Manual ball winders -

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Manual ball winders

How do they work

How does a ball winder actually work?

Ball winders wind yarn onto a spindle. The spindle rotates when the user cranks the handle (or it turns by means of a motor drive).

The spindle must have 2 separate spinning actions if it is to make a successful ball of yarn.

  • It first must turn in a large circle so that the yarn can be wrapped around it and form a ball ("orbit").

  • It must also turn on its axis similar to a child's toy "top" (spin")

Ball winders have to do multiple things in order to properly wind a ball of yarn. The spindle on a ball winder must turn in a large radius circle in order to form a ball. The winder's drive mechanism can either accomplish this by gears or belts connected to a handle or an optional motor drive. This circular motion is the primary means by which the yarn is quickly deposited onto the spindle. We refer to this motion as the "orbit."

In addition to the "orbit", the winder must also turn the spindle at a different rate than the orbit is turning. This is called the "spin" (similar to how a toy called a "top" spins). The spin is the most critical of the 2 motions insomuch as if it does not spin correctly, the yarn will deposit on top of itself (layer after layer) and create what we refer to as a "wonky" ball. A wonky ball can be caused by numerous failures of the ball winding function but more often than not, it is a direct result of the spindle failing to "spin" properly or at all.

When these two motions work as planned, then the ball winder turns really fast as the user cranks the handle (or the motor turns the belt/pulley combination) and a ball of yarn is magically created. In fact, it goes so fast that you can hardly see what is happening on the ball and can only see a glimmer of the ball getting larger and larger. If you stop winding (or at the end of the winding process), you can then see what has happened on the ball.

The yarn is spaced evenly across the ball and the ball's structure is formed. This structure can be somewhat barrel shaped or cylindrically shaped with a slight rounding on the top and bottom or these surfaces can be relatively flat. The shape of the ball depends on how the ball winder was designed and how it operates. But in general, all balls with be as tall as they are wide as the ball tends to grow in both directions simultaneously.

The distance between the yarn plies in the ball structure is a function of the rate of "spin". The more frequently the spindle spins, the closer the yarn will be to each preceding ply. A good spacing for the yarn is 1/8" to 3/16" between plies. If the spacing is too wide, then the ball is not as efficient as it could be relative to the size and strength of the structure. If it is too close, then the same is true. The ball needs to allow the yarn to relax and if the yarn is to close to an adjacent ply, then it cannot relax or settle as readily,

What material is the Ball Winder housing made of?
Plastic or wood

Which material is better?
Both wood and plastic have positives and negatives.
Plastic costs less and can be colored, wood is richer looking and feels better (heavier and more solid).
Wood is stronger and more forgiving. Plastic is lightweight.
Wood can be machined/sculpted to have a certain appearance. Plastic can be molded.

Gears or Belts
Gears provide positive drive systems with no slippage (unless the gears break).
Belts are quieter but can stretch and may need to be replaced.
The belt systems are designed/made by: Strauch, B. Hague, and Boye. Search the Internet for cases concerning belts stretching or gear breakage or ask the manufacturer directly about their unit.   

Differences between wooden and plastic winders

Size and weight
Typically, plastic winders are smaller than their wooden counterparts. Part of this is due to the fact that they use smaller gears and other components and are generally intended for lighter duty applications. But also wooden parts need to be thicker because plastic parts can actually be stronger than wood as their parts get thinner. So, the plastic ball winder manufacturers can make smaller units that are sufficiently strong for their application. The wooden units weigh a lot more than the plastic units.

Where the plastic winders start to run into trouble is in the type/size of gears that they use (all manual plastic winders use gears). Their gears are much smaller and weaker than those used in some of the wooden winders. This becomes their "Achilles heel" and is why commercial shop users burn through these units quickly because the gears fail prematurely. This is normally not a problem for users at home, however.
The reason they fail is because the smaller gears in the plastic units do not have ability to pull large loads and as a result, they start to strip out.

Energy Needed
Since the plastic winders weigh less, however, there is less mass to move for the user when cranking the handle. So, you could argue that their is less energy spent while winding yarn with a plastic unit. But generally, the wooden units use larger handles with greater leverage and this tends to actually make it easier to wind than the lighter weight units.

Both type of units are clamped to the table top. All ball winders must be clamped in place for both functional and safety reasons. The rotating spindle atop the ball winder body is turning at a fast rate of speed, and due to its orientation, is generally wobbling somewhat or a lot. As yarn gets deposited onto the spindle it further changes the center of gravity for the unit. As a rule, the larger wood units have larger clamps for attaching to thicker tables than the plastic units.

Winding Rate  
The larger the spindle and the greater the speed of rotation, then the more yarn you can put on the spindle in a given timeframe. So as a rule, the wooden units will outperform the plastic units because they have larger spindle diameters and higher gear ratios in the drivetrain/pulley-belt system.

The wooden units cost much more than the small plastic units. Royal makes a larger plastic unit which is priced closely to the less expensive wooden units

The wooden units should last longer than the plastic units because their componentry is more rugged and not susceptible to premature failure. If the owner of a plastic unit uses care and does not overload the unit by pulling heavy loads, however, they can make their unit last a long time.

A couple of recommendations for plastic unit owners are:

  • Turn the ball winder 90 degrees and aim the metal wire guide directly toward the swift

  • Do not put your yarn on the swift too tightly (loosen the umbrella swift up slightly and allow the yarn to come off easily)

  • If you start to hear the gears grind, then STOP, and fix whatever the cause of the problem is

In our Recommendation section we will tell you which type of ball winder is best for which purpose.

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