Category Archives: Spinning Wheels

The balancing act of a Graceful Flyer

IMAG0285

I decided to make a new flyer and bobbin for my spinning wheel. The old one worked really nicely at lower ratios and for fatter yarns. At the moment, I’m spinning really thin cotton on a takli spindle and using the wheel to ply it for loom warp. I could literally hear the arms of the flyer meet the resistance of the air as it spun, and not in a good way. It sounded like a squirrel cage fan, and I knew that I was treadling with more effort than necessary.

In addition, I modified my flyer balancing jig to make it more sensitive. The difference between a carefully balanced flyer and an eccentric one can be immediately appreciated at higher speeds. To balance the flyer, it is placed on the jig with various orientations of the arms and allowed to roll. The heavy arm will want to drop and you remove material with a file or scraper from the heavy arm until the flyer doesn’t want to roll any particular direction regardless of the orientation of the arms. You can see in the above photo how one arm is about two thirds the thickness of the other, due to the differing densities of the wood. It would seem to pay in time spent balancing to start with a flyer blank of even grained wood.

Here is the old flyer side by side for comparison.

IMAG0286

I smoothed and rounded everything much more. It ended up looking a lot more like the flyers found on antique flax wheels, which are about half again as fine as the one on the left. In addition I made the orifice smaller at 1/4″ and spent a good deal more time polishing the bend at the inside of the orifice to the eye.

What else can I say? Oh, it holds a bit less yarn on the bobbin than the former flyer/bobbin, but seeing as I’m spinning such fine yarn I’m hard pressed to fill a bobbin anyway. Now I can spin singles for knitting yarn on the fine flyer and ply it on the large flyer. Happy spinning!

Bobbin Winder and Boat Shuttle

IMAG0308IMAG0314

After making a loom and playing around a bit weaving with a stick shuttle I realized the potential benefits of the boat shuttle for speeding up the weaving process. And of course, who is going to load a bobbin by hand? Well, compared to a spinning wheel, a bobbin winder is a walk in the park. I gathered up a few scrap pieces of cherry, walnut, oak, even some birch ply.

IMAG0309

I probably made the bobbin winder a bit taller than necessary, but I wanted a good wrapped angle to allow the little tiny drive whorl to work well without a great deal of tension on the drive band. The crank wheel has no bearing and rides on a 1/4″ steel rod secured with washer and cotter pin on the other side. The axle for the bobbin mandrel is a press fit for both the drive whorl and the mandrel. Seeing as it generates some pretty good revolution per turn, I pressed in some ironwood bearings either side of the post. I’ll have to oil them, but they allow the axle to turn smoothly and freely.

I never actually got around to calculating the drive ratio, but the crank wheel has a 6″ diameter to the drive whorl’s 1/2″ diameter. Since most of the yarn that I make ends up in a skein and not on a cone, I’ll most likely be winding off from an umbrella swift.

IMAG0310

The boat shuttle measures about 12″ long and 1″ thick. I needed a thin shuttle because the shed on the loom I made is not terribly wide. Making an open bottomed shuttle didn’t seem like a bad idea when my maximum warp width is 20″. I looked at many designs online before sketching out a cardboard template for the top view and the side view. Before cutting the profile the slit that the yarn carries through off the bobbin was mortised, as well as the bobbin hollow. The mortise for the bobbin and spindle hollow was cut by drilling at the four corners and connecting with a scroll saw. The outside curves were cut on a band saw and cleaned up with a cabinet scraper and sandpaper. The little scrap of cherry I made this out of turned out to have a pitch pocket towards one end. In one sense it is a blemish, but does personalize the object and I actually love natural defects that don’t compromise the structure of the piece. Because this is for myself, I decided not to chuck it in the burn pile.

IMAG0312

The spindle was made by flattening one end of a 3/16″ steel rod and cross drilling it for a brass pin. It is secured at the other end by a rare earth magnet.

Of course, as with any yarn tool, it must be slick and smooth. I finished up by sanding out to 400 grit and applying three coats of paste wax. I can’t wait to get it loaded up and weaving!

How to make a Spinning Wheel

IMAG0255

Its hard to figure out where to start when it comes to making a spinning wheel. You get interested in making some yarn, maybe get a few different hand spindles. And then you get to the point where you want better quality yarn faster. For me that meant figuring out how to make a spinning wheel. Look around for plans a bit online and you come to the conclusion that the most difficult bit of the whole affair comes down to the wheel itself, making a large accurate circle. And if, like me, you don’t own a lathe that can throw a 30″ circle, you need a work around. Thankfully in woodworking there is always more than one way to get something done.

I’d like to say thanks to Carson Cooper for his excellent work publishing his guide to making spinning wheels and flyers, and the various plans of wheels that he puts out with excellent dimensioned drawings and fabrication instructions. Without having a collection of spinning wheels to work from for basic dimensioning and design Cooper’s books were an invaluable aid. That said, you have to know your way around a woodshop to make use of his work.

A spinning wheel starts, from a design perspective, with the wheel. Build the wheel first, and all else follows.

IMAG0248

I figured if I could build a large wheel, then a small one would be a piece of cake, so I started with a 30″ wheel. The most useful thing to note about how I made an accurate wheel is the piece of Baltic birch plywood my wheel blank is resting on. It serves as both circle routing jig and assembly jig, using a central pin drilled in the middle and being the same diameter as the wheel axle shafting.

Cutting the mortices for the splines that hold the segments together was done with saw and mortice chisel. Frankly, it would have been much, much easier if I had used a straight cutting bit on a router, but I like to try things the old fashioned way first, even if I know it will be time consuming. I cut the corners off of each side of the six wheel segments to decrease the length of the mortice, making it much easier to keep things accurate, but making it much more difficult to hold the work securely while cutting with the chisel. Once the pieces were glued together I screwed the wheel down in three places to the jig, being able to use those same screw holes to locate the cut rim back exactly to its concentric position around the axle for assembly.

IMAG0250 IMAG0251

Drilling the holes for the spokes required the fabrication of two different V blocks and a center finder for my drill press. Even with the routing jig to align the parts, accurate hole drilling is a must if you want parts to actually fit together.

IMAG0252

Here is the assembled wheel, on the routing jig. I had to make the wheel hub in three pieces so that the rim would lie in plane with the hub on the jig. I would definitely recommend some holes cut in the jig so that clamps can reach through and press the two main halves of the split hub together against the spokes.

IMAG0253

With the wheel together you can decide upon the angles for the splay of the legs, and the distance between the wheel and the flyer. You want the wheel as far away from the flyer whorl as possible to give the drive band as much wrapped angle as possible on the smaller drive whorl. The wheel can’t lean back too far though, or it will want to tip over. A happy balance occurs if you put the center line of the wheel over where the two front legs meet the ground.

IMAG0256

The main challenge of making the flyer was getting my Rigid lathe to accurately center drill small metal parts. Cooper recommends brass for the flyer orifice, as it is soft enough to turn on a wood lathe. As difficult as CR steel is to work, at least it is cheap. I even made the bobbin bearings out of 1/2″ CR rod. And don’t get me started about threading the flyer shaft for the drive whorl nut. Save yourself a great deal of trouble threading free hand with a die and use a collet to hold the shaft on your lathe and a tailstock die holder. I thought that my dies were just cheap because of the gnarled look to the threads. Turns out holding the die in a stable alignment while threading is everything when it comes to getting clean threads.

Well, I know I left a great deal out if you’re reading this and trying to figure out how to do it yourself. It took me a couple years from when I first conceived of making a spinning wheel to gain both the knowledge and tooling to make something that doesn’t look too bad. So don’t give up, keep studying anything you can get your hands on. Find a store that sells wheels and study them in person. From never having used a wheel to building a quality heirloom is totally possible. If you have any specific questions about how something was done, please leave a comment and I’ll be happy to put up another blog post.