Admit it: it’s
been a long time. How long? Well, we won’t
But you know what your wheel wants
most: a day at the spa. It’s been working
hard and seldom complains, but it will feel
and perform a whole lot better after some
First up: a thorough cleaning. By nature,
the spinning process generates lots of fibery
dust, much of which accumulates in, on, and
around your lovely wheel.
While dust may
seem like a cosmetic issue, it can actually
affect your wheel’s performance over the long term
if it’s not cleaned out on a regular
basis. Dust and debris can cause abrasion in
moving parts and even accelerate surface wear
But hold off on the bubble bath! Wood is sensitive
to any moisture, so a vacuum attachment with
a soft, nonabrasive brush works nicely, as
does a dry microfiber dusting cloth designed
to attract dust and dirt.
If there is anything really sticky
or yucky on the wood’s surface,
you can moisten a cloth or paper towel ever so slightly
to wipe it off. You may as well take off the drive band;
the wheel will be easier to clean without it. Cotton swabs
work well to get the fibers and dust out of little crevices
(such as the orifice)...
and if you happen to have
one of those nifty microcleaning attachment sets designed
for vacuuming dirt out of the nooks and crannies of electronic
equipment, try it out. The surrounding floor area probably
needs a good vacuuming or wipe down as well (actually, my
whole house does, but let’s
not get too ambitious).
For flyer wheels: Remove the flyer and wipe off any old oil
or dust from the shaft. Wipe the ends of the bobbins and whorls
(pulleys) or use a cotton swab to clean the ends.
If you have replaced your wheel’s flyer with a WooLee
Winder, dig out your owner’s manual and see how to take
it apart to clean and oil it. The canned
air sitting near your
computer might be helpful here, to blow out any fibers that
have collected in the WooLee’s flyer arms.
For spindle wheels: Remove the spindle and wipe both ends.
If you have a great wheel that uses braided, dried cornhusks
for the front and rear spindle bearings, you might want to replace
Once you have cleaned things up, it’s a good time to
dig out your owner’s manual and see what it says about
oiling moving parts and preserving the wood’s finish.
Generic advice about wheel care is just that: generic; every
manufacturer has ideas about what optimizes their products’ performance.
Obviously, owners of antique wheels are on their own, but owners
of modern wheels should be able to track down the original instructions
from the manufacturer if they’ve been lost. Some manufacturers
have them online in PDF format, which makes it easy to download
another copy. If yours does not, you can also contact the
manufacturer or a local dealer directly.
Spinning wheels are part hardworking
machine and part beautiful wooden furniture, so they need
protection from the daily fluctuations in humidity and regular
lubrication so they will continue to function well. But exactly
how (and with what products) these two goals are best achieved
is subject to differences of opinion. If you are ever in need
of entertainment (and edification) and have half a dozen wheel
makers at the same table, ask an innocent little question
about whether wheels should be waxed or not and what to use.
I once thought the most difficult part of that question would
be deciding what brand of paste wax to buy! Thus, I will refer
you first to your wheel’s maker: what does
he or she think is the best way to preserve the finish and reduce
moisture transfer? Some wheel makers advocate paste wax and
others don’t, and you may or may not choose to follow
their advice, but it’s worth knowing before you decide
because once you have waxed your wheel, you would need to
remove the wax before using a different wood finish.
Waxing a spinning wheel isn’t difficult,
probably need to set aside an hour or two for the project.
I use Johnson
Paste Wax for my wheels because it’s readily
available at hardware stores and doesn’t contain
silicone (which would make any potential future repairs difficult).
Other paste waxes will probably work just fine, but I haven’t
experimented with other brands. What you don’t want is
furniture polish that is made for quick shining and dusting
rather than bona fide wood protection.
Once your wheel is clean, apply a thin
coat of paste wax with a soft scrap of cloth.
Work in the direction of the grain and
be sure to avoid the rim of the wheel (the groove in which
the drive band sits). Don’t wax your whorls
(pulleys) or bobbins either, unless your wheel manufacturer
recommends it. But if your wheel has a wooden tension screw,
go ahead and wax it.
Often they are
left unfinished, which leaves them vulnerable to drying out.
Let the wax dry for a few minutes until the surface looks
hazy, and then bring on the elbow grease: use a clean cloth
to buff the waxed surfaces until they glow.
This takes some effort, but think
of it as the “massage” stage
of your wheel’s spa treatment.
And as long as you’ve made a big
mess in the living room, you might as well grab your wooden
niddy noddies, lazy kates, and reels and give them a good
dusting and finish up with nice protective coat of wax as
well. The axles of lazy kates get especially dirty from the
oil that remains on the bobbins. Waxing your kate will make
the oil easier to wipe off when it accumulates.
If you want additional information about
paste wax, I’d
recommend reviewing Alden Amos’s excellent discussion
of the subject, which appeared in the Fall 1997 issue of Spin-Off: “A
Lick and a Promise...or, Waxes, polishes, and your spinning
wheel’s finish.” In The Alden Amos Big Book
of Handspinning, he also offers a back-to-basics recipe
for spinning wheel polish if you want to make your own (page
371). Those with antique wheels might want to rustle up a copy
of The Care and Feeding of Spinning Wheels by Karen
Pauli (it’s out of print but used copies are relatively
easy to find online). She offers in-depth coverage of basic
wheel repair, restoration, and refinishing as well as a thorough
discussion of lubrication and trouble-shooting for old-style
wheels. Pat Bownas also has a useful article in the Fall
2011 issue of Spin-Off, “Quick Fixes for Antique Wheels.” She
doesn’t specifically cover wood finishes, but she offers
good self-help options for getting antique wheels running more
smoothly. If your wheel is not running well, check out Bobbie
Irwin’s Spinner’s Companion for trouble
shooting simple wheel problems. Should your wheel’s health
problems require expertise beyond the DIY realm, try contacting
your local guild to find a craftsperson in your area who
Now, time to treat your newly shining
wheel to a spanking
new drive band -- unless, of course,
you use a synthetic one and it’s still in good shape.
And last, but not least, freshly oil
all the places your wheel usually needs oil. Most wheels are
going to need oiling on all moving parts: at the main wheel
axle (both sides), at the front and rear maiden bearings,
and each bobbin end, and possibly the footman and treadle,
depending on your wheel’s construction
(before oiling any plastic parts, check your owner’s manual).
Your wheel will want oil every time you
sit down to spin.
Leather parts on some wheels can be greased with petroleum
jelly to prevent them from drying out and cracking.
A common recommendation is to use 20
or 30 weight motor oil. Again, be sure to refer to your
manual if you have a modern wheel. I just became the proud
owner of a Jonathan Bosworth book charka, and the owner’s
manual tells me that it has teflon or sealed ball bearings
that require no oiling. In fact, oiling would be bad for such
a set up. So don’t make assumptions based on generic recommendations
-- check on your wheel’s individual
needs before potentially making an expensive mistake that
you and your wheel will regret.
I knew that wheels needed lubrication
to function efficiently, but thanks to Judith MacKenzie’s
DVD, Popular Wheel
Mechanics, I now know that oiling serves to clean a wheel’s
moving parts as well. (Engineering types probably figured this
out much sooner than I did!) Lubrication cleans out some of
the fibery dust that would wear out a wheel’s parts sooner
and keeps parts cool. Judith cautions against oiling any plastic
parts and feels that one should change one’s oil of choice
on occasion to prevent build up (she offers WD-40 and Tri-Flow
bicycle oil as good alternatives to motor oil). However, I’ve
heard other wheel experts say that plastic parts should be oiled,
so, once again, I refer you to your handy owner’s manual.
There are also a few free videos on YouTube
that deal with spinning wheel maintenance and are worth checking
out--Alden Amos shares some tidbits on wheel
repair; New Voyager
Trading (Kromski) has posted a three-part series on wheel
and Ashford has a short clip on oiling
Turn over a new leaf, maintain your
investment, and enjoy a smoother spinning experience --
promise your wheel you’ll
treat it to a spa day once or twice a year. Now, if you’ll
excuse me, I’ve got three other wheels in the waiting
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Lee Juvan learned to spin on a walking wheel
when she was twelve in a summer workshop at
Old Sturbridge Village in Massachusetts. She
bought her own wheel in 1990, and she’s
been at it since then. Lee is the designer
of several patterns published in Knitty, including Shroom and Shelburne.