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Drum Carders: Your Ultimate Guide To Getting Started with Carding Fibre

  • 15 min read
Ashford Drum Carder (Photographer: Ashford Handicrafts Ltd) - Thread Collective Australia
Drum Carder with wool fibre (Photo credit: Ashford Handicrafts Ltd)

What are Drum Carders?

A drum carder is a tabletop device used in the textile industry to card wool and other fibres in preparation for spinning or felting. Carding is a mechanical process that detangles, cleans, and combines wool fibres to create a continuous web of fibres that is ideal for further processing. A drum carder is capable of carding fibres more efficiently than flick carders, hand cards, or blending boards.

Here is a detailed description of a drum carder and its main components:

  1. Two cylindrical drums: A drum carder typically consists of two cylindrical drums covered with coarse or fine metal "tines." These drums are responsible for raking through the wool to comb the fibres and create a uniform wool "batt."
  2. Small and large drums: The drum carder has two drums, with the smaller drum designed to draw in the fibres and transfer them to the larger drum. This process produces a batt, which can be used for spinning into yarn or for wool felting projects.
  3. Blending capabilities: Drum carders are used for carding wool fleeces and blending different fibres. These carding tools allow fibre artists to create their own colourful batts by combining various fibres, such as alpaca locks, angora, or different types of wool.

While larger farms may send their raw wool to mills for processing, drum carders are essential equipment for small fibre farms and fibre artists who enjoy creating unique wool blends for their projects. These individuals rely on drum carders to card their own fibres and have greater control over the blending process, resulting in customised and one-of-a-kind creations.

Understanding what a drum carder is and how it functions is crucial for beginners, as it allows them to prepare fibres for spinning or felting efficiently and enables them to create unique and personalized wool products.

What is Drum Carding?

Drum carding plays a significant role in preparing wool and other fibres for spinning or felting. It involves using a drum carder, a tabletop device that simplifies and streamlines the carding process.

In essence, drum carding is a mechanical process that detangles, cleans, and blends wool fibres to create a continuous web of fibres that are ideal for further processing.

There are numerous benefits of drum carding. Firstly, it enables the production of uniform and beautiful wool batts, making it easier to process both raw and washed wool. This uniformity is often difficult to achieve with traditional hand cards. Additionally, drum carders allow fibre artists to unleash their creativity by blending different fibres and colours, resulting in unique and visually appealing batts. This versatility opens up possibilities for creating intricate blends of dyed wool colours or mixing wool with silk, alpaca, or other fibres to produce ultra-soft and distinctive wool-based clothing products.

Furthermore, drum carding organises non-aligned fibres by breaking up clumps and locks and aligning them more parallelly. This preparation is essential for spinning the fibres into yarn or creating webs of fibre for non-woven products like needle felting.

It is important to note that drum carding is not limited to wool fibres alone. Various fibres can be carded, ranging from cotton to dog hair, llama, soy fibre, and even polyester. However, certain bast fibres like flax, hemp, ramie, and jute would require additional preparation steps before carding.

How to Use a Drum Carder

How to use a drum carder - Thread Collective Australia
Using a drum carder (Photo credit: Ashford Handicrafts Ltd)

Step 1: Find a suitable source of wool and fibre.

Finding a suitable source of wool is crucial for a successful drum carding experience. The quality of the wool can greatly affect the carding process and the final outcome of the wool batts. In order to find the right source of wool, there are several steps and considerations to keep in mind:

  1. Fibre Type: The type of fibre you will primarily work with is an important factor to consider. Different fibres have different characteristics and properties that can affect the carding process. Coarse wool, fine wool, and super-fine fibres such as silk, mohair, and alpaca all require different techniques and settings on the drum carder. Determine the type of fibre you will be working with and look for sources that specialize in that particular fibre.
  2. Cleanliness: Working with clean and well-prepared wool is essential when using a drum carder. Look for sources that provide raw or washed wool that is free from debris, dirt, and excessive vegetation. Cleanliness is important to ensure smooth carding and avoid damaging the drum carder.
  3. Availability: Consider the availability of the wool source. If you plan to do a lot of drum carding, finding a local source of wool that you can easily access may be beneficial. This can save you time and shipping costs. Check with local farms, fibre festivals, or spinning and weaving guilds in your area to find out if any wool producers or suppliers are nearby. If you are in Australia, Thread Collective will ship your wool orders right to your doorstep!
  4. Price and Value: Consider the price and value of the wool. While high-quality wool may come at a higher price, it is worth investing in good-quality fibres that will yield better results.
  5. Personal Preferences: Take into account your personal preferences and priorities. Some fibre artists prioritise organic or sustainably sourced wool, while others prioritize specific breeds or colours. Consider what is important to you and look for sources that align with your preferences.

Finding a suitable source of wool for drum carding requires careful consideration of factors such as fibre type, cleanliness, availability, reputation, price, and personal preferences. By taking the time to research and evaluate different wool sources, you can ensure that you find high-quality wool that is suitable for drum carding. This will ultimately result in a more successful and enjoyable carding experience with beautiful, uniform wool batts ready for spinning or felting.

Step 2: Selecting your drum carder

When choosing carding combs for your drum carder, there are a few factors to consider in order to find the right ones for your needs. Here is a detailed guide to help you make an informed decision:

  1. Purpose: First, determine the purpose for which you will be using the carding combs. Are you carding fleece/locks or roving/sliver and prepared fibres? This will help you determine the appropriate ratio of the carding combs.
  2. Ratio: The drum carder may have two ratios for different types of fibres. The 6:1 ratio is suitable for carding fleece or locks, while the 4:1 ratio is ideal for carding roving, sliver, and prepared fibres. Consider the type of fibres you will be working with and choose the corresponding ratio. Some drum carders such as Ashford's range of drum carders, offer dual ratios.
  3. Carding Cloth Points: The carding cloth on the combs is available in different point densities, which determines the coarseness or fineness of the carding. The options typically include fine (36 points), coarse (72 points), and finest (120 points). Choose the appropriate point density based on the type of fibres you will be carding. Coarser points are suitable for coarse wools, while finer points are better for finer wools and luxury fibres.
  4. Material: Check the material of the carding combs. Nylon bearings are preferred as they make the combs light and easy to turn. Additionally, ensure that the wire teeth of the combs have a special protective coating and a flexible rubber backing for long life.
  5. Construction: Consider the construction of the carding combs. Look for combs with a strong and robust body, such as Silver Beech, made from durable hardwood. This ensures that the combs will be sturdy and long-lasting.
  6. Size and Capacity: Consider the size and capacity of the carding combs. Check the dimensions and ensure that they are suitable. Additionally, look for the combs' capacity, typically measured in weight, and make sure that it meets your requirements.
  7. Price and Availability: Consider the price of the carding combs and compare them to your budget. Additionally, check the combs' availability and ensure they can be shipped to your location.

By considering these factors, you can choose the right carding combs for your drum carder that will suit your specific needs and help you achieve the desired results in your fibre preparation process.

Step 3: Use your drum carder to comb and card your wool.

Combing and carding wool using a drum carder is a great way to prepare your fibres for spinning or felting because it is a mechanical device that makes carding wool easier and more efficient.

A drum carder allows fibre artists to create beautiful, uniform wool bats and blends, combining different colours and fibres to create unique products. It also helps to align the fibres, remove any clumps or locks, and create a more parallel arrangement, making it easier to work with. Using a drum carder, you can efficiently and effectively card your wool.

Here is a step-by-step guide on how to comb wool using a drum carder:

  1. Prepare your wool: Start by selecting the wool you want to comb. It can be raw, washed, or dyed wool. Make sure the wool is clean and free from debris or tangles. If you have raw wool, it's recommended to wash it before carding to remove any dirt or grease.
  2. Set up the drum carder: Place the drum carder on a stable surface, such as a table or countertop. Ensure it is already completely assembled, and securely clamped or fastened to prevent movement during the carding process. Check that the rubber feet are in place to prevent slipping.
  3. Load the drum carder: Open the drum carder and place a small amount of wool on the feed tray, spreading it evenly across the width of the drum carder. Avoid overloading the drum carder, as it can affect the carding process and result in uneven bats. Start with a small amount and gradually increase as you become more comfortable with the process.
  4. Adjust the settings: Depending on the type of fibres you are carding, you may need to adjust the settings on your drum carder. For carding fleece or locks, use a 6:1 ratio. For carding roving or prepared fibres, use a 4:1 ratio. This will ensure that the drum carder operates at the appropriate speed for the type of fibres you are working with.
  5. Start carding: Turn the handle or switch on the motor to start the drum carder. As you turn the handle, the wool will be fed into the drum carder, passed through the rollers, and across the drum wrapped in carding cloth. The carding cloth helps to align the fibres and remove any tangles or clumps.
  6. Feed the wool: Slowly feed the wool onto the drum carder, making sure it is evenly distributed across the width of the drum. Use gentle, even pressure to ensure the fibres are carded properly. Avoid pushing or forcing the wool onto the drum carder, as this can cause damage to the machine or affect the quality of the carded bats. You may use a brush or the included packer brush to push the wool into the teeth of the carding cloth.
  7. Repeat the process: Continue feeding the wool onto the drum carder, layer by layer, until you have carded the desired amount. Maintaining a consistent wool thickness throughout the carding process is important to achieve uniform bats.
  8. Remove the carded batts: Carefully remove the carded bats from the drum carder after carding the wool. Gently lift it off the drum, taking care not to disturb the alignment of the fibres. You can use a doffer, included with the drum carder, to help in this process.

Precautions, Tips, and Techniques:

  • Always follow the manufacturer's instructions and safety guidelines when using a drum carder.
  • Start with small amounts of wool to ensure even carding and prevent overloading the drum carder.
  • Be cautious when handling the carding cloth, as it can be sharp. Avoid touching the cloth directly with your fingers to prevent injury.
  • Play with different fibres and colours to create unique blends and textures. Practice and experiment with different techniques to find the best carding method for you. Every fibre and project may require slight adjustments to achieve the desired outcome.
  • Pay attention to the alignment of the fibres as you feed them into the carding cloth. This will help create a more uniform and consistent batt.
  • Use the appropriate carding cloth for the type of fibres you are working with to achieve the desired results.
  • Store your drum carder in a safe and dry place when not in use to prevent damage or rusting.
  • Take breaks if needed, as carding wool can be a repetitive and physically demanding process.

Step 5: Clean and maintain your carder comb.

Regularly cleaning and maintaining your drum carder is essential to ensure optimal performance and longevity. Neglecting this step can lead to issues such as fibre buildup, reduced carding efficiency, and potential damage to the card cloth.

Follow the steps below to clean and maintain your carder comb:

  1. Frequency of Cleaning: It is recommended to clean your carder comb after every use or whenever you notice a significant buildup of fibres. Regular cleaning will prevent fibres from becoming compacted and clogged in the card cloth, ensuring consistent carding results.
  2. Removing the Comb: Start by removing the comb from your drum carder. Most drum carders have a removable comb that can be easily detached for cleaning. Refer to your drum carder's user manual or instructions for specific guidance on how to remove the comb.
  3. Brushing Off Loose Fibres: Use a cleaning or soft-bristled brush to brush off any loose fibres from the comb gently. This will help remove any surface debris and make cleaning more effective.
  4. Soaking the Comb: Prepare a basin or sink with warm water and a mild detergent or specialized carder comb cleaner. Submerge the comb in the soapy water and let it soak for a few minutes. This will help loosen any trapped fibres and dirt.
  5. Cleaning the Comb: After soaking, use the cleaning brush to gently scrub the comb, paying close attention to the teeth and grooves. Work in small sections, and make sure to remove any stubborn fibres or residue. Avoid using excessive force or harsh scrubbing, as this can damage the card cloth.
  6. Rinse and Dry: Once the comb is clean, rinse it thoroughly with clean water to remove any soap or cleaning solution. Gently shake off any excess water and pat dry with a clean towel. It is important to ensure that the comb is completely dry before reattaching it to the drum carder, as moisture can lead to mould or mildew growth.
  7. Lubricating the Bearings: Some drum carders may have bearings that require lubrication. Refer to your drum carder's user manual or instructions for specific guidance on lubricating the bearings. Use a suitable lubricant recommended by the manufacturer to ensure smooth and efficient rotation of the drum.
  8. Inspecting for Damage: While cleaning, take the opportunity to inspect the comb for any signs of damage or wear. Check for bent teeth, loose wires, or any other issues that may affect the carding process. Contact the manufacturer or a professional for repairs or replacement parts if you notice any damage.
  9. Storage: After cleaning and inspecting, store the comb in a dry and clean area. Covering the comb with a protective cloth or plastic bag is recommended to prevent dust or debris from settling on it.

Regularly cleaning and maintaining your drum carder comb is crucial for its longevity and optimal performance. By following these steps and guidelines, you can ensure that your comb remains in good condition and continues to produce high-quality carded fibres. Remember to clean your comb after every use or whenever necessary to prevent fibre buildup and maintain the efficiency of your drum carder.

What Type of Fibre Will You Be Primarily Working With?

Fibres for spinning and felting - Thread Collective Australia
Photographer: Ashford Handicrafts Ltd

When getting started with using a drum carder, it is essential to understand the different types of fibre that you will primarily be working with. The type of fibre you choose will significantly impact the carding process and the results you achieve. Different fibres have varying characteristics, such as fineness, length, and crimp, which can affect how they card and blend.

  1. Coarse Wool: If you will be primarily working with coarse wool, choosing a drum carder with a carding cloth designed for producing batts and blending fibres is important. A carding cloth with a density of 56 TPI (teeth per inch) is suitable for this type of fibre. Coarse wool fibres are typically thicker and have more crimp, requiring a carding cloth that can effectively break up clumps and align the fibres in a parallel fashion.
  2. Fine Wool: For those working with fine wool, such as merino or other similar animal hair, a drum carder with a carding cloth of 72 TPI is recommended. This carding cloth is designed to handle most wool and similar animal hair. Fine wool fibres are generally softer and have less crimp compared to coarse wool. The carding cloth with 72 TPI will help to align the fibres smoothly without damaging or creating neps or noils.
  3. Super-Fine Fibres: If you plan to work with super-fine fibres like silk, mohair, or alpaca, it is crucial to select a drum carder with a carding cloth designed specifically for short staple fibres. A carding cloth with a density of 90 TPI is ideal for these delicate and luxurious fibres. The fine teeth of the carding cloth will handle the shorter fibres with precision, ensuring a smooth and even carding process.

Understanding the type of fibre you will primarily be working with is essential for selecting the right drum carder. It ensures that the carding cloth's density is appropriate for the fibre's characteristics, allowing for efficient and effective carding without damaging the fibres. By choosing the correct drum carder and carding cloth for your fibre, you can achieve the desired results of creating well-carded batts or blends that are ready for spinning or felting.

The Ashford Book of Drum Carding is a great resource to learn all about drum carders and the process of carding.

What Size Drum Carder Should You Buy?

Preparing fibre for spinning
Photographer: Ashford Handicrafts Ltd

Choosing the right size drum carder is crucial for a successful carding experience. The size of the drum carder directly affects the carding process, including the quantity and quality of the batts produced.

Here are some factors to consider when determining the appropriate size:

  1. Desired production volume: Consider how much processing you plan to do. If you have a high volume of fibre to card, a larger drum carder with a wider drum will allow you to process more fibre at once, reducing the time and effort required. Conversely, if you have a lower volume of fibre or prefer to work in smaller batches, a smaller drum carder may be more suitable.
  2. Available space: Assess the space you have available for the drum carder. Larger drum carders require more space for operation and storage. A smaller drum carder would be a practical choice if you have limited space.
  3. Processing efficiency: The size of the drum carder can impact the carding efficiency. A larger drum carder with a wider drum can handle larger amounts of fibre, resulting in faster and more efficient processing. On the other hand, a smaller drum carder may require more frequent loading and unloading of fibre, which can slow down the carding process.

Choosing the right size drum carder is essential for a successful carding experience. Factors such as the desired production volume, available space, and processing efficiency all play a role in determining the appropriate size. Assess your specific needs and preferences to make an informed decision. By selecting the right size drum carder, you can ensure efficient carding, better quality batts, and an overall enjoyable carding process.

Considerations for Buying a Drum Carder

What you need to know before buying a drum carder
Ashford e-carder (Photo credit: Ashford Handicrafts Ltd)

When getting started with drum carding, choosing the right drum carder for your needs is crucial. A reliable drum carder can last a lifetime and hold its value, making it a worthwhile investment. There are several factors to consider when purchasing a drum carder, and in this section, we will discuss the key factors to help you make an informed decision.

  • Budget: Determine your budget before starting your search for a drum carder. Prices can vary significantly depending on the brand, model, and features. It's essential to find a drum carder that fits your budget without compromising quality.
  • Carding Width: Consider the width of the drum carder and how it aligns with your carding needs. The carding width determines the size of the batts you can create.
  • Carding Speed: Think about the speed at which you plan to card fibres. Some drum carders have adjustable speeds, while others have a fixed speed. The carding speed can impact the efficiency and ease of carding.
  • Durability: Look for a drum carder that is built to last. Durability is essential, especially if you plan to use your drum carder frequently or for professional purposes.
  • Fibre Type: As mentioned previously, you would have to consider the type of fibre you will primarily be working with. Different drum carders may have specific features or settings that are better suited for certain fibre types. Coarse, fine, and super-fine fibres like silk, mohair, and alpaca have different processing requirements. Coarse wool may require a larger drum carder to accommodate the thicker fibres, while fine or super-fine fibres can be carded effectively on a smaller drum carder.
  • Packer Brush: Determine if you need a packer brush on your drum carder. A packer brush helps to pack more fibres onto the drum, creating thicker batts. This feature can be particularly helpful when working with fine, low-crimp fibres like mohair, angora, or alpaca.

When selecting a drum carder, it is important to consider your budget, carding width, carding speed, durability, fibre type, and the need for a packer brush. You can find a drum carder that meets your specific needs and preferences by evaluating these factors and considering the recommendations provided.

Popular Drum Carder Models

Drum carders have revolutionized the art of fibre preparation, allowing fibre artists to effortlessly create beautifully blended and aligned batts. These are some of the most popular drum carder models in the market today:

Ashford Fine Drum Carder

Ashford Fine Drum Carder - Thread Collective Australia
Ashford Fine Drum Carder

The Ashford Fine Drum Carder allows you to card fibres and blend colours efficiently, producing a smooth, even batt ideal for blending, spinning, or felting. This drum carder is also popular for those on a budget. It offers excellent value for money while still providing reliable performance.

Louet Standard Drum Carder

Louet Standard Drum Carder - Thread Collective Australia
Louet Standard Drum Carder

The Louet Standard Drum Carderis known for its workhorse performance and ease of use. It offers a consistent carding speed, making it suitable for both beginners and experienced fibre artists. This drum carder makes blending colours very simple and can handle up to 80g of fibre at a time.

Ashford Wide Drum Carder

Ashford Wide Drum Carder - Thread Collective Australia
Ashford Wide Drum Carder

The Ashford Wide Drum Carder is a versatile option that can handle a wide range of fibre types. Its improved design and two ratios offer increased flexibility and control, making it suitable for various fibre types. It also has a 30cm working width that lets you quickly prepare your fibres, blend colours, and create large batts.

Ashford e-Carder

Ashford e-Carder - Thread Collective Australia
Ashford e-Carder

The Ashford e-Carder is an electric drum carder designed with powerful motors that allow for faster and easier carding of fibres. It is highly recommended if you will be working with large quantities of fibre.

Buy a Drum Carder and Get Your Fibres Ready for Spinning

With a drum carder, you'll have the power to effortlessly blend colours, fibres, and textures, allowing you to create unique yarns that reflect your personal style. It's time to unleash your creativity and take your spinning journey to the next level with a drum carder. Experience the joy of transforming raw fibres into beautifully blended batts, ready to be spun into exquisite yarns!

Browse our collection of drum carders and don’t wait any longer to turn your fibre stash into a treasure trove of spinning possibilities. Remember to take good care of your drum carder, as it can last a lifetime and retain its value. Happy drum carding!

To learn about other carding tools for fibre preparation, read our blog post titled Preparing Fibre for Spinning.