At some point in most every spinner’s journey, their thoughts turn to fibre processing and fibre play… making rolags, combing a glitzy blended top, dizzing roving, carding batts, etc. Investing in your first blending tools can be a dizzying decision. Knowing your spinning preferences and purposes, and logistics such as your budget and space constraints, can help steer you toward acquiring the tools best suited for your current needs.
While most of us think of the drum carder as the holy grail of blending tools, it’s an expensive investment and not necessarily the item you’ll need early in your processing path. It’s possible that other blending tools might be even better suited to your spinning purposes. Better still, acquiring your tools with intention can help you become a far more effective spinner.
The blending tool breakdown
The tools themselves range from lightweight and hand-held (think: flick card/flicker brush, hand combs, and hand cards) to easily stored away (hackle and blending board) to the blending tool with the largest footprint, the drum carder.
Generally, these tools may be broken down into two camps along the woolen to worsted continuum. Using combs and/or a hackle will remove shorter bits of fibre and some vegetable matter (VM) and pull the fibre strands into alignment for a more worsted manner of preparation, while hand-carding yields a more woolen preparation. The blending board and drum carder also fall on the more woolen end of the spectrum.
Answering the following questions may be useful in determining your own current blending tool needs:
What do I need from this tool?
Take an assessment. Are you looking to process your first fleece? If so, you’ve got options. Shorter, toothy staples (fine wools, Downy breeds, etc.) do well with carding, while locks longer than three inches and wools with courser traits often do better with combing. You might even vibe somewhere in the middle with a simple lock-flicking technique. If, on the other hand, you’ve decided to open a business to sell blended luxury batts, your speed and processing needs are now much different.
How much space do I have available, and who lives in it?
You’ll not only need room to store this item, but you may also need a considerably large area to use it. (I’m looking at you, drum carder.) A blending board doesn’t need a dedicated space since it can be used on your lap or on any flat surface, and it stores away easily. It might be just the right tool, right now.
If you live with small children and/or pets, they are in danger of hurting themselves with your sharp-tined equipment (i.e. hand combs, a drum carder and doffer, or even a sharp flick carder). You need to keep such tools locked away when not in use, so realistically consider whether you’ve got the resources for this level of safety. (Leather safety covers can be specially ordered for most hand combs.)
How much can I afford to spend?
You can pick up a set of mini-hand cards for about $50 (USD). Full-sized, a pair is anywhere from $75–$200, depending on the maker, wood used, and TPI, or teeth per inch. The most basic mini-hand combs are about $125 USD, depending on brand and seller, easily increasing in price to $300 or more as they increase in weight, and number of pitches, or rows, of tines. (The more pitches, the faster and smoother the processing.) Pet slicker brushes can be a good starting point for both carding rolags and lock-flicking and are easily purchased for $10 or so. A blending board, my all-time favourite means of blending fibre, ranges from $150–$225 USD, again depending on the maker and level of craftsmanship. (Many folks handier than I have made their own blending boards for less than $100.)
Make the most of what you’ve got
My first processing tool was my blending board, followed by hand combs (which I had no use for at the time but didn’t realize it). For many years, I had it in my head that what I really needed was a drum carder, when in fact, what I wanted was a drum carder. I finally located a used one I could afford, and yes, I sure do like it. Still, I have yet to find anything I can do better or faster with my drum carder than I can with my blending board. I credit my years of “making do” with what I had, for the skills I’ve gleaned from that necessity. I’m absolutely the better, happier spinner for it.
No matter what fibre processing tool you decide on first, reputable, quality tools generally hold their value, so consider this an investment in yourself and your spinning future.
For more in-depth blending board practice, watch Debbie’s blending boards class, “From Rolags to Roving.”