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The Fiber Equipment & Barter Page

by Jackie Gustafson

I wanted to learn to spin for years but I did not know where to begin and after speaking with other new/beginning spinners discovered they shared my confusion. While there are many interesting aspects to the craft of spinning, this article will perhaps help you choose the right spinning wheel for your needs.


What type of spinning wheel do I want? This may be a hard decision to make for a person just starting out in spinning. There is no perfect wheel for all types of fiber. Most spinning wheels excel in one area or another. Possibly some of these questions can help you decide which type of wheel is best for your use.

What kind of wool will I plan on spinning? For a beginner spinner it is wise to choose fleece from fine to medium crossbred range sheep such as Romney, which has a good staple length and is easy to spin.

How much can I afford for a spinning wheel? Spinning wheels price range can vary from $110 to $1,000 in US currency.

Do I like the way the wheel looks? This can be very important. Some spinners like the look of traditional style wheels while others prefer the more modern look with solid wheels, fold up capabilities, vertical wheel/flyer arrangements, etc.

Do I need a spinning wheel that transports easily? This will be important to the spinner who goes to guild meetings where the wheels are grouped in circles for spinning or for taking to community gatherings to perform spinning demonstrations. Many models are available that will fold up and sit easily on the back seat of your car. Some wheels even come with straps or tote bags so you can carry them.

Is the size a factor that I will have to consider? If you have a small apartment with limited spinning space or a huge work room with plenty of space you will want to choose the right size wheel. While the antique wheels were large today's designs can fit any size room.

Do I want a single treadle or a double treadle wheel? What is the difference? The treadle is the flat piece you put your foot on to help turn the wheel. Some wheels have a singe treadle where you use one foot to turn the wheel. With the double treadle you use both feet. It has been suggested with two feet working the treadle it provides a better body balance. The best way to find out what wheel suits you the best is to actually sit down at one and try it. If this weren't possible, the next best thing would be to ask people for their preferences. People are always willing to share their experience and opinions.

B) Wheel Classification

Spinning wheels are typically classified by their general appearance.

Saxony This is the traditional design of wheel most people think of when referring to a spinning wheel and is often referred to as the "Cinderella" wheel. The Saxony wheel is arranged horizontally, with the large wheel at one end and the flyer at the other end usually with the wheel at the right. This wheel normally has 3 legs, and sloping frame. The Ashford Traditional and Elizabeth wheels are examples of the Saxony wheels.

Castle The Castle Wheel, or Irish Castle Wheel, design can date from the late 18th and early 19th centuries. It was probably brought to North America from Ireland. With these wheels the flyer and drive orientation is vertical with the flyer and bobbin assembly above the drive wheel. Although they have four legs their upright position takes up less floor space than other wheels. The Ashford Traveller and the Majacraft wheels are good examples of the castle wheel.

Norwegian The Norwegian Wheel is another type of flyer wheel that is similar in looks and design to the traditional styled Saxony. It has a large wheel, four legs, a horizontal bench and is usually ornate in appearance.

Modern The Modern type of spinning wheels take advantage of the expanding engineering knowledge and technology advances for refining wheel performance. Some have solid wheels on which more artistic spinners have painted or stenciled designs. These wheels may fold up for easy transport. The examples of the modern wheels are the Louet, Ashford Joy, Lendrum, and the Schacht.

C) The Importance of Ratio or Speed

The ratios on your spinning wheels are as important in spinning as gears are on a bike. If you have a new wheel the ratio is documented in the manual. If your wheel is not new the ratio can be found in this manner. Tie a piece of wool to the flyer, which is the piece that has the hooks on it and spins. Put the crankshaft at its highest position and turn the drive wheel slowly by hand counting the number of times the flyer revolves in one revolution. For example, if your wheel states it has a ratio of 6.5:1 that means that the wool twists 6.5 times in one inch (2.5 cm) to one revolution of the spinning wheel.

The drive ratio determines the number of twist per inch or centimeter and the thickness of your spun wool. A fine wool has more twist than a medium wool. For fine spinning the ratio can be as high as 40:1. That means 40 twists per one turn of the drive wheel. For medium wool the ratio is between 5:1 to 8:1. Thick and bulky wool can have a ratio of 2:1.

D) The Difference Between Single Drive or Double Drive Wheels

A single drive wheel has the drive band going once around the wheel and the flyer with a separate brake on the bobbin. This is known as the Scotch Tension System. Most beginners will find the Scotch Tension System easier to understand and master since both the brake and drive band can be adjusted separately giving the beginner greater control the wool twist. The Scotch Tension lends itself to soft spinning and plying which helps the beginner who tends to over-twist wool. A double drive wheel uses a drive band that is longer. The double band is really a single band but doubled and crossed to drive both the flyer and bobbin. As it goes around the wheel, to the bobbin, back around the wheel again then around a whorl on the flyer. The double drive system provides a firmer, more consistent wool and with normally higher ratio options. The Irish Tension has the drive band driving the bobbin such as the Country spinning wheel. This type of tension is good when spinning bulky wool. The drive wheel does the driving force. This lends to the greater traction and allows heavier wool to be spun on to the bobbin.

2001 Jackie Gustafson

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