Archive | December, 2011

An Electric Spinning Wheel That You Can Build At Home

1 Dec

It’s all very well to talk about the wonders of open source technology, but it doesn’t mean much without some real examples. That’s why I’m so excited to tell you all about Maurice Ribble’s open source electric spinning wheel, called the “Electric Eel Wheel”.

The Electric Eel is a hand spinning wheel with an electric motor. It operates much like a regular saxony spinning wheel, with a belt driven flyer and a scotch tension system to slow down the bobbin, except that rather than treadling it with your feet to provide the power, you simply set the dial on the front to the speed you like.

There are a number of companies providing (non open-source) electric spinning wheels. Cost is generally fairly high compared to a manual wheel. For example, the Ashford e-spinner is around US$900, and the Roberta Electronic is around US$1,2000. These are all fair prices for a machine made for sale, but with a bit of DIY spirit, you can now make yourself one for much less.

Electric wheels have a number of advantages over human powered spinning wheels. They are particularly handy for people who can’t treadle due to leg problems, but even for everyone else, they can provide a speed and consistency that is hard to achieve while treadling. The Electric Eel is also significantly more portable than most full size spinning wheels.

This wheel was developed by Maurice for real use in his household. He has provided all the information you need to build it, either totally from scratch, or using a kit. While you can order a kit from Maurice, you’re under no obligation to do so. You can even sell your own kits if you like, or sell the wheel commercially, as long as you attribute Maurice as the original designer.

Being an electric wheel, one of the most confusing bits for some people might be the electronic components, which is basically a controller for the motor and some input dials. If you don’t want to have to worry about how this magic box works, just buy it from Maurice. However, it’s important for the open source movement that we don’t all just treat things as magic black boxes. Maurice has provided full schematics for his electronics case, so you can replicate it yourself if you don’t want to use his. The contents are all off the shelf components. These components are not themselves open source, and while that would certainly be nice, they are cheap and easily available.

Maurice tells me that he’s currently working on version 3 of his design, which will include a grand, yet to be unveiled improvement to the bobbin and flyer arrangement. You don’t have to wait for this though, it’s already a great wheel, if you’re in need of one, dive in and make it.

To find out more, see the Electric Eel project page. It contains detailed build instructions, photos, and a forum to ask your questions.