An Auction Haul

July 29, 2012


Evaluating the Flyer

July 24, 2012

The flyer shown below is the flyer from the American -made Saxony wheel shown in the previous post. This is the close-up view:

This flyer is in good to excellent condition. It is not pristine. It does have some issues. If a spinner were going to be spinning on this flyer for any length of time, it should be replaced and here is the main reason:

Note the large chunk missing from the neck of the flyer. Over time, the flyer shaft will loosen and probably break loose. If the flyer spins freely around the shaft, it is useless. Many flyers show sign of functional repairs but be advised: the flyer spins at extremely high rates of speed. A flyer that breaks while spinning can produce a projectile with enough force behind it to dent standard wallboard. If you know you will be doing a great deal of spinning (more than just casually now and then), do yourself a favor and replace the flyer.

The flyer arms on this piece are sturdy and do not show signs of repair. The hooks on one side are in good repair:

However, on the other arm, they need to be replaced:

Replacing the hooks could be tricky, as a split is starting at the top of the arm.

The whorl is the wooden disk screwed onto the flyer shaft above the bobbin. DO NOT ever force the whorl to unscrew! A few drops of WD40 left to sit for a half-hour will typically loosen up a stubborn whorl. Also, they usually unscrew in the opposite direction of modern screw turns. Forcing a whorl could collapse its rims.

Not sure if this whorl was dropped or someone tried to force it in the distant past, but the one track is almost completely crumbled. This could prevent the track from holding the driveband properly. The second track is stil sturdy.

The bobbin is in excellent shape:

The flyer shaft is also in excellent shape, straight and only some minimal surface rust on the orifice.

If I were going to spin for extended periods of time on this flyer, I would have it replaced. The shaft is in excellent condition, so a new flyer could be built using the old shaft. This repair costs around $70 to $100. A new whorl is approximately $30 to $50. Many spinners like additional bobbins, and these typically cost around $30-35. To replace this flyer, a spinner  looking at an additional $125 to $150, plus the cost of any new bobbins, over the initial price of the wheel.

As such, this wheel was fairly priced at $100 in an estate sale. To bring it up to spinning condition, with replicated parts and a good cleaning, the buyer would have to invest another $200, bringing the total investment in this particular wheel up to $300.

Anatomy of a Spinning Wheel

July 24, 2012

First, I must apologize for my absence but a pinched nerve in my right arm prevented me from typing, working on the computer, or doing just about anything. It is on the mend, however, so I take up where I left off …

Judging by the number of hits my article on pricing an antique spinning wheel has gotten, there are a number of people out there looking to buy or sell an antique wheel. I’ve received a number of comments from readers asking for visuals. In this first of a series of articles outlining the various parts of a spinning wheel, we will first look at the overall wheel.


This is the photograph of a little American-made Saxony wheel in my collection. She is one of the few complete wheels I’ve found, having even the 3 distaff sections and an unbroken “bird cage.”

The bird cage distaff was used to hold flax for spinning into linen thread. Cage styles vary; some wheels hold instead a tow fork. While the presence or absence of the disfaff does not affect the spinability of a wheel, it is nice to find one with a complete distaff. They do make spinning flax easier!

The distaff fits into a hole at the end of the bench or table. Nearby is the mother-of-all. The mother of all is mounted on a piece that inserts into the bench and is held in place by a long wooden screw. This screw is necessary for a working wheel, as this is how the wheel is tensioned. The screw should turn freely, although some are pegged into place. DO NOT force a tension screw with its retaining peg in place as this could split the screw. Tensioning screws are not easy to replicate and are costly replacements.

The mother-of-all holds two uprights, or maidens. The maidens in turn each have a leather bearing that supports the ends of the flyer. The orifice end of the flyer faces the spinner and should not be rusted or have sharp edges. The flyer holds the bobbin and the whorl on its shaft. As noted in my earlier article, a missing flyer can be a huge deal breaker. This is the business end of the wheel, where you spin your fiber. A replacement flyer will cost upwards of $200. A broken or damaged flyer can be equally costly to replace. If you are pricing a wheel and it is missing its flyer, be fair. A spinning wheel without its flyer is a car without a transmission. You are going no where in a hurry.

At the other end of the  bench are two uprights which hold the drive wheel. The wheel should have all its spokes and its axle and axle crank should be in place. The axle should be firm and not moving in the wheel hub. The footman connects the axle crank to the treadle and can be wood, metal, or string. It is not a fatal flaw to be missing a footman; these can easily be replicated.

Legs should be firmly in place and not drop out when the wheel is moved, although sometimes they need a shim of glove leather to keep them snug. The treadle should stay in place between the front legs.

This is the basic anatomy of a spinning wheel. In another post, I will look at each section individually.

UP NEXT: The Flyer, Bobbin, and Whorl.