Working with the drum carder

This tool is just amazing.  This is a drum carder.  An Ashford drum carder.  I deliberated on buying this for a very long time.  I knew what it could do, and that I could not do what I wanted to do with hand cards, but these things are really expensive.  Not as expensive as a new wheel, but really more than I can afford for a tool for a hobby.  About 2 years ago (maybe 3?  I’m not sure) I used some of my tax return money for this.  I think without this I would not be as enthusiastic about spinning as I am.  And without this I would have to buy fiber batts from someone else.  I would have no say as to the color or content, but would have to choose what someone else created.  Not that there aren’t some beautiful batts out there to choose from, but they are expensive, so is shipping, and I am creative enough myself that I want to do it.  And maybe sell some too.

So this is my carder.  It has 2 wheel ratios, one for initially carding fiber, and one for blending fibers together.  I really am not able to tell the difference in the outcoming fiber yet, but I’m sure I will get there.  For now I use it on the bigger ratio, which is–according to the paper work–supposed to produce big, pouffy batts, which it does indeed.

Isn’t the wood pretty?  There is a drive band around the wooden wheels.  This has some slight stretch to it to go around the wheels.  It is what makes the big and small drums turn. When I am done carding I take the band off so as not to permanently stretch it over time.  Newer spinning wheels use these same types of bands for drive bands, as opposed to the tried and true cotton string, which is what mine has.

It has two clamps that fit in holes in the back, but for these pictures I have it on the bar in the kitchen, which is way too thick for the clamps.  It makes the carder wobbly while I am using it as there is sometimes some pressure when turning the crank.  It lifts up a bit when it shouldn’t.  The clamps eliminate this.  In this view you can see the holes where the clamps go.

There are still some fuzzies on the carder from the last time I used it.

I am not thrilled with the color of the batt I came up with today.  What I have been doing is dyeing bunches of alpaca fiber all these different colors, then blending them together in different combinations.  What I used today is some of what I have left from last year’s dyeing day.  They will be fine for today’s demonstration though.  Just not something I would wear myself.  But you never know, because once this is spun it will be somewhat different than the way the batt looks.  We don’t discount it yet.

There are two rows of fiber because I will make two batts.  Each pile is as close to the same weight as I could get it.  This drum carder takes about 3 oz. comfortably on the drum.  3 oz. is not enough for a project really, but I have tried to cram 4 oz. on and it really doesn’t work that well.  So I will come up with about 6 oz. of the same fiber if I do 2 batts.

The two gray wools are from the Fiber Frolic held every year in June at the Windsor Fair Grounds.  I got this last year.  It was labeled “carding waste”.  This was used in a mill, but the man selling it had baskets and baskets of it.  It is very soft and was very cheap.  I hope he is there again this year, as I will get lots more of it.  I got some dark blue too that is really pretty.  It has been great for blending with things.  But this is the last of the grays.

The white is angora from Henry.  This is the first time that I have included any of his fluff in a mix.  I used two ounces split between the two sets of fiber.

The colors, orange and pink are alpaca that I dyed that summer.  Since then I have been treating my baskets of dyed alpaca as a salad bar and picking and choosing bits here and there to mix with other stuff or together.  Supplies are running short!  Time to have another dyeing day.

This is the first fiber onto the drum.  The small drum feeds it onto the larger drum.  I start with small amounts and build up the layers on the drum color by color.  If you try to cram more in at one time it just gets bunched up and won’t turn.

Can you see how it does not stick to the small drum, but is going onto the bigger one on the right?

Adding more fiber:

I fluff it up a bit before I add it to the tray.  It helps it get distributed better.

This is an invaluable tool.  It is really a pet brush from the dollar store.  The soft bristly side I use to pack down the fibers on the big drum while I turn the crank to make room on the teeth of the drum for more fiber.

This other side I use to clean the small drum with.  They sell a professional version of this tool, but why would you when this is $1?

This is some sparkle that gets added in here and there.  It is called Firestar, and I think it is made from nylon or rayon or something.  Definitely not a little Firestar animal running round in the field.  But you really use the tiniest bit of this to add another dimension to the colors.

Can you see the layers building up?

So I press this brush down on the drum and crank the drum to push the fibers further down the teeth.  It makes more room for more fiber.

When no more will fit on the drum, it is time to take it off.  I have a tool called a doffer which came with the carder, but it is basically an ice pick or a screwdriver with a point on it.  I insert it into the groove on the drum and lift up.  I do this about one inch at a time across the drum.

Once it is all the way across I can take the fiber off in one big sheet–a “batt”.

I just gently pull downwards and away from the drum.  I turn the crank about 1/4 turn and keep doing this until it is off the drum.

Sometimes fibers stick to the drum.  My hand card is a good tool to get these off and onto the batt.

This is a side view of the finished batt.  You can see all of the different colors that were added to the drum.  And a little of that sparkle is showing up too.

This is one side of the finished batt.

This is the other side of it.

There are a number of ways to spin from this.  You could spin from it just like this.  Lay the whole thing in your lap like a lap blanket and spin at random from it.  Or it could be made into strips by pulling it apart lengthwise, maybe 6 or 8 strips from this batt.  It could be pulled through a diz (a disk with a hole in it ) to make one long strip of roving.  I’m sure there are other ways to spin from this.

Now I will go make the other one, which should look very similar to this one, as I have all the same amounts of fiber left and paid close attention when I was mixing them so I should be able to replicate it.

Technically you could do something similar with hand cards, but it would take a long time, and you would have to do it on such a mini scale.  You would have to make so many small bits to make up what we have done here today.  And I don’t think the spun results would be the same either.

I should mention too that this part of the spinning process is really not portable.  Everything else you can take with you, should you want to spin outside or at a fiber event or at someone’s house, but the carder is heavy and needs to be clamped down, and you would have to take so much fiber with you that it really is a stay at home part of this process.

I really love this tool and am glad that I got it.  I could have spent the money on a new spinning wheel instead, but then I would not have all of these creative options open to me to spin from.  A wheel can wait.  Mine works just fine and I have had such a good time working with this carder.  It is really like mixing your own paint and painting a canvas with it.    So much fun.  It occurs to me that with spinning and knitting, whatever I am doing right then is my favorite part of the process.  When I am making batts I think “this is the best part”, but then when I am spinning I think “this is the best part” and the same with the knitting.  Nice to not be able to decide which is the best part!


One thought on “Working with the drum carder

  1. You sound so pleased and satisfied with this process and what a way to spend a rainy afternoon.
    Again, I feel so much more for the final product. Keep up the great work and enjoy!

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