Choosing Your First Spinning Wheel

If you’re ready to buy your first spinning wheel, you may be feeling more overwhelmed than excited, as well-intended voices offer spinning-term-laden and often contradictory opinions. Here’s my advice: Relax. There is no “best wheel for new spinners.” There’s only the wheel that’s best for you and your own situation at the time of purchase.

The Real Purpose of Your First Spinning Wheel

Almost every wheel has some limitations, so consider this first wheel as your “perfect for now” wheel—a reliable spinning wheel that helps you learn to spin, and with which you’ll begin your spinning journey… Because for all of your planning, it’s almost impossible to predict the spinner you’re going to become.

This isn’t to say that you should purchase just any wheel that comes your way, or that you shouldn’t put thought into this big-ticket purchase. In my book, the ideal first spinning wheel will meet three main criteria, though their order of importance depends on the individual:

It’s Affordable

“Affordable” is a deeply personal number, and different for all of us. In 2023, the cost of a new, “basic,” brand-name traditional treadle wheel (i.e. Louet, Schacht, Ashford, Majacraft) ranges from $500 to nearly $2,000 USD, with most hovering near the $1,000 range.

The typical package provides the wheel and three bobbins, so don’t forget to factor in the price of additional bobbins (the cost among brands ranges significantly), and potential upgrades as you grow (see below). The cost can be minimal (less than $50 USD) for a super-slow or extra-fast whorl, or several hundreds of dollars for a specialty flyer setup.

What about buying used? This is an option, but be careful. Sadly, scammers abound. Stay away from spinning wheels listed online as “antique,” as a) some are decorative and were never functional, b) a true antique spinning wheel usually spins one yarn best and can be temperamental, and c) at this juncture in your spinning journey, it’s hard to know what you’re getting.

It is possible to come across a well-cared for, name-brand spinning wheel through Ravelry and online spinning groups, auction sites, and even online classifieds, but make sure you can try the wheel in person prior to buying. (Do not send money in advance!) If you can’t bring a knowledgeable friend along, have the seller demonstrate to you that it does indeed spin. Name brand wheels tend to hold their value, so your savings may or may not be notable.

It Can Spin “Most Things”

Your first spinning wheel should be basic enough that it can spin most yarns in the finer to heavier-weight range. (This will automatically include some textured, or art, yarns.) That means “average” whorls and associated ratios, or speeds, and a wheel that’s in good condition and from a reputable maker and seller. Most have growth potential, in that purchasing extra whorls and/or flyers, specialty bobbins, etc. can transform the range of yarns you can spin, without having to purchase an additional wheel. However, I know many seasoned handspinners who have used the same basic-model wheel for decades, without any upgrades, and can spin any yarn on it. 

various whirls, bobbins, and flyers for your first spinning wheel
Most major brands make interchangeable accessories that can upgrade the speed and functionality of their wheels, including Majacraft and Schacht. Shown: Various flyers, bobbins, and whorls that Debbie uses with her Majacraft Little Gem, depending on the yarn she wants to spin.

In my opinion, the wheel’s drive system, specifically traditional Scotch vs. Irish tension, is secondary when you’re just learning to spin. You can spin a good range of yarns with either. My own first wheel was an off-brand budget wheel that spun in Irish tension. I credit its simplicity with making me the curious spinner I am today, as I learned to find workaround solutions to spin a whole host of yarns on that little wheel.

It Meets Your Physical Needs

This one is multi-layered, as there are physiological and spatial needs to consider. It’s hard to know how a wheel might impact your body if you haven’t had an opportunity to try it out first, and not everyone has a local spinning shop or guild to visit.

  • Are you prone to repetitive-stress injury?
  • Do you have any physical limitations that may impact treadling or transporting a spinning wheel?
  • What’s your body type?

This is all a personal decision, and sometimes it’s a bit of guesswork, too. If you have physical constraints but you’re sold on a traditional wheel, you’ll want one that’s easy to treadle, and light enough that you can transport it easily—even around the house. Oddly enough, many “entry-level,” or beginner-focused wheels, are some of the lightest in terms of treadling and overall weight.

Portable and foldup models are often designed to have an overall smaller footprint—not always ideal for larger (taller or heavier) spinners. Regarding a single vs. double treadle wheel… again, it depends on how you rank your criteria in order of importance. You may be able to get by with a wide single treadle—so you can fit both feet on it at the same time, reducing the chance of overuse—and/or swapping feet as you spin, but a double treadle is probably better in this situation.

Be sure to educate yourself on your wheel’s key dimensions, including the size of the treadle, the treadle’s hardware and design, and the distance between the treadles (which can have a negative effect on your hips if too narrow).

Finally, be sure you have a sufficient place in your home to keep your wheel safe, and to use it comfortably.

Consider An E-Spinner as Your First Spinning Wheel

If you’re the less traditional sort, or you have physical and/or spatial restrictions, an e-spinner could be the wheel for you. In the past few years, e-spinners have become so responsive that many experienced spinners prefer them. Bonus: it’s especially easy to learn to spin using a high-functioning e-spinner with my School of SweetGeorgia course, Spinning with e-Spinners. Plus, a “basic,” entry-level model, even one that spins in both Scotch and Irish tensions, can cost less than or the same amount as most standard treadle wheels. They’re terrifically mobile, too.

Final thoughts

There’s no one universal “best” first spinning wheel, and every spinner’s situation differs to some degree. Let go of the notion that this decision is forever, or that there’s a right or a wrong choice to be made.

A spinner’s journey is never-ending, and it’s also marked by trial and error. You may well love your first wheel so much that you keep it forever, but there’s no need to put that kind of pressure on yourself at the start.

No matter which wheel you choose, may it be the beginning of decades of exploration and joy!

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