcerned about doing it quickly to keep my margins up. I want them as close to perfect as I can get them the very first time.
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Old 06-30-08, 06:43 PM
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Originally Posted by cachehiker View Post
Prior to last week's MS ride, my buddy Bill asked to borrow my tensiometer so he could check the wheels on his old Trek. There were three non-drive side spokes tensioned at 500 Newtons which I'm sure is far enough outside the plus minus 20% range to be of concern to both of us. This was after he'd taken the wheels to the LBS for truing. Even after building 20 wheels, I won't trust my own "feel" for spoke tension for a while yet. My distrust of the typical 17 year old LBS employee's "feel" for spoke tension has repeatedly been justified as well. I've even been let down by an experienced shop mechanic's "feel" for spoke tension. This and their repeatedly missing bad rim tape is probably the single biggest reason I started wrenching on my own bikes.
The tension on a spoke is dependent on the rim and varies from brand to brand. If you look at Park Tools, you can see that the values range all over the place. From 50 kgf (490 N) to 159 kgf (1770 N). To say that there is something wrong with your friend's wheel at 500 N is meaningless without knowing what the rim should be at and what the other spokes are at currently. It may be low or it might be right in the ballpark. To set an arbitrary line of 600 N (61 kgf) is also meaningless. Many of the rims listed start with far more tension then that...especially on the drive side.
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Old 06-30-08, 06:49 PM
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Originally Posted by dake13 View Post

From the step when the nipples are first threaded on the spokes, I'm a little confused. Each nipple is threaded on to the spoke, all are very loose, and there are two or so threads on the spoke exposed. From here I methodically tighten each one, checking dish and truing, until the wheel is true.

From what I understand, a good wheel should have roughly equal tension on each of the spokes. The whole thing should become true bit by bit. But as I bring it into shape, it seems to me I have some spokes with a lot of tension and some spokes with very little. The wheel wobbled a bit, and I can correct the wobble, but the tension on the spokes seems uneven. I'm thinking of backing off on all the spokes, back to the 2 threads exposed from the nipple stage, to see if I can keep the spoke tension more even.

My question is, how concerned should I be with keeping the tension on each spoke relatively even? I can go along and correct wobbles here and there, but is it possible that I'm going to build a lousy wheel with some spokes too loose and some too tight, but the wheel still appears "true"? I understand such a wheel would come out of true once ridden anyway, right? And is this what a tensiometer does, read the tension of each spoke so they're pretty close to one another?
If I understand you correctly, then you have a systematic procedure, but the procedure gives very uneven results, eg. some spokes seems randomly too tight or too loose.
This can be caused by several things, but the most likely cause for this is spoke windup.

Description of the problem:

When you tighten a spoke nipple, the spoke is forced upward through the thread in the nipple. The spoke elongates and therefore gains tension. The nipple is twisted, but the spoke isn't. But imagine what happens if the spoke can't move upwards through the nipple thread while the nipple is being turned? The entire spoke twists of course (least at the hub, most at the nipple.). This spoke twisting is called spoke windup.

Spoke windup usually occurs when the resistance starts to increase when turning the nipple.

When spoke windup starts to occur, the spokes on the wheel usually becomes a mixture of untwisted and twisted spokes. Some spokes has a little twist, some a lot. A twisted spoke behaves differently from a properly tensioned spoke.

That is why that even though all the nipples were turned the same amount, the tension seems to vary randomly. It becomes a "whack-a-mole" problem to try to make such a wheel both round and true and having even spoke tension. It can take several hours to get a marginally satisfying result.

It becomes even worse when such a wheel is used under load, since this may cause some of the spokes to "untwist" and therefore to rapidly change tension and thereby causing the wheel to become wobbly. The untwisting causes a "pinging" sound when the wheel is ridden.

In my opinion spoke windup is the novice wheelbuilders arch enemy number one.

Detection
Spoke windup is easy to detect and demonstrate. Take some tape and make small "flags" on the middle of the spokes. Align the flags parallel with the rim. Turn the nipples and watch the flags. When the flags starts to move you got spoke windup.

Solving the problem
There are some procedures, including riding the wheel, that can help to unwind the spoke windup. But it is incredibly timesaving and easy to avoid it all together. And this is how:

Lubricate the spoke threads, some use a heavy oil, others grease. (or linseed oil or light Loctite).
Lubricate the spoke holes so the nipples may be turned easily. (I won't explain this).
But most importantly, backup when turning the spoke key:
Eg. After every time you make a half turn with the spoke key, backup a quarter turn. The net result is just a quarter turn of tension, but the backup movement really helps prevents spoke twist.

I suggest that you turn the nipples so that the spokes becomes slack and start over. Put tape flags on the spokes, if not them all, then on a lot of them so you can see when the spoke windup starts to occur and you need to use the "half-turn forward, quarter turn backward" spoke key procedure. Experiment a bit while watching the spoke "flags", but try to retain your systematic approach.

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Old 06-30-08, 07:40 PM
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Originally Posted by dake13 View Post
From the step when the nipples are first threaded on the spokes, I'm a little confused. Each nipple is threaded on to the spoke, all are very loose, and there are two or so threads on the spoke exposed. From here I methodically tighten each one, checking dish and truing, until the wheel is true.
At the start, the spoke nipples should be threaded on until they just contact the rim. This is the time to do all the work needed to bring the rim into true and into round. I've never run across a rim that is true and round on its own but some are better than others.

Stress relieve the spokes at this point. You want to form the spoke elbows around the hub. This will happen eventually if you don't do it now, but tension will be relieved on the spokes as well and your wheel will be a mess.

Make adjustments to the trueness first. You should work on the rim as a system and don't just tighten spokes to adjust for trueness. You can get a feel for whether or not you should tighten or loosen the spoke by pulling on it. If it feels loose and the rim is pulling away from the spoke head, tighten it. If it feels tight and is pulling towards the spoke head, loosen it.

Then move on to roundness. You should work on section of the rim. If the rim hops up from the indicator, the spokes are tight and need to have loosen them. If the rim dips towards the indicator, the spokes are too loose and needs to be tightened. Pick a spoke in the middle of the problem area and make the largest adjustment to it. Then adjust the adjacent spokes on either side slightly less than you did the middle one. Continue while reducing the amount of adjustment as you move outward.

The reason you do this now is that it's easier to do these adjustments with a little tension on the spokes than later.

Once you are satisfied with trueness and roundness, start layering on tension to the spokes. You do not want to just screw the first spoke in tight and then the next and then the next. If you do this, you'll end up with a wheel that is tight but the tension will be very uneven. Work in small increments...I usually do no more than a full turn early...all the way around the wheel. When you've done your first round, check the trueness and roundness and then add more tension. As things get tighter, turn the nipple less on each round. I may start with a full turn the first couple of rounds, then go to a half turn, then a quarter. Once you reach a quarter turn, you can usually stay there until you get the spokes as tight as you want. Check trueness and roundness each time. You will probably not have to do much truing if you started with a good base.

As you tension, hold the spoke you are working on with your thumb and forefinger. Feel for any twisting of the spoke. If the spoke twists, try to turn it back as much as it twisted in the first place. Use a little light machine oil on the nipple/rim interface and on the threads. This, with some spoke prep, will reduce the twisting of the spoke.

Originally Posted by dake13 View Post
From what I understand, a good wheel should have roughly equal tension on each of the spokes. The whole thing should become true bit by bit. But as I bring it into shape, it seems to me I have some spokes with a lot of tension and some spokes with very little. The wheel wobbled a bit, and I can correct the wobble, but the tension on the spokes seems uneven. I'm thinking of backing off on all the spokes, back to the 2 threads exposed from the nipple stage, to see if I can keep the spoke tension more even.

You turned the spoke nipples too much at first. You can basically squeeze the balloon too much on one side and end up with a lopsided balloon. Work in layers.

Originally Posted by dake13 View Post
My question is, how concerned should I be with keeping the tension on each spoke relatively even? I can go along and correct wobbles here and there, but is it possible that I'm going to build a lousy wheel with some spokes too loose and some too tight, but the wheel still appears "true"? I understand such a wheel would come out of true once ridden anyway, right? And is this what a tensiometer does, read the tension of each spoke so they're pretty close to one another?

Hope this makes sense...
Again, work in stages. If I use a tensiometer, it's to check for a problem spoke that needs adjustment. Plinking the spokes with your finger will also tell you which spokes are tight or loose and which way they need to be turned. A flat tone is loose while a sharp tone is a tight one.
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Old 07-01-08, 03:23 AM
  #20  
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While the kgf measurement may not be accurate, it's representative of what we want. A measurement of 100kgf on the gauge will place the spoke with as much tension as if you hung a 100kg weight off the end of the spoke. Or conversely, it's pulling in on the rim as if you're hanging a 100kg weight on the hook-end of the spoke.

As for the OP's wheel, you got too eager. Easy way to build up tension evenly is to do it a little at a time and do it the exact amount on each spoke. So when I thread on the nipples, I screw it on so each one has about 1-thread exposed. Then when tightening up the spokes, I spin each spoke EXACTLY 2 turns each. Then as tension comes close to final, I tighten them 1 turn each. From then on, truing and dishing typically is done with only 1/4-turns at a time, down to 1/8th turns on the final pass.

This works assuming all the other factors pointed out by the other guys are true. That your rim is straight. That all your spokes are the same length. And that you laced up the wheel properly. It's really easy to be off by one if you didn't spin the hub in the right direction after the key-spoke was threaded. Or if you stuck the 2nd spoke through the wrong hole on the opposite flange. Remember that the holes don't line up perfectly even on the hub, they're offset by 1/2 hole on the other side.
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Old 07-01-08, 08:10 AM
  #21  
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Originally Posted by DannoXYZ View Post
While the kgf measurement may not be accurate, it's representative of what we want. A measurement of 100kgf on the gauge will place the spoke with as much tension as if you hung a 100kg weight off the end of the spoke. Or conversely, it's pulling in on the rim as if you're hanging a 100kg weight on the hook-end of the spoke.
The Newton (N) does exactly the same thing except it's just 9.8 times the value. Kilogram-force and pound-mass come from people who are too lazy to learn the proper units. It's just one of those things that makes my teeth hurt...like not knowing the difference between a scale and a balance. One measures mass and the other you find on fish.

By the way, pound would work as a unit on the tensiometer since it is a measurement of force.

Originally Posted by DannoXYZ View Post
As for the OP's wheel, you got too eager. Easy way to build up tension evenly is to do it a little at a time and do it the exact amount on each spoke. So when I thread on the nipples, I screw it on so each one has about 1-thread exposed. Then when tightening up the spokes, I spin each spoke EXACTLY 2 turns each. Then as tension comes close to final, I tighten them 1 turn each. From then on, truing and dishing typically is done with only 1/4-turns at a time, down to 1/8th turns on the final pass.
If you do the truing and roundness while the wheel is in a relaxed state, less work has to be done later on to correct those issues. I would only turn the spokes 2 turns very early in the tensioning process and then only for 1 or 2 rounds. 2 turns takes up a lot of slack fast and you are more likely to end up with an unevenly tensioned wheel quicker.

As for dishing, I usually do that just after the spokes have started to tighten up. I then check it periodically throughout the rest of tensioning. Again, it easier to do at a more relaxed state than when the wheel is tight.
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Old 07-01-08, 11:59 AM
  #22  
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Originally Posted by cyccommute View Post
To say that there is something wrong with your friend's wheel at 500 N is meaningless without knowing what the rim should be at and what the other spokes are at currently.
Basic 32h Open Pro laced to a 105 hub. Drive side tensioned to an average of 1100 N give or take 250 N (two spokes were really high). Non-drive side tensioned to an average of 700 N give or take 200 N (three spokes were really low). I wouldn't want to see any non-drive side spokes below 600 N or any drive side spokes above 1250 N after getting it back from the LBS.
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