Saturday, December 31, 2011

How Fast Can Someone Comb Wool?

These days, I comb Jacob at around a half a pound per hour. It is slower than Cotswold, but is similar to Shetland that many people comb these days.  Even a pound per hour is much slower than professional wool combers prior to 1850, but it is about as fast as I can go at this time. I could make myself bigger combs and work faster, but for the small amount of wool that I handle, it is not worth it.

My method is to start with clean oiled fleece, and give it a pass through the drum carder to make sure everything has been opened up and the oil distributed.

Then, I lash 3 or 4 ounces onto a large, single-pitch comb mounted on my combing bench, and use a 6” wide 2-pitch to comb off. Then, I mount the 2-pitch (with the wool on it) on the pad, and comb off onto a pair of 4” wide 5-pitch combs. Then, each 5-pitch gets combed off onto another 5-pitch, which, when full, is mounted on the comb pad, and combed onto another 5-pitch. Then, those combs are mounted on the comb pad, and their beards drawn off into short planks. If I work quickly, it only takes 6 or 7 minutes to get from carded fiber to 2 planks of an ounce (sometimes closer to 2 oz) each. (~3 hours hours to plank a sweater's worth of wool). The planks are arranged in a large bin.
When the bin is full, it is turned out on a table and the planks arranged for uniformity of fiber. The planks can be stored for a while
The planks get lashed onto 5-pitch combs, combed off, and then combed back (two complete transfers). This takes 3 or 4 minutes for between 1 and 2 oz. (22.5 oz /hr).
Then the beard is drafted off using a diz, and wound on the distaff. Total time to comb a sweater's worth, right on the close order of 6 hours. 
However, I suggest that the final combed and drafted fiber be used within a couple of weeks. That is, every few days, I take a few planks out of their bin, and final comb/draft them into slivers for the next few days of spinning.
For long wool, I skip the carding. The Romeny that I did last spring went faster, while the Rambouillet, Jacob and Shetland goes slower.
To achieve a reasonable rate, I had to make myself larger combs. On cold days, I warm the combs. I also use a spray bottle of water. See Peter Teal’s book for instructions. 
To get here, I had to time myself, and look for ways to speed up the process.
So, this lady said,"I've been wool combing for 5 years, I have five sets of combs, but I do not know if I have ever combed enough wool for a sweater."  My reply was, "If you have been wool combing for 5 years, then you should have combed about 5 tons of wool.  Me? I spent more than a hundred hours learning to card, and maybe 20 hours of making better tools and less than 20  hours of real wool combing.   I have big bins of wool to show for that effort.  In my book, just having combs in the closet does not count as time spent wool combing.  Nor, does having a spinning wheel sit in the living room count as spinning time.  

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