140: Drop Spindle

This month’s post was destined to spin.  I started thinking about how to make a spinning top, but in the end, I took some of the concepts I was thinking about for the toy and applied them to a drop spindle.

Fluffy wool on the right. My attempt at spinning yarn in 20 years, left.

What’s a drop spindle?  A drop spindle is basically a balanced weight that helps spin and pull fiber to make yarn.  It’s an ancient tool, with examples being found as far back as 5,000 B.C.E.  In my own history, it’s also an ancient memory – I last used one of these when I took a weaving class in collage.  Nearly two decades ago.  Luckily, I have quite a few friends into fiber arts, and let me steal a hunk of fluffy wool roving to test spin.  

There are many types of drop spindles, and this blog is not intended to teach anyone spinning, so I’m going to quickly go through my design choices.  If you’ve never seen a drop spindle in action, I recommend checking out this video on how to use a drop spindle by Christine MacLeod.  (Also, she’s Scottish, so it just sounds kind of magical)

Parts of my drop spindle, laid flat.

Things needed on a drop spindle:

Shaft – these are traditionally a solid wood piece, like a dowel rod, or turned hardwood if you are a little more fancy.  This area is used to start it spinning, and to wind your newly made yarn around.  The longer it is, the more yarn you can put on it.

A dowel rod would have been the cheapest and easiest for construction, but I wanted to use the laser the whole way through.  Also, a laser cut spindle could be fully collapsible.  I designed a shaft of two pieces that slot into each other (It’s also called a “halved joint.”).  The drop spindle is about 8 inches tall, and one inch wide.  (The height was arbitrary, the width was because I didn’t want the material on each side of the slot to be super fragile.)

Hooking on the wool.  Once it’s got a good grip, give it a good spin!

Hook – You need something to hook into the roving to get the spinning process started, and then to hold the end of yarn so the yarn you have made doesn’t unravel from the shaft.  Christine MacLeod mentioned that a hook could be a metal on top, or something as simple as a notch cut into the shaft – this was my inspiration.  I cut a hook near the top in the material.

Whorl – This is a disk-like piece that adds weight to the spindle.  It can been positioned anywhere on the shaft, but I chose the traditional placement at the bottom.  It is the style I have used before, is better for beginners, and adds stability to the spin.  I wanted heft, and so many laser cut materials are so light, I just went with 1/4 inch clear acrylic. 

The weight and placement of the whorl is a matter of preference and intention for the end product – this recently posted article at Interweave has a lot a great information on it!

The results

As with many tool-making experiments on this blog, the question becomes “Will it actually work?” (For other tools, check out the 15: Kumihimo disks , 73: Bevel Guide,  or 91: Bokeh filters )  Short answer: yes.  I got yarn!  Long answer: There’s so much I would fix!

  • The laser cut pieces aren’t the most snug.  The “rattle” was distracting, a probably caused drag on the actual spin of the piece.  I’d glue it for regular use, but then they wouldn’t be flat pack.  (And yes, we could have cut it tighter, but it was unappealing for this project and material.  If you’d like to know more on that subject, check out post 14: Box Joints for more kerf goodness!)
  • The shaft design caused drag.  If it was glued together, I think I’d feel comfortable thinning it out, so the fins on each side of the halved joint aren’t so deep.
  • The whorl moved up the shaft which was annoying during winding on.  Once again, glue!
  • Making the shaft out of acrylic was daft – it should have been wood.  It’s a *drop* spindle, and drop it does.  The acrylic is much to brittle for that kind of handling, and the flange area of the prototype broke off completely after a couple of drops.

    Broken off end of the prototype. The flange design was not designed for impact!

  • There was a bit more wobble than I liked, but I attribute that to the off center hook, the rattle of the pieces as it spun, and the depth of the fins on the shaft so it wasn’t easy to pinch between your fingers and give it a good spin.  I think thinning out the shaft and gluing it will alleviate most of the issues. 
  • I’d made it shorter too, by an inch or so.  It might be a personal preference, but it seems like it would be easier to handle.
  • The most annoying design flaw was the top of the shaft, where the hook is.  The hook is important to keep the already spun yarn anchored on the shaft – you wind it around a couple times so it doesn’t come unraveled.  The hook itself isn’t big enough to wind around multiple time securely, so you need to use the hook and shaft. I had tapered the shaft so it would look nice, but really, it just caused the yarn to more easily slip over the top.  Hopefully the photos show this better than I’m explaining it. To fix it, I would either create a groove around the whole shaft at hook level, or just make another hook on the opposite side.

    Winding around the shaft to hold the yarn to continue spinning

    When I set the spindle spinning, the anchor yarns slides up and wraps around the hook. This causes a jolt in the spinning, making me think it’s going to drop.  Distracting, and not the best for spinning tension.

So, all said, if you desperately need to make yarn and all you have is a computer, a laser and materials for the laser, you can do it! 

One thought on “140: Drop Spindle

  1. alainb1 says:

    Thanks for another thoughtful post. Yours is one of the very few sites I recommend to my laser students because you spend the time to explain what didn’t work and what you would do to fix it. Thanks for your kindness and generosity.


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.