Buying your first used spinning wheel is exciting, but it's easy to get pulled in by convincing fake wheels, or blindsided by expensive missing parts. Learn to confidently get a great deal on a used spinning wheel that you'll love!
Every now and again, I'll get a random photo of an old spinning wheel emailed or texted to me. It usually means that a good friend is on the hunt for their first spinning wheel. They know I'm a spinner, and hope I can tell them if this is this used wheel is a good deal or not.
Since new spinning wheels can easily cost $800 or even much more, buying a used wheel is a great idea if you want to start spinning at home, without spending a fortune.
The trouble is, even used wheels often cost $100 or more. So if you spend that much on a wheel that isn't great (or isn't really a spinning wheel at all!), you can find yourself stuck with a frustrating or non-functional wheel until you can afford to get another one. I've known many, many spinners that have been terribly burned when buying their first used wheel.
These 4 tips below are what I tell my friends when they let me know they're on the hunt for a good used wheel. I hope they help you find a great deal on a good wheel as well!
1. Learn what you like, before you start looking
The first thing I encourage every would-be spinning wheel owner to do, is to take advantage of every possible opportunity to spin on as many different types wheels as you can. Try to get a feel feel for the different options that are out there, and what you like or don't like about them, before you start earnestly looking for a wheel of your own.
There are so many different kinds of wheels, and you may find one style awkward, while absolutely falling in love with another. I know, when you don't own a wheel and just long to be spinning at home, it's easy to feel "I'll be happy with anything, as long as it spins!"
And that's probably true - it will feel amazing to be spinning on your own wheel, no matter what. But it will feel a lot more amazing if it's a wheel that most enjoyably suits your spinning style.
By knowing what you like before you start looking, you're more likely to end up with a wheel you really love!
2. Learn to spot a fake wheel - they are incredibly common!
There are countless spinning wheels out there on Craigslist that look like beautiful, classic spinning wheels, with a story to tell - except that they're fake.
Years ago, fake spinning wheels were popular enough to end up in living rooms all across the country. They were decoration pieces, meant to look like fully-functional, antique spinning wheels, engendering all the warm, hearth-side feelings of a bygone era.
By now, many of these have been sitting in living rooms and attics long enough, that the folks selling them actually think what they have is a real spinning wheel. So they list it for sale as a real, functional spinning wheel. Many, many a new spinner has bought one of these used decoration pieces, excited to finally have a wheel of their own - only to discover that there's no way to actually spin anything with it.
It's heartbreaking to hear from someone who's just blown their spinning wheel savings on what turned out to be a pretty piece of junk. My hope is that these pointers below can save you from that.
My instinct is that this deceptive advertising is not usually done in malice. I have actually heard people swear they saw their granny spinning on a wheel that didn't have any possible way to spin fiber. But they had seen that wheel in their grandmother's house for so many years, I genuinely believe they had convinced themselves they'd seen it working at some point.
Since so often the people selling used spinning wheels don't know much about them, it's up to the buyer to be aware, and know the signs of a fake wheel.
When I picked up my used Louet s75 (and a valuable stash of bobbins and accessories) for $125, some friends were surprised that I'd chosen such an unassuming, "cute" little thing. They pointed out that for the same price I could have had one of the "really gorgeous, real spinning wheels" that they'd seen advertised for the same price on Craigslist. Except that each of those "gorgeous, real wheels" were actually non-functional fakes.
It is very, very easy to be duped. Here are some tips for spotting a fake:
Does it have a maker's name?
If you clearly see a manufacturer's name on the side (like the word "Louet" in the photo above), that's actually a good sign. Most fake spinning wheels were made to look like antiques, and were almost universally in one of two styles - the "great wheel" (or walking wheel) style, or the smaller flax wheel.
If you see a manufacturer's name, you can often quickly do a search, and figure out exactly what model of wheel you're looking at.
Does it look old, but have a "made in" label underneath?
Modern functional wheels my have a "made in Thailand" label on them, but fake wheels were made to look antique. And antique wheels didn't come with "made in ..." labels. If you see one underneath the wheel (and don't feel badly about looking!), that would be a dead giveaway.
Are there hooks on the flyer?
If there are no hooks on the flyer, that's another common sign of a fake. Another sign would be a flyer that has hooks, but ones that are clearly made from thin wire, rather than sturdy hooks that look more like a cup hook.
Keep in mind, many fakes do actually have hooks on the flyer - having hooks doesn't necessarily mean it's a good functional wheel. But if you see a "flyer" with no hooks, that's a good clue this is a decorative piece, not a spinning wheel.
Is there an orifice?
In the picture above, do you see that little round hole where the yarn pulls through? That's the orifice. Most real spinning wheels have one, but most decorative wheels don't.
Does the bobbin come off the flyer?
Ask if you can handle the wheel. Take the flyer right off, and see if you can remove the bobbin. A bobbin should be removable from the flyer. If the whole thing was made in one piece, it was meant for being pretty - not for spinning.
Snap a picture and send it to a spinner friend
Anyone who spins, is eager to help everyone else know the joy of spinning at home. If you have a friend who spins, she'll almost certainly be delighted to help in your search.
If you're stumped about whether to buy a particular wheel, snap a quick picture and send it to a friend for advice. Or join a spinning group on Facebook or Reddit, and share it with them. They'll be more than happy to help you identify the wheel, and share any experience or insight they may have about it!
3. Know the parts of a wheel, so you can spot what's missing
Another thing that can be really helpful when buying a used wheel, is to know the anatomy of a spinning wheel enough to identify if there are pieces missing, which you'll have to replace.
Some parts are more expensive than others. If you've blown every bit of your spinning wheel budget on buying the wheel, it may be a difficulty to get it up and running if it needs any pricey replacement parts.
For example, I had to replace my drive band soon after purchasing my used Louet, but it only cost $14. If I'd needed to replace the flyer, that would have set me back closer to $85...not an amount that would have been in my budget just then. If you poke around on The Woolery website (my favorite spinning wheel supply shop), it will give you a good idea which wheel parts are cheap to replace, and which can run into the triple digits.
Knowing if any parts are missing (and a rough idea of whether they're cheap like a belt, or pricey like a flyer), can really help with getting a good working wheel, while staying within your budget.
4. Set a Craigslist alert
The final thing I advise my friends to do, when they're looking for a spinning wheel, is to set an alert on Craigslist so that you can get an email any time someone posts a wheel matching your search query.
That's what I did to find my wheel, and it was so helpful. I was able to call about it within minutes of the wheel being posted on Craigslist. And it's a good thing I did! The fellow selling it later told me I was the first of more than 80 emails and phone calls he got just in one day. It was a great wheel at an amazing price, and good deals like that can really go fast! Setting an alert can help you be the early bird that gets the killer deal on a dream wheel.
If you don't know how to set a Craigslist alert, this post walks you right through it.
In my case, I just set an alert for "spinning wheel" and that worked well. There are few enough used spinning wheels advertised in Maine that I wasn't inundated with alerts. If you live in a bigger area, you may like to narrow that down (spinning wheels under $150, for example). Or if there's a specific type of wheel you're looking for (e.g. "Ashford", or "Louet"), you could set an alert for that.
I hope you find these tips helpful, as you look for your first spinning wheel! Any questions about buying a used wheel that I haven't answered? Go ahead and leave me a question in the comments below!