Daily Archives: March 13, 2007

DIY Drop Spindle Saga

Or, How To Make A Drop Spindle For Under $10 Using Sheer Bloody-Mindedness

I have indeed become obsessed with the idea of spinning my own yarn. So much so, of course, that I had to do it RightNow, and went on that little fibre-binge the other day, bringing home four braided “slivers” of lovely, ready-to-spin wool. But what to spin it with?

I do not own a spinning wheel, nor can I forsee beign able to afford, beg, borrow, or steal one any time soon. (Heck, they’re so expensive I don’t even know if I could afford one at all!) However, many of the beginner spinner tutorials I’ve found suggest that learning to sping on a wheel is not the best method anyway, and suggest starting out with a drop spindle.

Sadly, I don’t really own a drop spindle, either. I had a soapstone whorl I’d carved at an SCA Arts and Sciences night years ago, but a quick stop by the art supply store for replacement dowelling soon showed me that this whorl was both small and heavy, and made for a spindle that was a bit off-balanced to boot (not a good combination for a beginner’s tool!).

Online browsing informed me that what I should be looking for was a spindle that was not too heavy or light (between 2-3oz), relatively wide (2.5-3.5″ diametre), and well-balanced. It also showed me vast numbers of beautiful turned-wood drop spindles that began at $30US and went up from there — neither affordable nor in my hands RightNow! The trip to my LYS offered plywood drop spindles for $15CDN and up — not a good value for the quality-cost ratio. My last recourse was to make one myself: lower quality, perhaps, but defintely for a lower cost, and it would get me going right away!

Somewhat grudgingly I made myself a drop spindle from old CDs (pdf link) and gave it, as they say, a whirl. Not the best choice, by far. Cheap, yes (about $2 for the dowel, little metal hook, and electrical tape I used, and dead CDs I consider “free”); effective, not so much. I still know next-to-nothing about spinning, but I’m fairly sure that the CD-spindle method yeilds a spindle that is both too light and too wide for a beginner’s tool. I spun up a bit of my fibre, and began plotting a better — if still cheap — DIY spindle plan.

What few other make-one-right-away instructions I could find suggested buying a wooden wheel, as for a toy car, from a hobby shop and affixing that to your dowelling (the idea being that hobby wheels are already well-balanced, and mroe likely to come in the right size/weight for a spindle whorl). This sounds like a good plan to me. Alas, trying to find “my local hobby shop” ended up with me lost in the brightly-coloured bowels of the Chinatown mall (must go back, but not for exploration, not crafting purposes). My second attempt led me to the Lee Valley store, which, while they do supply toy wheels, they are only in groups of six locked away in model car kits with scads of other useless wood bits. I would reccommend Lee Valley wheelie-kits to beginner spinners with friends — for $15-25 you can get enough wheels to make several spindles, and all play with fibre together (I’d guess defrayed cost of individual spindles would work out to under $10 each; I just don’t need 6 spindles!).

What recourse did I have left? I hied myself to a tiny, grungy-looking rathole of a hardware store and just out-and-told the guy what I wanted. I was looking for a wheel-shaped object about 2-3oz heavy and about 3″ diamter. He did not look at me kile a freak, but rather went into the back, rifled around for a bit, adn came back with replacement furniture casters! Excellent! A plastic/rubber wheel, designed to be well-balanced to rotate on it’s axis, about 3″ in diametre and about 2+oz heavy! And for $2.70, just what I was looking for!! For another $3.25, I also bought the 4″ size, and will probably try making my own Navaho thigh-spindle sometime in the future.

Here (finally!) is how I put it all together:

– 1 10″-12″ length of 1/4″ hardwood dowel
– 1 3″ diameter furniture caster (plastic/rubber wheel)
– 1 little screw-in hook (“cup hook”, only quite small, about 1cm around) — if you want a top-whorl or “reversable” spindle
– pencil sharpener
– electrical tape
– x-acto knife
– bit of fine sandpaper

First off, wash the caster (mine was all grimey) and trim any burrs with the x-acto knife.

Take your dowelling, and if you’ve got a full length you can easily get it down to size by deeply scoring all around with the x-acto and then giving the two sides a sharp snap (the break may have a few pokey bits from the centre of the dowel, but these are easily trimmed & sanded). Whether your shaft is 10″ or 12″ is up to you, really — I used 10″. Give your dowel a light sanding all around.

Make a slight point at one end of the dowel with the pencil sharpener (use your x-acto and sandpaper to round off the point). Round off the other end by giving it just a twirl of two with the pencil sharpener, or just with the sandpaper.

Using the x-acto blade, whittle out a small notch about 1″ down from the pointed end. This notch will have it’s right-angle edge pointy-side, and taper back out to full dimeter towards to length of shaft. (see illustration at this website). Sand the notch a little to make sure it’s smooth, since this will be where your yarn will be tied to the shaft when you spin. [Alternately, if you don’t feel comfortable with whittling, you could just round off both ends of the shaft and affix the screw-hook to your ‘top’ end, even for a bottom-whorl spindle.] The shaft is finished!

Now take the electrical tape, and prepare for the fiddly part. Electrical tape is slightly stretchy, which means that you can wrap it sticky side out and the tension will keep it pretty-much in place. So, sticky-side out, begin wrapping the tape about 2″ or so from the rounded (bottom) end of the shaft, until you’ve built up enough layers to make up the difference between the dowel’s diametre and the diametre or the center hole in your caster. Careful to not push down the wrapped layers (this means you’ve built it up too much, try trimming off a quarter-wrap before you re-wrap everything), slowlly push the caster onto the shaft and overthe taped zone. I twisted my caster on, like a screw. The sticky-side out will help it affix to the inside of the caster’s center hole, and the non-sticky side facing the shaft should allow you to adjust the positionof the caster slightly up or down the shaft as needed, and the rubbery-tapey-ness or the whole thing should keep it all in place!

Once the caster is affixed to the shaft, give the thing a spin (long end up, for a bottow-whorl spindle, or vice-versa for a top whorl). If it’s wobbly, check that the caster is as perpendicular to the shaft as possible. if it just doesn’t feel quite “right”, try adjusting the caster furrther up or down the shaft, and spin it again. If it spins happily with minimal support from you, hooray for you!

If you want a top-whorl spindle, you just need to screw in the small hook to the top of the shaft (the rounded end). This is where the yarn is held in place when you spin. If you’d like to have a “reversable” spindle, even if you notched your shaft for bottom-whorl spinning, you can attch the hook to the rounded edge, and spin top-whorl or bottom-whorl at your pleasure!

You’re done! You’ve made your very own drop spindle from materials available in any basic hardware shop, and all for under $10. Go spend that money you’ve saved on some fancy rovings and get spinning!

* * * * *

If you’re lucky enough to have access to a turning lathe, here are very complete directions on how to turn your own drop spindle.

Here is a good online article on beginning spinning with the top-whorl spindle (much of the advice applies to both styles, and I’ve found this one quite helpful).

Interweave Press also publishes Spin Off! magazine, which has several getting started spinning articles available online (though most are for wheel, not drop spindle, spinning).

There are a fair number of websites with really basic how-to spin instructions, some good, others not so good. Most only cover the introduction to spinning, so it seems like learnign really is a trial-and-error (O, the errors!) process. Have fun with it!


Filed under drop-spindle, how-to, spinning