Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Making Wooden Needles

When my Dad was in school, his roommate was putting himself through school by knitting fine lopi ski socks. Every evening, my Dad’s roommate would go to the cheap movies and while watching the double feature; he would knit a pair of socks.

While my parents were courting, my Dad still had a pair of those lopi ski socks. In those days, my Dad was an avid skier, and those were his favorite ski socks. Soon after my parents were married, my mother washed and shrank those lopi socks. My Dad never really forgave my mother for ruining those socks.

So, one of my first projects after taking up knitting again was to knit each of my parents a good pair of lopi boot socks

To do that, I needed needles. I bought several lots of knitting needles on eBay. Supposedly, these were sets of knitting needles from estates. It was good for me in that I got many knitting needles very inexpensively. It was bad because many of those needles were very low quality. However, I must note that some of those needles were of a much higher quality than any knitting needles that I have been able to find in retail yarn and sewing shops or on the Internet in the last 3 years. Those high quality needles tended to be US size 0 and 1. Those fine needles set a standard for what I wanted in my knitting needles.

Trying to knit those lopi socks with old aluminum DPN was like fighting big nasty spiders. Those needles would fall out, and the sharp ends were always poking me. The wooden needles had gotten wet and been abused so that they were rough and always snagged the yarn. Moreover, the tips had been worn to sharp wedges. They really were not useable. So I sanded those wooden needles, and I changed the shape of the tips. I did not have a good example of what the tip of a needle of that size should look like, so I experimented. Then, I decided that the length of the DPN was a major factor in their convenience of use. So I experimented with length of the needles, and with surface texture.

I could buy hardwood dowel for $0.30 per foot and make set of 5 wooden DPN in about an hour – all by hand without power tools. So with supplies and everything, a set of DPN cost me about $2.00. The process was to cut the dowel to the desired length with pruning shears, taper the end of the needle blank with a pencil sharper, and then sand the taper smooth and to the desired final shape with coarse sandpaper. The sandpaper would be flat on my workbench, and I would hold the needle blank against the sand paper at the desired angle and rub the blank back and forth while rotating the blank as I rubbed. When I had the tip shape that I desired, I would sand the entire knitting needle with progressively finer sand paper and polish with fine steel wool. Then, I would dip the needles in tung oil, allow them to dry, polish with very fine steel wool and finally wax the finished needles with furniture polish. They are beautiful.

The ultimate result was sets of wooden DPN that I liked better than the commercial wooden DPN. The most valuable lesson was that DPN as they come out of the package may not be right for the project at hand. DPN out of the package have average points. If you are working with lopi, then your knitting will be easier if you round the points of your needles a bit. If you are doing fancy Aran patterns, then you may want to make the needle tips longer and add a bit of a concave section just behind the tip of the needle. With wooden needles, you can do this by wrapping sandpaper around a piece of dowel or broom handle, and rotating the needle against the sand paper. If in doubt, use much finer sand paper!

Recently, a local yarn store had one of the better brands of bamboo needles on sale. The price was too good to pass up. I went and bought a bunch of them. A beginner would have tried to use them “as is”, had problems and been frustrated, and maybe quit knitting. I used them as needle blanks. I cut them shorter, I changed the shape of the tips, and I polished the shafts with steel wool. Now, I have tools that feel right and knit easily. And, as the tips wear, I will just sand them back into shape. The experience of making my own knitting needles means that I am confident in maintaining and restoring my treasured tools.

1 comment:

Spin-n-Knit said...

That is a great suggestion, to use the store bought as starting blanks. I like to have 10 of a particular size for working on two things at a time, such as mittens. They are too long when used together, too many pokin' spokes.