Making low cost flanged train wheels:

A steel 4.5 inch diameter train wheel costs approximately $25 per wheel.  The first major costing down of “live steam” scale is the innovation of using PVC track;  which only costs $1 per foot and is easy to make.  Steel rail costs 10 times more, and is difficult to make.  The second major costing down is using rubber polypropylene flanged train wheels instead of steel, costing much less (in the range of $2-8 dollars per 4-6 inch diameter wheel)  depending on the wheel size and material chosen.  This section describes how to make flanged roller skate wheels, flanged lawn mower replacement wheels, flanged solid  rubber and flanged polypropylene train wheels.

When using ½ pvc pipe for rails, you need a ½ inch flange on the train wheels for secure performance and to prevent derailments.   I mostly have use 3 inch diameter roller skate wheel for passenger car trucks. I cut a 4 inch polypropylene disc, or wood disc from ¼ inch plywood, using a hole saw shown below, to serve as the flange.   

An alternative is to use a 4 inch cutoff wheel as the flange.  Make sure the writing side of this cutoff disc contacts the track.  The abrasive side could damage the track.  If using cutoff wheels, I would glue 2 together to make it a little stronger and thicker, and place an appropriate sized washer whose inner diameter accepts the 3 inch long,  7/16 inch lag bolt,  but whose outer diameter still hugs the inner metal rim of the cutoff wheel.

I have used all of these materials for flanges. Polypropylene flanges are preferred as they are sufficiently strong and less abrasive on track, and will not swell like wood when getting wet.   1/8 to 3/16 inch thick polypropylene is inexpensive, and cuts as easily as similar thickness wood.  An appropriate diameter hole of  7/16, 3/8, or ½ inches  that matches the chosen wheel bore, should be drilled into the center of the polypropylene disc to allow it to spin on the lag bolt “axel”. 

Polypropylene Sheet for making flanges for wheels.

I use 1/8 inch thick polypropylene sheet to cut out the 4 inch flange circular discs for 3 inch diameter rolling stock wheels using a circle, or hole cutting saw ( shown in the picture at the front of this section).    1/8th and 3/16th thick, white polyprop sheets can be purchased at

1/8 inch  or 0.125 inches  12 inches  24 inches  1 sheet   cost $13.02

3/16 inch or 0.187 inches  12 inches  24 inches  1  sheet         $11.95

The disc, whatever material is used, does not have to be attached to the wheel, but simply allowed to rotate on the lag bolt.    When the lag bolt is tightened onto the wood truck, the wheel and flange disc should be as tight as possible with as little lateral motion as possible, but still able to spin freely.    Roller skate wheels, and cutoff wheels, and hole saws come in various sizes.   A 6 inch wheel would use a 7 inch cutoff wheel to create the ½ inch flange.  Larger flanges (i.e. 7 inch flanges for 6 inch diameter drive wheels to be described below) can be cut from polypropylene sheet with a band saw or jig saw rather than hole saw.  Sand the rough edges.

Recently, I have started using more realistic looking 3 and 4 inch diameter  wheels obtained from McMaster Carr.  These wheels are much less expensive, but do not roll quite as frictionlessly as roller skate wheels.  I have found my electric engines to be powerful enough to make the tradeoff worth considering.  

For example, a passive car with 2 trucks has 8 wheels.  8 roller skate wheels typically cost $30-$40 dollars.  8, 3 inch diameter  Mcmaster Carr “Econolite  wheels only cost  $14 (half the price of one steel flanged train wheel).    3 inch diameter econolite wheels have 3/8 or ½ inch bore, so need 3/8 or ½ inch diameter, 4 inch long lag bolts to connect them to trucks.  Econolite wheels look like train wheels.  The specs and costs of Mcmaster carr econolite wheels are shown below:

This cost savings adds up if making a lot of rolling stock cars.


Engine drive wheels:

The method of mounting engine drive wheels on D shaft axels using zinc pulleys as wheel hubs was described in the making engines section.  Until now, I have mostly used 6 inch lawn mower replacement wheels with soft rubber tread.  I have used Arnold wheels, or Mcmaster carr wheels, whose specs and costs are  shown in the table below.  I cut a 7 inch diameter,  3/18 inch thick polypropylene flange for these using a band saw.  I do not have a large enough circle or hole cutting saw.  The flange does not have to be perfectly round.  Note their weight capacity is about 50 lbs each, so an engine with 4 wheels can support $200 lbs.   Fortunately, Thomas the tank engine has 6 wheels, so can support $300 lbs (me, at 200, plus the weight of the engine). 

Similar Arnold brand wheels are available on the internet, or most good hardware stores.


Recently, I have also used soft but solid rubber, 4 and 5 inch diameter Mcmaster Carr wheels for a motorized trolley (It has a more realistic look compared to 6 inch lawn mower replacement wheels).   Soft Rubber wheels should be used for engine drive wheels for their needed superior traction on the pvc track;  and as not to damage the track.  They support heavier loads.  The specs and costs are shown below:




The picture of the trolley below shows the look of the 4 inch diameter econolite passive wheels on the right hand truck, and the 4 inch rubber wheel on the right side of the left hand truck.  This is a 2 wheel drive unit.  The left wheel on the left sided truck is also a passive econolite polypropylene wheel without a washer between it and its connecting lag bolt axel.   

               Econolite wheel           Soft rubber drive wheel                   Econolite wheels with washer/lag bolt


Go to the sections on making engines and making rolling stock cars for further details on how to build motorized, and non motorized wheel trucks.