This little silence of the past few days has been due my being deeply occupied with making and playing with some new wool combs. It’s the most involved woodworking project I’ve done in a while, and has been keeping me agreeably busy.
I decided I needed wool combs after processing the Cormo I’ve been working on — my sweater fleece is a mixed breed longwool, with a 4-5″ low crimp staple, while my Cormo has a staple length of about 3″ and an extremely fine crimp. The Cormo is pretty much ideal for carding, and having gotten a chance to work with it, I realized how unsuitable for carding my longwool fleece is.
An oak plank, some wood glue, some finishing nails and some epoxy. I also indulged in a number of little wood working toys that I didn’t really need, but wanted, like new sandpaper and some little clamps, etc.
I had to figure out what size wood pieces I need, and the nail spacing for the tines. Once I had the wood cut, I matched the nail size with a drill bit, and went to work with the drill press, drilling out the comb heads so I could put the nails through them without splitting the wood. This took three attempts to make two comb heads, since I did split the first head.
Here are the nails ready to be put through after drilling, and the finished stationary comb clamped and drying. The nails are driven through the headpiece to make the tines of the comb, and secured with epoxy. I then chiseled a bed for it in the base plate, and woodglued it together.
I did the same thing for the moving comb, except that instead of a base plate, it got a handle. It’s really rough, since I just knocked it out with a chisel and rounded and sanded it a little to avoid splinters.
Here is the finished comb pair, stationary and moving.
Wool combs are pretty straightforward to use — I actually find them easier tp use then cards, because they seem to need less skill to make a good spinnable product. They do produce a lot more waste then the cards do, though. But the waste from combing is good for carding, so it’s not a complete loss.
The stationary comb is clamped to the table (I need better clamps – these ones get in the way and slow down the combing process):
Then the stationary comb is loaded with fiber, a process called lashing on.
When the stationary comb is loaded, you take the moving comb and hold it crosswise in front of the wool, and rake it across the tips of your locks in a horizontal motion. With every pass you move the comb deeper into the locks, pulling wool onto the moving comb as you work. Eventually you are sweeping the moving comb across the stationary comb touching or almost touching it (this is where my clamps got in the way – I couldn’t get so close), almost all of the wool is on the moving comb, and what is left on the stationary comb is short knotty waste.
This it what it looks like in the middle of a combing:
You then return the fiber to the stationary comb in a similiar process, but this time moving the comb in vertical strokes down past the stationary comb. Still holding the comb crosswise, and still starting at the tips of the fiber and working deeper until almost all the fiber is back on the stationary comb.
This process removes the shorter fibers from the wool by leaving them as waste on the almost empty comb — how much waste you decide to leave is up to you, so you can comb for only the longest fibers or for a more mixed blend. Combing also aligns the fibers fairly neatly, so that they will pull close together when spun, and make a single with a smoother more rounded surface but less air in it then carded fiber.
When you are finished combing a load of fiber, you then draw it off the comb in a long piece, much as if you were drafting to spin. I don’t have a diz yet, so I didn’t use one.
The prepared fiber is called top, or combed top (which seems redundant to me), and since my combs are small and make small amounts, I coil them up into little nests. This one is all ready to be spun from, and will make a fine tight worsted single.
Freshly made handcombed top is the most pleasurable thing to spin that I have ever laid my hands on. It it light and airy and flows like water through my fingers.