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The Difference Between Single-Drive and Double-Drive Spinning Wheels

  • 15 min read
Single drive  on a Schacht Ladybug vs Double Drive on a Schacht Matchless (Photographer: Samantha Gehrmann)
Single drive on a Schacht Ladybug vs Double Drive on a Schacht Matchless (Photographer: Samantha Gehrmann)

Single-drive and double-drive spinning wheels represent two distinct approaches to the age-old craft of spinning fibres into yarn. These wheels differ in their mechanics, functionality and, to an extent, the yarns they produce. This allows the spinner to choose the best drive setup for the yarn they wish to use. We delve into these differences along with exploring the world of drive bands and whorls so that you can learn about the capabilities of each spinning wheel drive system and decide which system might be best suited for your needs.

Distinguishing Factors Between Single-Drive and Double-Drive Systems

The primary distinguishing factors between single and double-drive spinning wheels lie in the mechanics, the number of drive bands used, and the resulting yarn they can produce.

Ashford Traveller 3 - a single-drive spinning wheel (Photographer: Ashford Handicrafts Ltd)
Ashford Traveller 3 - a single-drive spinning wheel (Photographer: Ashford Handicrafts Ltd)

The single-drive wheel operates with a single-drive band. This band is looped around the wheel's flyer, which is responsible for twisting the fibres, while a separate brake band controls the tension on the bobbin. Single-drive wheels can be categorised into either Scotch tension (flyer-led) or Irish tension (bobbin-led) wheels. To read more about the differences between Scotch and Irish tension wheels, refer to "The Difference between Scotch and Irish Tension" blog post.

One of the advantages of single-drive wheels is their simplicity. They are generally easier for beginners to grasp, offering a straightforward mechanism for controlling the tension. Additionally, single-drive wheels often have a smaller footprint and can be more portable. This portability can make them more suitable for those who wish to spin on the go. The disadvantage is that it sometimes takes a lot of fiddling to get the proper tension. It can also take more practice to spin consistently on one.

Ashford Elizabeth - a double-drive Scotch tension spinning wheel ((Photographer: Ashford Handicrafts Ltd)
Ashford Elizabeth - a double-drive Scotch tension spinning wheel ((Photographer: Ashford Handicrafts Ltd)

On the other hand, as the name implies, double-drive spinning wheels utilise either two bands or, more commonly, a long drive band, which is looped back on itself in a figure 8-type fashion to create a doubled band. One band goes on the whorl of the flyer and another on the bobbin; the interaction between these two bands regulates the tension. The drive band on the flyer propels it to twist the fibres into yarn, while the drive band on the bobbin controls the winding of the yarn onto the bobbin. This simultaneous control of the flyer and bobbin contributes to their efficiency in producing a more balanced yarn. The take-up is smoother than on single-drive wheels, as the bobbin and flyer are driven at different speeds. Double-drive wheels are well-suited for spinners creating smooth, consistent yarns, especially in fine or delicate spinning projects.

Single-drive wheels offer simplicity and portability, making them accessible for beginners. In contrast, double-drive wheels provide enhanced control for producing balanced and consistent yarn, making them favoured by experienced spinners. Note that a large advantage to choosing a double-drive spinning wheel is that they can often also be set up to function as a single-drive wheel.

Comparing Drive Wheels and Their Impact on Yarn Production

Double-drive wheels are historically more likely to be considered "production wheels" for those producing yarn for their family's knitwear or to sell. This is because they can typically spin faster due to the higher range of whorls/ratios available. This isn't to say single-drive wheels aren't capable of immense yarn production, but the spinner may need to treadle 2-4 times as much to obtain the same twist as someone using a double-drive wheel could do with one treadle action (depending on the ratio availability). In the current world, many spinners don't produce at a production level, preferring to spin at a more sedate pace to satisfy their production levels or creativity.

The types of yarn produced can also vary between wheels. Yarn produced on single-drive wheels can vary in thickness and texture based on the spinner's adjustments. This versatility makes single-drive wheels suitable for various yarn types, from fine and delicate to thicker and more robust. On the other hand, yarn from double-drive wheels tends to have a more even texture and structure. This makes them particularly well-suited for spinners aiming to create smooth, consistent yarn, which can be advantageous in intricate projects or when a uniform yarn is desired.

The Flyer and Bobbin

The flyer and bobbin are integral to spinning wheels and crucial in transforming fibre into yarn. The bobbin stores the yarn, while the flyer actively participates in the spinning process by adding a twist to the fibres. The coordination between these components is essential for achieving the desired yarn characteristics and maintaining proper tension during spinning.

Flyer and bobbin on the Ashford Traveller 3 (Photographer: Ashford Handicrafts Ltd)
Flyer and bobbin on the Ashford Traveller 3 (Photographer: Ashford Handicrafts Ltd)

Three main types of flyer and bobbin designs are Irish tension, Scotch tension, and double drive. Each design caters to different spinning preferences, and spinners often develop a preference for a specific type based on their techniques and goals.


  1. Function: The bobbin is a cylindrical storage device that holds the spun yarn. As the spinner operates the wheel, the fibres are twisted and wound onto the bobbin. There are also whorls or pulleys on Irish tension wheels to help determine spinning ratios or speed.
  2. Location: The bobbin is on the spinning wheel flyer and rotates as the yarn is created.
  3. Tension Control: In a single-drive spinning wheel, the brake band controls the tension on the bobbin, adjusting how quickly the yarn winds onto the bobbin. In double-drive wheels, tension is coordinated between the flyer and bobbin.
  4. Size and Material: Bobbins come in various sizes and materials, depending on the type and model of the spinning wheel. Modern bobbins are often made of wood, plastic, or metal.


  1. Function: The flyer is another rotating component of the spinning wheel. It has hooks or guides to capture and twist the fibres into yarn as it rotates.
  2. Location: The flyer is mounted on a spindle or shaft (which holds the bobbin).
  3. Drive Mechanism: The flyer is connected to the wheel's drive band(s) in double drive and scotch tension wheels, and its rotation imparts a twist to the fibres drawn from the fibre supply.
  4. Varieties: Depending on the spinning wheel type, there are variations of flyers, such as the traditional flyer, lace flyer or art yarn flyer. Each type has its specific features and advantages.

Brake Systems in Single-Drive and Double-Drive Wheels

Spinning wheels utilise various braking systems to control the speed of the bobbin and regulate tension during yarn production.

The double drive wheel is braked by two bands or one long band looped back on itself. Because of the difference in diameters of the two whorls the drive band uses, this braking method causes a speed difference between the bobbin and flyer. Also, the band's tightness as it wraps around the drive wheel and the whorls also impact the braking. The higher the tension, the more tug you feel on the yarn.

To fine-tune a double-drive system, adjust the distance between the flyer and the drive wheel until both the flyer and the bobbin turn when the wheel is treadled. The tension is then increased until the braking motion is comfortable for you. This system effectively controls speed but may require a steep learning curve to finesse adjustments.

As previously discussed in our article "What is the Difference between Scotch Tension and Irish Tension," single-drive wheels have separate braking mechanisms. The Scotch tension brake system consists of a cord, placed over the bobbin, attached to a tension peg and spring. To control tension on the bobbin, you manipulate the spring's length with the peg. This adjustment allows you to customise the tension based on the specific characteristics of the fibre you are working with and the desired yarn thickness. The Irish brake system is comprised simply of a leather band over the flyer, which is attached to a knob. The spinner turns this knob to either increase or decrease tension to make minor adjustments to the take-up or wind-on tension. Tightening this knob increases the pull; loosening it reduces it.

The choice of a braking system for spinning wheels depends on your preferences, experience, and desired characteristics of the yarn. Each system has advantages and disadvantages, offering spinners flexibility in adapting their craft to different fibres and techniques.

How Does the Drive Band Influence Spinning Wheel Performance?

The drive band is the intermediate part that transfers power from the drive wheel to the flyer. Without it, the flyer cannot spin. It is hugely responsible for how the drive setup works and greatly contributes to a wheel's tension and yarn uptake. When a drive band isn't appropriate or set correctly, issues can arise that make spinning yarn impossible, so we look at how to ensure you've selected the appropriate drive band for your wheel and how to tension it properly below.

Unravelling the Role of the Drive Band in Single-Drive and Double-Drive Setups

The interaction between the drive band, drive wheel, and pulley (whether located on a bobbin or flyer) is integral to the mechanics of transforming fibre into yarn. The drive band, usually made of a flexible material like a cord or string, connects the flyer and the wheel. As the wheel turns, the drive band engages with the whorl attached to the flyer. The tension in the drive band pulls on the whorl, setting the flyer (scotch tension) and (double drive)/or bobbin (Irish tension) into motion. This rotation imparts a twist to the fibre drafted by the spinner, creating the yarn. Simultaneously, the rotation of the bobbin, connected to the wheel, facilitates the winding of the newly formed yarn onto the bobbin.

The function of the drive band in single and double-drive spinning wheel setups significantly influences the spinning process and, consequently, the types of yarn that can be spun.

Single-Drive Setup:

  • Spinning Process: In a single-drive setup, the drive band transmutes motion from the wheel to the flyer or bobbin. The tension on the drive band determines the speed at which the flyer or bobbin rotates, impacting the drafting and twisting of fibres into yarn.
  • Yarn Types: Single-drive spinning wheels are versatile and can accommodate many yarn types. Spinners can adjust the tension to create anything from fine and delicate yarns to thicker and more robust varieties.

Double-Drive Setup:

  • Spinning Process: In a double drive setup, there is a long drive band looped back on itself, essentially functioning as two drive bands—one on the flyer and another on the bobbin. The drive band on the flyer imparts rotational force, twisting the fibres into yarn, while the band on the bobbin controls the spinning yarn's winding. The coordinated tension between these bands contributes to a balanced spinning process.
  • Yarn Types: Double-drive spinning wheels are well-suited for producing consistent and even yarn. The balanced tension helps prevent over-twisting and ensures uniform winding onto the bobbin. This makes them ideal for spinning fine and delicate yarns, such as lace-weight yarn, where precision and consistency are crucial.

It is note by some spinners that the different thickness in drive bands, be it double-drive or single-drive, can enhance the size of thread being spun.

In summary, the drive band in a single-drive setup primarily influences the speed and tension on the flyer (scotch tension) or bobbin (Irish tension), allowing for versatility in yarn production. On the other hand, in a double-drive setup, the coordinated tension between the flyer and bobbin drive bands enhances the control over the spinning process, making it suitable for producing more consistent and delicate yarn like lace-weight yarn. The choice between single and double-drive setups often depends on the spinner's preferences, the desired yarn outcome, and the intricacy of the project at hand.

Adjustable Tension: Analysing the Impact of Drive Band Tension on Spinning

The tension control for a double drive wheel is often a knob that may be turned to move the flyer assembly further/closer to the drive wheel. Moving away tightens your double drive band, causing a stronger pull on your yarn. Moving closer to the drive wheel reduces tension on your double drive band and yarn pull.

For the single-drive spinning wheel, you'll need to increase the tension enough to drive the flyer & bobbin without slippage. Twist the belt tension knob until you have the correct tension. It helps to treadle your wheel or even spin as you adjust to ensure correct tension. On the single drive wheel, the drive band's main purpose is to drive the flyer or bobbin. You will be adjusting a brake band or strap located over your bobbin (bobbin lead or Scotch tension) or located your flyer (flyer led or Irish tension). Increasing tension on a single-drive system means tightening your tension band and causing more friction over the bobbin or flyer. Decreasing the tension means reducing the tension on your bobbin or flyer.

A poorly tensioned drive band on a spinning wheel can lead to many issues that significantly impact the spinning process and the quality of the yarn. Insufficient tension may cause the drive band to slip or fail to engage properly, resulting in irregular wheel rotation. This can lead to inconsistent drafting and twisting of fibres, causing variations in yarn thickness and twist, ultimately compromising the overall quality and uniformity of the spun yarn. Excessive tension, however, can create excessive resistance, slowing down the wheel and making it challenging for spinners to achieve the desired drafting speed. Both scenarios need help maintaining control over the spinning process, hindering the spinner's ability to create precise, high-quality yarn. Proper tensioning of the drive band is crucial for achieving optimal performance, preventing slippage or disruptions, and ensuring a smooth and controlled spinning experience.

Analysing the Impact of Single-Drive and Double-Drive Systems on Fibre Tension

In Irish tension spinning wheels, the bobbin and flyer tensions are separate, with the brake band on the flyer whorl and the driving band on the bobbin. Because of the stronger yarn intake, this method is particularly excellent for art yarns, bulkier weight yarns and plying.

Meanwhile, with Scotch tension, the bobbin and flyer tensions are separate, with the brake band on the bobbin and the driving band on the flyer whorl. A cord goes over the large end of the bobbin and is coupled to a spring that allows for looser or tighter tension that you control with a tension peg. This tension peg enables you to stretch or compress the spring. When the spring is stretched, more tension is applied to the bobbin, resulting in stronger braking on the bobbin. When the spring is squeezed, the take-up is reduced, and more twists form before the bobbin touches the yarn. If your yarn drifts apart, reduce tension so more twists can accumulate. However, if you notice your yarn is getting twisted (pigtails forming) increase tension to reduce twist accumulating. As the bobbin fills with yarn, it gets heavier and slows, so you’ll likely need to adjust tension slightly as the bobbin fills to maintain tension through the process.

In double drive, the bobbin and flyer's tension is directly related. Once you find the appropriate tension, it will stay consistent while spinning the whole fibre bobbin. The adjustments are different from Scotch tension. You must move the flyer assembly to apply more pressure to the drive band to attain more uptake. You'll have to refer to your wheel manufacturer guide for specifics, but normally, this involves turning a knob that will shift either the whole flyer or the back of the flyer. For less uptake, you turn the same knob in the opposite direction.

Which Spinning Wheel Type is Suitable for Different Spinning Needs?

Both single-drive and double-drive systems can help you create the yarn of your dreams, provided you know how they work so you can make them work for you.

spinning wheel
A photo of Nicky using a spinning wheel outdoors.

For the aspiring art yarn spinner, consider a wheel with a naturally stronger uptake, such as the Irish tensioned system provides. Also, consider whether it comes with a larger capacity bobbin and flyer with a larger orifice. A double-drive wheel may be a better fit for the spinner who prefers finer yarn or simply produces a lot of yarn, particularly if they come with lace whorls/flyer setups. For the all-rounder, a Scotch tension wheel may be the best fit. Other spinners might prefer a wheel where you can switch between drive systems to utilise the very best drive system for the yarn you plan to spin. Some spinners may even decide they might like more than one wheel in their collection.

Adapting to Different Spinning Requirements with Adjustable Whorl Sizes

One of the ways that you can adapt your wheel to the yarn you're creating is by changing the whorl. The whorl, a pulley, is part of the flyer on both scotch tension (flyer led) and double drive wheels but is part of the bobbin on Irish tension wheels. The size of the whorl determines how many times the flyer rotates per rotation of the drive wheel. It is this that provides the ratio or speed. You can learn more about ratios in our article "Understanding Spinning Wheel Ratios for Beginners".

Regardless of the wheel type, adapting to various spinning requirements becomes an artful endeavour using adjustable whorl sizes. Understanding that the whorl size directly influences the speed at which yarn is spun provides spinners with a versatile tool for crafting different types of yarn. Smaller whorl sizes allow for increased ratios, resulting in a higher rotation speed. This is advantageous for spinning finer yarns, imparting more twist with each rotation. Conversely, larger whorl sizes decrease the ratio, slowing down the wheel and making it well-suited for thicker yarns where a more leisurely drafting pace is desirable. The ability to interchange whorls provides a dynamic range of options, enabling spinners to effortlessly transition between projects, from delicate lace-weight yarns to robust, chunky fibres, and ensures adaptability to the diverse requirements of their creative endeavours.

How Do You Choose Between a Single-Drive and Double-Drive Spinning Wheel?

Now that you know how these drive systems work. How do you decide which wheel is for you? What factors are important to consider? Are there specific features you need in your spinning wheel? What is required of you to look after your wheel long term to keep it in good condition for years to come?

Factors to Consider when Purchasing a Spinning Wheel: Single-Drive or Double-Drive?

Choosing between a double-drive and single-drive spinning wheel depends on various factors, and understanding your preferences and spinning goals is crucial. Here are key factors to consider when buying a spinning wheel:

Experience Level:

  • Beginners: Due to their simplicity, single-drive spinning wheels are often recommended. They are easier to learn and provide a good foundation for understanding basic spinning techniques.
  • Experienced Spinners: Double-drive wheels, while versatile, may be more suitable for experienced spinners who have mastered the coordination required for balanced tension.


  • Single Drive: Single-drive wheels are versatile and can handle various yarn weights and textures. They are well-suited for spinners who enjoy experimenting with different fibres and projects.
  • Double Drive: These wheels offer precise tension control. They are ideal for spinners who prioritise consistency, making them suitable for traditional, fine and delicate yarns like lace-weight yarn.

Tension Control:

  • Single Drive: Tension control in single-drive wheels is often straightforward, making them user-friendly. Spinners adjust tension primarily with the tension knob or Scotch tension system.
  • Double Drive: Double drive wheels require tension control on the flyer and bobbin. This can be advantageous for achieving precise tension balance, especially when producing fine and consistent yarns.

Yarn Characteristics:

  • Single Drive: Suitable for a wide range of yarn types. The simplicity allows spinners to create anything from bulky, textured yarns to finer, smoother options.
  • Double Drive: Particularly effective for producing consistent, even yarn. This makes them well-suited for projects where precise control over yarn characteristics is essential.

Learning Curve:

  • Single Drive: Generally has a gentler learning curve, making it accessible for beginners. Spinners can quickly grasp the basics of spinning without dealing with the complexities of dual-drive systems.
  • Double Drive: May have a steeper learning curve, requiring time and practice to master the coordination between the flyer and bobbin drive bands.


  • Single Drive:
    • Pros: Single-drive wheels often have fewer components, simplifying the maintenance process. They may require less frequent adjustments and are generally easier to troubleshoot.
    • Cons: Some single-drive wheels may have components that need occasional lubrication, and the drive band may need replacement over time.
  • Double Drive:
    • Pros: The dual drive system gives spinners more control over tension, resulting in consistent yarn production. Maintenance may involve lubrication and periodic checks on both/the drive band(s). The overall upkeep can be manageable with regular attention.
    • Cons: The dual drive system may have more components, potentially requiring more maintenance. Properly coordinating tension can be crucial for optimal performance.

Ultimately, the choice between a double-drive and single-drive spinning wheel is personal and depends on your spinning style, preferences, and skill level. Test-spinning different wheels and considering your long-term spinning goals can help you make a well-informed choice.

Matching Spinning Wheel Features with Individual Spinning Preferences

Now that you know the intricacies of the various drive systems, it's time to explore the range of wheels available. Not only can you choose between single drive (Irish or Scotch tension) or double drive but you also have the option of electric spinners. Some modern spinners are designed specifically for spinning big art yarns, and others for fine production spinning. Some wheels are only available as a single or double treadle, and others are available in either option.

Spinning on a Lout S17 spinning wheel
Spinning on a Lout S17 spinning wheel (Photographer: Samantha Gehrmann)

You may also find it helpful to read our article on Choosing a Spinning Wheel for your Fibre Arts Journey.

Single-Drive Wheels

  • Louet S17 -Irish tension. Affordable and easy to set up. Typically, a stronger uptake can take some adjusting, too. It is a very versatile wheel, especially with the many accessories available. It's also quite modern-looking and comes unfinished, so if you're feeling creative, you could paint it rather than finish with oil or lacquer.
  • Ashford Kiwi 3 - Scotch tension. It is a very popular wheel amongst beginners and seasoned spinners alike due to its affordability and versatility.
  • Ashford Country Spinner 2 - Irish tension. It is a very specialised wheel with incredibly large bobbins. It is designed with the art yarn or rug/bulky yarn spinner in mind. If you wish to spin anything besides these specialised yarns, having this as an only wheel is not advisable.

Double-Drive Wheels

  • Schacht Ladybug - Modern design, wheel resistant to warping in climate change and wonderful in Scotch tension/single drive setup. An excellent all-rounder
  • Schacht Matchless - This can also be used as a scotch or Irish tension wheel in a single drive. Another excellent all-rounder and commonly referred to as the Cadillac of wheels in spinning circles
  • Ashford Elizabeth - Also able to be used in single drive as a scotch tension wheel. This wheel has a very classic fairytale look to it.

Electric Spinners

  • Ashford E spinner 3 isan excellent option for the spinner who prefers to use an electric wheel and likes to spin fine yarns compared to traditional weight yarns.
  • Ashford Jumbo E-spinner is an e-spinner that can do everything, from fine to very bulky art yarn.

What is the Best Spinning Wheel For You?

The choice between a single-drive and a double-drive spinning wheel ultimately boils down to personal preference, spinning style, and the projects you have in mind. Both types of spinning wheels have their own advantages and considerations. Single-drive wheels offer simplicity and ease of use and are often favoured by beginners. Double-drive wheels provide greater control and versatility and are preferred by experienced spinners for intricate projects.

As you explore the fascinating world of spinning, take the time to experiment with both types of spinning wheels. This will help you to discover which one aligns better with your body, unique preferences and creative goals. Whether you find joy in the rhythmic hum of a single-drive wheel or the fine-tuned precision of a double-drive system, the key is to enjoy the journey of creating beautiful and unique yarn.

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