How I Restored an Antique Spinning Wheel: Part 2
A little while ago, I wrote part 1 of my spinning wheel restoration project. In that post, I walked through the full clean, polish, and shine of the wheel. Once she was reassembled, I still needed to (click to jump to section!):
Find a wood turner to make a new footman and an extra bobbin or two
Oil all parts that move - this is on-going and needs to be done every time I sit down at the wheel
All of these steps are now complete! Let's walk through them.
Replacing the Maiden Bearings
I'm not sure why I was intimidated by this step - it turned out to be quite simple. You can see in the photos below that the "original" bearings left on the wheel were in quite a state. While one was made of layers of hardened leather covered in a layer of blackened wheel oil, the other had been braced with a piece of metal. Fun facts: I'm pretty sure the metal had been cut out of a soda can, the edges had not been filed and were quite sharp. On both "originals," the layers were being held together with glue, rivets, and spite. One had been "fitted" to the maiden using a shim of wood.
Before you begin - carefully remove the maiden bearings from the maidens by pulling out the nails which hold them in place. I used a pair of needle nose pliers for this which worked well.
To replace the leather maiden bearings, you will need:
A piece of heavy leather, finished on one side
A leather hole punch
A pen or marker
Scissors, a box cutter, or an x-acto knife (I used scissors, but I've been informed that a box cutter or x-acto blade would have been a better choice)
Small wood nails or picture nails (reference whatever was originally holding the maiden bearings in place for size)
I purchased my supplies at my local Michaels (nails I already had), then did the below:
(Step 1) Trace the original maiden bearings onto the wrong side of the leather. You will need TWO pieces for each bearing - trace one, then flip the bearing over and trace the other. Once cut out, the pieces should match up with their wrong sides facing. Be sure to also trace the holes in the center as their sizes may be different between the pieces.
(Step 2) Cut out the pieces. Use the hole punch to cut out the pieces in the center. A side note - my hole punch was very difficult to use for the first few punches of each size, but got easier once I'd used it a bit.
(Step 3) Bake the pieces to harden the leather. To do this, set your toaster oven or oven to 200°F. Lay the pieces on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or foil and bake for 20 minutes. If the pieces have curled while baking, place them under something heavy to keep them flat while cooling.
(Step 4) Use the leather glue to piece the bearings together. Put the wrong sides together for each of the bearings and hold in place until the glue has set. Binder clips work well if the glue is taking a while to dry.
(Step 5) Finish the bearing edges by burnishing them with a piece of canvas or denim. Any scrap will do, but you can also use a kitchen towel if nothing else is handy.
(Step 6) Place the bearings into the maidens and check the fit of the spindle. If everything fits, use small wood or picture nails to lock the bearings in place. Be very careful with this step as you could split the wood. I used the original holes on one maiden, but had to create holes on the other as the original original holes had been filled in with putty and the new "original" holes resulted in a nail sticking out the top of the maiden.
Done! Be sure to oil the bearings well when you start spinning with them. They will need a good deal of oil at first to build up a coating at the orifice and spindle ends. Once everything is spinning freely, oil as needed (I give each a drop every 5ish hours of spinning).
Replacing the Flyer Hooks
First, I purchased an Ashford spinning wheel maintenance kit. While I had no use for about half of the included parts, the drive band, hooks, and wheel oil would serve me well. At least, that's what I assumed.
The original hooks on my flyer are a good deal smaller than the Ashford hooks, so it didn't make any sense to try using the Ashford hooks to replace them. Upon close inspection, I think the original hooks are simply made of bits of wire bent into an L shape and hammered into place.
I considered, briefly, using some picture nails to do this where I would cut off the nail heads and bend them after hammering into place. However, this would have been very risky as the flyer wood could easily split, ruining it entirely. The flyer is the most difficult piece to replace on the wheel as it has to be exactly replicated with almost no room for error. Hence, I decided, that would be a bad idea.
What I ended up doing is using some very small screw eyes that had come with a picture hanging kit I purchased years ago. Screw eyes are essentially what the Ashford kit came with and can be picked up in many sizes at your local hardware store. I used a pair of pliers to open up the metal loops - this easily broke off the last square side of the hooks - and then filed down the rough broken edge with some sandpaper.
I then very carefully screwed the hooks into place where the originals had come undone. I wasn't able to get them in exactly the right positions for fear of splitting the flyer ends, but it's close enough to be functional.
If you're very afraid of splitting the wood and only missing one or two hooks, you can probably just leave them off altogether. The flyer will still be perfectly functional as long as the missing hooks aren't missing from the same positions on both sides of the flyer (if they are, you won't be able to fill that spot on the bobbin). Additionally, you can always take steps to repair small cracks using wood glue, putty, or filler. If you do this, be sure to follow the instructions on the product carefully and try to match the wood color once it dries.
Replacing the Drive Band
Pro-tip: I did this first, but you should do it last because most of the other replacements in this tutorial requires removing the spindle and letting the drive band hang. Not a problem once you're used to it, but definitely fussy for beginners.
I replaced the "original" band using the included cotton drive band from the aforementioned repair kit. If/when it breaks, I will probably use Aunt Lydia's crochet thread in a size 3 as that's essentially what the included band is. I followed the video below by JillianEve on YouTube to help correctly attach the drive band to my double drive wheel:
This step was definitely the easiest and quickest of the repair jobs for my wheel. One thing she does not show in the video - cut the excess with a few extra inches of band on either side of the knot, then run the wheel a bit with the drive band at the correct tension. Look to see if the band stays tight enough with no slipping. If you need to, untie the knot and try again with the tension at the lowest setting. Once you're satisfied with the band, cut the excess off close to the knot. This little change to Jillian's instructions gives you a few tries to get it right without wasting a bunch of thread. For the curious, I had to re-tie twice before the band was sitting right.
A New Footman
Replacing the footman was, by far, the most involved step in this process. This is largely because I'm not a woodworker and couldn't make a new piece on my own. Therefore, step 1 was searching out a local woodworker willing to give it a try.
There are some folks online who do this regularly and you can absolutely turn to their expertise in this area. I, however, wanted to choose someone local, knowing full well they would likely have never done this before. I went this route (1) to support a local craftsman and (2) because it would allow for multiple tries, attempts, and fittings if it didn't quite work the first time. That second point turned out to be the most important.
My search began and ended on Etsy. I used the keyword "wood" and filtered the location a few times to towns in my area. I scanned the listings for a woodworker who knew how to turn wood and work with fiddly bits. After a bit of searching, I found JerryEnterprises and reached out via message to ask about a possible, unusual commission.
A massive shoutout to Jerry for saying yes to what turned out to be a far more complex thing than anticipated.
If you look at antique spinning wheels, like the one pictured here from the late 18th century currently housed in the National Museum of American History, the footman is typically not a focal point of the wheel. While the legs, spokes, and maidens are all turned, the footman is simply a flat stick with holes at either end.
This is generally true for almost every wheel I've seen photos of, both online and in books. Modern wheels continue this trend. There are some notable exceptions, however. A few wheels have curved footmen and a very few have turned footmen, like the one pictured below made in 18th century France.
This turned footman look is what Jerry and I both had in mind to match the beautifully turned pieces of my wheel.
First up, identifying the wood so it could be matched. According to Jerry, and I 100% turn to his expertise for this, my wheel is a combination of hardwoods - oak and cherry. My personal guess is that pieces were added or replaced over time, but it's also possible that scrap pieces of wood were used to make it originally.
The footman was then made out of cherry to match the color of the rest of the wheel - the right decision for sure, as the color is spot on.
To make the footman, Jerry took measurements for length as well as the location of the holes at either end. We decided together that the best way to connect the wheel to the treadle would be a simple leather cord going through the footman and then through the screw eye at the end of the footman. This was again based off of examples of wheels like those shown above.
And so off Jerry went. When he returned the first time, the footman was almost entirely round and, despite the hole, would not quite fit onto the crank because of the flared head of the crankshaft.
For round 2, he cut down one side of the top of the footman so it would have a notch, allowing the center of the footman shaft to sit right at the end of the crank with the pointy flared bit of the crank now lining up with the rounded edge of the footman. This was great as it would now fit onto the crank. Alas, the crank would not turn because the backside of the footman stopped it.
Round 3, the top 5 inches of the footman was cut down the middle and a chunk removed from the back. This allows the crank to turn freely. It does sometimes scrape a bit on the footman, but the crank is going to win that battle being made of iron and all. It will sand down over time to fit exactly. All of these changes, by the way, were made after the footman was turned which is really very impressive because Jerry managed to do it without splitting the wood at all.
After making this final change, the footman was ready to go!
I used a small length of leather cord, dunked it in water, then ran it through the screw eye and through the footman to make a loop. I then closed the loop with a simple granny knot and trimmed the extra cord. As the leather dries, it shrinks a little bit, tightening the knot.
A note here that the leather does tend to creak a bit when the wheel gets going. A spot of spinning wheel oil works just fine to fix this. However, you could easily use some strong cotton cording here to avoid some of the noise. The key is to remember that this cord is actually the weakest point and under the most force, so a strong material is necessary to prevent it from snapping.
Did I mention Jerry also made me a second bobbin? 😍
For woodworkers looking to do the same, the troubles we had here were making sure the rounded end was really rounded, the connection between the large cap and the flared end serving as the whorl had no space for the drive band to get stuck (Jerry used two pieces here, I think the original is a very delicately turned single piece), and sanding down the flat end to get exactly the right length.
Although this process took several iterations, I couldn't be more happy with how these pieces turned out (pun intended). They match the look of the original wheel and, I like to think, have completed the restoration to her former glory.
That's all for now, friends!
I hope you found this restoration process as interesting and educational as I did. I've learned a lot and it's made me love my wheel more than ever. Perhaps I'll get to go through it again someday, perhaps with a different style of wheel - I can always dream!
For now, the holiday season is upon us and I turn my thoughts to the fact that I'm behind on my giant project (pattern coming mid-winter!). If you're looking for some quick gifts to make, be sure to check out the Patterns page for inspiration, ideas, and projects!