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What Are Wood-Grain Steering Wheels?

By Lori Kilchermann
Updated May 23, 2024
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Wood-grain steering wheels are typically made of molded plastic with an embossed wood-grain pattern adorning the outer perimeter. Commonly used in high-end luxury vehicles as well as sports cars, the wood-grain steering wheels were used to embellish an illusion of hand-crafted styling and craftsmanship onto the vehicle. Occasionally, vehicle models would be equipped with natural or authentic wood-grain steering wheels instead of the molded plastic versions. Natural wood-grain steering wheels were constructed in such a manner that it was common for brass rivets to be used to attach the real wood sections to the steel steering wheel component. Often, the component that separates the ultimate vehicle restorations from the average is the use of authentic wood-grain steering wheels.

With the automobile being a descendant of the buggy and wagon industry, many retired coach builders added wooden highlights to automobiles in an attempt to link the vehicle to its horse-drawn history. Dashboards, trim panels and wood-grain steering wheels were all used in this attempt to preserve the history and craftsmanship of the early coach-building trade. Eventually, the exterior of the vehicles took on the wood highlights in the form of the actual wooden body construction of a "Woody," to the simulated wood decal body panels of the family station wagon.

Many sports car builders and manufacturers used the wood-grain steering wheels due to the ability of the real wood pieces to absorb sweat from the drivers' hands. Prior to the use of driving gloves, this was necessary to eliminate the possibility of a slippery steering wheel and promote better drivability of the vehicle. Many racers would sand the wooden steering wheel to a more comfortable shape and profile that created a wheel tailor made for their hands. This "customization" of factory stock wood-grain steering wheels has also contributed to the high cost and difficulty in finding concours factory steering wheels for many vehicle models.

In response to the need for quality wood-grain steering wheels for restoration as well as individual taste, many after-market manufacturers now make and distribute models fashioned after the more desirable steering wheels. Offered in many exotic woods not offered by the original manufacturer, vehicle owners and customizers can add the elegance of real wood in a configuration and style not originally available on their vehicle. This can include inlays of different materials such as abalone or mother of pearl, contrasting wood accents and hand-carved one-off personal steering wheel designs.

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Discussion Comments

By aLFredo — On Nov 30, 2011

I do not have a wood-grain steering wheel, but my cousin who loves to refurbish cars puts a nice wood steering wheel on most of the classic or luxurious model cars he refurbishes.

I think I remember him saying that wood and/or wood-grain steering wheels are easy to clean, as long as a nice wood primer and sealant in placed on the wood steering wheel before installing into some one's car.

Without sealing a wood product, it will easily chip and deteriorate, but when a professional seals the wood, it is less likely to chip and/or get dirty.

If your wood steering wheel does not have a glossy finish, it is more than likely that someone forgot this important step in protecting the wood, and you should take your car in to a car professional immediately.

By bluespirit — On Nov 29, 2011

The wood-grain steering wheel seems like a luxurious addition to a luxurious car. I want to try the wood-grain steering wheel. My steering wheel is all beat up and no matter how much I clean it, it still looks dirty. Does a wood steering wheel clean easier than a regular one?

I have tried various steering wheel covers, to no avail. They rip and make my hands slide easily. I would rather just get a brand new steering wheel, instead of throwing my window away for all these temporary, not permanent solutions.

The interior of my car is nothing luxurious, nor is the outside, so I don't know how good it would look in my car. But I may give the wood-grain steering wheel a whirl though, as it is humid most of the time where I live, and I hate sweating, so I would love to reduce the amount of sweat that holding a regular steering wheel usually causes me.

By bagley79 — On Nov 29, 2011

I know it sounds a little crazy, but I like to have a Grant wood-grain steering wheel for any car I am driving.

The first time I used one, I just liked the way the steering wheel felt in my hand. We have very hot summers, and it seemed like my hand did not get as sweaty and sticky with this type of steering wheel.

For many people this is not a big deal, and they just use what comes with the car, but this is something that I really like having on my car.

I am on the road a lot for work, and figure I might as well be as comfortable as possible. For me this includes having a high quality steering wheel that feels good in my hands. It doesn't hurt that it looks really classy as well.

By myharley — On Nov 28, 2011

I have a Cadillac that has a wood-grain steering wheel, dashboard and console. This is the first car I have had with this type of craftsmanship.

At first I didn't really know if I liked it that much, but it has grown on me. I think it does add a nice, luxurious touch.

As far as it being any more practical or functional than anything else, I don't think it matters. For my car, I think it is just for looks.

With my next car, I could go either way. I wouldn't go out of my way to make sure it has a wood grain steering wheel, but wouldn't mind if it did either.

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