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

When felting doesn’t work

I think most crafting blogs like to show the beautiful creations that they make, I know I do.  However sometimes things don’t turn out the way you want them to.

If it is knitting, the undesired object can be “frogged”, or pulled apart.  The first time I did this I was upset at the thought of undoing all my work, but as the rows unravelled I felt a certain freedom knowing the yarn had not been “set in stone” and I could knit something new.

This month I have been working with wet felt, and found that unfortunately it is “set in stone”.  Once the wool has been felted it can’t be un-felted.  The scarves I have been making, (see previous post) look really nice, individually. When I look at them all together they make me feel a bit sick, (too many colours, – I should have paid attention to that feeling!)  But I didn’t, and when my dad asked me to make a large, felted wall hanging I said, “Okay!”

And I made one.  Just not very well.

I laid out the equivalent of 5 scarves in wool.  It didn’t fit on the table so I had to work on the floor, (not comfortable) and the biggest mistake; I didn’t layer enough wool under the silk/merino mix.  After all the work of getting the wool to look nice, wetting, soaping, and rolling I opened it up to see there were holes.  Lots of holes; some big, some long, and some just areas of thin wool.  Definitely not what I had imagined, and very disappointing.

felted wall hanging

I thought about patching up the holes with more wool, but it would have still been pulled out of shape.

So I got drastic and cut it into strips with the idea of weaving the strips together.  I laid them out in an open weave and needle felted the trips together.

Needle felting the strips

This took a while.

When they were felted together I attached a piece of wood to the back of the top strip to hang it.

On the wall

And it still looks bad.  The thin parts of the wool are stretching, one side is hanging funny…

I will take it down and see what I can do to make it better.  Maybe there is nothing I can do to make it look nice.  My oldest daughter said, “well at least you are learning”, which is true.  Sometimes things don’t work out the way you plan, which is what I like about working with wool, the unexpected results.  However I have to take the bad as well as the good.

I have some ideas for the wall hanging.  The strips can be unwoven, and maybe woven more tightly, or used as the weft with a different warp.  If anyone else has any ideas, please feel free to leave a comment.