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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- drive band (if you can’t use the one that is currently engaged).
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.