If you want total control over the fiber content, colors, and textures of your spinning fiber, you have to prep your own. For that, you’ll need specialty fiber tools. If you also want speed, convenience, and repeatability—maybe you buy entire fleeces, sell batts or rolags as a business, or own some fiber critters—you’ll need bigger tools that can handle large quantities.
While speed is relative in the world of fiber prep, blending boards and drumcarders will do their jobs more quickly than handcards or combs. I processed my first small fleece with a dog brush, and that experience made me long for a drumcarder. Are you ready to scale up or expand your blending options by adding a drumcarder or blending board to your tool kit? Here are a few questions to get you started.
Does the drumcarder or blending board serve the spinning I currently do or want to do?
- Yes if you generally spin on the woolen side of the spectrum.
- Yes if you’re a mad batts-and-art-yarn spinner.
- Yes to the drumcarder if you want to process raw fleeces, mix fibers, or blend colors.
- Double yes to the drumcarder if you do any of these things in quantity.
- Yes to the blending board if you want to mix fibers, blend colors, or make self-striping yarn.
- Double yes to the blending board if you want to make big rolags for long-draw spinning.
- Maybe no if you love to spin consistent yarns on the worsted side of the spectrum, say for knitting cables or lace. Combs and hackles might be a better investment for this work.
Are drumcarders and blending boards interchangeable?
No, according to Crys Wallace of Wonderland Fiber and the helpful staff of The Woolery. Drumcarders open up fibers, allowing vegetable matter to drop out; they make batts that combine fibers throughout all layers. Carding cloth on a drumcarder typically has sharp teeth set close together.
Blending boards require fibers that have already been opened up; they make rolags with separate layers of fibers. Many blending boards use a special cloth from Howard Brush, which features longer teeth set in a more open pattern and carefully bent in a way that protects the blender’s hands. Blending-board cloth can usually handle big add-ins, such as feathers or scraps of fabric.
Can I make this equipment myself?
Blending boards are quite simple, and there are DIY plans and tutorials on the internet. It’s the wood, styling, and cloth specs that make them stand out. There’s more to carding cloth than teeth per inch (TPI), and some makers use cloth that has been manufactured specifically for blending boards.
Howard Brush Company also sells a DIY kit that includes a blending cloth and other accessories. If you’re a woodworker or know someone who can make the wood backing and keel, you can make your own. However, most blending boards cost less than $250; you may find that the convenience of getting one designed and ready-made by experts outweighs the time and effort necessary to locate materials and make the board.
Drumcarders are more complex to make and require more materials. Again, you can find plans and tutorials on the internet, but once you price carding cloth, you’ll realize that making a drumcarder may not save much money. In addition, you’ll have to make cylindrical wooden drums and then position them carefully for the process to work. There are excellent carders on the market, made by companies that have worked out all the kinks, have developed some cool features (brush attachments and interchangeable drums, for instance), and stand behind their products.
How much space do I have for using this item? Can I use and store the equipment safely?
Safety first! The cloth on boards and carders has sharp points that can easily pierce fingers and paws, so find a secure location to store your blending board or drumcarder. I made a cloth cover for mine out of upholstery fabric and bought a set of finger protectors.
Also think about safety while you’re using the equipment. Get a dowel or a batt picker (you might also see this tool called a doffer) to remove the batt for your drumcarder. Never allow youngsters to use a drumcarder or a blending board without adult supervision.
Questions to ask just for drumcarders:
- What width do I want for my batts?
- How many TPI (teeth per inch) are on the carding drum, and does the company offer interchangeable drums?
- Do portability and/or weight matter?
- Is the drumcarder motorized or manual? Can I add a motor later?
- Does the carder come with a brush attachment that packs more fiber onto the swift drum (the drum that actually creates the batt)?
- Does the carder come with cleaning brushes or tools? Can I disassemble and reassemble it if fiber gets caught in awkward places?
- Will I need additional equipment to do what I want? You may need a sturdy table that can take some abuse: a card table usually won’t do the job, and your dining room table may get dinged up by clamps or the handle. A wool tumbler can help remove debris and vegetable matter from a fleece before or after washing; a wool picker or teasing board will open up washed fibers to make drumcarding easier and faster.
- Does the manufacturer offer a warranty and provide good customer service?
Questions to ask just for blending boards:
- What’s the most comfortable position for me to work in? Many blending boards come with a positionable keel that rests between your knees or sits on the work surface. Often you can remove the keel completely to work flat, using clamps to secure the board on your work surface.
- Does it come with blending-board cloth as opposed to carding cloth? Many boards use a cloth designed especially for blending boards.
- Do I need burnishing or cleaning brushes? (They’re very convenient.)
- What size rolags do I want to make? Look for a board with the cloth dimensions that you prefer.
- Does portability and/or weight matter? Some boards come with handles or are specially designed for travel.
Download the Blending Tool Roundup Shopping Guide:
Blending Tool Roundup Shopping Guide
Deborah Gerish has been spinning since 1996. She’s edited knitting magazines including Love of Knitting and Knitting Traditions. She currently works at Schacht Spindle Company.