do the electric wind

As I organize my studio following the mini-renovation, I’ve been winding a lot of yarn. While I often quip that winding yarn is a form of exercise, I’ve wanted a motorized ball winder for a very long time.

We’re a DIY family. In addition to a large amount of fabric, craft supplies, and woodworking tools, we have a vast number of electronic parts.

For years I’ve wondered why I keep saving for a motorized unit. Between us, I reasoned we have the skills to make this happen.

The other day I decided it was time to try to motorize the ball winder.


The first yarn winder I looked at is a perfectly serviceable tool. It was straightforward to take apart, if a bit fussy, there are several split rings to contend with. After looking at it and the motors that we had available, I decided to leave this one as it is. It’s a very good ball winder, but not as straightforward to motorize.

The second one is unique, it’s a handmade wooden model. The maker is unknown (it’s most similar to a popular wool winder). I’d swapped with someone years before since I had tools (& skill) to fix it — the drive wheel had a crack and it was a quick fix. However, I never found a source I liked for the drive band. While I used a combination of rubber bands and thick cotton string over the years, I could never quite get the tension right. I knew this one would work.

Building version 1

After rummaging in the parts bin, we settled on what’s likely an old VCR motor and set about building something that would work.

Tensioner & Base

I mounted it on two pieces of wood to use as a tensioner (by drilling holes spaced an inch apart). This served two purposes: I’ve struggled to find drive bands so the holes would give me options based on what parts I could find. The second is that I didn’t have the entire yarn winder. It seems that part of the base was forever missing. I’ve clamped it to a table for years and this would provide more surface area. As a reuse bonus, the wood was once a shelf in the studio. Now with the addition of four rubber feet on the bottom I don’t need a clamp anymore!

Soldering the ball winder controls on a messy wooden desk

After evaluating switch options, we decided on one that has two positions so the winder can go forward or in reverse.


Proof of concept was reached with a 9V battery. It didn’t take long to want to upgrade and we soldiered on a 12V AC adapter.

It worked!

First run of the ball winder using a hair tie and 9V battery
First run!
Tension & Oil

I noticed that it was important to pay close attention to the tension of the yarn being wound, but I thought that was the old motor or my initial drive band (hair ties).

Once I upgraded to a larger and more substantial o-ring, that’s when I started to have significant issues. It kept slipping, producing loose and lopsided yarn cakes. I apparently didn’t take photos of this.

It took additional diagnosis before we (and yes it took we) realized that the parts weren’t all turning properly. It took only a dab of (sewing) machine oil and things were back to even spinning. Until I realized that the wood hadn’t seen any TLC in a very long time and yarns were catching on the subtly rough surface. That was fixed with some 220 grit sandpaper. I’m going to give it a more thorough sanding soon (including in the circles of the wheel) and rub on some beeswax to condition the wood.

Next steps

I plan to look for a new switch and change its placement. The current switch isn’t easy to quickly toggle or access as I thought. When we laid the parts out, I kept looking at it horizontally but it will likely be vertical, as that fits better on my desk and puts the yarn guide in a better position for the swift.

Upgraded ball winder to 12V adapter, still using a hair tie as drive band

I may add a foot pedal to allow for temporary pausing in case of tangle or other mishap.

I need to give the entire thing a good sanding and some wood conditioner.

Want one?

I apologize, this is one of those projects that isn’t easy to duplicate.

It requires you to have experience with basic electronics and soldiering (check) and motors (why it was a joint project).

I’m using salvaged parts so it’s difficult to do more than say you’ll need the following types of parts:

  • ball winder that will let you reroute the drive band around the shaft of motor.
  • motor that doesn’t have too fast an RPM speed and has a spindle you can pull a band around.
  • power source.
  • switch.
  • drive band (if you can’t use the one that is currently engaged).

Closing Thoughts

This is a project I’ve wanted to do for a decade. While I’m thrilled to have finally realized this (odd) dream, I wish the circumstances were different! Once all the yarn is reorganized I’ll be better able to inventory the yarn and make plans for its use.

Winding after maintenanceon all moving parts.

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