Monday, November 7, 2011

How to make a wool comb and hackle set

So, last year my wife and I decided to invest in a spinning wheel so we could learn to spin our own yarn. We bought it at the Taos Fiber festival, then it sat in the corner and started to gather dust. We tried to use it at first and each time it ended in frustration. More swearing more dust gathering...

When a year rolled around and the Taos Fiber festival came around once more, money was tight and we decided not to go. So instead of going, I sat down and decided to spend that weekend learning to SPIN or BUST. Well, I did learn and I discovered that I enjoyed it so much I couldn't turn it off. So, night after night I sat down to spin, until I ran out of available roving. Normally it wouldn't be a problem except that the drum carder we had was borrowed and the lender requested it back a month before. I was inspired by some other folks who make their own prototype tools so I decided I might be able to construct my own comb and hackle set for much less than the store price. I didn't really have a lot of wood working skill but in the end I really like the results.

Here is the ingredients list:
1 box of 16d ("16 penny") 3.5" long finishing nails.
1 box of 8d ("8 penny") 2.5" long finishing nails.
8 inch dowel
1 tube of epoxy (the type with two connected plungers).
2 pieces of 2" x 2"x 20" maple, Hemlock or poplar.
1 bottle of wood glue. (optional - I used it to connect the wood handle).
1 small can of walnut finishing stain

You will also need access to a saw, drill with 1/8 bit and 2/32 bit, ruler and either sandpaper or an electric sander and a light hammer.

First, I went to Home Depot and found some Hemlock wood in 2" x 2" sticks that where 20" long. I cut two blocks at 5 inches and glued them together and held them with a clamp for 24 hours. Then I started to work on the hackle.

I cut a 15" stick from the hemlock and drew out two lines a 1/2 inch apart then marked alternating dots where the nails would be added. It was pretty tedious bit it really payed of. Next, I drilled the marked dots about 1/8 of an inch in until the were all done. Now for the messy part. I took out the epoxy glue a squeezed out a bit and mixed it up. Then I dipped the head of each nail and tapped them lightly into place in the pre-drilled slots. I used a total of (20) 16d nails. Let dry for 24 hours. That hackle was pretty easy.

 The next day I went back to work on my comb and Marked out the general shape I wanted for the comb. Then I began marking out nail holes in a alternating pattern. I had four rows to mark. I started with (12) 16d nails in the front row, (11) 16d nails in the second row, (10) 8d nails in the third row and finally (9) 8d nails in the back row. For a total of 42 nails.

 I cut out the triangle shape with a table saw and then used a sander to round off the corners and rough edges. Then I drilled the holes.

At this time, I also drilled a hole for the dowel/handle to slide into snuggly.

 Now everything gets finished with a nice coat of walnut stain. I neglected to stain the hackle first so I did it along with the comb and handle. Let it dry for a few hours. When everything is dry, glue in the nails by dipping the heads in the epoxy and tapping them into the paddle lightly. Last glue in the handle. I used wood glue but you could probably use the epoxy for this as well.

I gave it a test run with a diz I made with a hole punched into a milk carton lid and the results turned out well. (In the pic below I used some nice alpaca blanket I had processed myself). I'm really happy with how it turned out. I could have created another set of combs and hackles but I was short on 16d nails.

So, I will soon have roving and more hand-spun yarn available on our website at You can also like us on Facebook at  Happy spinning!