Breaking in New Handcards

Most handcards don’t come with operating instructions. Even under ideal conditions spinners face a learning curve to creating the airy rolags coveted for woolen spinning, but maybe there should be a warning label on new handcards: “Failure to break in handcards may lead to frustration when operating!” To make carding easier from the start, two carding experts offer tips for breaking in new handcards below.

Right and Left Orientation

New handcards are not labeled left and right, but according to Beverly A. Nissen, they should be. In her article “Conditioning Hand Cards,” featured in Spin Off Summer 1994, Beverly explained, “In my experience, the left or stationary card ultimately takes on the characteristic of releasing fibers, and the right or moving card takes on the characteristic of picking them up. When the pair has been broken in, I can empty the left card with the right, or nearly so.” Beverly said she could tell when the handcards were reversed. She recommended marking cards left and right and not switching hands.


Work across the card in every direction. Illustration by Ann Swanson.

Work across the card in every direction. Illustration by Ann Swanson.

Little burrs and hooks remain when the wire is clipped off and bent to form the teeth for carding cloth, making new handcards rough and scratchy. Beverly shared her key to handcards operating smoothly: getting rid of as many burrs as possible before you begin to card. Running 400-grit wet-and-dry sandpaper across the teeth in all directions will rid your cards of those pesky burrs. In the Winter 2017 issue of Spin Off, Andrea Mielke Schroer expands on Beverly’s conditioning tips with a step-by-step how-to. I took Andrea’s class on breaking in handcards, and I can attest that after conditioning my handcards never carded better.

Beverly’s article and many more morsels of carding know-how are included in Spin Off’s How to Handcard and Spin Woolen Kit. Receive a pair of Schacht curved back handcards with 112 points per square inch carding cloth, plus three video downloads and an eBook—a pair of handcards with an operating manual.

Happy New Year!

Featured Image: Run sandpaper along the edges of the teeth. Photo by Andrea Mielke Schroer.

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