How to Use Wool Combs

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The camera adapter didn’t arrive until late today, so instead…. wool combs!

Fiber preparation is yet another rabbit hole for the fiber nut to jump down, just like spinning your own yarn, weaving with handspun, creating your own colours with dying.  Fiber preparation could begin with a flick carder, so you can spin off the lock then suddenly you find yourself with 4 pitch english wool combs hacking away at chunks of course fiber, narrowly missing appendages and furniture edges.

For me it began this summer, during a spinning classes with an Ontario yarnie.  ThSliver and wool combus far along my fiber journey, I had been a purist, only using undyed wool (‘the perfect fiber’).  After an afternoon of spinning, Linda pulled out her 4 pitch english wool combs and let me have a go.  Suddenly I understood why the drum carded marino I was using disappointed me.  It was dead.  It had been raked over until it didn’t even resemble the animal from which it came.  The deal was sealed when she sent me home with a few balls of her own combed sliver.  I could never go back.  This past week at SOAR I took a class with Robin Russo on Hand Combing.  Here’s what I now know.

Besides giving the spinner more control over the fiber they are spinning, combing functions in two ways, it organizes the fiber so that the hairs remain parallel to one another (worsted preparation) and removes broken, noiled fibers and impurities, leaving the spinner with the strongest, purest fiber.

There are several different types of wool combs which are broadly divided into two catagories, english style or stationary wool combs and viking style or hand held wool combs.  The size of wool comb is dependant on four things:

  1. Diametre of the tines (spikes): the larger the diametre of the tines, the more suitable the combs for courser fiber and visa versa.
  2. Number of pitches (rows of tines): the more pitches generally, the longer the staple needs to be.  You wouldn’t comb angora on 4 pitch combs because there would be no fiber sticking out to comb!
  3. Spacing between the tines and pitches: the more widely space the less suited the combs are to the finer, shorter fibers.
  4. Length of tines: the longer the tines, the more fiber can be processed at once

English Style Wool Combs

  • Description: these combs are generally quite large, with long, thick tines arranged in 4 pitches (or rows).  They come with a housing that you can clamp to a table that holds one of the combs while you use the other to do the combing.  Depending on the maker, you can get smaller sets that can be used clamped or manually.
  • Uses: The larger combs are used for combing coarser fiber and fiber containing course guardhairs such as churo, or long staple wools like Romney, BFL and Corridale.
  • Rate of fiber processed: Because the combs are so large, and the tines so long, a large amount of fiber can be put on the combs at once making it possible to move relatively quickly through a fleece

Viking Style (Hand held) Wool Combs

  • Description: these come in a variety of sizes and don’t need to be clamped to a table to be used.  They generally have one or two pitches of tines spaced closer together.  Some of these combs come with stands and clamps but are also easy to use with one comb in each hand while manually combing the fiber.
  • Uses: Medium combs are used for almost all fibers from romney to mohair, possibly even angora and cashmere.  Small combs have tines placed very close together making them perfect for the short staple length of fine fibers.
  • Rate of fiber processed: the smaller the combs, shorter the tines and closer set the pitch is, the less fiber you can process at a time.  I’m pretty happy with my medium sized combs because they give me the best of both worlds, but in a perfect world… I’d have them all!

English Wool Combs by Alvin Ramer

These are my Super Mini Combs by Alvin Ramer of Ontario, Canada.  They are the medium sized combs and can be used manually or with the clamp stand.

How to use wool combs – English Style:

  1. Place the comb to be charged (loaded with the locks of fiber) in the clamp housing, tines up.

    Wool combs in clamp

  2. Charge the comb, catching the end on the points of the tines and sliding it down to the base. Fill the comb to half way up the tines, then disperse the fiber up the tines.

    charging the comb

    dispersing the fiber

  3. Turn the charged comb so that it’s tines are parallel to the floor. Begin combing with the empty comb in a downward motion until no fiber transfer happens. Remove noils and impurities from previously charged comb and set aside for stuffing or felting.

    Turn the comb

    comb

  4. If the fiber on the now charged comb looks organized and well blended to you, then proceed to step four.  If the fiber looks like it could use another combing, begin to move the comb in your hand sideways, along the tines of the clamped comb until the fiber is blended the way you like.

    comb again

  5. Dizz.  Use a dizz (a piece of curved something with a hole through which you pull the fiber) – I have a shell and a hook.  I place the shell at the front of the combed fiber and draw fiber through the hole with the hook.  I grasp the fiber with my hand right behind the shell and pull back my shell and hand about a staple length, slide the shell forward and repeat.  The result is a beautiful sliver, ready to spin.

    sliver

How to use wool combs – hand held:

  1. With the tines pointing up, charge the comb (load the locks of fiber onto the comb), catching the end on the points of the tines and sliding it down to the base. Fill the comb to half way up the tines.

    Charging the wool comb

    Charged wool comb

  2. Hold the charged comb, tines up, infront of you. Hold the empty comb, tines perpendicular to the charged comb and pointed away from you.  Repeatedly comb the empty comb through the fiber on the charged comb until the fiber refuses to transfer combs.  You are left with the broken bits and noils (put aside for stuffing or felting).

    Combing the fiber

  3. If the fiber on the now charged comb looks organized and well blended to you, then proceed to step four.  If the fiber looks like it could use another combing, switch combs and repeat.

    Combed fiber

  4. Dizz by hand: bring the fiber together in the tips of your fingers and pull gently until staple length is reached, then moving back up to the comb and repeating.

    hand dizz

Here are some resources for purchasing your own wool combs:

Alvin Ramer Wool Combs: check them out on The Wheel Thing website or he can be reached directly by email: aerbar (at) igs.net.  Honestly, these are the only ones I have used.  I am really happy with the craftsmanship and the usability.

St Blaise Wool Combs: Available through Villages Spin Weave

Woolcombs.com: Canadian cottage company. Check out their website – sporadic production

Wool Combs are also available through major producers like: Louet, and Magicraft

Any one else know of some reliable combs?

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  1. ostrov
    ostrov12-03-2009

    Thank you,
    very interesting article

  2. Renada
    Renada09-27-2011

    Thank you for this post! Too funny about going from a flick carder to 4-pitch English combs. I started off with a $3 cat lice comb, then a Stauch flicker, and now my Alvin Ramer mini combs should be here very soon. All in the span of about three weeks, lol.

  3. Maven
    Maven12-10-2011

    Clearly, we both have great taste! I’m about to set down to do some combing right now… hope you are happy with them.

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