Learning to use a tool isn't always easy

Our Fall 2013 issue is hot off the press. It is filled with the tools we spinners love along with many fascinating stories of the interactions between spinners and equipment. From Peter Teal's resurrection of wool combing in the United Kingdom during the 1960s, to Debbie Ellis's encounter with a charkha that belonged to Mahatma Gandhi, there is sure to be a tool you connect with in this issue. In honor of our fall focus on equipment we have invited Cindy Lair, Production Manager at Schacht Spindle Company, to share some of her tool wisdom gleaned in the last twenty-five years.

Learning to use a tool isn't always easy


Cindy Lair on the Schacht Spindle Co. factory floor.

Cindy: Does your spinning wheel intimidate you? Are you afraid to break it? Are you frustrated with your results?

You are not alone. Learning to use a piece of equipment isn't easy.

I remember the first time I tried to set up a drill press at Schacht. You don't know how many times I asked myself, "How did you get this job? You know nothing about this drill press, let alone spinning wheels, weaving looms, or any fiber related tools."

Now, twenty-five years, and about ten thousand wheels later, some might consider me an expert. I finally know that a drill press, spinning wheel, and bicycle are all basically the same tool, with common components re-arranged to suit the user.

I occupy an unusual niche in the world of fiber tools, spinning wheels, looms, and the wood working tools required to make them. As Production Manager at Schacht Spindle Co., it was critical to understand the function of the tools on the production floor. As Planning Manager, maximizing efficient tool use is my current prime concern.
Tools consume my world.

I didn't grow up thinking I wanted to be a tool geek. Don't get me wrong, I had a little warning; I was in the first class of girls to be offered shop class instead of home economics. The truth is, I was lousy at both.

Any woman who has ever met a spinning wheel, sewing machine, knitting machine, or weaving loom can take solace in the fact that all are more complicated than a drill press, band saw, or even a computer numerical control (CNC) tenoner.

Over the years, I discovered some important lessons about tools:

  • There is always a correct tool for the job.
  • There are at least fifteen different ways to do one thing.
  • Every person has a different opinion about both of the above.

Cindy shows Linda Ligon how to maintain all of the Schacht spinning wheels in her portion of the Know Your Wheel DVD, which features Cindy and Alden Amos giving tips about both general and specific wheel maintenance.

In addition, various fiber class adventures have taught me that the tools are always to blame, it is never operator error, and clearly there is something wrong with the tool I'm using. However, not everyone agrees with this opinion. I have been taught by some of the best instructors to ever grace a Spin-Off Autumn Retreat (SOAR) and I'm sure they are rolling their eyes at my ineptitude as they read this paragraph.

Then there was Sara Lamb, who reasonably thought I might know how to make a ball of yarn from a skein only to find the yarn and I completely entangled. I didn't realize the tool I was supposed to be using was my thumb.

Over the years, Maggie Casey has taught me and many other Schacht wheel builders to spin. When asked what fiber should be spun with a specific whorl, she always responds, "It depends…"
This is a truism for dealing with all kinds of tools, whether fiber, woodworking, or the tools of daily living. All you can do is choose your tools carefully, learn how they work and then go for it. Oh, and don't be intimidated.

—Cindy Lair

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