Spin Cycle

The newest item to cross my workbench is indirectly relevant to the project.

On Saturday, my wife and I visited an Olympia, WA, flea market that is, sadly, going out of business. While we were there, I noticed, lurking in a dark corner, an old oak wheel. It belonged to the prettiest little broken spinning wheel I think I’ve ever seen.

Seriously, this is a lovely bit of wood. When the weather clears, I’ll get it out in the sun and take some pictures. The wheel, I believe, was made from riven oak, which is oak which has been split from the log rather than sawn. The wood, once you’ve seen it, is easy to spot. It’s beautiful, with straight, unbent, grainlines and sometimes you get lovely striations from the medullary rays, which the tree used to move water around the trunk.

Spinning wheel

The going out of business sale discount, atop the “As Is” damaged good pricing was quite the savings over the cost of a new, intact and functional, wheel.

And the damage wasn’t anything I couldn’t deal with. I brought it home and replaced all the leather parts, re-pegged the treadle, and replaced the drive shaft (known, charmingly, as “The Footman” by spinners) with a new one, dyed to match the original red oak. It’s really coming along and I hope to have it up and running this week.

Is this an Elizabethan spinning wheel?


There are a few characteristics of this Victorian-era wheel that hadn’t developed yet in the 16th century.

The wheel: My understanding (and feel free to correct me) is that though smaller wheels have begun to develop from the large “Walking Wheels” that preceded them, this pattern with the segmented ‘wagon wheel’ style of flywheel hadn’t arisen yet. Once they did come about, they apparently happened first in Ireland. At least they did in Europe.

The treadle: Though treadle technology was already driving flywheels for lathes by the 16th century, the idea had not (apparently) been applied to spinning wheels. In our period, the wheels were spun by hand.

The flyer/spindle: I have some confusion about this, because some of the images I see have what looks like the same type of flyer we have here, but there’s also the Great Wheels, which seemed to all have a spindle, rather like a drop spindle held sideways and spun by the drive belt rather than centripetal force. I’ll have to look better into that before deciding on a direction to go if I decide to build my own.

Who am I kidding? Of course I’m going to build my own.

In these images, you can get a decent look at the stage the European small wheel was at during our period of focus. The outer rim was less like a segmented wagon wheel and more akin to a bentwood basket, and there was a crank for spinning the wheel by hand.

How is this “tangentially related” to the project?

Well, you didn’t expect me not to spin some yarn, did you? And now that I’ve disassembled and put back together my first spinning wheel, I’m eyeing the lathe with a speculative eye. I mean, how hard could it be?

Narrator: He had no idea...

More later, as always.

Narrator: A bold statement, tempting fate...

Hush you.

~ Scott

Public domain images (L to R):

Portrait of Anna Codde (probably) by Maarten van Heemskerck c.1529 (which seems really early to me, but that’s what the Rijksmuseum says) via Wikimedia Commons

A woman at the spinning wheel and a man with a mug seated in an interiorPieter Pietersz the Elder c. 1560-1570, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam via the Web Gallery of Art and Wikimedia Commons

Woman spinning with a wheel, woodcut by unknown craftsman, early 17th century, via Wikimedia Commons


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