An antique spinning wheel is both useful, and artistic in its own form. Often times they are relegated to the position of home décor, rather than tool of the trade. Having three of them in my living room may be a bit overboard, but which one would I give up? Instead, I laugh off my husbands jokes about the living room resembling the parking lot of a “granny biker bar” and continue to spin to my hearts content.
Keeping up with an antique wheel is quite easy, as they were truly built to last. These instructions are also useful in the care of a new wheel, unless it has sealed bearings, which should not be oiled. A few simple steps can lead to many happy hours spinning.
Remove dust and spinning debris with a dry cloth. Don’t go overboard with cleaning products which can strip the finish, or cause the wood to crack. To keep the tension screw in good working order, use plain beeswax. Hold the wax against the threads while twisting the tension knob to coat it evenly. Also use beeswax on the wooden eye of the drive rod which connects the treadle to the main wheel.
Around all of the other moving parts, brush out any build up of lint and oil from moving parts with a soft dry paintbrush. Use sewing machine oil, or any light oil to lubricate the treadle, the flyer at the orifice and the bearing opposite it, and the wheel axel. Oil the wheel after every couple of hours of spinning to keep it in proper working order. The bobbins need to be brushed out every so often as lint and oil will build up inside them and cause problems with the yarn take-up.
The drive band that lasts for me is one made from cotton shipping string from the hardware store. With the wheel set at the lowest tension, thread the string going over the whorl, to over the wheel, to under the bobbin, over the wheel again to meet at the back of the whorl. Overlap the ends for about 2” and hold with black binder clips. With a needle and heavy thread, sew the two ends together using a jab through both thicknesses of cord, then wrap once around both thicknesses. Keep repeating this stitch until there is about one inch of bound overlap. Trim the tails of the cord, and the drive band is complete. Don’t worry, once you are accustomed to making your own drive band, they last almost a year (about 800 hours of use).
One of the real drawbacks of antique wheels is that most people cannot find additional bobbins. They are out there. Keep an eye out at festivals and antique stores. Another option is to find a wood turner to create duplicates of one (or even part of one) that came with the wheel. I lucked out in that my husband was able to turn 6 cherry bobbins to match the existing one on my wheel. I keep the original and do not use it, as I may again need it as a pattern someday.