Converting my Ashford Traditional single drive spinning wheel to double drive

When I re-started spinning a few years ago, I dug my old wheel out of the loft. When I’d spun before I didn’t learn about it in great depth, and therefore didn’t know that different types of wheels, such as single and double drives existed.

Shortly after this I acquired a delightful little Shetland (I think) wheel that is double drive, and this spins amazingly fine, even yarn. I didn’t appreciate the finer points between wheels at this point, and I gathered from talking to members of my textile group, and reading on the internet, that some people don’t like double drive wheels, but I loved the double drive!

The wheel so light I can lift it with one hand, and it is petite, standing about 2/3rds as high as my Ashford wheels. I am however loath to use it over-much as it feels very fragile; when going at speed it feels to me as if its going to shake apart, although I doubt it really will as its lasted this long! All the joints are pegged, not glued or screwed, so it was designed and built to flex when in use.

Having said all of that, it has several shortcomings. Firstly, it has a single speed whorl and originally had only one minute bobbin. I found someone to make another bobbin to fit the wheel, and with a bit of coaxing this now works fine. However, even now I have two this mean working with small amounts of singles, and when I want to ply on that wheel I have to wind one of the bobbins onto a spare Ashford one, Andean ply, or if all else fails, ply on another wheel. Having a custom bobbin made also cost quite lot, and I don’t really want to invest more money in additional small bobbins.

The other, perhaps more critical problem with the Shetland wheel is that the vertical wood-on-wood tension male and female screw threads have both been worn away over time, so I have to wind wool around the screw to get it to grip. This lasts a while and then the screw drops down, releasing the tension on the drive band and I have to stop spinning and re-set it all. My son suggested using Sugru; coating the wooden screw with it, and screwing it into the tension assembly, then removing it and letting the newly made screw thread set. This has worked a treat, but I’m aware its only a temporary fix and may not take too much use.

So, to cut a long story short, I wanted a more robust double drive spinning wheel with larger bobbins and a choice of several ratios.

My first thought was, ‘How lovely I have an excuse to look for another wheel!’. My second was, ‘Where will I put it?’ I already have four, so that is not an unreasonable question. I decided to look for an Ashford to try to consolidate my wheels, but double drives don’t come up often for sale secondhand. After a lot of looking online, I found that Ashford make a conversion kit for some of their single drive wheels, but sadly this was out of stock – and discontinued in the UK, (why, when its such a great option?). Anyway, I’m quite tenacious, and found a blog with instructions to make your own new double drive conversion plate for a Traditional, http://knitbettersocks.blogspot.com/2014/01/double-drive-convertible.html.

My Ashford Traditional, nicknamed ‘Hamish’ is great, I love the smooth action of the wheel, and how you can knock up quite a speed on the larger diameter wheel. However, Hamish is an old wheel, and only has a two speed flyer, and the smaller old bobbins. He has also been stained a nasty dark mahogany at some time in his life, which is a shame, but was probably why I paid very little for him!

So I decided that Hamish was at a stage in life to be updated!

I’m not adept at wood work, so enlisted the help of my patient and kind (and handy) husband to make the conversion plate.This plate is longer than the original one under the mother of all, and enables you to bring the whole mother of all assembly forward towards the spinner, so that the whorls, (which are now at the back of the wheel) are in line with the wheel. Of course, I had to buy I a double drive flyer – but this gave me the opportunity to update Hamish with a flyer with sliding hooks that takes larger bobbins.

Notice how the double drive flyer needs to protrude much further out towards the spinner, that is why you need a longer sliding plate under the mother of all.

So here is the new Hamish, spinning brilliantly, and making short work of a blended combed sliver of Leicester longwool and alpaca I had lying around. I’d started to spin this on Hamish before the conversion, and have put up photos of both singles to demonstrate the difference, (not a lot I will hear you say).

I stained the conversion plate dark mahogany, but can’t bring myself to do that to the double drive flyer and bobbins! Should I do so or not? Answers on a postcard, or in the comments box below please!

Meanwhile lets hope I don’t drop my coffee on the bare wood until I’ve decided to wax the flyer. My dog just trod on the keyboard, and has done something to the font setting, sorry!

Finally, I owe the writer of the Knitbettersocks blog a huge THANK-YOU for sharing their wisdom and knowledge.