Machinery Misery

Some sort of craziness has settled in around the farm these days. Winter has overstayed its welcome and can’t seem to take a hint, yet the sun seems to need convincing that she really has been invited to the party. Deciding what to wear in the morning takes on a whole new challenge. The mill is busy, shearing season is upon us (relative to rain) and everything needs to be either pruned. mowed or weeded RIGHT NOW.

Earlier in the year, we spent a good two weeks fighting with and figuring out issues with the pin drafter. The pin drafter is a vital step between carding and spinning. Combs kept jamming up just as they changed direction in the worm drive. Too much tension and they jammed every time, too little tension and they had the potential to break right off. As I watched customer orders come off the carder and stack up at the now-defunct pin drafter one by one, waiting for their turn, we took the entire machine apart -twice. We inspected, cleaned and re-greased everything. Still jamming. We finally got lucky when Jacquie managed to track down a local machinist (via facebook of course) who had a keen interest in old machinery and was up to the challenge. (Thanks Greg, for your ingenuity in rigging up piano wire to provide the combs with a little extra push as they cleared – genius!) And a sigh of relief as backlogged orders start to move through the mill again.

Then we broke a piece on the carder. A very important, can’t-work-without-it kind of piece. Where does one go to find replacement parts for a machine built in 1870? Foreman CNC Machining in Sidney! New, perfect replica steel piece manufactured within a week! Yes! Thank-you!

And then we had to replace the cloth on the fancy. No problem, I think. The backlog is moving once again and smarty me, had the replacement fancy cloth ordered and delivered months ago.

The fancy is the large drum at the output end of the carder. It’s job is to take the fibre off the swift (in fact, it is the only thing that ever touches the swift directly), and pass it on to the doffer. The old cloth was on it’s last legs – leather backing was started to break down and the wires beginning to let go. (Read, wires ending up in the sliver. Bad news.)  The new cloth is very pretty – shiny new wires, red background. Only the wires are longer. And a heavier gauge. And more densely concentrated on the cloth. No worries – fancy can be adjusted closer or further from swift.

Two things happen. When fancy is too far from swift, fibre loads up on the fancy cloth but does not release. As it goes round and round, it actually gets brushed into little miniature rolags right on the fancy. Not pretty rolags. Tight little useless rasta rolags. No way these are going through pin drafter and even less chance they’ll cooperate in the spinner. We could clean the fibre off the fancy 3x per fleece but customer is going to wonder where 2/3 of their fleece disappeared to! Alternative? Move fancy closer to the swift. Suddenly, the nice white fluffy fleece we are feeding into the carder is coming out filthy GREY. The fancy is brushing the swift cloth itself and taking every little speck of dirt, dust and who-knows what with it. And no, it doesn’t eventually get better – it steadily gets worse. It is suggested that the surface of the fancy, because the wires are longer, is actually moving at a much faster speed than it was before. Slow the fancy down. We have no separate control but we can add rubber to the drive pulley. This helps somewhat but not enough. I am lost. I don’t know what else to try. I send a sample of old cloth to carding cloth company with a rush order – they can replicate a custom order but no indication of how long this will take.

Machinery issues can cause you to second guess everything. I admit that some days when it comes to the mill, I swing wildly from “This is the best thing ever” to “Why didn’t I just raise Irish Wolfhounds instead?” The mill has come to a complete stand still. We have 2 or 3 fleeces waiting to be spun and a whole lot washed, being washed or about to be washed and that is where we sit until new cloth comes. Oh mercy. No one said this would be easy.


photo credit: Tania E. Veitch



2 thoughts on “Machinery Misery

  1. SSI Wool Co

    That is OK! Our fleece was stored under tarps waiting for me to have time to sort and clean. It poured with rain on Saturday and, yes! The tarps were useless and we found the fleece sitting in puddles of water. It is now hanging on the fence to dry. So we can wait!



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