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Antique Great Wheel Tips

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    Antique Great Wheel Tips

    Reposting from the first site...maybe RoadFindCotton will also repost the reply on how to identify a great wheel as that was AWESOME information! (I still need to take more pictures to help identify it more...)

    ...I just got my Great Wheel up and running and need some advice. I've watched some YouTube videos that help some, and found a post or two, but I'm still in need of some tips. I've also gained an observation or two...
    • Quills - This is the part I really can't seem to conquer yet. I've tried printer paper, waxed paper, brown paper, notepaper but no matter how tight I wrap, or the shape I use, or the way I tie the leader, the quill either slips or comes flying off the end as soon as I start spinning. I finally went with a tip I saw on a video - spit on the spindle. That worked to get the cop started, but doesn't help for removing the cop to set aside for plying. At least I got some wool spun and was able to spin enough to wind it onto my nostepinne and 2-plied from the ball. I still think quills would be more user-friendly, especially for plying. I might need to have a corn-on-the-cob party so I can get the husks for quills (husks worked great for the spindle bearings).
    • Observation - must. resist. temptation. to give that large wheel a whirl like I get my treadle wheels a'spinnin'. Keep reminding myself to remember the ratio.
    • Observation - I have spun for years on my treadle wheels and drop & supported spindles, but this great wheel is a fascinating learning curve. I have to slow down and think about how each part in the spinning process is different from how I use my other tools for spinning. From drafting to speed to thickness to winding onto the spindle. And I can't seem to work on more than two skills at once. Rubbing head and patting tummy phenomenon. But I'm getting there...this too can become second nature.
    • Question - this wheel has no marks on it. Found buried in an estate sale and no one knew it's history. It kind of looks like some Shaker Wheels I've seen in pictures. Any ideas? All the parts came with the wheel except the spindle. The wheel rim contains mostly square-headed nails. I live in the central part of Washington state, which is where the estate sale was as well. I can only guess the stories it has to tell.

    Anyway, thank you for any tips & tricks anyone may have! (And thank you to anyone from the first site's post who reposts their information here!)

    Reposting pictures as well...
    Last edited by oldeworldfibres; 07-15-2019, 08:59 AM.

    Hi @oldeworldfibres!

    What a beautiful great wheel! Your question about learning more about its origin is great fun to me. Usually, without markings or a known provenance, logical inferences, reasoning, and outright guesswork is involved.

    We can start with the type of wheel, and known societal influences.

    Colonists brought the design of great wheels (but not the wheel itself) to North America when they came from Europe, and then recreated the wheels here with local materials..

    The Shaker communities in the Northeast, Ohio, and Kentucky were significant in the production and spread of great wheels. From the late 1700's through the early 1800's, many were built for community use and sale to those from "The World".

    The Salish people in British Columbia were spindle spinners before colonization from Europe, and later developed regional variations on wheels. Some of these designs may have migrated into the Pacific Northwest.

    After the Industrial Revolution spread to the US, much of handspinning and weaving was taken up by the mills. During the time of the civil war - 1861-1865, the south had plenty of raw fiber, but most of the mills were in the north. Some ships of cotton made it past the blockade to other destinations, but most of those in Confederate states who
    needed yarn or cloth were without resource.

    During this period, there was a resurgence of interest in handspinning and weaving due to need. Many of the great wheels available today may have been built during this period.

    Next, we can examine the wood types used. It's hard to tell from the photo and stain, but the table portion looks to be a straight grained dark wood - possibly walnut? If you can identify the different types of wood in the wheel, regional growing zones may also give indicators to the origin.

    You mentioned the square cut nails - which are a great clue. If you can see the shanks (or holes left) rather than the head itself, you may find square, rectangular, or round. Square shanks are typically pre-1800, rectangular are 1800 to 1890, and round are usually machine made in or after 1900.

    Other clues are not regional, but can tell about the builders. Wood joinery (pegs, dovetails, etc.) are time consuming techniques typical of an individual craftsman rather than a factory. Looking at the end of the table, are the upper and lower surfaces parallel, or do they diverge? Sometimes that means the builder split the table from a log, and didn't have access to a planer to make the surfaces parallel. If there is metal, does it look hand hammered rather than factory forged?

    Yours features an accelerator drive - a Minor's head which became popular around 1820. Of course, lots of direct drive heads were still built after that date.

    Please be sure to keep the wood oiled or waxed - after this many years, these wheels are prone to cracking from humidity changes.

    Have fun, and spin on!


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ID:	2392oldeworldfibres Your wheel looks a lot like mine, which would agree that it's probably a Shaker wheel. I didn't really know anything about great wheels when I got this one from a patient of mine who knew I was a spinner. It had just been eye candy in her house for years. I had begun spinning directly onto the spindle then winding off so was thrilled to read about quills. Duh!


      • oldeworldfibres
        oldeworldfibres commented
        Editing a comment
        Your wheel does look very similar to mine. I'm hoping to get some time soon to study the wood and construction in more detail; it would be fun to narrow down its possible origin even more. Interesting stuff!

      Hi, I'm excited to see great wheel talk here. Hope to post about mine before long.

      About the question on getting the paper quill to stay put, I noticed a tip in this video that I will be trying on my great wheel (as soon as I restore some missing whorl grooves). To deal with slippage of the the paper quill, the spinner slides the fresh quill off the spindle, crumples it a bit, then pushes the now-much-tighter quill back onto the spindle. Granted, the spinner in the video is demonstrating with a Dodec, not a great wheel, but this simple tweak may also work with our metal spindles.


      • oldeworldfibres
        oldeworldfibres commented
        Editing a comment
        Thanks for the link! I like the bit about using spit to get the quill started as that worked for getting the wool to stick to the spindle too when I wasn't using a quill. I'm eager to try corn husks as well; it seems that texture would help provide enough traction to not spin on the spindle.

      • fluidpaint
        fluidpaint commented
        Editing a comment
        Thanks for the tip and link! Great wheels (especially antique ones) can be cranky enough without dealing with slippery paper. Speaking of which, I wonder if using cheaper, or handmade paper with more fiber content would help it ‘grab?’

      • Grammaresa
        Grammaresa commented
        Editing a comment
        Corn husks are a great idea! Don't know where you live, but here in Texas they're easily available at the grocery store (for making tamales).

      That’s a great idea! I have a corn cob piece over the spindle; it’s only natural to think of husks. We have plenty growing around, but they’re also in the groceries in TN.


        Here’s my pretty great wheel. It came from the northeast and is a Shaker-made wheel, with a bat’s head that obviously wasn’t made of the same wood. The wheel has two repairs that appear to be cotton or linen thread wrapped tightly around the wheel rim. Because it is stable, and doesn’t throw the drive band, I am leaving the repairs alone. They are part of its history.
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        • Carlota
          Carlota commented
          Editing a comment
          That is beautiful - and your bat's head oddly resembles mine, which came from Indiana but may have been from the northeast too.
          May I ask, was your spindle affixed with leather or corn husk? I hope to get some pictures of mine soon and make a separate reply. I love great wheels. Thanks for posting.