Building a wool picker

I have wanted to build a wool picker ever since I saw photos of them on the internet and learned what they did.  A wool picker is a machine that pulls wool apart to make it more open.  This helps clean the wool, and makes it easier to card, (or even spin).  It opens the wool with the aid of sharp, smooth nails that hold and pull the wool.  It is a very dangerous piece of equipment, with some having over 400 nails.

I have not been able to build one because I could not find nails that were smooth.  Normal nails would snag and tear the wool.  Well, a couple of weeks ago I found nails for a nail gun and they seemed perfect.  They may not be as sharp as the nails used in a wool picker, but I think that is okay.

Holes drilled for nails

Once I had the nails I started planning what type of picker to make.  There are two basic types, one that swings and a box or bench picker.  The box type seem easier and safer to build so I decided on a wide box picker.  My dad has some wooden boxes so I used one as my base.  These are not instructions on how to build a wool picker, only my attempts at building one.

Getting ready

The nails are set into the wood at an angle of about 45 degrees, in groups that change direction.  When I learned how to build the solar ovens I became comfortable using an electric screwdriver/drill, and I used one to drill the holes for the nails.  I drilled a hole in a spare piece of wood and used that to guide the drill so I had the same angle for each hole.

Wool picker

I drilled each group of nails, (four rows for the bottom sets and three rows for the top sets) on separate pieces of wood so I could adjust the position.  I screwed three sets into the bottom of the box and three sets into a sliding lid. The lid slides back and forth across the box pulling the wool different directions with the nails.

Unfortunately I realised that the box needed to be longer to allow the lid full movement across the nails.  I took both ends off the box to see how much extra movement I needed.

Ends removed

When I did this I could also see that my nails were too far apart.

Too much space between nails

I put some extra wood between the lid and the nails to move them closer together.

Nails are almost touching, (some are actually touching)

I put the ends back on to keep the box strong, with one end shorter so the lid has more movement.

Wool goes in at the open end and comes out where the wool is in the photo

Then to give it a test.  And it works!  It is probably not as good as professional wool pickers, and it only has 200 nails, but I think it will help prepare my wool before I card.

I am so pleased that I could make this myself!

front end of wool picker

47 thoughts on “Building a wool picker

  1. That is amazing! I don’t know all of the tools involved in sorting out wool for spinning. I’m considering a drum or hand carders at the moment, but I’m not sure yet. Folks say once they get a drum carder, they usually don’t go back to the hand carders. So, I’m of the mind to just shoot to the drum carder. It’s just a large purchase if I don’t wind up liking it much…Dilemma!! Good for you for knowing how to make these things for yourself! That must really come in handy!

    • I think most spinners start with hand carders, because of the cost. It depends what you want to do when carding…blending or just getting wool ready for spinning. I think blending is easier and funner on a drum carder, but both work well for preparing fibre. I use mine mainly for preparing wool, and was getting a bit frustrated because I had to open up the wool so much before I could put it through the drum carder, (see my post on using drum and hand carders together, April 2011). But since I made the wool picker I am really happy with my drum carder. The wool picker opens the wool up, and then I feed it straight into the drum carder, even fleeces that were slightly felted!

      I like that I can take my hand carders with me if I want to work with my wool, card a bit, then drop spin a bit.

      I agree, it is a tough choice, but nice when you have the tools. Before I bought a wheel I was trying to make one with a kids bicycle! Didn’t work!

  2. Lois says:

    Congratulations — I am inspired! I think I’ll give it a try this summer!

  3. […] post de como hice mi “wool picker”/ how I made a wool picker post […]

  4. Wow, you built your own carder! I am very impressed!!!

  5. Well done. Two questions
    1. One set of nails on slider and three on bottom?
    2. Approx. how much overlap between the top and bottom nails?

    • 1) I put 3 sets of nails on the top and the bottom, but the bottom sets have 5 rows, and the top slider has 3 rows each set. I have never used on before, so I was only guessing from what I saw in pictures and youtube videos.

      2) the nails almost touch and some of them do slightly because I used a hand drill and couldn’t get them all perfect. I think if too many of them touched the lid wouldn’t slide properly. I don’t know how the nails are positioned on a professional wool picker, whether the nails actually mesh passing each other.

      Professional wool pickers you put the wool in one end at it comes out the other. I wasn’t trying for anything so great as that with mine, but it does actually do that. I think it may push it through too fast and I put the wool back through a couple of times. Also, some of the wool stays caught up on the nails, but because they are not super sharp it isn’t a problem pulling the wool off the nails. I thought it would be useful to have some form of mesh bottom so the dirt could fall out. To clean it I stand it on it’s end and brush the dirt out with an old broom head.

      Hope that helps!

  6. Kara says:

    This is a great post! thank you for sharing your project. I really want a picker, but haven’t been able to justify the full price of a “pro” model. I can show this to my husband, and he’ll probably be able to make me one too!

    • I am glad it was helpful. I was really pleased with the results, and because the nails are set into separate pieces of wood, (then these are screwed into the box and lid) I can change the position or put more nails in.

  7. SnapDragon says:

    Wonderful 😀 having three rather tatty jacobs fleeces washed and ready I’m also a bit fed up of having to pull-fluff or hand card each bit before drum carding, (getting muscles like popeye) but now I’m inspired thank you

  8. How do you get the nails at the correct angle?

    • I am not sure if the angle is correct, I have never used a professionally made wool picker and I guessed at the angle. To get all the nails at the same angle I first drilled a hole in a spare piece of wood at the angle I thought was right, then used that hole as a guide to drill the holes for the nails. It wasn’t perfect and was hard to hold the spare piece of wood in place whiles drilling, but it worked okay. 🙂

    • deb says:

      it said 45 degree but wondered how many rows of nails and measurements, I guess you can make it however big you want?

      • These are just my pictures and comments on how I made mine, not instructions how to build a wool picker. And yes, I think you can make it any size you want. I think bigger is better, more nails, but that is just my opinion from watching videos on you-tube of different pickers.

        Sorry I can’t be any more specific, 🙂

      • deb says:

        cool, thanks for your help, I want to try to make one, they are so expensive.

  9. Jo-anne says:

    This is a great article, you inspired me to have a go at making a picker, thankyou. My husband and I built one yesterday, it was nice working together on a project in the workshop. We had your article open on the laptop to refer to as we went along, which was fantastic. After a bit of tweeking, adjusting the position and height of the nails, it works beautifully. We postitioned the nail height so that the nails overlap a little to allow for them to open the fibre better, works like a charm. Your descriptions and photo’s were very helpful, congratulations on a job well done 🙂

  10. […] for July 2012, I got to be the wool-picker. Not that kind of wool picker. No, I got to select the breed of the […]

  11. Mike says:

    Your article on Building A Wool Picker was very interesting. Where did you find the pencil point nails? What size are they & who makes them?

    • Sorry I can’t remember the make of the nails I bought. The nails are from the local hardware store and are for a nail gun,(they come with a small plastic star on each one, which I took off). I think they were 2 inches, but they came in different sizes.

      Hope that helps, 🙂

  12. Mike says:

    thanks a lot for your help!!

  13. kerry says:

    Thank you – thank you – thank you for posting this! I know what a pain it is to go through all of the process of recording and photographing, but it really is a HUGE help.

  14. Tony says:

    I made one earlier this year. A smaller version, but based on the same principals. Looking at these photos, I see I had too much overlap on the nails, which made it very difficult to get them spaced correctly, and it because very hard work. I looks like the correct distance is to have the points barely overlap, but not enough to have the shafts of the nails overlap. I will see if a little tweaking will help. Thanks – I am impressed by your work.

    • Thanks, I wasn’t sure whether the nails should touch or not. I think that I was lucky by putting the nail “sets” on individual pieces of wood. It made it easier to change the distance between the top and bottom “sets”, by inserting wood in-between.

      Glad my post helped.

  15. Leah says:

    Thank you so much for posting this! Today we are going to attempt to build one (fingers crossed!). I wanted to let you know what we found at Lowe’s for the nails. We found nails in the hardware section for concrete use, they have star shaped plastic pieces near the tips and these are powder coated shiny gray. I took pictures of the box and nails and I can email them to you if you want.

  16. […] och tesmaskiner (woolpicker). Jag lyckades hitta tillbaka till en av de guider som finns i hur man tillverkar en tesmaskin (ok, jag har ingen aning om vad de heter på svenska). Vi får se hur länge det går att leva utan […]

  17. […] personally still use flickers to process my fleeces.  Pickers can be made fairly simply. The blog Spiders workshop  has great directions on how to build your own box […]

  18. Åsa H. says:

    Thanks for sharing! I’ll have to try make one for myself!

  19. Åsa H. says:

    How long are the nails and at what angle are they?

    • The nails are about 8cm and are at an angle of about 45 degrees. I am not sure how important the angle is, but I think it is important that the nails are smooth. I believe the real nails for pickers are curved and can be purchased online, but not sure.

      Hope that helps, and thanks for visiting!

  20. brendanolen says:

    Reblogged this on My Sustainable Home.

  21. arantxa diez says:

    Acabo de conocer este post es muy interesante acabo de empezar a hilar con rueca y es muy difícil encontrar una “escarminadora” que se dice aquí y tu dices que la has hecho tu, mi ingles es muy elemental y pierdo mucho significado. También seguimos en castellano, animate y danos mas post.

  22. arantxa diez says:

    A se me olvido decirte que te escribo desde E

  23. thelooseend says:

    Hi! I just wanted to say thank you for this post. It was a great help! I ended up doing mine a little differently, but it still works great – I bent the nails rather than drilled at an angle. I also wrote a tutorial and uploaded my plans on my blog, in case it will help anyone. Thanks again! Christine

  24. amylj says:

    Hello! This is a little late probably, but I just wanted to say that you are not using nails, you are using drive pins. And I think you are brilliant for doing so! Others who are looking through this blog might really benefit from knowing what exactly to ask for. Here’s a home depot link to the 2″ version: Thanks for this!

    • Thanks for the correction! When I found them I understood they were for a nail gun, but didn’t know the proper name, (and the packaging was in Spanish). Good to know what they are really called!

  25. Jennifer deGroot says:

    Thanks everyone for all your help! I’m hoping to start building one this week. One more question, sounds like the drive pins you used were not very sharp. Others suggest sharpening the nails. What is the ideal? My sense is that you want nails that are as sharp as possible but maybe I’m wrong.

  26. Birgitta María Braun says:

    Hallo. I read your wool picker article…Manitoba…icelandic origin? I do life an Iceland, and I will give it a trial. Where ever you now are in the world, good luck to you!

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