Make your own Spindles!

I spent all of Saturday, making spindles! I photographed nearly every step of the way, in painstaking, tortuous, detail, and thought I'd share it with you.

I really like these spindles - they are easy and quick to make, and are really inexpensive. Plus, I just like the idea that I can make my own.

All points considered, a spindle costs about $3 to make.

Obtain materials -
--buy or order the toy wheels. I much prefer these spoked wheels, as they make wonderful rim weighted spindles. I order from Lee Valley Tools and can expect delivery within a week.
--have your whorls with you when you select your dowels. Buy the closest fitting size. If you can't find an exact friction-fit size, then buy the closest smaller dowel.
--gather up the rest of the supplies, clear off a work area, and get started! (Detailed parts lists and where to buy everything is at the end of this post.)

Figure some way to hang your spindles -
or figure some way for them to stand perfectly straight. I use all sorts of different methods. Today I used an old refrigerator shelf laid on top of a clothes drying rack. In the past, I’ve used a bicycle wheel laid across two saw horses – hanging the spindles from the spokes, and I’ve hung them from the clothesline in my laundry room. If you are making a batch of spindles at the same time, then the line must be stretched tightly so that the spindles stay put, and don’t slide down the line and end up in a bunch. If you are making one-at-a-time, then it really doesn't matter how you hang it.

If you don’t have a way to hang your spindles, then you’ll have to figure out a way to have then sit straight up and down – this is important in the epoxy step later on.

If you are working on only a couple of spindles at a time, you could fill a vessel with dried beans or uncooked rice, and then stick the spindle shaft into it and arrange it so that it stands upright. Get this figured out long before you mix the epoxy!

Epoxy the underside of the wheels -
The spokes can come loose from the tread portion of the wheel, so run a ring of epoxy there, to hold the wheel together. I use a toothpick to make sure that the epoxy goes under both sides of the spoke. You see one epoxied and one un-epoxied wheel in this photo. You can do this step immediately before the rest of the steps, or you can epoxy them well ahead of time and use them whenever you get around to it, it doesn't matter.

Set the whorl aside to dry, while you work on the other steps. The epoxy doesn't need to fully cure, but it does need to be set, and not runny, for the assembly steps.

Cut and sand your sticks -
I cut my sticks to 12 inches, and lightly sand them. I don't want the sticks to be perfectly smooth - I just aim to get rid of splintery spots. If you want yours to be really smooth, then start with 200 grit sandpaper, and work through 300, 400, 600, and if you are really persnickety - 2000 grit (from an auto body shop supplier).

Test fit whorls to dowels -
If you can find a friction-fit then, excellent! However, I often have to make a smaller stick fit the wheel, because I think that it is easier to enlarge the shaft then it is to enlarge the hole in the wheel. It's a fiddly process, but it is easy and fast.

I use upholstery thread for this process. It's thin and exceptionally strong.

A photo tour of the process – (1) make a loop
(2) begin to wrap the thread around the shaft
(3) continue winding
(4) cut the thread, and pass it through the little loop. Arrange the winding nicely, then begin to pull the thread which is sticking out of the top of the winding.
(5) I pull until the loop is very small, and then I stop and make sure everything is nicely arranged. Turn it around and examine all sides. Then...
(6) keep pulling until the "knot" is pulled beneath the winding.
(7) then clip the ends.

Try the whorl on – maybe you need a second layer in order to make it fit.

Notice that I gave the shaft a 180 degree turn, so that the knots are on opposite sides of the shaft.

Put the whorl onto the shaft -

Voila!See how nicely the wrappings hold the whorl into place?

Look from the top - the whorl should be centered - there should not be a larger space on one side than the other. If it seems unbalanced, they try giving the wheel a turn - often, this will center it.

If there’s a great difference in the size of the shaft and the size of the whorl, then you can use a thicker cord – here I’ve used hemp.It's hard to see in this photo, but since the hemp is so thick, I've put a "dummy loop" on the other side of the shaft. I began winding, then I separated the cords of the "original loop" and the "dummy loop" so that the cords were pretty evenly spaced around the shaft. So, I'm winding around the 4 cords - understand? I didn't pull the knot under the winding, I just pulled it snugly, and didn't cut it off too short. It worked perfectly - I'll show you this one again later on.

The whorl doesn’t need to be jam-tight, it just needs to be able to stay in place during the epoxy step. It is the epoxy which will hold everything together, permanently. I've used this style of spindle for a couple of years, and I've dropped them - sometimes hard enough that the cop slips down an inch or so! - and none of the spindles have come apart. I assume that the epoxy is doing its job.

You’ll be amazed how different the whorls and sticks are. Some will take only one layer of thread, some will take much more. If you are working on many spindles at a time, then you’ll want to keep the sticks and whorls together during the whole process, as you are custom fitting them as a pair.

Wrap the hook end of the shaft -

Here is a fork in the road -

If your whorl friction fits, then skip over this step - you'll have to do it later -
after you epoxy the whorl into place. It's so much easier to wrap it now, with no whorl in the way. Test to see if you can get the whorl into place by putting it on from the bottom. If it's a tight fit, then you probably won't be able to push it all the way up from the bottom.

If you had to enlarge the shaft, then wrap the hook-end with upholstery thread -
This wrapping really strenghtens the end of the shaft. Screwing into end grain of wood is not good wood-working practice – the hole is practically guarranteed to get bigger, due to the structure of the wood. This wrap helps to prevent this.

Clip the ends just as closely as you dare.
Wrap at least as far down as the threads will penetrate.

Drill the pilot hole for the hook -
First - you might like to mark the spot for the hole. Put an "x" or a dot where you think it ought to go. Rotate the shaft - is it really centered? Move the dot until it is centered, perfectly. Here is where I put on my extra pair of readers - I really want to make sure that this dot is centered.I'm known far and wide for my fashion sense. My kids just love the doubled glasses.
Then, stick a pin or tack right into the center of your mark. This will create a divot which will help the drill bit stay where it should, and not skitter all around.

I tie a bit of upholstery thread to the drill bit as a guide. Tie it as tightly as you can, and then, clip the strings very short.

When you are using the drill, you can't "butt up" to the thread, or it'll move. You have to stop before you hit the thread. This keeps you from drilling too deeply, and I find that this step is imperative. If the hole is too deep, then your hook will never sit properly - it will screw in too deeply.

I'm using a Dremel tool, with the second-to-smallest drill bit.

Prepare the hooks -
If you bought cup hooks, then I guess you are done. I like to buy eye hooks, and prepare them in the manner described in the book, High Whorling, by Priscilla Gibson Roberts. I straighten them out as straight as I can get them, and then I turn a little hook. Above is a stepwise photo which illustrates my approach. I use round jawed jewelry-making pliers to straighten the hooks. I'll fine tune them later, according to these excellent instructions, Hatchtown Fibers Spindle Tuning Tutorial.

I buy size 217 brass hooks from Gate Latch USA. I like to use these tiny brass hooks because the brass and the teeny size combine to make them very easy to bend. Another reason that I like to use the tiny hooks is because I don't have to drill a comparatively large hole in a small diameter shaft. I like to use a small diameter shaft because, well, because it fits in the wheel. If I were to use a larger hook, I'd have to remove so much wood, that I don't think the connection would be very secure. I also like to use fairly narrow shafts because I think that it makes for a very fast, whippy spindle. I *really* don't like to use fat shafts.

There is a downside to such tiny hooks, however, and it's a pretty severe one. If you drop the spindle onto the hook, it's going to bend, and possibly snap right off. A spindle fell out of my bag, directly onto the hook, on a concrete walk, and snapped the hook way down in the hole. This made me very sad...

Put the whorls on, and screw the hooks into the spindles. If you haven't wrapped the hook end of the shaft, then be careful when screwing in the hook - don't over-tighten, you'll split the shaft.

Epoxy the whorls into place -
I buy long-acting epoxy so that I have time to work with it. Here is how I do it – First, I make sure that the whorl is perpendicular to the shaft. Then, I put a teeny dab of epoxy (I use a toothpick) into the groove of one spindle - I put a dab at all 4 compass points, then hang up that spindle and move on to another one. I dab epoxy on 3 spindles in a row, then I move back to the first one. The epoxy has settled into the groove, so I can dab on some more. Once again, I work my way through all three, and return to the first one. I keep this up until that little trough appears to be filled, then start on another batch. If you are working on only one spindle per session, then just dab in in there and wait. It doesn't take long. Don't worry about any bubbles, they work themselves out.

I like to leave an inch of shaft sticking up from the top of the whorl, but I don't think that it really matters.

Here, you can see epoxy, dabbed into the groove,
See how much it has settled?Dab some more in, let it settle - repeat until it no longer soaks in - it may take as many as 4 applications.

When you set the spindles aside for the epoxy to cure – take one more check to make sure that the whorls are perpendicular. Hold the spindle, vertically, right in front of your eyes, and twirl the spindle. You can't adjust it later!

The epoxy on the bare wood changes the appearance of the wood - on some whorls, the difference is minute, on some it's pretty drastic. Go back to the very first photo and make it big - see how the 4 spindles towards the bottom of the photo have really dark, unsightly, epoxy jobs? I think that it has to do with the wood that the hub was carved out of - some of them are really porous, and some of them are really pigmented - it changes the color of the epoxy!

If you don't like this look, then you can apply some wood finish to just the hub, to the whole whorl, or to the entire spindle. The wood finish will cause the entire piece of wood to look the way the epoxy makes it look - this makes it a lot neater looking, but doesn't effect the performance of the spindle at all. I'll discuss finishing later.

SET THE NEWLY-EPOXIED SPINDLES ASIDE, OVERNIGHT - It's best to let the epoxy cure for a nice, long time, before you begin the other steps.~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

If you want, you can add bumpers to the bottoms of the shafts -
I really like bumpers, and add them.In fact, I've come up with some fine-tuning to the Tammy Rizzo Navajo Ply on the Fly technique which involves using these little bumpers. Stay tuned, as I'll post about this, eventually.

In the photo above, I've added a layer of wrapping because this tubing is just a hair too large to stay on, securely. This is the first time I've ever done this - usually, the tubing holds on just fine without any added help. The other spindles didn't need it, just this one.

Check under the whorls, and trim away any stray threads.
Two of mine needed a little haircut - here you see the before and after photos.I used an Xacto knife to trim the excess string.If you want a notch, cut it into the whorl now -
I use a triangular file. I’ve experimented with various arrangements - putting the notch on the underside, putting it on the top, angling the cut - but my favorite way is the most plain – just a little vertical notch on the outermost part of the whorl.

I make sure that the hook is completely screwed in, then I carve the notch. I like to align my hook so that the back of the hook faces the notch - which is why I wait until after I've screwed in the hook to place the notch.

Balance the hook, according to the Hatchtown Fibers Spindle Tuning Tutorial.
I like to remove the hook from the spindle shaft to make any adjustments to the hook. I find that if I leave the hook in the wood and try to bend the hook, that it enlarges the hole, which will cause problems later. However, in order to bend the hook, you must hold the threaded portion between your fingers, because if you hold it in the jaws of pliers, the soft brass threads will flatten out. Those screw threads can really dig into your finger! So, I stick the threaded end into the little plastic doohickey, which you can see in the photo, "prepare the hooks," for the bending process. I think that this little doohickey came out of a click ball point pen, but I really don’t remember where I found it. It's perfect for the job, as it's a tiny little hard plastic tube.

If I were able to find some little tiny metal caps to put on the end of the shaft - a little cap with a little hole in the end that I could put onto the shaft and then thread the hook through - this would eliminate the problem, wouldn't it? I could bend the hook without having to remove it from the shaft. Actually, I'd only need one little tiny cap - use it to adjust the hook, then remove it and use it to adjust the next hook. Any ideas? Where could I find such a tiny little metal cap?

If you didn't wrap the hook-end of the shaft before, then do it now.

Seal the wrapping and the hook -
Once you have the hook how you like it, unscrew it from the shaft, apply an even coat of clear fingernail polish to the wrapping, apply a little blob to the end, and screw the hook *through* the wet fingernail polish. The goal is to get a little of the nail polish down into the hole, to lightly glue the hook into place. Be sure that your hook is aligned how you like it, and hang it to dry.

The nail polish is not a permanent hook-glue. If you like, you'll be able to remove your hook and use your spindle as a low whorl. Then, you can screw the hook back in when you want to go back to having a high whorl. Cool, eh?

Apply finish if desired -
I've tried finishing after gluing the whorls into place, and I've tried finishing the whorls before assembly. I can't decide which I like hate more, lol. There are good points and bad points to each method, I'll leave it to you to experiment and decide which way you like best. I just plain old hate finishing.

I use about 1000 coats of Minwax. OK, maybe not 1000, but it sure seems that way. I just hate finishing. However, if I bite the bullet and decide to do it, then I put on lots and lots of coats, so that the end result is smooth and glossy. This wood is so porous, that it really sucks in the finish.In this photo, you see finished spindles with three different hub types. The upper ones are 3 inch wheels - notice how different the two hubs look. If you refer to the very first photo, showing unfinished spindles, you'll see that they all pretty much look alike. It's only when you put the finish on it that this difference becomes evident. The one on the right looks *really bad* with epoxy and no finish, as the epoxy soaks into the hub, causing this dark effect. Once the finish is applied, however, it all evens out. I like the look of the dark hub.

The one on the bottom is a 2.5 inch wheel, and all the ones of this size have a completely different hub - it's relatively unaffected, colorwise, by the epoxy. In fact, I often don't apply finish to this size, because I hate finishing, and I think that this size looks nice, unfinished. The hub and the tread portions are made from different woods than the larger one - this size seems to be made out of some sort of vine - it doesn't have the grain pattern of the 3 inch size.

I find that the finish cures/dries much faster if I can set it in the sun. I don't even bother with finishing if it's wintertime and too cold - then it takes forever for the finish to dry, and therefore, forever and a day to get numerous coats. I bet that I put at *least* 10 coats.

I like the look of a finished whorl, but I don't like the feel of a finished stick. So, when I apply finish to the spindle, I wrap some painter's masking tape around the shaft, right under the whorl, to keep the finish from penetrating the wood in this area. Wrap the shaft - dab on the finish - hang it to dry. Repeat as many times as desired.

Admire your handiwork!

Supplies List -
-toy wheels - I've tried a couple of suppliers, and I really like Lee Valley Spoked Toy Wheels the best.
-dowels - hardware store, lumber yard, hobby lobby, walmart. For the larger toy wheels, the dowels in the cake-decorating department of walmart are, surprisingly, perfect.
-epoxy - hardware store, lumber yard, hobby lobby, walmart, and other places. Buy the one which dries clear or amber, and which has a long working time. The working time and setting time are listed on the front. Don't buy the quick setting kind for this project.
-hooks - Gate Latch USA
-sandpaper - about 200-400 grit.
-upholstery thread - walmart, joannes, hobby lobby, etc.
-fingernail polish - I use clear, but you use what you like.
- wood finish - I use Minwax natural, but you use what you like. You can buy it - hardware, lumber, big box store.

Epoxy Tools-
--something on which to mix the epoxy - it won't wash off, so it needs to be a throw-away something - junk mail works perfectly. I use old microfiches that the library was throwing away.
--something to stir the epoxy - popsicle stick, disposable fork, coffee stirrer.
--something to apply the epoxy - toothpick, skewer - something with a fine point.
--paper towel torn into smallish squares for wiping your fingers, your tools, the excess epoxy. Have lots prepared ahead of time.
--something to protect your work surface.

Tools needed
--dremel or drill for drilling hole for hook.
--something to hang the spindle from while the epoxy dries
--stout scissors for cutting the tubing
--something for mixing the epoxy
--scissors for cutting thread
--Xacto knife


lizzzknits said...

If anyone asks how to make their own spindles, I now know where to send them. This is the definitive set of instructions. Thanks for all the time and effort put into this posting!

Jody said...

wow thanks for that! Great inspiration!
I don't have bifocal sunglasses so sometimes when I am driving I will wear my sunglasses over my bifocals. Looks kind of dopey but hey it works. I do take them off if a cute guy pulls up beside me though hehe.

Rosemary said...

Thanks, Y'all!

I love making spindles, and just wanted to share the joy, lol.

Birdsong said...

Wow! I think you should win some kind of award of this detailed post... I am so impressed.

Linda said...

This is marvelous! Thank you, Thank you, Thank you!

Kara said...

Thank you for sharing! You always come up with the most useful tweaks to a project.

Anonymous said...

That looks great, thanks for the instructions I am just picking up spinning again..

Loan said...

I just made a bunch yesterday. Thank you for the instructions. These rim-weighted spindles spin for a long time!

Rosemary said...

Loan, I'm glad you like this tutorial. Yes, these spin great, I love 'em.


megankhor said...

would you consider parting with one of your home-made spindles?

Adele said...

Rosemary- this is a great tutorial even years after you posted it. Thank you.
I am wondering- do you know what the approximate weights are of the ones you made?
Also, what size dowel did you use- did they all take the same size or were there differences?
Many thanks- Adele

Rosemary said...

Hello Adele! Thanks for your kind words. These spindles are a little shy of one ounce. It is my favorite weight, it is neither too light nor too heavy. All of the dowels are the same size, and I think they are 1/4 inch, although I'm not certain. I found them in the cake decorating aisle of my local big box store. Who knew that dowels are used to hold up the layers in tall cakes??? Anyway, thanks again!