Make an Inexpensive Spinning Wheel

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Our homespun spinning wheel,complete with skein of wool.
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Barbara uses one hand to spin, the other to turn the wheel.

One day Barbara–that’s my best friend–and I got
this crazy idea: Why not try to make a spinning wheel?

Up until then, Barbara had been spinning our “homegrown”
wool (which comes from a little black sheep and a white
woolly that we keep here on our ten acres) on a drop
spindle. In case you didn’t know, a drop spindle is nothing
more than a tapered dowel–weighted at the
bottom–which you hold vertically and let rotate while
pulling wool from the top. It’s a slow-but-simple way to
spin wool.

Now, it takes a long time to make even a two- or three ounce
skein by the drop spindle method. Not that it isn’t fun . .
. Barbara loves it. (The way I see it, you’ve got
to love spinning to do it in the first place!) But an
honest-to-goodness spinning wheel . . . now that
would certainly make the whole process a lot easier, and a
lot quicker.

We thought awhile, and–after seeing diagrams and
pictures of homemade wheels in Foxfire2
–decided we couldn’t wait any longer. We started to
track down materials.

“Look!” we exclaimed when we spotted some half-inch and
one-inch dowels-perfect to use as the spindle and
holder–in the garage. “Hey!” we blurted when we
happened across a rough piece of split oak, about four feet
long, to use for the platform. I won’t even mention what we
said when we discovered some pieces of green oak suitable
for legs in our firewood pile.

Our biggest piece of luck-considering we’re both just
unskilled novices when it comes to things
mechanical–was finding a ready-made wheel. It came
off a lonely old abandoned bicycle in the junkyard. At 24
inches in diameter, it wasn’t quite as large as the wheels
in Foxfire2, but it looked as if it
would do the trick . . . and it did!

We made one simple modification to the old bike wheel:
namely, what we did was [1] strip the tire and inner tube
from our much appreciated find, [2] cut a long strip from
the tube, and [3] glue this strip of rubber back onto the
rim. We figured this’d make a nice smooth runway to guide
the loop of twine that runs between spindle and wheel and
keeps everything in motion.

From that point, the actual construction of our spinning
wheel was a cinch. All we did was mount the components in
their proper positions (see photos), copying what we’d seen
in pictures of other folks’ wheels, and
violà! We had a device that really, honestly worked
(much to my amazement). This was the first time I’d ever
put anything with moving parts together.

Someday, I suppose I’ll try to attach a foot pedal to our
masterpiece . . . but for now, we’re just happy to have
something that works, and which is quicker and easier to
use than a drop spindle.

You might be able to buy a spinning wheel, new,
for around $50. The one Barbara and I put together cost
$2.50–mostly for the epoxy and Weldwood that holds it
together–and it couldn’t do a better job at any

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