Spinning Wheel Maintenance And Questions

Hello All!

I’m a woodworker hobbyist with a confession to make: I have a weird hobby.
I’ve become enamored of tuning, repairing, and restoring spinning wheels and looms.

How did this come about? My spouse is fond of “adopting” wheels and looms that show up on
our doorstep. “Please may I come in? I promise I won’t be ANY trouble…” This is how
we’ve ended up with a house that looks more like a museum than a residence - but I digress.

After figuring out the solution to a particular challenge, I asked her to test my work - to verify that
the repair was functional. “I’m busy weaving now! Why don’t YOU learn to spin and test it yourself?”

Oh, I see! Game on. I ultimately taught myself to both spin and weave, with a large dose of osmosis.
(Okay, to be fair, she helped - okay, a lot.)

As a result, I found myself as the proud recipient of a continuing stream of wheels and looms in
need of repair and restoration. Apparently it makes a difference if you know how it’s supposed
to work.

Sometimes it’s just a cleaning and lubrication, other times antiques have been neglected and wood
has decayed, or parts are missing. Some of the most fascinating, are those wheels or looms that
have had several prior repairs - some well done, and some “not so much”. In each case, the wood
“talks to me” and tells me its history - even if its provenance is unknown. We work together to find
the solution that lets great-grandmas’ wheel return to a rightful position of “functional art.”

Fast forward to today: I repair and build looms, fiber arts tools, and wheels. I enjoy helping folks
figure out puzzles about how parts fit together. How to maintain the most popular Ashford Traditionals
(which have an annoying habit of separating at the hub), and more obscure makers and models.
I can’t offer custom fabrication for antiques in this forum, but I’m happy to offer advice.

Please let me know if I can help!

(Copied from OurUnRaveled.com v.1)

This is the story of a little mädchen who is now named “Margaret” and was one of my more challenging repairs. What follows is the portion of her provenance as I know it.

My wife and I had been participating in a local spinning group who typically met in local book stores. One of the members remarked that a well meaning relative had “spent good money” for a supposed European antique from Germany, and had sent her a Bag-O-Parts. She was frustrated that she needed to be gracious in accepting the gift, without letting on that they’d been taken advantage of by an apparently unscrupulous antique dealer.

I offered to try a restoration, but she was adamant that this was well beyond saving. She brought me the bag the following week, saying I could either use it as a pattern for making a wheel of new wood, or just toss it – she didn’t want to deal with it. When I looked in the bag, I began to understand.

She had been a tiny parlor wheel – castle in orientation, and less than 36 inches tall. It’s possible she was meant for demonstrating spinning skill in an era when that was considered a societal requirement, or maybe she was an apprentice’s wheelmaker’s final exam project – small scale work is more exacting and tougher as a test.

The drive wheel was in at least 5 parts, some about the size of a fist. The table and legs were present, but badly damaged and wobbly. Most of the wood was either wormy, or had the consistency of that styrofoam that is used in artificial plant arrangements. There was even a part that someone had substituted for the distaff, which was obviously a piece of cut-off modern broomstick.

After sorting the parts and taking inventory of missing items, I started with stabilizing what was present. Friends joke about me buying super glue by the gallon, but that’s only a slight exaggeration. Cyanoacrylate soaked into the pores of the “styrofoam” wood and rendered it more solid and workable. Not a technique for use in museum-grade restorations, but depending on your game rules – quite effective.

After fitting the rim portions together, I fashioned a couple of rim bits for the gaps remaining. The resulting drive wheel certainly will never be described as “true”, in fact the wobble is a bit dizzying – but at least it doesn’t throw the drive band. The footman was missing, but those are easy replacements. All the flyer hooks had rusted and decayed – I replaced them all with fresh 1/16” wire. More significant, was the missing left maiden. Looking at the broomstick piece, it came to me… I turned a section of the broomstick to approximately match the other maiden, and in doing so – managed to preserve a bit of her heritage and provenance. All that remained was to create new leathers, since the originals were fossilized with caked on lanolin.

Margaret doesn’t spin well, but she does spin again. My multiple attempts to return her to the donor as a gift, were all declined. So she now lives with us and is a reminder to me that most wheels and looms can be returned to their place as functional art. I like to think that somewhere, a German woodworker from the 1800’s is smiling.

Absolutely beautiful. A piece of history restored. :slight_smile:

There’s a spinner beside that German woodworker happy to see her up an spinning again, too (even if she IS a bit wobbly).