Wheel Tech: The Art Of Beadlock Conversions By OMF

Project Redneck has served its owner admirably for the better part of three years. We’ve been in the process of revamping this four-banger funmobile for more than a year, and in that time, we’ve given it quite a few upgrades. First, we went with lights, bumpers, and a soft top from Extreme Terrain. We then got busy making the drivetrain and suspension perform better with help from TNT Customs, M.O.R.E., FOX Racing, J.E. Reel Driveline, and more.

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A shot of OMF Performance’s storefront in Riverside, California.

We’re gearing up for the next big change to our favorite black Jeep TJ here at Off Road Xtreme. Wheels and tires are at the forefront of our minds, and we want to get them in top-notch shape to prepare for whatever future off-roading may happen. Tierra del Sol, the Rubicon, Moab, or just the local fire trails here in Southern California are a lot more fun to experience when there is confidence in the conveyance.

For wheels, we went with a set of five 17-inch Fuel Boost wheels from Extreme Terrain. They’re painted black and outside of good looks, they don’t offer much to a hardcore off-road enthusiast, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a way to make them useful.

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Extreme Terrain helped out our build with a set of 17-inch Fuel Boost wheels.

That action is performed by none other than OMF Performance out of Riverside, California. With more than 20 years of experience in crafting purpose-built wheels for off-road and drag racing applications, the company has a strong reputation thanks to awesome products that serve both form and function.

The bread and butter of OMF’s business is making beadlock conversions on wheels. The service can be performed on any set of aluminum units, whether forged or cast, for a reasonable price – one which beats out buying ready-made beadlock wheels.

If you’re curious as to how OMF performs this feat, then you came to the right place. We recently took our set of Fuel Boostl wheels to the OMF facility for upgrades, as well as see for ourselves how the process works. Follow along below, from start to finish, in this relatively quick modification takes place.

Air In, Air Out: The Science of Air Pressure

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Upgrades of any kind essentially boil down to one thing: demanding more from what was originally offered. Beefing up the stock stuff in a 4×4 is a hallmark of the off-road world, where we tend to treasure what came stock on the vehicle and only trade it out when the goalposts shift too high. At that point, we’re all game for moving on to the next big step.

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This handy chart from ARB shows the difference in contact patches across various tire pressures. Basically, the lower the pressure goes, the more grip the tire gains.

When the topic comes to wheels, there’s really only one way to go up – beadlocks. By supporting the bead with material pressure instead of air pressure, beadlocks do the job of getting the tire to stay seated to the wheel despite low air pressure. Any off-roader worth his salt knows that lower air pressure is a must for off-road.

Lowering air pressure on a normal wheel brings with it a pitfall that no one wants to see happen on the trail: a broken bead. The side load on a tire’s sidewall becomes more pronounced and therefore susceptible, and a hard enough hit can unseat the tire’s bead from the wheel’s bead. Since all that holds the tire and wheel together is good old-fashioned air pressure, the risk goes higher as the air pressure goes lower.

Dick Cepek’s Extreme Country Mud Terrain will be our tire of choice for Project Redneck.

Different tires will react in different ways based on sidewall thickness, height, contact patch area, tire profile, ply counts, and even ply construction. For our purposes, we’re most concerned with how a set of 35-inch Dick Cepek Extreme Country tires will commingle with our beadlocks. As a mud and snow tire, its profile is flatter than a sand-focused tire, and with its “D” load rating, it shouldn’t have as hard of a time ballooning out when deflated to offer up better grip.

We’ll be discussing the Extreme Country at full length in another article, but suffice it to say, it’s well-equipped to handle the kind of trouble we’re planning to get into with Project Redneck. Rocks and mud are on the menu, and with this tire ensconced in a full single-bead beadlock, we sense we’ll be able to push the limits quite far. Now, let’s get into how OMF’s beadlocks go from start to finish.

Fabrication Station

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The wheel starts its cycle (pun intended) by first getting put into the lathe. Sitting in a sedentary chock, it’s locked into place as the part off tool (POT) – the piece that actually does the cutting – is situated properly. The lathe starts up, and the POT edges in. Delicate strips of aluminum, like metallic ribbons, shoot off and collect in a bin below the machine.

As the process goes along, WD-40 is used to lubricate the POT and keep it from losing its effectiveness. As the POT got closer and closer to finally breaking through to the other side, the OMF technician had to ease it back so the final cut wasn’t violent and unpredictable.

Clockwise from top left: the POT cuts the rim from the wheel; oil is poured to keep from wearing down the POT; a deburring tool removes sharp edges from the freshly cut barrel; an angle grinder removes excess paint for welding.

The POT was removed and in its place went the bolt clearance tool (BCT). This piece operated in a similar manner to the POT, but was used expressly to machine space for the bolts to go through once the beadlock was all finished. Once the space was carved out, the wheel was spun around a few more times as a deburring tool made the remaining edges dull to the touch. “This is an extra step that OMF takes with its process to ensure top quality,” explained Daraugh “Bones” Flynn, OMF’s tech manager.

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TIG welds tack on the OMF rim to the barrel of the wheel. The wheel will receive a complete weld all the way around once its total temperature has been raised to an appropriate level to work on with a MIG welder.

Welding was the next step. Acetone removed oil from the paint, and any paint that would get in the way was taken care of with an angle grinder using a sanding head. The wheel was spun around slowly as some TIG tack welds were made to keep the OMF rim secured to the wheel’s barrel. With that done, the wheel was taken to a preheating plate, where it would spin while being warmed with a blowtorch. Once finished, the hot wheel (no pun intended) returns to the welding area and is MIG-welded in about two minutes. MIG is preferable to TIG as it takes less time, but still provides a solid connection from metal to metal.

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The wheel spins on a preheating plate with an open flame applying steady heat. It will reach around 180 degrees Fahrenheit when finished.

And just like that, we have a complete OMF-made beadlock conversion to our wheel. The process was done four more times to make the full set of five wheels ready for Project Redneck, which would take another hour or so to complete. This left us with plenty of time to sit down with Daraugh “Bones” Flynn, to discuss the business, the customers, and the future.

Off Road Xtreme: What is OMF all about?

Daraugh Flynn: “Our day-to-day business is wheel modifications, and the main aspect is beadlock conversions, where we take a non-beadlock wheel and make it into a beadlock wheel. We also offer simulated beadlocks as well as reinforcing rings and other ways to customize a wheel for both style and performance.”

ORX: What does the standard customer want?

IMG_9208DF: “You know, it’s a pretty wide range. Some of the off-road guys are really just going for the look, while other guys want the full-tilt treatment with all of the accessories, the bells and whistles. In the case of your Fuel wheels, we did the Rocklite XP beadlock, which is our newest model. It’s ideally designed for rock crawling due to a thicker construction and flush-mounted hardware that’s recessed under the beadlock ring to avoid damage. We also installed our Rock Starz domes that act as a skid plate for the beadlock. It is definitely a wide range, though. Customers want a little bit of everything.”

ORX: What was the genesis of OMF getting into beadlocks?

A powder coated beadlock ring ready for our Fuel wheels.

A powder coated beadlock ring ready for our Fuel wheels.

DF: “Oddly enough, it started with skid plates. We made skid plates for ATVs back in the early 1980s, which led to more custom aluminum fabrication. Through our contacts in the ATV industry, we ended up reinforcing ATV wheels – since they were so thin at the time – for racers who were getting faster and faster in competitions. Everything just kind of snowballed from there. In the late 90s, we bought our own CNC machine and started making our own beadlocks. The rest is history.”

ORX: What goes into a typical beadlock conversion from start to finish?

DF: “It starts with a phone call or email from a customer. They give us the specs on what they want done to the wheels, and then they drop them off at Shipping and Receiving. From there it branches off into several directions. Sometimes, we have to order special materials for a customer, or get pieces out to the powder coater. Every task is split up and reconnected at the proper time and place.”

IMG_9463ORX: When we spoke earlier, you said something poignant: “If it’s not good enough for us, we don’t want it go to the customer.” Could you touch on that and how it applied to our wheels?

DF: “Absolutely. At the end of the day, the work we do has to be top-notch quality. It has to be good enough for the customer to use and reuse for years down the road, and that principle is the backbone of every process that we do here at OMF. Other companies will do the bare minimum just to sell a product; whatever the customer does once the warranty expires, or once the receipt is lost, becomes null and void. Our intent here is to make a good product first, and support the business after that. That’s why we do things like deburring and manufacturing our own beadlock rings.”

Aluminum shavings pile up below the lathe. Look, but don't touch!

Aluminum shavings pile up below the lathe. Look, but don’t touch!

Our intent here is to make a good product first, and support the business after that. –Daraugh ‘Bones’ Flynn, OMF Performance

ORX: What are some of the concerns that people have about beadlocks?

DF: “The biggest concerns we see come from legality issues. Generally, most guys that want to use beadlocks are already considered unsafe in the eyes of the law – they’ve altered their center of gravity with lift kits, bigger wheels and tires, and so forth. To those people, we advise that they check with their state laws and also their future plans for a vehicle.”

“On the other hand, we get questioned on balancing and beadlocks: can it be done? The answer is yes, it can. At the end of the day, it’s the big piece of rubber that causes unbalancing. Beadlock wheels run fine on drag cars that do 200-plus miles per hour, so they’ll be just fine going down the highway too.”

Large bins hold the remains of aluminum used to make beadlocks. They are organized by grade and drained of moisture to improve their value to scrapyards.

“Lastly, people think that beadlocks are inherently prone to leaking. When properly mounted, a beadlock shouldn’t leak. There were some early beadlock wheels that did leak and caused rumors because of those flaws, but those issues are gone by now.”

Wrapped Up And Ready To Roll

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The folks at OMF Performance know what they’re doing. With more than 30 years of experience and a pedigree of high quality, the company has carved out a special niche that makes them a top pick for hardcore off-roaders, both professionals and amateurs alike.

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Getting to see their process enacted on our set of Fuel wheels was a special treat. From the CNC-machined rings to the billet aluminum stock to developing projects for other customers, each aspect of the company was treated with care and attention to detail.

We’re pumped to see how our green-and-black beadlocked wheels add to the experience of driving Project Redneck, which we’ll have the report on soon enough. In the meantime, head over to the OMF website and Facebook page to learn more.

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About the author

David Chick

David Chick comes to us ready for adventure. With passions that span clean and fast Corvettes all the way to down and dirty off-road vehicles (just ask him about his dream Jurassic Park Explorer), David's eclectic tastes lend well to his multiple automotive writing passions.
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