Spinning on the Cardboard Charka

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Page created July 8, 2007
Updated April 11 2010 (updated links at bottom)

Watch this page for periodic updates


This project was started by a message posted on the internet.

Someone was pleading for a way to build a cheap spinning wheel.

So I started thinking about how someone could build a spinning device very cheaply with no special tools. I looked at a lot of sites on the internet and I found several ideas that I was able to incorporate into my little device.

I am hoping by sharing these ideas some people will be able to build a device that will allow them to try spinning. Craft team leaders, youth group leaders, teachers, and anyone with a do it yourself spirit is invited to explore this device.

Permission is hereby granted for use of the design for non-commercial purposes. You may build a device for your own personal use or for educational purposes. You may use the contents of this article for educational purposes if you cite this website as the source. All other rights are reserved.

DISCLAIMER: This article describes a cheap, DIY prototype charkha or spinning wheel device. This device requires a lot of "fiddling" with and the drive band often jumps out of the groove. There are a lot of bugs to be worked out.

If you do not enjoy playing with things and making adjustments as you go, do not try this at home.
Go make a drop spindle or buy a spinning wheel.

I set for myself the following limitations.

It had to be low tech.

It has to be made from cheap materials that could be acquired for free or at low cost.

It had to be made with simple tools. Knife. Scissors. Pointed stick. Tape. String. Rubber bands. Stuff from the sewing box.

I settled on cardboard, that widely available material that is often found in the trash. Cardboard can also be cut with a knife or scissors into useful shapes. It can be glued in layers (laminated) to create thick, sturdy building material.

I wanted something that would be small, portable. When I saw the box charkhas of India, I knew I would be using that model. In India, the word "charkha" means "wheel" and is applied to the upright charkhas, which look like European spinning wheels and box charkhas which look like phonographs with string loops that are operated horizontally.

What I had in mind was to take a dropspindle, put it on a box and spin it with a wheel and a drive belt.

I built a wheel using cardboard. I drew two circles 9 inch in diameter using a compass (pencil and pointy thing).

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You can use plate 9 inch diameter but it is easier to find the center of the circle when you use a compass.

I then made two circles that were 10 inch in diameter on cardboard.

I cut out the 9 inch circles and 10 inch circles using a serrated steak knife to saw through the cardboard. You can use large scissors or a razor knife to cut the circles.

I poked a hole in the center of each circle with a nail. Now I was going to make a sandwich with the circles and some glue. Cardboard has lines on it from the corrugation, much like grain in wood. When I glue the circles together, I make sure to set the lines at right angles so the grain can off set any curling and the wheel can stay flat.

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NOTE: In the prototype I used two large outer disks and two small inner disks. This picture shows that I am using FOUR inner disks to make a wider groove for the drive band.

Before you start to glue, get some heavy books to press on your wheel while the glue dries. Using a long nail to line up the center holes of the circles I place one of the large disks on the bottom. Then I put some white glue on the large bottom disk and put a small disk on top of it, using the nail in the center hole to make sure everything is centered. Don't forget to make sure the grain of the cardboard is at right angles to the layer below it. Then more glue and the next small disk. Finally more glue and the last disk which should be a large one.

Now put the cardboard wheel on a flat surface and put the books on top so the wheel dries flat. Leave it alone for at least 24 hours.

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I had located a cardboard box with thick walls that measured 12 inch wide by 15 inch long the 10 inch high.

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In this picture you can see how the wheel is on the side close to me and the spindle is in one corner. See how the takeup spool is on the other corner. I poked a hole in the drive wheel and I use a ball point pen as a handle to make the wheel go round. I tried placing the wheel so it leans over the side of the box, but the wheel would wobble out of line and the driveband would jump out of the groove. So the wheel should be fully supported on top of the box to help keep it level and inline as it operates.

I thought 10 inch high sides were too high, so I cut the box down to 6 inch high.

I planned to use an elastic band to drive the spindle, and so needed something to wrap the band around. So I decided to attach a spool, left over from a sewing project, to the spindle.

You can see the arrangement in this side view.

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The drive band is 1/4 inch wide elastic that I bought at sewing department of a department store. You can see one of the spools I made to wind off yarn from the spindle. You can see the long dowel with a spool attached. The "whorl" is a cardboard disk, just to keep yarn off the drive spool, not to keep the spindle balanced. The spindle used to have a hook on the top when it was used as the main spindle.

After I changed the drive spindle to use a knitting needle for the spindle, I removed the hook from the end of the spindle. I added another disk to the top of spindle to turn it into a takeup spool to hold more yarn.

When my spindle is full, I can move the yarn from the spindle to the takeup spool. I take the loose end of yarn that is already on the takeup spool and spin it together with the end from the spindle. With the two ends now joined, I move the drive band from the spindle to the takeup spool. I can unwind yarn by hand from the spindle and turn the takeup spool with the drive band to wind it onto the takeup spool. I can create a long yarn up to 100 yards long with this spool.

Or you could move it from the spindle to a skein winder if you want.

At first I just poked a hole in the top of the box to hold the spindle, but it kept falling over. It needs to be supported at two points. So I made a couple of boxes that were 3 inches tall. I turned them around so the back of the small box was against the flat side of the big box. I poked a hole through both layers of cardboard. Then I turned the box over so the hole in the small box was now in line with the hole in the flat side of the big box, but 3 inches away.

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Here you can see two of the small boxes under the flat side of the big box. They are held in by tape.

In this picture you can see the end of the knitting needle that replaced the wooden spindle. I put a plastic washer (cut from a milk jug) over the needle and pushed it up from the bottom through the small box and the flat side of the big box. Then I used tape to attach the spool to the knitting needle. I made sure the spool/needle arrangement spun easily. Then I put a cardboard whorl and taped that on.

NOTE: To attach the spools to the dowels or knitting needle - The dowel and knitting needle are smaller in diameter than the diameter of the hole in the spool. I wrap some tape (masking tape, duct tape, Scotch (tm) tape) around the dowel or knitting needle to make it a little thicker at that spot. Then I push the spool down over that thicker taped area. The spools stay in place. If the spools come loose, put a little more tape. Be sure to put rubber bands on the spool to help give the drive band more grip over the spools.

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Picture above shows a drive wheel with 4 layer inner disc and rubber bands on spools to improve the grip of drive band.

The spool on the left is a take up spool or bobbin. After I fill the spindle, I can wind off to the take up spool. First I wind on a section to the takeup spool. Then I move the drive band to the take up spool. Carefully I can turn the drive wheel and wind the yarn from the spindle to the takeup. Then I move the drive band back to the spindle. After I fill the spindle again, I "join" the spindle yarn to the takeup yarn by spinning the ends together. Then I move the drive band to the takeup and again I can carefully wind the yarn from spindle to the takeup spool. I can create a very long yarn using the takeup spool or bobbin.

Take the cardboard drive wheel that has been drying. Punch a 1/4 inch hole in the center of the wheel. Get a 1/4 bolt, two washers, and a couple of nuts from the hardware store. Try a 2 inch bolt that should long enough. Place the wheel on the box in the position you want it to be. Push a pen or a nail to mark the center so you can poke 1/4 inch hole in the box.

Now put the bolt through the box and up through the wheel. Be sure you have a washer on each side of the cardboard and put a nut on top.

NOTE: Sometimes as you are spinning the wheel will become hard to turn. The nut has turned on the bolt and is tightened on the wheel, so loosen the nut on the wheel. Conversely, if you find the wheel coming loose, turn the nut and tighten one or two turns. This is the "fiddling" I mentioned earlier. To prevent this, put two nuts on the bolt. Get two little wrenches to fit the nuts. When the lower nut is in the right place, not too loose not too tight, hold the lower nut in place with one wrench. With the other wrench, tighten the upper nut onto the lower nut, jamming the two together. This should keep the nuts from moving around.

Aug 12 2007 Update: To keep the drive band from creeping up on the drive spool and jumping out of the drive wheel groove, I added a cardboard flange, or a little flat collar to the drive spool. This keeps the drive band down low so it doesn't jump out. The following picture shows me holding a flange and how it looks on the drive spool. The slot on the flange allows me to slip the collar around the spool. Then I put a piece of tape over the slot to keep it flat.

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Take the 1/4 inch elastic band and wind it around the wheel groove and around the drive spool. When you have the right length, cut it and tie it off. If it gets loose, put a knot in it to shorten it and tighten it against the drive spool. Be sure to put rubber bands on the spools to help provide grip for drive band.

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Here's a picture of the yarn going over the point of the knitting needle. It's a simple technique that is as old as dirt. Now when I spin I am using a "quill" style of spinning, watching the yarn thup-thup-thup over the end of the knitting needle. Forget that flyer thing, it just doesn't fit the low tech approach I allowed myself. You could use a pointed stick, but the knitting needle (6.5mm by 10 inch long) is smooth ended, strong, and was $2.30 for a pair at the sewing notions department.

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Here is a couple of skeins of wool singles that need to be plied. These were spun on the cardboard charka.

One trick I just learned after I spun these was to spin a thread about 2-3 ft long, drop the thread, and grab it again at the spindle tip and pinching the thread between finger and thumb run down the length of the thread smoothing out rough spots. It really works. See the book "Foxfire 2" and the section on spinning and weaving.

I may run these singles through my Babe spinner to reduce the slubs, but my next spool is already coming out smaller and more even.



12MB video file, Video length: 32 seconds long.
Right click, Save Link as or Save Target as to download to your computer
Then view file from your computer.

Above is a video of me using the charka. The charka has a couple of cardboard flaps that allow it to be attached to a table with a couple of clamps.

I'll tell you a secret. That was a lucky draw on that video. I don't usually do the one handed drafting.

Usually I'm a park and draft kind of guy. I'll load the fiber up with some twist, stop the wheel, draft with two hands and let the twist run up the drafted fiber. When the twist gets weak, I'll put some more twist in with the wheel. Then wind the thread/yarn onto the spindle or bobbin.

Start again on the next section.

I have drop spindles, a Babe Electric Flyer spinner, and my lovely wife Tracy has a traditional pedal powered wheel with flyer and double drive band.

What I like about the cardboard charka is that I can use it like a supported spindle. The drawback is that it stops spinning when I stop turning the handle, but that means I have 100% control over the spinning.

I took the wool and some brown alpaca that was spun on the cardboard wheel and wove it into a little rug.

Mini-rug 10"x12" hand spun wool, brown alpaca,
handwoven on a loom made from a picture frame

If you want some more info on do it yourself spinning wheels, check out this article on the archives at The Mother Earth News magazine. From May/June 1976 issue,
"We built a Spinning Wheel for $2.50"

Look for this book in your library -
Wheels and looms : making equipment for spinning and weaving
by David Bryant.
190 p. : ill.
Hard to find, but has lots of great plans for making wheels and looms.

You should also look at this book
"Foxfire 2", 1973, Anchor Press.
ISBN 0-385-02267-0
This second volume celebrates the rites and customs of Appalachia, featuring sections on ghost stories, spring wild plant foods, corn shuckins, spinning and weaving, midwives, granny women, old-time burial customs, witches and haints, and wagon making.

GREAT section on building spinning wheels!

Also check out this website with lots of do it yourself fiber arts ideas

Spinning Down Under
formerly Carolyn's Book & Crafty Bits

Here's a site with some history on charkhas

Youtube has a video about spinning on an upright charkha

There are free do-it-yourself plans in PDF at Interweave Press site
for CD spindles, cigarbox charkha, and a little great wheel.

Building a little great wheel

Cigarbox Charkha

Making CD Spindles

Here's a site showing how to build a spinning wheel using plastic PVC pipe,
a bicycle wheel, a pulley and a knitting needle, plus info on how to use it.

Click here to visit my blog "Franco's Fiber Adventure"

Click here to see more fiber related links

I hope this info is helpful. Your yardage may vary.
Void where prohibited.

Have a good day!
Franco Rios

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This website, the photos and the text are all copyright by Franco Rios 
aka "The Rabbit Geek" 2005 and may not be used without permission.

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