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I bought "powder coated" nipples for a new build to match a frame. It's for a SOMA Wolverine and the wheels were to be black spoke & rim with orange nipples - all the other non-orange parts are black so I'm looking to complete the overall effect. The color is a good match. However the "powder coating" comes off as easily as dried acrylic house paint from chrome. With normal use of a spoke wrench (for example Park Tool SW-22.2) the coating is peeling away as soon as the wrench is removed, around the holes in the rim it's a similar story even though the heads and threads of the nipples are lubricated. Part of the problem is that the "powder coating" is very thick on some nipples, thin enough not to affect the fit of the wrench on others.

The story from the seller - Newson Sportec (select "PC Orange" if you want to see a nipple photo) - is that these nipples can only be tightened from the rear, i.e. by screwdriver. Of course that information only comes after lacing up the wheel and finding that the paint is falling off, turning what should have been a perfect new wheel into a mess.

If you're an experienced wheel builder, have you ever build a wheel without a spoke wrench, do you think it is possible to build a correctly tensioned wheel using only the slot?

My thought is spoke rotation would be far harder to observe and with the wheel in a rotating truing stand it would be almost impossible to keep the driver engaged with the slot. And then the spokes would have to be exactly the right length or else they would protrude from the back of the spoke, disengaging the driver - as a Nipple Driver (e.g. Park Tool ND-1) is designed to be disengaged. Or be too short and not grab enough thread.

If you haven't built a wheel - ever come across "powder coating" soft as butter?

edit: Part of the problem might be that the brass nipples have been plated in what looks like chrome before the "powder coating" was applied. I suspect plain brass, even without any preparation of the surface, would have been a much better base for the color. Anyway they are removed and binned now.

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  • I would guess that there's no way to make a coating for the nipples that would stand up to a spoke wrench, so this approach is necessary if you have to have the coated nipples. – Daniel R Hicks Jul 6 '15 at 2:45
  • There are some aero rims that are deep enough so that spoke nipples aren't accessible. – Eric Gunnerson Jul 6 '15 at 3:21
  • There are also nipples with hex head for this reason. I wonder why the manufacturer didn't use hex head. – ojs Jul 6 '15 at 9:41
  • It's disappointing. I am having to use orange anodized nipples. It opens up the range of acceptable choices for other parts (like anodized bar end caps) but I did want just two colors. I watched a YouTube video of automated wheel building today and the powder coated nipples might work there with drive from outside only. But they have no business wasting the time of those who want to build a wheel by hand selling them in single-wheel quantities on that auction site. – Adam Eberbach Jul 6 '15 at 10:12
  • Something is fishy. First, if the nipples cannot be tight with a normal wrench, why aren't they round all the way through? Second, it is possible to give color to quality nipples. I have trued (never built) wheel with colored nipples and they handled ok (and sapim, a really good brand, makes colored nipples I think). Third, some high quality wheels come with black nipples, and metal is not naturally black, so they have to color it somehow.I would email the seller with all this arguments asking for a refund. – super Jul 11 '15 at 5:43
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I'm not sure about building a wheel using just the screw slot – I think you could probably do it, but I suspect that it would be a painful process. If you tried it, you'd want to be sure that the spoke lengths were exactly right. Much of the strength of the spoke comes from engaging with the threads in the wider section of the nipple that is on the inside of the rim.

Hi-E used to make nipples that were driven from the inside with a hex head. I built a number of wheels with them, they were easy to work with – the only downside is that you have to remove the tire to true the wheel. But for you, that would be a feature, you don't want somebody messing up your beautiful wheel with a spoke wrench. I think that would be the way to go. Hi-E is gone, but you can still get them from Sapim. They make alloy nipples in a number of colors including black and orange.

You could also consider using "inverted" nipples which are installed on the inside of the rim (only the spoke shows) if you can't get the right orange.

  • Thanks - for the record, "powder coated" nipples have been dumped, I'll be using anodised. This will at least get around the problem that the "powder coating" was thick and lumpy - some nipples accepted the spokey without problems, some were just too fat with the thick paint all over the square drive section. – Adam Eberbach Jul 15 '15 at 1:26
  • Those nipples were not what they were supposed to be. I think you'd be quite within your rights to ask the vendor for a refund. – dlu Jul 15 '15 at 1:41

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