Student Activities

Bent's Fort Carpentry Activity

Grade Level:
Upper Elementary: Third Grade through Fifth Grade
Math,Social Studies

Students fix a "wheel" made out of toilet paper rolls. Students review fractions while learning about wagon repairs at Bent's Old Fort. 

Blacksmiths and carpenters worked together to fix wagons. The blacksmith repairs the metal tire, and the carpenter repairs the wood. Since Bent's Fort was in the plains, and there wasn't much wood available, wagons were generally purchased from a company in Pennsylvania. As wagons go from the east to the west, the wood dries out causing the wheel to crack and shrink. When the wooden wheel shrinks, the tire could fall off. 


  1. Have your students collect clean paper towel rolls. You could include a lesson about recycling/upcycling.
  2. Collect the paper towel rolls and paper for this activity.
  3. Students work in small groups and are given the story and task listed below.
  4. You may want to search for short YouTube videos to show people making wheels.
  5. This activity is a good complement to the Santa Fe Trail Traveling Trunk wagon activity.


The Bents came back from trading in Missouri and said that the wheels on one of their wagons need fixing. The east is more humid then the west so the wood dries out and cracks on its way west. The Bents have even complained recently that the wheel company in Pennsylvania has been skimping in the drying process, which causes more damage for the wheels the Bents are using. Bent’s Fort does not usually make wheels, they just repair them, but the carpenter fortunately had some spare wood to use for this project.


You are a carpenter at Bents Fort. Your group’s task is to fix one of the wheels for the wagon. The hub is intact. Two-thirds of the spokes are missing or broken. You need to replace the fellows.  

Project needs

  • Paper towel roles (or other material) for the spokes
  • Paper to shape the fellows and attach to the spokes
  • Scissors
  • Rulers
  • Tape or glue?-but would be more fun to shape spokes and felloes to have holes to fit into.
  • A “hub” to start the project. The hub could be made out of paper, a balloon or other item.
  • Art supplies for students to use their creativity, to make it look traditional, or to show wear and tear.

Note: One Extra Large wheel measures 2 1/2" Wide Hickory Felloes with Steel Tire; Fourteen Spokes: 2 1/8" Wide x 1 1/8" Thick; Hub: 11 1/4" Length x 8 1/2" Diameter; 2 1/2" Bore in Hub. You could use this as a guideline in designing your hub and spokes for your students. 


This wheel illustration names the spokes, fellows and hub on the wheel.

Download Wheel Illustration

Last updated: January 5, 2017