In my favorite movie, Dangerous Liaisons, there is a part where Valmont (John Malkovich, mmmmm) having won a bet by seducing his ‘crush’, is running up a flight of stairs shouting “Success! Success!”

I feel a lot like that right now.

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Got the wheel rounded – medieval craftsmanship is all very well, but I’ve always been a fan of power tools in the shop. I sidled the wheel up to Raven’s tabletop belt sander and spun it against that for an hour. (no pictures, not enough hands.) Re-dug the belt groove (dremel tool) and spent the next million years (six hours) experimenting, tweaking and adjusting, and making the occasional obscene gesture.

And when all the dust settled (wow, do I have to vaccuum) here’s what I’ve got: A very basic castle wheel standing 3 feet high, 20 inch wheel circumference (outer edge), double treadle, single drive. And it totally works. I’m so happy I could plotz. Plus I was relieved to find that actual act of spinning on a wheel is not hard – I was, I admit, experiencing some concern that having actually built the thing I was going to have to find someone to show me how to use it! But it really is just like drop spinning, only faster. And sideways. And with feet. I also gave myself a little break while learning it – I had some singles waiting to be plied from the drop spindles, and so the first thing I did was ply those together, which let me get used to the speed of the wheel and the whole treadling thing without actually having to draft at the same time. By the time that was done I had the spin/draw thing worked out and felt confident enough to move to the actual fibre, and had no problem at all keeping it even. The singles in that picture are my cat-brush rolags from the recent fleece haul.

I did try setting up the double drive band, but it won’t stay on – I’m not sure whether the wheel itself is too narrow, or whether I just don’t ‘get’ what I’m supposed to be doing there. But the single drive works great. The wheel and I had a debate/consultation/insult-shouting competition yesterday morning and managed to settle on a length of twisted cord made from heavy nylon thread to use as a yarn break, and that was the final refinement before it all came together. I think the single drive is best for now anyway, as I don’t have a “Mother of All” or equivalent, there’s no way to adjust belt tension at the flyer, so the yarn break is doing some pretty important stuff right now. That may change on either another wheel or even on this one if I do make my own flyer somewhere down the road, but right now it’s working fine and I just don’t see any reason to mess around with it!

Thank you so much, everybody, for your compliments, suggestions and encouragements! This has been a really fun project, and so rewarding, and I have to recommend it to anybody who is even thinking about giving it a try.

As far as the actual building of it – there is probably a lot of math involved in getting all these round things and moving parts to be in the right relation to each other. I wouldn’t know. Literally the only formal measuring I did was in marking out the actual wheel circumference – and then as noted I messed up cutting it anyway and had to sand it down A Lot to make it be round. Fortunately I erred on the outside of my line – the wheel was always supposed to be a 20 inch round, and for a wonder it actually still is!

Other than that, I looked at a lot of pictures of a lot of wheels – Louet in particular has assembly instructions for their wheels with nice black-and-white line drawings. Lendrum has the kind of treadle assembly that I used, and there are some good pictures of that. Ashford puts the same elements together in a bunch of creative ways and so are a great source of inspiration. And, after staring at all these images, I just started holding things up in relation to each other and moving them and tying them together until everything was in a place where it wouldn’t rub or bump anything else, and could do whatever thing it had to do freely. I used thin slices of broomstick as spacers for the footer (on the wheel) and the treadle connector hinge. The wheel axle is a 1/2 inch bolt, and the centre of the wheel has a 1/2 inch copper pipe hammered through it to make it run smoothly and protect the wood.

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You can get this really wicked looking drill bit for drilling the axle holes – Raven had one, but if you don’t then it is worth picking one up – they’re only a few dollars and you get a big round perfect hole, which saves a lot of tweaking in a very awkward and important place.

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I bought a big 20 inch “furniture grade” board to cut the wheel out of, because I figured trying to assemble my own round from parts was more than I could handle on this first try. The plank on which the wheel is mounted is a maple board, but could be (and might even be better as) a couple of two-by-fours, or whatever – the important thing is that it’s solid, because everything else is mounted onto that. The rest of the bits are the usual “stuff I found” – chopped up an old drawer for the treadles, used a dowel for the treadle hinges, and a small piece of oak for the connector hinge – I had that left over from making busks for a show, but again it can be purchased quite cheaply. I didn’t have enough of the oak to make the footer out of it as well, so I glued two poplar strips together and drilled through them as one piece.

Everything is greased with Vasoline, and everything is screwed-not-nailed together. The treadles are tied to the connector hinge with 4 inch lengths (plus knots) of bootlace. They are also currently tied to the dowel hinge, which works but I think I’m going to change that to two small pieces of wood that hook over the dowel instead, so they’ll shift less. (Raven’s suggestion).

As mentioned, I did not make this flyer, but I’ve been staring at it for a long time now and I’m quite certain I could. The horseshoe shape would be easy to cut, but isn’t even necessary, I’ve seen square ones. The rounds are the tricky part, and probably best done by some time with a lathe, but mine are 3/4 inch discs sanded thinner at the edges and then of course grooved (both bobbin and flyer wheel on mine have V-grooves) and with patience there’s no reason they couldn’t be done the same way as the drive wheel if you had to. I’ve been browsing obscure hardware stores for months looking for something that would act as a yarn guide (what is it actually called? The bit where the twist goes into the flyer?) with a few possible contenders but no perfect solution, but honestly I think the first thing I’d try would be to carve it out of wood and sand the heck out of it. It really only needs to be a dowel with perpendicular holes drilled in – tricky work, but far from impossible!

So I know all that is not the same as publishing “plans”, but if you’re interested in doing this, with or without bought plans, and you have any questions, feel free to drop me a line. I’ll answer any questions I can, and can could always send detail pictures if something isn’t clear.

Now I’m gonna go spin something.

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