The wheel is probably from a 26-27 car. It is in good shape, but a bit rough. Sort of like taking a fresh piece of wood and getting it wet so the grain rises. I assume this wheel is made of fordite?
Do I sand it down and paint it? Is it a wood composite or something else?
Fordite is a soy compound, (I think). I have sanded mine with 600 paper to clean it up and then coated it with clear lacquer which will bring back a shine.
Others may do different
Its rubber and "stuff" its made up of waste produced from harvest, ike wheat stalks and i believe pressed soy beans.
ive tried painting them, but paint dont stick. just ends up peeling.
i just leave mine raw, maybe a little polish with some steel wool.
What about the steering wheels that Bob at Bob's Antique Auto Parts is reproducing. He had a thread on this Forum a while back. Don't know the price.
as i remember they were supposed to be made of some kind of rubber
I've polished a number of them and usually they shine like new. I start by wet-sanding with 600 grit, then 800-1000 grit, then 1500 grit--all wet sanding. After that I polish them with a Dico buffing wheel on my bench-top grinder using a Dico polishing compound stick for plastics. Finally, I apply some paste wax and hand buff them to a sheen.
Check the geometry before spending time. If they won't lie flat or they are ovoid, there are better ones around. Check for serious gouges or surface defects first too. Damaged screw holes can be repaired later with Plastic Wood.
Good luck. Just take your time and you'll be happy with the end product.
If they are warped they can easily be flattened.
I flattened my warped Fordite steering wheel by putting it in an 250 degree oven for about 1/2 hour then sandwiched between two flat peaces of plywood with some weight to hold it flat. Let cool for a few hours and it is now dead flat.
When laid on a flat surface part of the wheel was as much as 1/2" off the flat surface. Can't really see the warp but here are before and after pics. I cleaned the wheel by wet sanding with 600 grit and maybe finer.
Johnson Paste Wax will make it look new again.
I use filler to fix any chips etc., then as others have said; sanded with 600 grit.
I then paint with rubber bumper paint in a can, then finish with a paste wax.
No more black hands after a rain!
P.S. an early Happy New Year to everyone.