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Keep Your Wheel Runnin'...

Updated: Mar 20

Happy 2021!

Distaff's Day (or St. Distaff's Day) is right around the corner. Some celebrate it on the first Saturday of the new year (like today), but the official date for Distaff's Day is January 7. This is a big holiday for spinning, but more on that next week.

In honor of the upcoming medieval holiday, and because I need to spin a lot of yarn soon, I like to perform some maintenance on my wheels to make sure they are ready for the coming year and all the work they will need to do.

How much maintenance do wheels really need?

Well, it's pretty basic, but these are still machines and specialized tools that cost quite a lot to repair or replace if something breaks down. Most of the work is done each time you spin, with checking the drive bands and oiling leather and brass bearings as appropriate for the wheel. However, dust and grime from traveling or pets or just daily house life can build up, and if you have unvarnished wheels like mine, you need to feed the wood to keep it from becoming brittle.

What do you need to maintain a wheel?

You need cleaning products, a cloth, and any other cleaning tools, and a polish for afterward. My basic list looks like this:

  1. A cloth for each type of chemical, preferably cotton. Even if Old English and denatured alcohol don't cause a fire, it's always a good idea to keep chemicals separate. Then you don't have to think about whether the chemicals you're using at any point will interact and perhaps start a fire in the garbage can.

  2. Cleaning fluid. I use denatured alcohol right now. This is what was recommended to me at the beginning, but rubbing alcohol works fine. Any other oil removers that will not allow metal points to rust will also work well, but make sure the product will not harm the varnish or oil stain on the wood portions of your wheel.

  3. Wax. For wood-on-wood friction, wax is the best lubricant. You can use beeswax, but I've found that paraffin lasts the longest. You can find this anywhere that sells candle making supplies, and a little goes a long way, so you can buy the smallest package quite comfortably.

  4. Swabs, old toothbrush, toothpicks, etc. Small cleaning tools will help you clean out tubes and tiny spaces on your wheel where your cloth can't reach.

  5. Replacement pieces, as needed. During this maintenance session, I needed to replace a broken piece of leather on a treadle. You may want to look at your drive bands and replace them all, or just wait until you next spin. It's up to you. Scotch tension springs and strings sometimes need replacing as well.

That's pretty much it!

I usually start by cleaning the metal pieces with the alcohol and swabs, then wipe larger surfaces as needed with the cloth and additional alcohol. On my wheels, the main grime attraction is the brass bearings that the large wheel rotates on.

Then move on to waxing where wood-on-wood friction happens. This can be the treadles and the center block or the tension screw. This will vary from wheel to wheel, and may not even be necessary on yours.

Then it's time to polish the wheel overall. If you have a varnished wheel, you can likely just use a dry cloth to wipe everything down. A furniture polish like Pledge can help repel regular dust as well. I use Old English on my wheels, as neither I varnished. This also helps the wood stains I used deepen in color and become richer over time. Make sure to get between spokes and in grooves where grime can build up and cause minute scratches in your varnish or can such moisture out of the wood in an unvarnished wheel.

Then reassemble your wheel as needed, and you're ready to spin!

I hope this was useful for you, whether you're a new spinner or an experienced one. Do you have a different maintenance routine? I'd love to hear about it in the comments here! Next week, we'll be talking about the history of St. Distaff's Day, and there will be a new video on the YouTube channel in the meantime. (Sadly, I used the new video camera to try to video the actual wheel maintenance, but it didn't actually record most of it. Yay for learning!) Happy spinning!

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