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The Older Traditional: Still Going Strong

   Spinners share their experiences about
their old, favorite tool
- often their first spinning wheel

Collected Wisdom from the Ashford-Spinners List

From: (Linda)

I have one of the 25 or so year old Traditionals, and love it. I updated it with the three whorl flyer, which is great. However, when I began spinning cotton, I got ahead of even the smallest whorl, so got the lace flyer. Fantastic! Now I just zip along. A bonus of getting the lace flyer was the polycord drive band. I use it on both flyers now and wouldn't ever go back to a regular cord. It makes treadling so easy, with no slippage and instant startup. Just stop the footman in the right place, and never have to touch the wheel. I highly recommend it.

From: (Richard Ashford)

Regarding a drive belt falling off an old Traditional: this can occur as a result of the spinning wheel getting knocked out of alignment or following the fitting of a new flyer. Please try the following:

1) Loosen the screws (or bolts on later models) holding the wheel support legs and single leg to the side rails. Then twist the complete frame of the wheel. As you do so you will observe that the wheel and flyer whorl can be brought closer into alignment. Then retighten the screws (or bolts). If the frame pulls back to its original position retry this operation a couple more times with the frame in slightly different positions. If this doesn't help then try:

2) Measure how much the maiden bar needs to move horizontally. Remove the screws securing the hinges to the maiden bar. Mark where the maiden bar needs to be reattached and make new pilot holes with an awl or drill. Then reattach the maiden bar.

3) Another possibility is that your wheel may have warped and as it rotates it can flick the drive cord off. The only solution then is to obtain a replacement wheel from your local Ashford dealer.

I trust the above will help and wish you renewed enjoyment from your spinning wheel.

Yours faithfully
Richard Ashford

From: (Karen)

My Ashford Traditional spent ten years in a hot attic and when it came down, it was very hard work to treadle. As well as that article by Rita Buchanan that you mention, there is one in a much older spin-off called 'My Souped Up Ashford' by Patsy Zawistowski. I can't remember where I got all the tips from, but this is what I did:

The wood had originally been teak-oiled but was looking very dry so I re-oiled it and it drank about a couple of pints! I didn't think of dismantling it for this, but probably should have done. If any goes on the metal spindle of the flyer be sure to clean it off as it is very sticky. Then I waxed it with furniture wax.

I soaked the leather connector for the footman with dubbin (sold for hiking boots and saddlery) until it was really soft. This made a huge difference.

I got an oil bottle with a long thin spout and oiled these places: the holes where the pins of the treadle go into the legs, the back and front flyer bearings, the wheel axle (both sides of the wheel) and the place where the footman joins to the wheel. The spindle I do with vaseline. This is NOT a once for all job; I now oil every day I spin and wipe & vaseline the spindle when ever I change bobbins.

I replaced the drive band, sewing the join, and made sure it was only JUST tight enough not to slip. (single drive). This is important as a tight drive band can make the whole wheel very hard work, however much you tune it.

I think that was about it. I also bought the high-speed flyer and a new bearing for the back maiden.

After all this, I could really feel the difference, and it was a pleasure to spin. However, on checking the number of revolutions it will make while coasting, it isn't very high! I don't know if the numbers you quoted were just for the wheel turning alone, or the wheel connected to the flyer as usual. Connected to the small whorl of the high speed flyer I actually get less than ten! On the 'normal' flyer I get between ten and fifteen and with the drive band disconnected I get about 35. But on the other hand, I'm spinning some fine (for me, anyway) alpaca at about one treadle per two inch draft and it feels smooth enough for me. Maybe if I were spinning for hours I would get foot-ache sooner, but I don't get the chance to do that much!

Where I lived before I was near a supplier who had done the ball-bearing upgrade on his own wheel, and wondered about having it done. I wouldn't consider doing it myself though, not having woodworking skills. I've only ever used the Ashford, so I suppose you don't miss what you've never had. I'd be interested to know whether these figures are about average for an Ashford Traditional, though, or whether there is still tuning I could do. Off you all go and count your revs!

PS On looking up the PZ article mentioned above, she quotes 40 revs without the drive band as reasonable. So I'm not far off. She also mentions a tight connection between footman & axle as being a source of friction on old wheels. Hope this helps.

You do the testing of revolutions WITHOUT the band on the flyer! You are only testing how the wheel spins in the bearings. You don't want to be spinning the flyer and bobbin when doing this.


From: (Joan)

I have an Ashford Traditional, obtained as a kit in 1972 from New Zealand. It is truly durable. In 1975 it blew off the back of the station wagon, tumbled down a hill, and all that broke was the glue joint on the hub. When we moved in 1978, it was knocked over and the hub broke again. After re-gluing each time, it has now been in use for 24 years.

From: (Arlene)

I have a 20+ year old Ashford Traditional which I sent for as a finished kit directly from New Zealand. Upon joining this list more than 9 months ago I found out about the new high speed flyer and bobbins with bearings. I purchased a new flyer, new maidens and two new bobbins and a maintenance kit almost immediately.

Then I hit a snag, I just couldn't seem to install the new upgraded parts. I was so used to my old wheel and it was working so well that I used the items that I needed from the maintenance kit and shoved the rest of the items in a drawer and went merrily spinning along.

Today I guess my wheel thought that enough was enough!!! One of the maidens was completely stripped where it's screwed onto the mother-of-all and couldn't be tightened any longer, and the "leathers" (which are made of real leather) had softened and had a lot of give in them. I would be spinning away and the maiden would move and the leather droop and the entire flyer assembly would go spinning to the floor. After about the fourth time this happened I decided that the time had come to try the new flyer and maidens. To add to my problem was the fact that my old bobbins were so old that the glue wasn't holding anymore and they kept falling apart on the wheel. I had to keep re-gluing them making sure that none of the glue got on the yarn as I didn't want to have to rewind it on another bobbin!!

I now have installed the new parts and am using my new bobbins. This is heaven!!! I can't believe the difference. I thought that I would post this in case there were others out there, like me, that for various reasons have decided not to upgrade to the new parts available. I haven't tried the new ratios yet, but my spinning is easier and faster and I treadle less than half as much. This may take a little soul searching, but maybe some day I'll decide to try the new double treadle!!! (Wonder how long that would sit in a drawer until I got up the courage to put it on my wheel???)

From: (Nancy)

My Traditional also had only groove, so only one ratio when I bought it. Once the high speed (with 3 ratios) became available, I added it and am glad I did. I don't use the fastest much, as the wheel tends to "walk the floor" when I do, but I am glad to have the options as it does help reduce leg fatigue when spinning fine to have the higher speed ratio.


My single drive Traditional wheel was rescued from a good friend's barn. She hadn't used it for years (it's probably a mid 70's vintage wheel) and I borrowed it for a demonstration. Rather than see it put back in the barn, I told her I would keep it in good running order and when (if ever) she wanted to spin again she could have it back. Meanwhile the wheel itself is starting to loosen on the joins. Is there a special way to bring it back together? My husband is a woodworker but not that familiar with spinning wheels.

Karin, sounds as if your wheel has been through too many changes in heat or humidity? Was it stored in an outside storage, or put next to a heat radiator, or left outside at spinning events overnight? Sounds as if you may have to replace the drive wheel? Get in touch with a local dealer - if possible take the wheel in, the design has changed over the years and since you say "older wheel" it'll take some planning to upgrade as really old Traditionals may need new axel, footman and such. If it's middle aged you may be able to replace just the wheel itself.


From: (Melissa)

Just a suggestion: the more your use your new (old) wheel the more it will loosen up. If it's been sitting and not in use it will be stiff. I bought a used Tradional that was ten years old and for most of the time it sat in a corner until I rescued it. For the first two or three weeks every time I sat down at that wheel I oiled all parts that moved. I oiled heavy and would wipe off any extra. It took a while to get over the stiff feeling.

From: (Mary)

Several years ago I bought a high speed flyer to upgrade my 1988 Traditional. I never could get it to work right and finally put the stock flyer back on and forgot about the upgrade. After reading a few posts here, I dug the high speed flyer out and put it on, then looked at the alignment of the fastest whorl to the wheel. Duh. It was skewed way off, but the adjustment for the mother-of-all was already as far over as the slots and screws would allow. Asked DH for a drill and happily he rescued me from my mechanical ineptitude. He made the slots slightly longer, but that 1/3 inch or so didn't get the wheel/flyer into alignment. We ended up unscrewing the hinges to adjust the flyer.

I guess I thought that if Mr. Ashford had intended the table to sit in a different place he would have put the screw holes elsewhere and it wasn't for me to mess with his plans. :-) Now I'm spinning angora without treadling my ankle off. I doubt too many people take eight years to solve these little problems, but I wanted to share in case it helps anyone else get maximum use out of a great tool.

From: (Patsy)

I still spin on my 16 year old, Ashford traditional wheel. I still use the 3-speed flyer that my son helped me carve the high speed whorl on in 1985. However, I have added the double treadle, which I love, and am often using the lace flyer which I love for fine spinning. I also have a Joy wheel which I take for teaching.

From: (Bobbi)

When I bought by Traditional from a fellow guild member 14+ years ago, she was in sad shape finish-wise (crackled varnish and dried out seams on the wheel's arcs). I was told that she had been stored in someone's garage for 8 years before coming to me. I chose to sand off the crackled finish and then gave the wheel 6 coats of tung oil, drying and sanding with successively finer grades of sandpaper between coats.

My traddy has not required any other care finish-wise in the 14 years she has traveled deserts and dusty country roads with me (to the Ozarks and back to California). She gets a new nick or dent every time I take her to a guild meeting, fair, or festival demo because I have to haul her around in the back of a pick-up truck; I just call them "beauty marks" for the "grande dame" of contemporary wheels!

From: (Kip)

I am in the process of getting my 20+ year old Ashford Traditional back in shape. I bought it in the early 70's! Over the years, there have been times when I used it and other times it's been packed away. I read the great article by Rita Buchanan in Spin-Off about Making the Most of Your Ashford Traditional, and got Anne Fields' The Ashford Book of Spinning.

I tightened up all the screws that hold it together, and oiled it well, but it just didn't feel right! After all these years the maidens were VERY loose and I still had an old piece of leather for the connector that in truth had stretched way too long. The screws for the maidens were beyond repair. So I took the spinning wheel to a local carpenter who has worked on a few spinning wheels. He redid the hole for one of the maidens. I then tried to replace the leather with the new flexible connector; just could not get it in!!! (HELP!) So I took the leather, cut some off, and put it back on...seems to work fine. BUT it seems to be a little hard to peddle. Any advice?

And then I see letters where folks have jazzed up their spinning wheel. One woman said her Ashford did less than 30 revolutions when she stopped treadling and let it coast to a stop; she jazzed it up with sealed ball bearings and then it did more than 100 revolutions! (WOW) So I tried it with my Ashford...I got less than 15 revolutions! I really hesitate to "jazz" up my Ashford, because I don't really have anyone who can do it. How hard is it? Does anyone have "detailed instructions" on how to do it? Working in the shop isn't my husband's idea of fun! Is my Ashford unreasonably slow?

It sounds as if the best thing to do would be to get two new maidens - the new ones no longer screw in and they have molded bearings that don't stretch and wobble due to old age. The back maidens now have a split opening so you can just lift the rear of the flyer out of the bearing rather than twist the maiden to remove it. For the connector, one thing I have seen done is to go to a shoe repair shop and get a piece of the sturdy leather used for shoes to replace this.

Are you sure that your maidens are at good right angles to the flyer still? Also if you get the treadle too tightly connected to the footman, which may be the case, you cannot treadle freely anymore. If this is the leather you shortened and replaced then I'm quite sure this is part of the problem.

100 revolutions is much more than I'd expect, but 15 IS too slow! But if you fix your treadle-footman connection back to being more flexible you should vastly improve it. The whole point is that it should be easy to treadle! Whether it goes 35- 45 after letting it go or 55 won't make much difference since you will be treadling it. But 15 would show that it is getting too much friction and is hard to turn.


From: (Dee)

I'm hoping someone can help me date an Ashford Traditional wheel that just became a member of my household. The wood is blonde. I'm taking into consideration the possibility that the finish is not a factory finish. I used to have a Traditional. This wheel feels heavier than the one I owned. The flyer has hooks on only on one arm of the flyer. One arm of the flyer is a bit wider than the other. The do-jiggies that the flyer fit into, are leather. The maiden upright on the side farthest away from the spinner, rotates, so that flyer can be removed. Mine had plastic, I think. One of them was U-shaped. The bobbin dropped into it. There is no identification on this wheel. Nothing that says it's an Ashford. The knob that controls the tilt of mother of all, is very round, and has a piece of round metal set into the middle of it. Based on this really terrible description, can anyone tell me how old this little one is?

It was stored away for a number of years and rescued by the person from whom I purchased it. I got it home, dusted it off, removed some spider webs (I think they helped hold the legs in place), didn't do much to remove the patina that the years had put on it, and oiled all the parts I could see/think of to oil. I made a new drive band, and took it for a test spin.

The wheel didn't wobble. There were no creaks or moans of tortured joints. I consider it to be a slow wheel, in comparison to my Elizabeth DD or S 90. I was able to spin some very fine yarn on it, before I got impatient with its slow speed. I'm debating with myself about selling it. It would be a great beginner's wheel and a nice wheel to have at demos for people to use. I could buy the double treadle kit, but I think that would ruin the unique look of this old wheel. Besides, with the DT installed, I wouldn't be able to change my body position, or put one foot up on the couch arm as I spin {G}.

Now, after saying all that, I hope someone will come along and tell me I've been doing something wrong and that the wheel will spin at a faster speed.

Someone suggested that it may be hand made. When did the first Traditional appear? When did they start being mass produced? I've inspected the bobbins. They don't look like any bobbin currently manufactured by Ashford WOW! Wouldn't it be neat if this was a hand made Ashford?

I'll also share that I've changed my mind regarding Ashford wheels. I think they are work horses and very forgiving of rough treatment. I've taken my Elizabeth DD to various shows. I've had kids stomp on the treadle. The wheel has crashed over on one side, as I make a sharp turn. I could probably throw it halfway across the yard, and the wheel would probably still be in true. I recently purchased what I consider to be a very expensive DD wheel-not an Ashford. It was beautiful. I soon learned to hate it. It was persnickety about what I used for a drive band. One of the whorls would loosen as I spun. The wheel would stop working. Period. It's gone to a new home. Its new owner will love it and cherish it. And it will probably work better for her, than it did for me. Now, if only Ashford would make a really nice, high end, state of the art wheel, I'd consider buying it.

From your description you have a fairly elderly Traditional. It's not going to have been factory finished as the leather maiden wheels were all unfinished kits, I'm pretty sure. You didn't say, but are the spokes on the wheel basically smooth and un-turned? That is a sign of an older wheel as well. I'm going to say about 20 years, or more. One thing that puzzles me is the description of the knob with "metal in it"? I think it would be fun to get Ashfords to draw up a "dating chart" to help figure out wheel dates, indications of what date major design changes took effect.

Walter Ashford started making wheels before WWII. By the time the wheels started arriving in the USA (end of the 60's early 70's) they were not being handmade one-by-one. In the ensuing years the changes you have seen in the Ashford Traditional wheel have been a combination of design improvements due to changes of spinners' needs. People want higher speeds for finer yarns now than they did in the "funky 70's". As well, there have been upgrades to the woodworking equipment in use at the Ashford "works". Should you ever visit the Ashford place in Ashburton (they give a nice tour!) there is a little "museum" room upstairs where they have one of Walter Ashford's early wheels. It looks quite different from today's (and 1970's) Traditional, but you can see the ancestry.

Have you changed the flyer to the 3-speed one? The older wheels had only that one speed groove in it. You've got the same wheel diameter as your Elizabeth! It can go just as fast if you have the ratios on it!


From: (Chris)

Twenty-five years ago I bought an Ashford Traditional wheel. We immediately moved away to a relatively isolated area. I knew no one who spun so I tried to self-teach myself. This led to total frustrations and I gave up. It has been an untouched piece of furniture in my living room all that time. Thought about selling it...couldn't part with it...someday, I told myself! Last year I won a half pound of carded, dyed fleece, ready to spin as a doorprize at a small conference. I decided it's about time I learn to use this thing. I have come across a small group of spinners, all of whom are beginners of sorts. None of us have anyone to ask. I am doing better but still have lots of frustrations.

Through some reading I have just become aware of ratios and am wondering if this is part of my problem. I *cannot* seem to get it to go slow enough for me at the stage I am at now. One Ashford I saw recently has three choices of where to put the band while I only have one. Can this be put onto my wheel? I am assuming this is where the ratio differences occur. The person treadling that wheel was doing it so slowly, effortlessly and smoothly, while I am putting so much more effort into what I am doing.

I cleaned and oiled the heck out of it last night. At our group spinning get together this morning we took a long hard look at my wheel, none of us being experts, though. Another Ashford Traditional owner spun on mine a bit and said..."yeah, it is harder to spin on than mine. It seems to want to get stuck at the top, trying to get over the hump to go on the down swing". She now understands why my leg gets tired.

We noticed then that the vertical wooden rod that connects the metal arm coming off the wheel to the treadle, jumps around quite a bit when working. It jumps to one side of the treadle extension, then it jumps to the other.

Then we noticed that there is, on the metal bolt which goes through the leg onto which metal wheel arm (gee, I wish I knew the name of these parts) fits, there is a nut next to the nylon fitting in the wooden arm. Should there be a nut between the metal arm and the nylon fitting? My husband and I cannot figure out why the metal arm of the wheel is threaded to fit onto the bolt. Why doesn't it just ride on the bolt, unthreaded? I'm sure there is a reason.

I came home, took out the nut to see what happens, and the wheel treadles okay going counterclockwise but when I turn it to go clockwise, it tightens up (because it's threaded on there) and tries to pull the outside head on the bolt right through the wooden vertical rod. Then it gets so tight the wheel won't turn. Well, now I know this isn't right, but it does seem to line up the vertical wooden rod (is that the footman I've heard of?) better over the treadle part. So, I put the nut back in...the vertical rod is jumping around and I'm back to where I was last night.

Chris, here's a start from me. Yes, you can put a new flyer with 3 speeds on your wheel, but you might as well start with what you have. The "one speed" is the medium one now and a good one to learn on.

First, OIL you wheel to beat the band! It's no doubt very dried out. Get some auto engine type oil (not sewing machine or 3-in-1) and put oil everywhere that things turn, including inside the bobbins. Your drive belt should NOT be tight, tap on it and it should be slightly slack.

Now, sit at the wheel (with no yarn threaded in it) and just practice treadling. Read the paper or look at TV and work at controlling the wheel and making it go slowly in a clockwise direction. Stop and start it up again. When you feel comfortable, get some old yarn or string and thread it through and practice adjusting and "spinning" the yarn letting it draw in. It should treadle easily and smoothly. You shouldn't have to work at it. If it is not smooth and easy, check out the JUST IN CASE... Manual on our Web site at

You have the older style crank shaft which was threaded and had a double nut arrangement on it (one acts as a locking nut to keep the other from going backwards and doing exactly what you found it did!) You need to work your way through each part of the wheel to see where the excess friction is located. You cannot do it looking at the "whole unit" - you need to isolate the areas to adjust. That style crank was used for over 10 years so I know it can work just fine. If you were near us you could bring it in - want to take a vacation to San Francisco? {G}


From: (Deborah)

I really like my older Traditional. I bought the three-speed flyer unit recently and received the jumbo flyer unit as a gift. I have trouble with both units in getting them to line up with the main wheel. It does have a slot for sliding but it does not allow the mother-of-all to slide far enough to the rear. Right now, the drive band does not align well with the fastest speed on the 3-speed and the faster speed on the jumbo. I probably need to remove the mother-of-all and extend the tracks for sliding so that I can push it farther back.

I especially have trouble with the jumbo unit--it seems almost too long to fit decently between the maidens. I am constantly trying to adjust the alignment of the maidens to try to make it run smooth. I made up a new band when I got the jumbo flyer. The problem appears to be the length of the flyer unit and the bobbin versus the distance between the two maidens. There is barely enough room and it's difficult to keep the holding rings well aligned in order to reduce friction on the flyer. I am constantly twisting the maidens slightly to change their alignment in an attempt to decrease the difficulty in treadling. However, occasionally, I hit that golden alignment and it runs smooth.

Actually, I thought the problem was just me or my wheel. But a friend was over with her Traditional and jumbo flyer unit. She had a h*ll of a time with it. Finally gave up. I then tried adjusting it. We both appear to have older Traditionals. I think mine is about 15 years old. I really do like the jumbo unit when it finally starts running smooth. I've had a great time spinning up lots of bulky yarn (good way to reduce the stash of spinning fibers quickly).

Also, I dread replacing the bobbins when full--I feel like I will give that maiden a yank and break it or the plastic doohicky that holds the flyer in place. Perhaps Ashford has a new idea in the works regarding this? I really do not like the twisting of the maidens to remove the flyer unit.

Re. the removing of bobbins to change them: The new style of rear maidens for Ashford wheels have a "split" in the bearing. You can lift the rear of the mother-of-all and pop it out of the bearing without any twisting of the maidens as you used to have to do in the older style. You may want to change to a newer rear maiden to allow you to "pop off" the rear of the flyer shaft.

You may want to have a second, different length drive cord for using the Jumbo. The difference in the length of the circle of drive band needed for the Jumbo may not be allowing you to align the Jumbo as well as you could. It has such a larger circumference to the whorl that it takes up a lot more of the length of the drive cord.


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