Are you ready for more on how to buy a spinning wheel? Judging from the number of readers that tuned in for Part 1 I’d say that’s a big yes!
What to Look For in Appearance and Functionality
I’ve put all considerations about how individual wheels function in this post. That includes how big a wheel is, how heavy it is, how you treadle it, how high up you have to hold the yarn, and so on. All of this is very much personal preference. If your wheel is the right height and style for you, you will come to take all that it for granted and not give it much thought. Lol Its its not right for you, you might come to hate your wheel and it will sit neglected in a corner. We wouldn’t want that.
Saxony versus Castle Wheels
A Saxony wheel stands on three legs (usually) and the big wheel is to the side of the flyer/bobbin. Its old fashioned, pretty, and what most people think of when they envision handspinning yarn.
A Castle wheel is more compact. Its construction is up-down with the wheel sitting below the flyer/bobbin.
Saxony construction has the advantage when you want a really big wheel. Since that wheel is off the the side, they can be made very, very big. The bigger that wheel is (in relation to the bobbin or flyer whorl), the less treading you have to do.
Castle wheels take up less space. They tend to be more portable (more on that latter) and you can sit straight, face forward while you spin. I think that is very important.
I’ve never seen this in print anywhere but every person I’ve talked to with a Saxony-style wheel said that their back started to hurt if they spun for too long. Every last one of them. That’s because those wheels (usually) have the treadles offset from the flyer/bobbin. That means you always have to sit at an angle. You’re either lined up with your feet (on the treadles) or you’re lined up with your hands (at the flyer/bobbin) but not both. You’re twisting your spine, not much but a little, when you spin.
I think twist should happen in your yarn, not your spine. A castle wheel is all lined up and so the spinner is all lined up. That was a huge consideration for me when I was looking for my first wheel.
Single Treadle versus Double Treadle
I think this also comes down to comfort and ergonomics. With a single treadle you only use one foot. If you spin for long periods that can feel like driving a car for long distances, your right leg sits higher the whole time and it can get uncomfortable. But some spinners don’t notice it. Some spinners switch legs when one gets tired. Some spinners like the fact that they can switch legs when one gets tired because it means they can spin longer.
Both of my wheels are double treadle…
That’s the treadle on my Louet s90. Its technically a single treadle but wide enough to rest both feet. I like that. You don’t see that treadle in many wheels.
FYI: many manufactures will offer a wheel with single or double so you can customize your order and get exactly what you want.
Don’t overlook the opening in the flyer where that the newly spun yarn must travel through. It will be on the flyer.
This orifice will limit how thick of a yarn you can make. There is quite a rangle in sizes. As I mentioned in Part 1, I have two wheels, both Louets. The S75 has a large orifice while the one on the S90 is quite a bit smaller.
Most of the time this doesn’t affect me much. I am usually spinning singles at lace or fingering weight. When I ply, I end up with sport, DK, or worsted. Both wheels can handle that. But there have been a few times I wanted to make a very thick yarn (like the three ply super-chunky weight Alpaca that I used to make the world’s warmest hat for my mom!) and that’s when I have to use my S75. Any time I want to make an art yarn, with slubs and coils and such I’m on the S75.
Make sure your orifice is big enough for the yarns you like to make.
Also check the height that the orifice is off the ground. I’ve tried some small wheels and the orifice is so low that my yarn feeds into it at a downward angle. It rubs against the edge of that opening as it takes up. I don’t like that at all. Who needs extra friction when you spin and extra wear on your yarn? No one!
Stationary versus Portable
You are going to want a wheel you can take with you. You will, lol. Its your brand new wheel! You’ll want to take it to knit night and down to your LYS and to that spinning guild you just joined. Your daughters 4th grade teacher would love it if you could come one day and give the class a demonstration. The same goes for those angels who run Vacation Bible School all summer long. And what about family vacations? A spinning wheel would be the perfect thing to have in the evenings at the cabin/at the beach/at Granny’s house.
Trust me you’ll want to take your wheel with you. So let’s talk about what makes a wheel portable.
It comes down to size and weight. There are wheels sold that are made and marketed as portable. These are smaller, light weight and often fold up in some way. They usually come with carrying cases.
But for most spinners any wheel they can fit into the back seat of their car is considered portable! Most castle-style wheels, if they aren’t too heavy, are portable enough. My S90 is a portable model. It folds up. But I’ll pack up my S75 before the S90. Even though its rigid, the S75 weighs less and that makes it easier to carry. I say weight and size are more important than construction.
Lazy Kates and Distaffs
In addition to the spinning wheel itself, some models come with attached accessories. Most wheels have some form of a Lazy Kate. Only the really nice models (or older models) will have a distaff.
A Lazy Kate is a stand that holds bobbins which you have filled up with single ply yarn. They sit on a Laxy Kate where they can unspool freely as you ply them together.
A distaff is a tool that holds the unspun fiber (like roving) as you spin. It keeps the fiber tangle free while allowing it to gently unspool as you draft.
I would never make a wheel purchase, or reject a good wheel, because of the accessories it had or didn’t have. Lazy kates and distaffs can be purchased separately or even made yourself. I know I recommended not building your own wheel, but these are much much simpler devises. I built my first lazy kate from a wooden box and two metal knitting needles. Distaffs can be made from a dowel and a piece of ribbon.
Get the wheel you want. Then figure out your accessories.
That wraps up my thoughts on wheel construction. Hopefully this post and the previsions one on flyer/bobbin design will help you narrow down the kind of wheel you’d like to buy. The next and last post will be about how to find a quality manufacture and a good price.