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How to choose the right spinning wheel

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Travis here at the shop asked me to put together some helpful tips for purchasing a wheel. I will try to cover most of the common questions we get as well as some general background and reasons why. Please do not hesitate to call the shop if you have more questions or would like help over the phone deciding which wheel will be the right wheel for you.

Let us begin with a bit about fiber...
Spinning fiber into yarn is an age old process which is both satisfying and productive. Spinning yarn is one step in the process of making garments or clothing of some sort. After a spinner has acquired a wheel he or she will need some fiber to spin. At this point getting the fiber is the key to making the process cost effective. Many people find a local source from people with sheep or other animals. Others go to a retail outlet selling a wide variety of raw fibers, batts, and rovings. After a good supply is established the rest is simply committing the time necessary to prep the fiber for spinning, if required, then spin and knit.

YarnSince the yarn is the key to the quality and beauty of the finished product, spinners have the advantage of controlling the type and weight of what they have in mind for their individual project. Many techniques are incorporated into spinning which gives the spinner unlimited variations of colors, textures and size. The spinning operation itself does not stand alone as a product generator. In order for spinning to be a benefit it must be coupled with knitting. This combination is the ticket to a wonderful world of making high quality, knitted clothing. The level of quality achieved by home production is a big part of why people start spinning. Once the habits are established a steady stream of socks, hats, scarves, and sweaters will be part of the home spinners lucky household.

How Do I Pick Out My First Wheel?  Deciding on your first wheel can be challenging but it is actually pretty simple. Although there are many wheels to choose from a few important factors such as budget and features will narrow the field. If you are restricted to a certain price range, that will reduce the choices right away. After your range is established the features of a perspective wheel will narrow the field even more. For a new spinner the most important feature to my way of thinking is a double treadle wheel. Two treadles help the new spinner control the speed of the flyer. The most common problem for a new spinner is over twisting.

This is the result of pedaling faster than one can draft. Two pedals give much more slow speed control because the coasting distance between power strokes is cut in half. With one treadle the stroke must be strong enough to provide adequate inertia to bring the pedal from the bottom of the cycle back to the top and ready to push down again. Bottom line, the beginner needs a double treadle wheel. Spinning Wheel The next things to consider are appearance and portability. If you want to take your wheel with you to meetings, etc. then a folding wheel is in order. If you want something pretty that will stay in one place then a traditional or parlor style wheel is a good choice. Either style wheel can provide the other features that will help you make a choice.

Next we want to consider the three different configurations for spinning: Scotch tension, Bobbin Lead, and Double Drive. Todays most common set up is scotch tension and is highly recommended for beginners. This method drives the flyer directly from the wheel and puts some drag on the bobbin to create a speed differential between the bobbin and the flyer. This differential is necessary for the yarn to pull in and wind on to the bobbin.

The second most common method is double drive. This method uses a fiber drive band that goes around the wheel twice: Once around the whorl on the flyer and the second time around the bobbin. The important issue here is that the whorls are a different size as to once again create a speed differential between the flyer and the bobbin.  This method is a little more critical than scotch tension in terms of set up and adjustment but it is a good method and commonly used. The last way to spin is also the oldest, called bobbin lead. This is where the drive band drives the bobbin and the yarn pulls the flySpinning Wheeler along. By adding a little drag on the flyer the differential is accomplished and things go well. This is done by putting a brake string on the flyer whorl or on the front of the orifice. Bobbin lead is generally more suitable for medium to heavy yarns. The vast majority of wheels today come with scotch tension. Almost with out exception double drive wheels can quickly change over to scotch tension and most wheels can be set up for bobbin lead although it is usually not mentioned as a feature.

The next consideration to look at is what weight yarn you are planning to spin. If you are planning on spinning primarily medium weights almost any wheel will work for you except a specialty wheel designed specifically for either very fine or very coarse yarn.

Lendrum PartsWhy Do I Need a Jumbo or Lace Weight Flyer? If you are going to spin heavy and novelty yarns you will need a jumbo flyer and bobbin.  Most wheels offer this as an option but not all do.  Just be careful to do your home work and ask questions so you know what you are buying.  The same holds true for fine and lace weight yarns. Most wheels provide some higher speed options for finer yarns.  Just remember: slow for bulky, fast for fine.  Speeds are generally listed for most wheels.  They are rated as a ratio between the speed of the wheel and flyer.  Slow ranges are from 3 and 6:1 while medium will go to about 12:1 and high speeds can go upwards of 40:1.  For the most part general ratios will be between 6 and 14:1 and provide a good base line for beginners.  Along with speeds and configurations there are some accessories that are worth mentioning.




Why Do I Need a Lazy Kate?  The most common accessory in spinning is a lazy kate.  This is simply a stand that sits on the floor and it has two or three rods which hold bobbins with yarn.  The spinner plies the two or three Lazy Katesingle strands of yarn from the kate on a jumbo bobbin.  There are a few different styles of kates and they all do a pretty good job. They can hold the bobbins vertically or horizontally and can come with or without a tension feature.  I highly recommend those with tension to avoid overrun tangles.

The last issue I want to discuss is that of Spinning Wheel Maintenance.   For the most part spinning wheels require very little maintenance.  A little bit of regular attention will go a long way toward trouble free spinning.  The owners book will point out spots to oil and how often to oil them. It will also go over adjustments of belts and whorl selection.  Make sure you do what is recommended for protection the wood.  Howard Feed and WaxWe use Howards Feed and Wax exclusively here at the shop, it is an all natural beeswax product and works great.  Once a wheel warps it will never be the same.  A little common sense about keeping it away from moisture and preserving the wood with a proper product will go a long way toward keeping your wheel safe and working properly.  As drive bands wear out or break they are easily replaced but it can be discouraging if you have to stop spinning while you wait for a $1.50 drive band.  I recommend that you always keep a spare on hand and replace it when it goes into service.  Most wheels today use stretchy polyethylene drive bands and are bulk purchased by the foot.  It is a good idea to keep at least enough on hand for one drive band.  They are easy to use by melting the ends together.  Sometimes it saves time to actually put the band in place before joining the ends.  The last item to pay attention to is the hardware and fasteners that hold your wheel together.  Wheels vary greatly with regard to how they are designed and assembled.  Check your wheel over every so often and see if anything is getting loose.  Tighten those things that need attention and keep your tools in a convenient spot so you are always ready to take care of your wheel.