The Phil Wood spoke cutter
The Phil Wood spoke cutting machine is widely regarded as the ultimate bike shop tool, and it's certainly one we've been after for a while. Mountain bike wheels are fairly limited in the spoke lengths needed because most are built with a traditional 32 spoke, 3-cross spoke pattern but as we built up our range of road wheels we found ourselves needing ever more spoke lengths to cope with deeper rim profiles, lower spoke counts and different lacing patterns. Sometimes the spokes are not available in the right lengths, more often the supplier has run out, and in any case it's inefficient ordering a pack of 100 unusual spokes if you only need 14 to complete a build.
The Phil Wood spoke machine shown from the end.
In the past we dealt with a need for unavailable spoke lengths by manually cutting, grinding and threading spokes to the right length, but even at top speed it took over a minute per spoke - meaning a set of 64 took at least an hour. It also took a lot of concentration to get perfectly cut spokes with the right amount of thread. So in late May we took the plunge and ordered our Phil Wood machine. With a single rotation of the handle, it first cuts the spoke to the perfect length, then passes it to a pair of dies, which roll a perfect professional quality thread of the correct length. The quality of the finish is in fact so good that Phil Wood have supplied machines to both DT Swiss and Sapim.
I'm please to be able to report that it's working well. Not only can we now cut and roll a spoke thread in around 5 seconds (that set of 64 is now down to just over 5 minutes), we can cut to 0.5mm accuracy which improves the wheels and speeds build time. In our shop, we are now able to offer individual spokes for sale in 1mm increments (0.5mm precision is only really useful when we're building the same combination several times and have a record of the exact length which worked best).
The only spokes we can't use in the Phil Wood machine are the Sapim D-Lights, which have the shortest butt possible in order to save weight - we can't cut them at all as the thread ends at the point where the spoke changes thickness. On the other hand "straight gauge" (same thickness over the whole length) spokes such as Sapim Leader or DT Champion can be cut to any length down to about 55mm - we only need to stock the longest ones we can lay our hands on, and recycle the offcuts!
Straight gauge, butted with butt showing and D-light spoke with thread up to butt
As to the performance of the machine...well it took a bit of learning to get the setup right. Changing between spoke thicknesses (for example, 1.8mm thread to 2.0mm) involves loosening the 3 large bolts on the end of the machine, inserting a shim, and tightening the bolts again, and it took us a while to work out which part to hold to get perfect alignment. Also if you're not slick enough with the cutting action, some spokes tend to shift the spoke holder leading to changeable lengths. But now we've had some practice it performs flawlessly every time. No jamming, perfectly rolled threads, perfect accuracy on the length. Lower stock holding of spokes with improved availability means the Phil Wood spoke cutter is well worth every one of its considerable number of pennies.