Every now and then people ask me for advice on spinning and wool processing tools. In this post I try to break down the properties of wool combs and what they do for the combing, the comber and the combed.
There are many aspects to consider when it comes to wool combs. For me, the most important thing is that they
- do their job while being
- gentle to the wool and
- gentle to the comber.
The job of wool combs
I use my comb for three things mainly:
- arranging fibers parallel and draw them off in a top
- separating undercoat from outercoat (and in the next stage draw the outercoat off in a top)
- teasing wool before carding.
For smooth combing the tines need to be properly aligned in the tine insertion. I have seen home made combs where this is not the case. With the tines haphazardly arranged the tines will get tangled in each other and the combing motion interrupted. The tines also need to be secured in the tine insertion.
The length of the tines need to be equal to or slightly higher than the width of the tine setup on the handle. This way the comber will be able to use all the tines on the combs. If the setup is wider than the length of the combs some tines will be unused and take up unnecessary space and weight.
Being gentle to the wool
The tips of the tines need to be sharp enough to cut through the mass of the wool. If they are too blunt the comber needs to put more force into the combing. This may lead to broken fibers and/or strain for the comber. The tines need to be sturdy to be able to withstand the resistance of the wool mass. If they are too thick, though, the comber again needs to put more force into the combing which may put strain on the comber and break fibers.
The distance between the tines should be adapted to the kind of wool you comb. Smaller distance for fine wools and larger distance for coarse wools.
Being gentle to the comber
The weight of the combs is important. The combs need to be sturdy enough to, again, be able to withstand the resistance of the wool mass. Still, light enough for the comber to be able to comb comfortably.
As discussed above the tines need a certain sharpness for a smooth motion, but without the risk of breaking skin.
I prefer combs made of wood. The natural material feels comfortable in my hands and it is a renewable source. With an ergonomically designed handle the comber will be able to comb for longer periods of time without strain.
For larger combs I like the tines to be a bit tilted toward the handle side. This makes the combing motion a bit smoother – the shape of the tines sort of follow the circular motion of the combing action.
My wool combs
When people ask me about wool combs I always give them the same answer: Hand made combs by the Swedish maker Gammeldags (with an online web shop in Swedish and English). All the Gammeldags wool combs are unique and made in local Swedish woods. They are balanced in the appearance as well as in the hand.
For the record, I don’t get paid for this post. I just like these combs so much and want to share them with the world and why I like them so much. If this post leads to more sales for the maker I will be happy for the maker for the sale and for the buyer for the joy it will bring them to work with high quality wool combs.
Before I introduce you to my Gammeldags combs I would like you to meet the person behind them.
The Gammeldags story
In preparing to write this post I contacted Birgith Lundgren, the designer of Gammeldags (which translates to Old fashioned). I asked her to share the story of the combs she and her husband Pelle design, make and sell. Pelle is a blacksmith by trade, and he makes the combs and the other tools they sell.
Way back when
Birgith started her career as a physiotherapist and ergonomist, both in private and public health care organizations. In 1998, when she had worked for a few years as a manager in a public health care organization with lots expectations and little resources, she resigned and started her own company, Gammeldags. In her business she sold her hand woven textiles and taught weaving. She also started to explore spinning. At one occasion she came across wool combs from Eastern Europe. These were large and heavy and cumbersome to work with. As the problem solver she is she knew there must be some way to make wool combs that had a more user friendly design.
A wool comb embryo
Back then she was a beginner spinner and developed her skills while at the same time working on understanding what the wool combs should do and how they could be designed to meet these expectations and still be user friendly. Over the years Birgith and Pelle have developed wool combs that are designed for the wool combing as well as for the wool comber. Every suggestion for improvement has been meticulously tested with the wellbeing of the wool comber as a first priority. In 2011 they started selling the wool combs online.
Quality and inspiration
To keep the high quality and their own health they work slowly and methodically. For Birgith the inspiration is the most important thing in working with the tools she sells. If the web shop is empty the customer needs to kindly wait. Birgith and Pelle don’t work by the demand from customers, they work by inspiration for making high quality tools. And it’s all worth the wait – my combs are wonderful tools that I treasure. I use them in my own work as well as on my spinning courses.
Two pitched mini combs
- Weight: 112 g (one comb)
- Setup width for tines: 6 cm
- Tine height: 6 cm
- Tines per 10 centimeters (of one row): 18
- Handle length: 14 cm
- Bought: 2014
The first pair of combs I bought was a pair of two pitched mini combs, back in 2014, perhaps earlier. You can see that they have been used a lot. By me as well as by my students. Still, they work just as smoothly as the day I bought them.
The mini combs are lightweight and small enough to work with in your lap. The handles are comfortable to hold and I can work for a long time. I don’t get tired or strained when I use any of my mini combs..
The two pitched mini combs weigh a little more than the single pitched for obvious reasons, but this is not an issue. I use the two pitched combs when I want to separate undercoat from outercoat. If you only have one pair of combs you can still perform both tasks with both kinds of combs.
When you buy mini combs, or combs meant to use one in each hand, be sure to check the weight of the combs. This is what you will work with, plus the resistance of the wool. The heavier the combs the more you need to work and, consequently, the shorter time you will be able to work without strain or fatigue.
Single pitched mini combs
- Weight 93 g (dark wood), 106 g (light wood). The weight refers to one comb.
- Setup width for tines: 6.5 cm
- Tine height: 7.5 cm
- Tines per 10 centimeters: 17
- Handle length: 14 cm (dark wood), 14.5 cm (light wood)
- Bought: March 2018 (dark wood), July 2020 (light wood)
I have two pairs of single pitched combs, one in light wood and one in dark wood. The dark wood is actually not local at all – the dark combs are made of mahogany that Birgith got from a retiring woodworker in the neighbourhood. For myself I only need one pair of single pitched mini combs, but on my courses these are very popular so I bought a second pair last year. As you can see from the fact lists the single pitched combs (bought 2018 and 2020) have slightly different measurements compared to the two pitched combs above (bought 2014). This is a sign of Birgith’s constant work with design improvement. I use the single pitched combs if I want to keep undercoat and outercoat together in a top.
If I would have to choose one type of combs it would be the mini combs. Using the lightweight combs in my lap can give me the same feeling of flow as spinning. The circular motion with the hands and the feeling of the fibers agains my skin as I draw the wool off the comb become a familiar choreography. I can bring my mini combs wherever I like and comb on a rock in the forest. With the mini combs I feel closer to the wool than with combs with a combing station (described below). For obvious reasons the mini combs don’t take as much wool in one load as the larger combs.
Maxi combs with combing station
- Weight: 262 g (one comb)
- Setup width for tines: 10 cm
- Tine height: 11.5 cm, bended tips.
- Tines per 10 centimeters: 13 (of one row)
- Handle length: 15 cm
- Bought: July 2018
The second pair of combs I bought was the maxi combs with a combing station. The sets with combing stations are work horses that will give you larger quantities of wool combed than with the mini combs. Another advantage of the station sets is that I can hold the free comb with both hands. That way my hands can share the strain. However, they also need a surface to fasten the station onto (and a pair of clamps).
I use the maxi combs with medium to coarse wools. I don’t get the same flowing feeling with the station sets. But they do get the job done quicker. I tend to watch a series while I use these. With an adjustable table I can choose to sit or stand.
Minimidi combs with combing station
- Weight: 241 g (one comb)
- Setup width for tines: 8 cm
- Tine height: 10 cm, bended tips.
- Tines per 10 centimeters: 21 (of one row)
- Handle length: 13.5 cm
- Bought: 2019
A year after I bought the maxi combs with station I got the minimidi combs with station. As you can see the station has changed a bit through Birgith’s work with design improvement. The new design is sleeker and require less wood, but the function is the same.
The distance between the tines is actually smaller on the minimidi combs 21 tines/10 cm) than on the mini combs (17 tines/10 cm). Due to the smaller distance between the tines the minimidi combs are heavier than the maxi combs, despite the smaller size. The minimidi combs work well with fine to very fine wools.
- Teasing wool with minimidi combs with combing station. In the video I also blend the wool with recycled sari silk.
- Combing Shetland wool with two pitched mini combs on a rock in the forest.
- Combing Jämtland wool with two pitched mini combs.
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