I have just successfully built two wheels.

The final step of the process was perfecting the true and the dish.

I used a spoke key for this, and this resulted in unwanted scuffing and nicks on the (brass) spoke nipples.

Is there any way I could have avoided this?

  • 3
    It can be a challenge. But as JoeK suggests, using a high quality spoke wrench, of the proper size, is very important. Don't use one of the circular multi-size wrenches if you can avoid it. Commented Nov 11, 2020 at 13:02
  • I think that was my problem. I wish I had known about this beforehand!
    – 52d6c6af
    Commented Nov 11, 2020 at 14:01
  • 1
    Take care that the wrench is of the correct size and regularly replaced since the contact surfaces are tiny which accelerates wear.
    – Carel
    Commented Nov 11, 2020 at 16:19
  • 1
    Apart from quality spoke wrench and grease, here's another tip: I use spokes which are 1-2mm shorter than usual (i.e. what I seem to get out of most spoke calculators) and nipple with a flat screw head at the top (very common), so that even once the wheel is about up to full tension, the spokes do not stick out of the nipple screw head at so it's still possible to use a (rather thick) flat screwdriver to turn the nipples for trueing. Idea is to leave the nipples as pristine as possible, and the screwdriver is quicker as well. Haven't noticed any adverse effects yet.
    – stijn
    Commented Nov 11, 2020 at 19:09
  • @stijn: There are even special screwdrivers for placing nipples and screwing on nipples at the beginning moments of wheel building.
    – Carel
    Commented Nov 12, 2020 at 14:27

2 Answers 2


Using a high quality spoke key that engages on 4 sides (and fits properly) usually avoids this problem, even with coloured alu nipples.

  • 4
    Greasing the nipples helps as well and avoids twisting the spokes (especially important for bladed spokes).
    – Michael
    Commented Nov 11, 2020 at 13:42
  • @Michael - I do wonder why no one appears to make a wrench for the bladed spokes, to hold them from twisting. Commented Nov 11, 2020 at 17:55
  • 1
    @Daniel R Hicks Voila! parktool.com/product/bladed-spoke-holder-bsh-4
    – MaplePanda
    Commented Nov 11, 2020 at 18:33
  • @MaplePanda - OK, but I don't see what a gopher count has to do with bladed spokes. Commented Nov 11, 2020 at 18:42
  • 1
    I use linseed oil as a lubricant, it's very effective. bladed spokes can be held with a nylon tool made for purpose. All spokes can twist, the wheelbuilder learns to feel it and remove it with round spokes. It can of course be easily seen on bladed spokes.
    – Noise
    Commented Nov 11, 2020 at 20:12

When building or trueing a wheel, you have the tire off. You can turn the nipples from their head side. Notice how their heads are slotted for a flathead screwdriver? That tool will work, until the spoke protrudes through the nipple. A modified screwdriver can then be used to turn the nipple: a flathead with a notch in the middle of its working edge to accommodate the bit of excess spoke.

Check out this tool.

  • 2
    You can't get up to the required tension for a good wheel this way
    – Noise
    Commented Nov 11, 2020 at 19:59
  • 1
    @JoeK it would be nice if you'd explain why exactly that is, so readers who don't know can learn
    – stijn
    Commented Nov 12, 2020 at 8:35
  • 2
    @stijn While machine built wheels can use this method, using a screwdriver or similar by hand becomes very hard to turn and thus keep perfectly aligned at high spoke tension. There is a high chance of the tool slipping/camming out and stripping the nipple head. Special nipples (invisible and double ended types) and tools do exist to build wheels this way (from the outside) but they are not commonly used on standard wheels.
    – Noise
    Commented Nov 12, 2020 at 11:59
  • 1
    @JoeK These are strawman arguments. A tool could be developed which has a socket that goes around the nipple's head, preventing slippage, and could have a T-handle (or else a receptacle for a spanner wrench) for better leverage and more precise turning. Likely, someone has made this. Stripping the nipple head can only happen if we try to use it; it's not an argument against trying. The worst consequence of stripping the nipple head is that we can't use a driver on it any more, which is no worse than having decided a priori not to do that.
    – Kaz
    Commented Nov 14, 2020 at 21:13

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