How to Pick a Spinning Wheel That You will LOVE – Part 1

Is it time for you to buy your first spinning wheel? Excellent!

Handspinning yarn is a wonderful past time. Its a way to relax, a way to create, and a way to connect with the past. Best of all, when you are spinning you are making yarn. Everyone wants nice yarn. Judging from the size of all our stashes, you can never get enough yarn. So let’s pick out a wheel for you, shall we?

Picking out your wheel can be intimidating. There are many, many choices out there and none of them are exactly cheap. A spinning wheel is an investment. Plus, most new spinners don’t know what they want. Wheels come in many styles and designs. If you haven’t spun very much you might not understand what each design can give you. If you want to buy a wheel because they are pretty, well, you don’t need me! But if you want to make yarn, you’ll need a wheel that fits your preferences and style.

At first I thought I’d write a little post with some helpful advice for those interested in purchasing their first wheel. After sketching out a not-so-brief outline I realized that I had pretty big topic here. It turns out I have a lot to say on this! So I’ve broken this guide into three parts and I’ll post each part over the next few days.

Part 1 – Get The flyer/bobbin design that works for you

Part 2 – Castle vs Saxony, Stationary vs Portable, and other small considerations

Part 3 – Getting the best price

Get the flyer/bobbin design that works for you

I’ve read other guides for picking spinning wheels. They all seem to start with Saxony versus castle styles, double treadles versus single treadles and new versus used.

No no no no no. Sorry but no.

The most important part of a wheel is not the big wheel, or the treadles, and its certainly not how many other people have used it. The two most important parts are the flyer and the bobbin. That is where the spinning of yarn actually happens.  Spinning happens, twist happens, because the flyer and the bobbin move at different speeds. That is true of all wheels. But in some wheels the bobbin spins first (and pulls the flyer along with it) and in others the flyer spins first (and pulls the bobbin along with it).

There are three different types of flyer/bobbin designs. I’ve seen students fight and fight (and cuss) with a flyer led wheel. Then they move over to a bobbin led wheel and BLAM! It works for them. I’ve seen it go the other way; some spinners take naturally to a flyer led system. I’ve even seen beginners struggle all the way up the steep learning curve on a double drive band system and then realize that those wheels can do absolutely anything (and they love it). Don’t worry about what those terms mean. I explain that below. My point is, first you need to find the flyer/bobbin design that works for you. Then decide on castle/saxony/hybrid and new/used, etc.

(A flyer and bobbin assembly from Craftsmanspace. They have a downloadble plan set for how to build you own spinning wheel. I REALLY don’t recommend that. Spinning wheels, quality spinning wheels, are much harder to build than most people think.)

Each design is good for different spinning preferences. Spinners, who tend to be an opinionated bunch, usually have a favorite type and only spin with that one type. Also, they want everyone else to spin with that type. Don’t let anyone’s preferences sway you, not even mine. (Oh yes I have a favorite and I get grumpy if I have to spin for too long on anything else.)  Try them all.

Single Drive Band, Bobbin Led

This is the simplest design and its considered the easiest to spin with. They are often sold as beginner wheels or introductory wheels. Examples include the Louet S10 CONCEPT DT Treadle-5 Spoke Wheel-Bobbin Lead and the Babe Production Spinning Wheel.

These wheels have one drive band and it pulls on a fixed whorl at the end of the bobbin. Thus the spinning is bobbin led. The bobbin rotates first and then friction between it and the flyer, pulls the flyer around. When the yarn feeding into the wheel is held slack (no tension) the flyer stops spinning and only the bobbin rotates.

Flyers and bobbins for single drive band bobbin led wheels (these pictured here are all Louet products)

This design is sometimes called Irish tension or German tension (I have no idea why) and you will usually find a brake of some sort that increases drag on the flyer. This type of design is good for heavy weight yarn and won’t spin fine. Supposedly. In truth this is the type I like and I spin lace weight with it. I spin lace-weight singles which I then ply together to make fingering, sport, and so on. Could I spin so fine that when plied my singles made lace weight? No probably not. For that I would need one of the other designs.

Single Drive Band, Flyer Led

This is the most popular design and its considered a good choice for spinners who already have some experience with spinning (on other wheels or with a drop spindle). Examples include the traditional single drive from Ashford  and the Lendrum Folding Spinning Wheel. For those who are just starting, getting the yarn to “take up” can be a little tricky. That is because the take up can be very, very light in this design.

This design uses one drive band which pulls on a whorl attached to the flyer. The flyer rotates first and then friction starts the bobbin rotating. Bobbins are smaller than flyers. They are lighter and have a smaller rotation to make.  That’s why there can be very little take up with these wheels (look for a break and add some take up when you need it.) Its also what makes it possible to spin very delicate, very fine yarn.

A flyer-led bobbin on an Ashford wheel

This design is sometimes called Scotch Tension (I still don’t know why). They are good for fine yarns but you can also spin thick. That’s the advantage to this design, its flexible. Its harder to spin consistently, or I should say it takes more concentration and effort to spin consistently. On the other hand its easier to spin those funky art yarns on these wheels.

Double Drive Band

These wheels have two bands. One band pulls on the whorl attached to the bobbin and one pulls on the whorl attached to the flyer. Or.. it can have one really long band that loops around and pulls on both whorls simultaneously. Examples include the elizabeth 30 from Ashford and the Mazurka from Kromski (which has sadly been discontinued).

Double drive band (I’m not sure what wheel this is. Image is from joyofhandspinning and I love that site. Click the image to visit.

Double drive band wheels are the most versatile and the most complicated mechanically. With two bands, and two whorls you can adjust the speed on both flyer and bobbin. You can usually set brakes on one or the other or both. You can even move bands and make the wheel spin Scotch tension or Irish tension (I never really cared enough to even go look those terms up). These wheels can do anything.

Why don’t we all have double drive band wheels? Well, they are pricey. There is a learning curve. They also add twist like crazy. For the average beginner, who is over twisting their yarn to begin with, these wheels can be difficult to master. But don’t let that keep you from trying one.


Think about how you like to spin and about what kinds of yarn you like to work with. Then try out some wheels. Try as many as you can. I have two bobbin led wheels, made by the same company in two different styles. I can feel the differences when I use them. That means that if you tried and hated a flyer led (or bobbin led or double drive band) wheel, it doesn’t mean you will hate them all. Try any wheel you can get your hands on.

Where to go to try a wheel?

  • Ask at your local yarn shop. Some of them have a house wheel. Many LYS owners are spinners and have a wheel of their own. They’ll let you try it.
  • While you are at the LYS… ask about local spinning groups. Most big towns have a group of spinners that get together monthly and spin. Don’t be shy. Go to a meeting and ask spinners about their wheels. If you want to be sure of a friendly reception, bring them cookies. Really. Cookies makes for the start a great friendships.
  • Fiber shows and yarn shows almost always have spinners sitting around with their wheels. In among the tables of hand dyed yarn (don’t get distracted!) you’ll come across spinners showing off what they can do. Act interested and they will talk to you for hours.
  • Take a spinning class. Before I bought my first wheel I took a two day class on spinning because the instructor promised to have eight different wheels available. I tried them all. I bumped other students off (lol) and spent time with each one. At the end of that class I knew which wheels I like and which I didn’t.

If you weren’t considering buying a wheel at the beginning of this post but you are now then you have fallen under my spell. Part of my master plan is in fact to turn every knitter and crocheter into a spinner. Go try some wheels! And check back soon for the other two ports in this series.

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21 thoughts on “How to Pick a Spinning Wheel That You will LOVE – Part 1

  1. Jenn, could you explain what the bobbin and flyer do? I’m so confused… Luckily in our local SCA there is a lovely spinner, and I think she would let me play with her drum carder and wheels 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hmm.. that’s a lengthy topic right there. Dare I delve into the mechanics of pulley machines and how they work in spinning wheels? lol It would sound too much like a high school physics lesson! My readers would abandon me!

      But a video might be okay. I don’t have a video of my own on spinning mechanics (yet) but …

      Here is a short video showing how the flyer and bobbin fit together and are placed on a wheel:

      Here is another from Ashford. The actual spinning starts at 1:15 and there is a close up of the flyer/bobbing wheel spinning & winding on yarn at about the 4 min mark.

      HTH!

      Liked by 1 person

    2. The shortest possible explanation is that the bobbin and flyer turn together to put twist into the fiber as long as there is tension on the fiber, then when the tension is relaxed, the flyer winds the twisted fiber onto the bobbin.

      I’m a single drive, flyer lead kind of spinner, so my wheel has an adjustable brake for the bobbin to control the take-up, which is how easy or hard it is to get the flyer to wind on the twisted fiber.

      Liked by 2 people

    1. I’m so sorry this hurt your brain! Maybe should have left out the spinning mechanics details.

      Building wheels is for builders. Maybe you have a passion for that. But in my experience it takes someone several tries before they achieve a spinning wheel that performs like the commercially available models. That seems like a lot of time to me. A lot of time you could spend actually spinning!

      Like

  2. Curiousity begs… which wheel is your favorite?

    Also, I see you not mentioning the part where evenutally one (or two) or each kind seem to move into the various corners of the house. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Or then there’s me. I fell in love with a used Kromski Minstrel, which is a double drive (one string) with an optional scotch tension. I’m having the dickens of a time minimizing twist and getting it to take up.

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    1. The Minstrel is a nice wheel but getting the settings right takes practice. For Double drive wheels the only way increase take-up is adjust the tension on the drive band.

      Question: is your flyer whorl bigger than your bobbin whorl? If its not that might be why the yarn won’t take up.

      If that’s not the problem then try this: take all the tension off (including the break on your flyer) and grab some tough commercial yarn. Attach that yarn to the leader (or just tape it to the bobbin) and pretend to “spin” it. Slowly adjust the tension on the driveband. Tighten until the drive band starts to skip… then tighten until the flyer starts to turn… then stop tightening. The yarn should be taking up and winding onto the bobbin.

      HTH.

      Like

  4. Great post! I spin on single drive wheels but change between bobbin and flyer led. My original Louet S10 was all I had till recently, and I spin 2 ply laceweight on that (I lace the flyer). I’ve also just been given an Ashford trad, and I’m using that for a project atm. I do love the versatility of the Louet though – it can spin chunky art yarn to cobweb lace if you treat it right.

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  5. Aha! Had the tension waaaay too tight. Much better results with your suggestion, although I still have those occasional spring bits on the spindle😉.

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      1. The springy bits are when you have a length of nicely spun yarn, and then a tight corkscrew, followed by another length of normal looking yarn, tight corkscrew, etc. ad infinitum. Now you know!

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      2. aahhh! okay. So you have sections of overspun with sections of …. appropriately spun.

        Its really easy to overspin with those double drive wheels. They add twist like no one’s business. I betcha the overspin happens when you pause the feeding of fiber to draft. I also betcha that a lot of it self-corrects when you ply. In which case I’d just ignore it (I’m good at ignoring problems), ply it out, and tell myself I’ll get better with practice!

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