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Mismatched freewheel and shifter?
So I have a 27 speed recumbent bike that I am swapping out the rear tire on. The old tire had a 9 speed cassette so the shifter matched (9 speeds). The new wheel must use a freewheel not a cassette and can not fit a 9 speed on it. I have a 6 speed freewheel I could use, and could probably fit up to an 8 speed on the wheel if I needed to. My question is if I use the new wheel with the 6 speed freewheel will the shifter and derailer work with the fewer gears? Is there any way to adjust a 9 speed shifter to work with only a 6 speed freewheel, or do I need to get a new shifter?
No, will not work (properly). It might shift some gears ok, but in total it will not really work.
Why do you have to use a freewheel? If you have to get a new shifter it might be sensible to either get another wheel or rebuild the old rear wheel. What is broken on the old wheel?
I am installing an electric kit on the bike. The new wheel has a hub motor in it, that only accepts a freewheel. The kit came with a 6 speed freewheel, which I could change. However I don't think there is enough room for a 9 speed, maybe an 8. I was at my LBS and they didn't have any larger freewheels in stock to get dimensions from so its kind of trial and error. For a shifter to work does it really need to match the speed of the freewheel? For example if I got an 8 speed freewheel could I make it work with the 9 speed shifter? I'm not really sure how the stops between gears work on the shifter.
There's a lot of info on freewheel and cassette spacing here: http://www.sheldonbrown.com/k7.html

But essentially, if you're using an indexed gear shifter, it has to match up with the spacing of the sprockets on the freewheel or cassette. Also bear in mind that SRAM rear mechs have a different cable pull ratio to Shimano, so you can't use SRAM mechs with Shimano shifters and vice versa.
There are no 8 speed freewheels and even the 7 speed freewheels were a really bad idea (unsupported axle too long so it kept bending), so nobody uses them anymore except for department stores on their bikes (as they are really cheap).
That is not true. There are 8 and 9 speed freewheels available new, for less than $40. Niagara cycle in New York USA has them.

I've got 2 bikes that came with 8 speed freewheels, and yes, I mean thread on Shimano freewheels, and not cassettes.

Sunrace 9-speed Freewheel 13-32

Sunrace 9-speed Freewheel 13-32
Click to enlarge

SunRace Multi-Speed Freewheels

* HG Shimano, index compatible

Item Specifications
Speeds 9
Freewheel Cogs 13,4,5,6,8,21,4,8,32
Chain Compatibility Shim/SRAM 10

$22.10 Part number 502502

The axles won't bend under most riders (not 300lb and not jumping off terraces) if used with proper metal tube spacer and not a bunch of single washers.
As Billy Bob says, you can get 8 speed freewheels.
But it's not just a job of screwing a 6 speed off and replacing it with an 8 speed.
The hubs, normally, won't match as I found out.
I tried to fit an 8 speed on a spare 7 speed hub but I couldn't get the dishing right.
So the wheel was always offset from centre.
If it's just 6 speed then the cheapest option would probably be a 6 speed changer but even then you would have to be careful about matching it. Or use a friction shifter.
Ride hard or ride home alone!

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