What’s Different About The Device?

We had a great question come in via our Facebook page:

Question for Abby: Watched the video. Can you be most specific about what technical needs this espinner fulfills for you that were not available in other models currently available? or have you done a post somewhere with those details? Thanks.

Abby says: Welp. Guess I’d better do a post with those details, then. Here we go!

First, let me say that my spinning needs are probably not typical. When I’m in production mode, I really will spin for 8-12 hours in a given day. I also tend to spin a fair bit of fine, high-twist yarn for weaving, meaning that most of the spinning wheels I use on a regular basis are equipped with fine fiber and high twist delivery options — lace kits and the like.

The first major problem was simply that, at the speeds where I like to spin (1200 rpm is the low end of where I like to spin), all my e-spinners were noisy enough that nobody wanted to be in the room with me while I was spinning. One in particular, my fastest one, Chad was listening to and he could hear there was an issue with a bearing, so he swapped in new, heavier-duty ones, and that alone made a huge difference.

So then I borrowed a friend’s newer, much quieter, e-spinner. It performed beautifully while spinning, although I didn’t love the bobbin and flyer selections and my entry speeds were pretty much the machine’s top speeds. It also got problematic for me while plying or spinning S or counter-clockwise, overheating and shutting down. And I didn’t love the scotch tension implementation, which was hard to swap out but fairly easy to snag during routine operations like bobbin changes. Chad made a mental note of all these gripes, unbeknownst to me at the time.

The big thing, though, is that e-spinners tend to spin at an incredibly regular pace, meaning that there isn’t room for the fluid, flexible, tactile shifts that happen reflexively when you’re spinning with a wheel. My favorite e-spinner had a rheostat-controlled footswitch, so you could speed up or slow down by changing how much you were stepping on the foot pedal. That helped some, but alas, it was not viable for me with the bum ankle, which got tired from trying to maintain the right speed.

I spun all the yarn for this video, and several others, on what became The Device while I was spinning
Spun on a device!

I truly did not believe that a motorized spinning apparatus could feel the same way a treadle-powered one does, and I told Chad as much. I was certain that there was absolutely no way he could get a motorized thing to replicate that feeling.

Chad started by finding an assortment of motors, putting a pulley on them, and literally holding them to the drive bands of various of my spinning wheels while I spun. I actually spun the first batches of yarn for my Get More Spun video this way, and finished up all the spinning for that plus several other videos on the Device as it took shape.


So, to sum up, my initial wish list:

  • Be quiet at speeds over 1000 rpm
  • Not overheat or shut down at high speed
  • Feel like a spinning wheel
  • Offer the same kinds of adjustments that treadled wheels do, like changes to drive band  and brake band material
  • Be really, really easy to travel with
  • Be adjustable for super light takeup (and super strong, but super light is harder)

Over the course of a year and a half of testing and development, though, Chad brought me new features to try on a regular basis, and he incorporated the things I said as well as the things my colleagues said. I’m a habitual long draw spinner, and double drafter, and even though I can and do spin in pretty much every style imaginable, we felt like we really needed feedback from other folks on this, and so in addition to letting everyone in my classes try out the Device if they were curious, Chad made some others for testing, and we sent the first few to Beth Smith, Amy King, and Esther Rodgers. Why spinning teachers? Well, because if there’s a problem to be found with a spinning wheel, spinning teachers will find it. Or their students will. Between me, Beth, Amy, and Esther, we cover pretty much every base to be found in style and technique. All of us are experienced new product testers to boot, because, well, what I just said: if there’s a problem to be found with a piece of spinning equipment, just let your friendly neighborhood spinning teacher take it to a class, and that problem will show up.

So we got a whole new wish list of things from that process. Some of them are pie in the sky, or vaporware, as we used to say when we worked in tech, and some of them are real but not rolled out yet, and some of them became absolute necessities.

The first one was the tachometer. I admit, this was a little opportunistic of me, because I also had a few theories as to how flyer and bobbin RPM shift during normal spinning and I thought it would be cool to get real numbers on how scotch tension affects speed, so before long, Chad had rigged up a tachometer to display the speed at which the flyer was turning. I thought in the beginning that the tach would be gimmicky and provide me with the data I wanted for an article I planned, but within moments it was clear that it had many positive benefits, not least of which is if you’re a treadle-counter, now you can stop counting and let the machine handle that for you. What’s more, you can write down in your notes what RPM you spun a given yarn at, and not have to worry about the ratios.

You can also leave your Device set for a particular speed, and turn it off or on, and it’ll go right back to where it was, while still giving you a comfortable ramp-up that’s controlled not by software, but mechanically. The net result of all of this is that the Device feels like a regular treadle-powered spinning wheel, even when you’re starting and stopping.

Because the Device was a prototype — and there were several of them that existed then — there was a lot of iteration settling on the design and the layout and everything .This meant lots of taking it apart and putting it back together, which meant it made sense to make it easy to repair.

Being water-resistant wasn’t a design goal originally, but waiting for airport shuttles and whatnot, I found I really, really appreciated the fact that I didn’t even have to worry about the weather. I’ve said elsewhere that I still haven’t found the nerve to drop my Device into the bathtub and see what happens, but it sure doesn’t care about being dropped in a puddle when a stack of luggage falls over. “Call it mudproof,” Chad suggested. Pelican cases are airtight, but ours are drilled to mount the hardware, and even though those bolts and the scotch tension knob are tightly fit, like I say, I haven’t had it in me to drop it in a bathtub. Or even the sink, since it’ll fit.

One thing we all found we wanted, though, was onboard batteries that would enable the Device to be used in all the same settings as a regular spinning wheel, without even thinking about it, without having to find a third-party external battery.

So Chad also added:

  • Runs off onboard batteries
  • Easy to repair
  • Mechanical, not software, performance tuning
  • Tachometer
  • Water resistant / mud proof
  • Room for future feature expansion (including some possible software).

While we’ve been in development and testing, some other e-spinners have added tachometer options, and we think that’s great! We don’t want to be competitors, but rather, collaborators. So that also makes it hard to say what didn’t quite work for me about my other e-spinners, which I don’t want to name, because they’re all great products and I like the folks who make them. But none of them were quite what I, personally, needed for a primary spinning wheel — and that’s what the Device is: a spinning tool I, personally, can use happily for all my bobbin-and-flyer projects.

One thing that really surprised me taking the Device to my classes was that it wasn’t only the experienced spinners who liked it — absolute beginners also found it pretty intuitive and comfortable to use. So even though I never anticipated this, yes, I would absolutely recommend it for a brand new spinner’s first wheel.

I think that’s it, for now. If you’ve got other questions, feel free to comment, and I’ll keep answering!




16 comments on “What’s Different About The Device?Add yours →

  1. Thanks for such a detailed post, Abby. I look forward to trying one out (although I’m going to be impatiently waiting since , in Texas, I’m at the opposite end of the USA from you!). As I’m considering the wheels I carry in my brick-and-mortar store, and the eSpinner I currently travel with, it occurs to me that I’m not always spinning fine and fast. Sometimes I’m pushing the OTHER end of that tachometer speed with slow(er) and bulky(bulkier) yarn. My favorite is lock spinning mohair. Will there be other options for flyers? How would you say the device performs at slow-poke art yarn speeds? Perhaps Esther has a few comments to make in this area as well?

    1. Hi Mary,

      Fast is hard, slow isn’t nearly so hard! Here’s a video of Esther with her beta unit last year, corespinning with her feet up.


      As to bulky, the yarn in the sweater is aran to bulky from a knitting perspective.

      Here’s the FAQ so far, for what that’s worth. We haven’t found a Majacraft flyer that doesn’t fit, although some older ones may call for minor adjustment using the tools that come with the Device.

  2. Hello Abby…
    I caught sight of this new device on Ravelry when someone posted a link to your youtube video in a thread of the E-spinners group. I’ve been running around looking at what I can find. I saw you mention somewhere, youtube I think, that you do not recommend a Woolee Winder with this device, because of the higher speeds. Could you elaborate on this? Also, would someone who tended to spin slower have less trouble?

    1. Hi Shawna,

      The short answer is that you might be entirely happy for low-speed to medium-speed spinning and plying — think comparable to what you’d get from most treadle-powered wheels not equipped with a super high speed kit.

      But the Device is capable of driving a flyer at speeds far in excess of that, and indeed, even in excess of those which even I am likely to use, and far in excess of what I think is likely to be safe for a large and complex flyer — in excess of what industrial spinning equipment does with that type of setup, even. For me to feel confident recommending any level winding option, I’d want to test it extensively, probably to the point of failure. That level of testing and development was outside the scope of what we could commit to for launching this product.

      Because many other e-spinners do support, or may even come with, such flyers, and because I don’t personally find any of them meet my needs and this is the spinning Device developed to fill a niche that others were not filling, that was just not a priority for us for initial development and launch. That doesn’t mean it might not be later, or that it might not be in the scope of future flyer development we do, but it’s outside the scope of what we identified as necessary for the very first release.

      The Device is capable of speeds more than 5x where I personally have found level winding flyers to begin to perform poorly. And yes: even if well-cleaned and well-maintained. This isn’t a criticism of any level winding flyer — they work great and do what they’re supposed to do, which is make it so you don’t have to move your flyer hooks if you are spinning a particular range of yarn using one set of drafting techniques.

      It’s possible you would be happy with it at lower speeds, sub-1500 rpm. Some of our testers did put level winding flyers on their Devices in testing, and found that they worked, but had the same issues that they do on conventional wheels when it comes to spinning outside the range of spinning for which they were developed. So that, too, informed our decision to leave work on aftermarket add-on support for future releases.

      What are you spinning on now? What kind of yarn do you like to make, and what kind of ratios do you like to use to do so?

      Here’s some more background for the longer answer portion.

      I have found worm gear-driven level winding options to begin underperforming at around 1500 rpm even on conventional treadle-powered spinning wheels. Sometimes, it’s like there’s a hitch in the get-along at the turnaround point, which means the bobbin doesn’t actually wind as levelly as you might hope. They’ll also get super noisy. Other times, the gearing seems to be undriveable at high speed, and what you get is slippage so extreme the flyer array doesn’t even really turn right — like, it’ll go maybe 30 rpm tops and the yarn guide doesn’t go back and forth dependably. Finally, at high speeds, there is a loss of smoothness in operation; worm-gear-driven flyer takeup becomes more jerky, and yarn breakage happens more often, especially in the types of yarns which get spun at high speed (which is to say very fine yarn or yarn from short stapled fibers).

      But, something else to know about is a thing called “ballooning.” At very high speeds (what high speed means varies depending on the equipment but let’s say over 2000 rpm for now in the types of flyers that go on home use spinning equipment) yarn doesn’t travel smoothly and in a straight line — like it doesn’t wind on super tight, and it makes a yarn “balloon” which can easily foul machinery and snag flyer arms and cause breakage of the equipment. I’m not even kidding — I have had a flyer which was simply large and heavy break catastrophically when I pushed it too far, due to ballooning, and if anybody had been sitting to the side of the spinning apparatus, they would have been injured. It made a hole in my drywall. That’s not a level-winding flyer, just a big and heavy one. This is why high speed industrial spinning operations do not use flyers as handspinners know them.

      I actually gave my WooLee Winder away a while ago after over 2 years of not using it. It’s a great product, and for the ranges of spinning for which it’s tuned, it’s fantastic, and it’s fairly priced, and the Lees are great folks who stand by their product and provide fantastic service and support. So I don’t like saying anything that can be construed as negative, because I’ve also had the experience of people repeating what I’ve said out of context, misremembered, and so on – it really stinks when I’ve said something like “I don’t like pink fiber” and it comes back to me as “Abby Franquemont says pink fiber is bad for spinning.” I am NOT saying that level winding flyers are bad, only that there’s a range of spinning where they perform well, and a range where they don’t, and the Device goes well outside the range where level winding flyers perform well, so I can’t promise you they will work to your satisfaction.

      But, I can tell you that in my experience, there are kinds of spinning where level wind flyers aren’t great, such as hyperfine spinning, long draw spinning, and super high speed plying. I would never, under any circumstances, advise a spinner to own only a level winding flyer array. I find, in classes, that spinners who have only a level winding flyer do not have the range of adjustment for takeup and varying technique that non-geared flyers offer, and that it is often more of a struggle to get them dialed in for anything other than a short forward draw using medium and long stapled wools.

      Here’s something I posted on Ravelry a while ago:

      While I do own a WooLee Winder, and I do love it, and I do use it, not all spinners will find it to be of equal benefit. Where, in my opinion, you see the most benefit:

      – wheels with very expensive bobbins, where the WW bobbins are less expensive (and possibly larger)
      – wheels whose default flyers have stationary hooks, or hooks which aren’t optimally placed for their type of spinning
      – large drive wheel setups
      – bobbin lead, single drive setups
      – unaccelerated drive ratios of 25:1 or lower
      – novelty yarns and novelty plying techniques such as boucles
      – “not ridiculously fine” yarns (eg, singles 50 wpi or thicker)
      – if you would immediately benefit from a bobbin that unwinds perfectly smoothly

      Who benefits the least, or might not feel the value added is sufficient, again IMO:

      – wheels with bobbins which cost less than the WW bobbin
      – wheels with flyers that feature movable flyer hooks (Majacraft, Lendrum for example) that allow very fine-tuned control of the wind-on process
      – very small drive wheel setups
      – double drive setups (in part because of related spinning tendencies which often go hand in hand with a preference for double drive, and in part because double drive requires slippage to work, and slippage makes the WW act up sometimes)
      – accelerator wheels, or wheels without a massive drive wheel where direct drive ratios are greater than about 25:1
      – spinners of absurdly fine yarn (though i do know a couple of spinners of absurdly fine yarn who love their WW)
      – spinners at extreme flyer RPM (upwards of 2000 flyer rpm)
      – long-draw devotees may find it less tuneable than other flyer setups

      For some folks, the WooLee Winder is an absolute dream come true and a total godsend; but this isn’t uniformly the case of all spinners of all types of yarn. It is an excellent product with fabulous support and it’s reliable, easy to use, and very reasonably priced. Ultimately, I suspect most “hard core” spinners will own at least one wheel with a WooLee Winder setup, and will use it — but will not use it exclusively; rather, they will use it interchangeably with various other flyers.

      The question of “does it improve your spinning” is a difficult one, because it depends on how we benchmark improvement in spinning. For many people, it does remove frustration and result in greater yarn production rates as well as more consistency. However, the skills required to achieve those same results on a wheel without a WW are also well worth having. The WW is not a cure-all which will solve all your spinning ailments; don’t expect it to do so, or you may be disappointed. All in all, it’s a purchase you definitely won’t regret; but if you can’t afford it right now, it’s not going to stop you from progressing as a spinner, or limit what you can do in the long run.

      I had been spinning for about 25 years when I bought my first WooLee Winder. I use it primarily when spinning lower-twist medium to thick singles for speed, and found that all in all it gained me about 15% more yards an hour in production rate for those yarns. However, I draft very quickly and at the speeds I like to spin at, the WW performs less beautifully than at lower speeds. I acknowledge I am an extreme case; I do not think the WW is bad because its quirks come out at the speeds I want to go. I can’t use it for plying, because I ply at even more extreme speeds than I spin. I use it for boucles and such, and I love how smoothly the bobbins unwind.

      1. Thank you. I understand what your saying about the tool (I happened to LOVE my Woolee). But I know it isn’t for everyone. I was looking for your reasons for not recommending it. Not being able to failure test it is the soundest one of all, when your talking about anything machine driven. To answer your question, I spin worsted weight to super bulky yarns for knitting and weaving, usually in short draw methods.

  3. WOW !!I really want one these and will most likely get one one day but my only problem is that it is not pretty. I guess you would say I am not the type of spinner you are targeting. I spin prodigiously and would love everything your device has to offer but I would like it to look nice in the family room 🙂

    1. We hear you, and we’ve heard from other people that pretty is a priority for them. The big problem is, first we’d have to define what “pretty” means. Even among conventional treadle-powered spinning wheels made from wood, there’s a lot of debate as to which ones are pretty. Some people love the look of a Kromski and can’t stand the look of a Louet, and vice versa.

      There are a lot of wheel makers out there who do buy into the notion that spinning equipment must be “feminine” or “old-timey” in appearance. For our part, we’re not positive what either of those things really mean. We could spend a lifetime trying to unpack those. But I was honestly in a situation where none of the existing equipment on the market met my functional needs, and so function was the top priority here. But all the same, every time I told Chad the aesthetic of the Device wasn’t important to me, he pointed out details of fit and finish that were important to him as someone who works within aesthetics that are not necessarily conventionally feminine — things he felt were important to make the Device look nice. And when I compare the very first Device prototypes to what he’s making now, I do have to agree with him that I think a lot of those details really do make it look nice. Heck, if I’m honest, I think it looks at least as nice as my sewing machine or my laptop. But we simply couldn’t find a way to make it have all the features and functions that were essential, and have it look like, say, my battered old great wheel from the 1830s.

      We’d love to hear more about what “pretty” means to you!

  4. I want one now!! But — I’ve been watching early adopters of a certain highly regarded e-spinner trade up to the new model. I want both the original V1.0 and the latest, as time rolls on. But, that’s way impractical and too spendy.

    What do you think your upgrade plan will be: will original versions be upgrade-able or will early adopters have to buy again to get all the new benefits?

    I love that things are mechanically based instead of software, but it does make modifications a bit harder.

    I never buy or install the first version of Apple hardware or software. Should I wait a bit or buy the Device ASAP?

    1. Abby here. I love these questions, sincerely!

      Chad and I are both veterans of the Internet boom and Silicon Valley and all that sort of thing, so this is not our first rodeo with the early adopter thing, and these are questions we’ve asked ourselves too.

      First, what do you find it is about software-driven systems that makes them easier to modify rather than harder? This observation flies in the face of what we presently believe, so we’re very interested in hearing more. A major reason why we opted to go all-mechanical, no software, for release, is that we expect this to allow us the greatest flexibility possible for determining a good upgrade path. We also expect this to provide the greatest functional longevity without requiring software update or routine maintenance. We want a Device to be functional from the most rudimentary power source that can charge its (standard and easy to find) lithium-ion batteries. As it stands, a Device will both survive, and work after, an electromagnetic pulse, for example; it can be run off sub-optimal and unpredictable power sources; and all the major systems work the same as they do on spinning wheels that have continued working for hundreds of years — the only difference is that power is supplied by an electric motor.

      The Early Adopter Warranty is a lifetime warranty linked to the Device, provided the Device comes back to us for reconditioning in the course of a sale. In other words, it’s transferable if we get to look over the Device and bring it up to current standards any time it changes hands. If something breaks, we’ll fix it. If we have to buy or manufacture major parts, we may ask you to split the parts cost with us. If the Device requires service and has to come back to us, we’ll pay for standard shipping via whatever our standard terms for shipping are to/from your location at the time when service is required.

      We don’t honestly know what the upgrade path will be yet for features that we haven’t figured out how to do, but we do know that making it possible to install upgrades and new features into early Devices is really important to us. But we don’t know; we don’t know if there’s something we’ll find about developing the Device that uses software which will mean we have to choose between the key systems. We expect that there will always be a retrofit option, we plan to develop for that to be the case, but the fact is: any system that relies on software is more fragile than one that doesn’t. Software is an entire additional layer of complexity where our extensive experience (as systems programmers, system adminstrators, software developers, project managers, and department heads) indicates it is unwise to promise to deliver things you haven’t even written the spec for yet.

      We hope to develop that spec in cooperation with our early adopters, in fact. So anybody who wants in on the ground floor of that development process probably wants to buy sooner rather than later. It will be our early adopters who will have first access to try new features while they are in development, and whose opinions we will survey to find out what works and what doesn’t, and how to prioritize features.

      While we have made every effort to shake out every problem we could prior to the v1.0 release, again, our experience in the product development lifecycle is that no matter what, there will be things that crop up in a v1.0 that are hammered out by v1.1. So that’s another reason why we’re insistent on small batches and controlled rollout at this stage of the game. That allows us to make sure everybody with a 1.0 Device is totally satisfied before we’re selling 1.1 Devices, and that everything that cropped up in 1.0 is fixed for 1.1.

      Should you buy ASAP or wait for future releases? Man, that’s a tough call, and it’s hard for me to make it with confidence for someone else. I myself have been an early adopter and a customer who expected better from a full release version, know what I mean? But I think we’re different from Apple (today, at least) in a few key ways. The biggest one is that where we’re working — the niche we’re in — is one we expect to always stay niche. We don’t presently anticipate a world in which spinning goes mainstream and big box stores are selling many brands of imitators of our Device, or a world in which hackers are targeting our core spinning function package (har har, “core spinning,” see what I did there?).

      Right now, there are about a dozen people in the world with Devices. We know them all. As industrial as Devices look, they’re very handmade. Most of the parts are fabricated by hand. I mean, Chad has metal saws and welders and sanding equipment and a small powdercoating setup and stuff, but every screw that’s tightened, he tightened; every toolhead, he fabricated from bare metal. Yes, precision machine parts have been made (in boutique quantities) by a precision machine shop (that’s also a fiber business) — but it’s sort of like sending a fleece out to your favorite small mill.

      Where I’m going is this: unlike Apple, every Device we sell is one Chad has personally built from the ground up, and which I’ve personally tested. So we’re emotionally invested, and we have a personal connection with the folks who have taken v1.0 Devices into their homes. So if an early adopter does have a problem, well, then *we* have a problem. It’s personal. Making and selling Devices isn’t a job where we get to clock out and go home. Down the road, we might like it to be, once we’re old hands at making them and we have answers to every possible support question and we have staff instead of only the product’s founders — but that’s a ways off, for better or for worse. When that time comes, we won’t have the option of really knowing every single person with a Device and being able to have a personal relationship and all that stuff.

      The last consideration is probably simple availability. Right now, and probably for a while, it looks like we’re not going to be able to make Devices as fast as people would like to buy them, and we’re completely unwilling to compromise quality or quality control in order to churn them out faster. Expect to see another dozen or so by October, and then we’ll know how many we could realistically make between October and the end of the year — but it’s not going to be a large number, and we’ve got a wait list of dealers who have lists of people who want to buy. So we expect it to be a while before it’s easy for someone to just call up and buy one. So if you want to be sure you get one, I’d call or email Spunky Eclectic right away, or come see us at SAFF and decide there.

      Whew. That’s a lot of words, and I wish I could make them into fewer words, but I guess we’re not at the “fewer words” stage of development yet either.

  5. Spinning on the Device is a delight! I’ve had a “go” wheel–the one you take on vacation/to the beach/classes/conferences–for years. However, health decided I needed to investigate e-spinners for both home and travel.
    I went to PlyAway this Spring, and got to try offerings there–including, lucky, lucky me–a prototype Device. I tried not to like it. I challenged it to fast and furious. Bulky. Jam the bobbin full. It calmly sat there and took it all. No bogging on bulky yarn, or when the bobbin got full. Fast? My home wheel is now jealous, and it’s very fast.
    It’s also smooth. Some e-spinners I’ve tried had an occasional “jerk” to the yarn, and I couldn’t figure out why. The Device doesn’t.
    Quiet? Thank heaven I got this beauty now. Football is coming.
    Travel? Yep, it will be coming along to the East Coast, where it will be put to a real torture test–toddlers and youngsters

  6. Just decided to challenge myself. Just how much finer can I spin on the Device than I had been? So I grabbed some top that had been sitting around whimpering, and sat down to spin.

    Okay, the Device is the other side of incredible. 2800 yards per pound. Since this will be plied with an exotic fiber that needs a bit of color to really show off, I’m in mad love. I have 4 miles per bobbin ready for plying. That should be good for a week of spinning!

    Thanks folks!

    And by the way–the new ceramic bearings are amazing and wonderful!

  7. A very esoteric silly question: our local TechShop (Redwood City) has powder coating equipment. Can I repainted/recoat the Pelican case to differentiate it from the other (black) early versions?

    1. We’re not sure what type of paint might work. Powdercoating won’t, as the case is plastic. We, too, would love to be able to offer more color choices, but Pelican only makes the 1400 case in the range it does.

  8. Pingback: Fiber Update
  9. Two observations I would like, batteries that charge while running plugged in, and 1 more bobbin, it came with 2. That said, I really Ike this.

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