Twin Willows Farm

  Pegg Thomas

  Fiber Artist

Twin Willows Farm - Drum Carders

One of the most versatile and valuable tools for handspinning is the drum carder.  A drum carder allows you to create your own blends, your own custom colors and your own creative masterpieces.  Buying roving is fine and dandy, but you have to spin what someone else designed.  Buying fibers and carding them at home lets you be in complete control of what you’ll be spinning.

If you don’t have a drum carder and are thinking about purchasing one, here are some things to think about before you make your purchase.  There are many brand names and many different features on drum carders.  There is not a ‘one size fits all’ drum carder out there, so try to pick the features that will work best for what you want to do.

The most important thing to think about when purchasing a drum carder is the carding cloth, or teeth, of the carder.  If you know that you prefer to spin ultra fine fibers and will be carding mostly ultra fine fibers, be sure you get a drum with an ultra fine carding cloth (around 125 teeth per square inch).  These fibers include pure angora, cashmere, Merino wool, etc.  I can’t stress this enough!  Trying to card ultra fine fibers on a regular carding cloth will frustrate you to the point of tears and probably turn you off of drum carding forever.  As with everything else in life, you need the right tool for the right job.

If you like to spin the medium fibers, such as Corriedale, Romney, Border Leicester, Finn, Mohair and those types of fibers, then a regular card cloth is best (around 72 teeth per square inch).  This is what my own drum carder has.  I use it for all my Border Leicester and all my blends, including blending with angora.  It works fine!  I would not use it to produce pure angora batts, however.

Some companies also have carding cloth at around 100 teeth per square inch.  I have never used these but assume it would be a nice compromise between the ultra fine and regular.  I wouldn’t use it for the ultra fine fibers still, but maybe for the finer wools such as Targhee and Columbia and fibers such as llama or dog fur.  

Several companies also allow the option of changeable drums.  That is, you buy one drum carder but can purchase two or three of the large drums to use with it.  This is a good option for the spinner who wants to work in all sorts of textures.  But I think most spinners have a preference and can purchase just what they need with one drum.

Here are some other options to consider:

Table clamps:
Some drum carders come with table clamps to keep them from moving around as you crank the handle.  These are nice but not all tables are suitable to use with them.  My table has a 4” side all around the edge, so no clamp is going to work.  Clamping may also leave a mark on your table, so if you have don’t have an old work table to use, you may not want to use a clamp.

Brushes that mount on the drum carder and help push the fibers down into the teeth can be a great asset.  I’ve used drum carders with and without the brush and find that the brush helps keep the batts even and makes filling the drum much easier.  My brush also folds back out of the way of the drum when I clean the drum off or if I don’t want to use it.  Brushes are extremely helpful for fly-away type fibers such as angora, alpaca and dog fur.

Most companies offer a motorized version of their drum carders.  I’ve never used one but can see the benefits especially for people with physical limitations.  The down side I would think about is not having the ability to stop instantly if you see a problem or want to correct a mistake you made in loading the colors or fibers.

Chain and Belt Drives:
I have owned and operated both belt driven and chain driven drum carders.  Personally, I prefer the chain drive.  There are people who prefer the belt drives.  Both function well but I had problems with the belt slipping as it got older and needing to replace it several times.  The chain moves along toothed gears and never slips or needs replacing.  My model has a nice guard to keep the fibers out of the chain as well.

Drum Size:
There are several different sizes to the large drums.  The industry standard is an 8” drum.  Some offer smaller drums of 4” they call roving carders.  These are cheaper priced but you have to crank twice as much to produce the same amount of carded fiber, so they are time eaters.  For the price difference, you may want to think about what your time is worth.  Some models also offer a larger drum, up to 15”.  These are wonderful if you’re doing large amounts of carding, but if you want to card just an ounce, you may find that the batts are too wispy to blend and work well.

Licker In Drum:    
As far as I know, the Strauch drum carders are the only models using a special card cloth on the licker in drum.  This is the small drum that helps feed fibers onto the large drum.  I have one of these and I absolutely love it.  The fibers flow much more smoothly onto the large drum and I have very little wasted fiber when I’m done.

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