Tag Archives: Hamilton wheel

Treadles part 1 – single

Treadles may be different shapes but they all work the same, right? Nope. Compare these two:

On the left, the treadle of my Hamilton wheel. Its front end is neatly rounded into the treadle bar. The spinner’s heel does no work at all while the front part of the foot pushes down on the centre/back of the treadle and then relaxes to let it come back up.

On the right, the treadle of my Gib Wilson wheel. This is an extreme example of a heel-toe treadle. After the downstroke with the front of the foot, the spinner can push down with their heel to help bring the treadle back up. The wheel can also be started in this way. This makes for good control of the wheel, but I still really love the  relaxed feel of the smooth-spinning Hamilton.

Do you remember the rock-hard glue left behind on the Wilson treadle after I stripped off the ancient carpet tiles?
I tried removing it with turps – didn’t work. Then I tried acetone (a.k.a. nail polish remover, from the chemist) and after several applications the glue was soft enough to scrape off. After that it was just a matter of sandpaper followed by wax. Of course the remains of writing were lost too, but I really don’t think they were ever going to be legible, or significant. I think they were off the back of the carpet tiles, not written on the wood.
End of digression

Authorities have different opinions about treadles. Eric Corran, for example, is scathing about ‘single-action’ treadles that don’t allow the use of the heel.* ‘This system involves ankle, knee and hip movements and is not recommended’ but if the heel is used to power the upstroke ‘Treadling is then just a rocking motion of the foot.’ I have to say that this is not my experience: if a wheel is in good order and spinning smoothly my body is just as comfortable using only the front of the foot. But we are all different in what our bodies will tolerate.

One thing we should be careful about is the angle of the treadle, whether single-action or heel-toe. At its lowest position, it should be approximately horizontal. If not, a spinner using it for long periods is likely to suffer real problems.

Some wheels are a compromise between double treadle and single treadle – both feet fit on the treadle(s) but move in unison. Grace wheels have a twin treadle, specifically designed for this: maker Mike Keeves says it seemed logical to share the load between both sides of the body, and the many users of his wheels seem to agree. Here is a back view of a Gypsy Grace.

And a lot of wheels have a big enough treadle for two feet even if they aren’t specifically designed for it.

(Another digression:
There might be a little problem with terminology here. Which is the “front” and which is the “back” of a spinning wheel? I have seen them described as “spinner’s side” and “public side” – the public side being the side onlookers see when we demonstrate spinning. I like to keep things simple, so by “front” I mean the side facing me when I spin; “back” is the other side.
End of digression)

But don’t be fooled. Here’s one that looks like a double treadle, but isn’t – the A-line by Easycraft (back view again).

The non-treadle on the spinner’s left (that’s at the right in the photo) is there to stop the wheel tipping over.

So even a simple single treadle isn’t all that simple. What about double treadles? We’ll look at them next month.

* Eric Corran Understanding the Spinning Wheel (Melbourne 1997) pp 120-121

Hamilton wheel again

My Hamilton wheel is still mysterious, even more beautiful, and no longer troublesome.

How many differences can you spot in these before-and-after photos?
First, there’s now a serious amount of yarn on the bobbin. Spun with no throwing of drive band!

The second difference is what made that possible – the mother-of-all (MOA) and flyer assembly are no longer on a wonky angle, but straightened so that the whorls line up with the drive wheel.

The third difference was part of that process – the little brass pin you can see sticking out of the MOA.

And lastly, there’s the difference that a good clean and wax makes (though admittedly the second photo was taken in a different light). Kauri wood responds wonderfully to polishing.

The repair needed an expert so I sent this to Mike Keeves, maker of Grace wheels.

All these parts were solidly glued together – MOA, MOA collar and screw block. (And the back maiden but we weren’t worrying about that.) Carefully packed, it arrived safely. Mike sent me some photos:

The first job was to use a Forstner bit to drill right through the MOA and destroy the wooden pin securing it to the MOA collar. He said the MOA didn’t appear to have been glued originally, but stuck on at a later date.

Once the MOA was freed, he had to separate the screw block (the piece the tension screw goes through) from the collar, by drilling out the rest of the well-glued-in pin. In the picture above the screw block is still in the clamp. Then he had to drill out the remainder of the pin from the screw block, so it could be replaced with a new one and everything lined up properly.

He was concerned about the cracks in the screw block, and the damage that has at some time been caused to the screw thread where the tension is adjusted (he thought by a drill or a nail). We both believe the screw block and the tension peg that screws into it are, like the rest of the wheel, made of Kauri (recognisable by its tiny dark flecks) – it’s a lovely wood for spinning wheels, except for these vital little functional parts.Nothing can be done about the thread, but I find if I keep it well lubricated with candle wax it works smoothly. And Mike did a great job of glueing the cracks. This was one of those rare times when glue should be used to fix a spinning wheel – when something has broken apart that was originally one piece of wood, or that was originally glued when the wheel was made (or of course in a kitset wheel, if the maker’s instructions say to glue).

Many wheels have been ruined by well-meaning people using glue to fix something that wasn’t originally intended to be stuck together. And that’s what had happened to this Hamilton wheel: at some time in the past, the MOA perhaps was a little loose and twisting around. So he (it’s usually a he, but that may be unfair) stuck the MOA and its collar in place with glue. Only unfortunately he didn’t stick them quite right. I guess he had never heard of shims.

Anyway, then it was time to put things back together. Mike suggested a dry joint rather than glue to hold the mother-of-all to the collar, and putting a removable pin through the MOA to hold everything together, in case any adjustments have to be made. I was happy to agree, and that is why a little brass pin has appeared in the second spot-the-difference photograph at the top of this post. I do like to keep things original where possible, but with spinning wheels function comes first.

Here’s another before and after pair.You are looking from underneath at the end of the screw block with the bottom surface of the pin very visible (oddly, the hole for the peg widens at the bottom). Behind it is the bottom of the MOA collar, and behind that the bottom of the MOA.

The most important change is that the screw block is now perfectly in line with the MOA.

The shiny white on the surface of the collar is three thin plastic removable shims that Mike put in, in case the collar didn’t fit snugly to the table. He didn’t have the entire wheel to make sure everything fitted to it exactly. I could remove some or all of the layers if I pulled out that tiny brass pin, which you can just see the tip of at the top of the collar, but I left them in because it fits perfectly as it is.

In the second picture you can hardly see the little blemish at the right-hand end of the MOA. There were several spots of such damage – dog? small child? They are much less noticeable now, after I stained and waxed everything.

We’ve noticed several things that we feel are design faults, but none of them seem to matter much. First, there is no retaining pin to stop the tension knob from screwing right out – but it’s very easy to keep it in place when adjusting the tension. Also, Mike pointed out that there’s no clamping or holding piece under the table that keeps the MOA assembly in position – it stays put just fine, though. And there’s the use of Kauri for screw threads, which it isn’t really suited for.

Mr Hewison(?) was creating wheels under wartime conditions of urgency and shortage of materials. Was he an expert spinning wheel maker? Perhaps not, though he was a fine craftsman. The ‘faults’ don’t make the wheel any less a joy to spin with.Like other Hamilton wheels I’ve seen, it has 14 spokes in the drive wheel – not a common number. Their spacing isn’t completely even. This wheel was made in a workshop, not a factory!

I am very grateful to Mike for his skilled, knowledgeable work. The best wheel-makers and wheel-repairers are also spinners. He doesn’t spin so much these days, and remarked ‘spiders spin webs on my wheels as if to say, this is how it’s done you idle fellow’. (How wrong they are!)

A mysterious and troublesome beauty

A few weeks ago I bought a wheel on Trademe. Why? You may well ask. I have several wheels, which is plenty. But this is a Hamilton wheel.

I’ve long admired their graceful simplicity, and the lucky few who have one say they are wonderful spinners. They are also a tantalising mystery.

Tradition tells us that they were made in the 1940s. Dorothea Turner, whose Hamilton wheel is now owned by the Auckland War Memorial Museum, wrote that they were made in a Returned Servicemen’s Association workshop in Hamilton, and she thought the maker’s name was Ewison. Aileen Stace (who taught me to spin back in the early 1960s) had heard the same story.

However, forty years later when Lyndsay Fenwick and I were ferreting out the stories of New Zealand spinning wheels, Lyndsay spent a long time looking through wartime records and found no trace of an RSA workshop, or anything else similar, in Hamilton during or after WW2. It emerged that the maker of the wheels was contacted, if you wanted to buy one, through the local RSA secretary.

We do know that they were used during World War 2:

At least one Hamilton wheel is featured. Others include several by John Moore and an Atkinson (pause the film at 1.15 to see it clearly).

As for the maker’s name, Lyndsay couldn’t find any record of a man called Ewison in Hamilton who would at that time have been the right age and a potential wheelmaker. However, she did find a carpenter/cabinetmaker called Edward Hewison who would have been in his 70s, and had a workshop in Hamilton.

For a while I toyed with the idea of a Mr Eunson, a surname that could easily be heard as Ewison. It’s moderately common  among Shetlanders now living in New Zealand, and some features of Hamilton wheels do remind me of Shetland wheels I’ve seen in pictures (though they are more often small uprights). One similarity is the rounded treadle bar into which the front end of the treadle is fitted smoothly; another is the widening of the spokes near the rim of the wheel (which would probably help a bit with momentum); and a third is the little nipple at the end of the tension screw. Of course each of these is found in other places too, but added together they might be a hint.

However, I couldn’t find any record of a Mr Eunson who would fit the bill. I did learn, though, that Hewison is also a name found among Shetlanders. So Lyndsay’s discovery is the best guess we have for the maker’s name.

My new wheel has only one bobbin, the footman is in several pieces, the tension screw wasn’t budging, and the drive band didn’t fit properly. But it seemed worth taking a chance on.

After a bit of persistence the tension screw decided to cooperate, and pretty soon my wheel looked like this –

Now it was it was a case of clean and lubricate and see if the wheel would spin yarn. First it needed a general dusting.

Then I polished the flyer shaft (using steel wool with a little oil on it) and cleaned out the completely solidified gunk in the orifice (after softening it with WD40). A long-dead spider came out too.

I ran a strip of rag through the core of the bobbin. No problems there, and it spun freely on the newly cleaned flyer shaft.

I lubricated the bearings of the drive wheel, for now, with vaseline – there may be the remains of leather bearings in there that it would be good to replace some time.

It wasn’t too surprising that the tension screw had been stubborn, as the thread it screws into is in rather poor condition.

I found an old, plain white wax candle and rubbed that gently over the threads of the tension screw, and pretty soon it was working better than I’d dared to expect. (Important note: I didn’t use oil because that can make wood swell, and I didn’t use beeswax because that makes things stick, not slide.)

Then I put everything back together, with a drop of oil wherever it seemed a good idea, and put on a new double drive band. It had to be double drive because there was no little guide for a bobbin brake. It should have been like this –

But as you see below, the little guide peg on my wheel has at some point been broken off.

It would certainly be possible to replace it, if that proves worthwhile. Actually I think the one in the first picture is a replacement, as they are generally much more pointy. What I don’t want to do is put in a hook – that would be all wrong for this wheel. Fortunately I like double drive.

There only remained the footman, which looks like this –
Not worth repairing till we know if the wheel spins yarn, but string will do the job –

A lot of wheels, particularly those with no heel overhang on the treadle, work fine with a string footman. Philip Poore designed his Pipy wheels to have a string footman, and he used to say that if it was good enough for Queen Victoria it was good enough for him.

Now to try spinning. And sadly, this is where it all goes wrong – she won’t hold a drive band.

Before you ask, the drive wheel is perfectly OK, not warped or misaligned. The problem is that the flyer assembly doesn’t line up with it. I had noticed this, and was expecting trouble.

So I’ll take everything apart again and see what can be done. All is not lost. There will be another bulletin in due course.