My Le Clerc Warping Reel
March 15, 2010
Have I ever told you about the six years I spent fighting mold in a rented stucco farmhouse between two creeks? Every spring and fall the water table crept into the cellar. I became an unofficial expert on the kinds of grey-green mold that grow on furniture and wood floors, and the kinds of mildew that grow on window frames and plaster. At any rate, I became an expert on how ineradicable they are! Spores are viable for upward of a decade, and–according to my friend who is a chemist–nothing really kills them but bleach or formaldehyde. If it is humid enough for them, they will grow. Truthfully? Even bleach doesn’t hold back a patch of household mold for long.
Sometimes it’s convenient to be a human mold detector. I can trust my sense of smell completely. If there is even a tiny amount of mold on something, my mold-sensitized nose will pick up on it. On the downside, if I walk into a musty antique store or garage, what to others is just an unpleasant odor gives me itchy eyes and a tight, choking cough that lasts for hours.
A couple of posts ago I mentioned that my new-used Le Clerc warping reel arrived moldy. I should have known better, since my old no-brand reel was another Ebay disappointment. That one wasn’t moldy, but it had design problems.
When you have a piece of equipment you don’t like, it teaches you a lot about what you would like. Actually, there are inherent problems in using any warping reel to achieve a consistently tensioned warp. With a warping reel, unlike a warping board, individual warp threads accumulate on two different planes, because the pegs are perpendicular to the body of the reel. Each new thread has a little farther to go than the last thread did to get its place as the top thread on the peg.
Some reel designs magnify the tension problems, others smooth them. This makes a bad reel a bad bargain. How do you tell which reels are the best? Its mostly a matter of how the cross bars that hold the pegs attach to the body of the reel. But it is hard to see details online, because the product photography is very low resolution. It’s also hard to find out how much a given warping reel holds. When manufacturers state a reel’s capacity, they are assuming you will pack it tightly and make a lot of small bouts. I don’t do that. It’s a big pain, and I’d lose any advantage a warping reel has over a warping board. Based on my old reel, which resembles a Louet warping reel / yarn blocker, I assume a 16 yard reel will comfortably hold 12 or 14 yards, or even less. A 20 yard reel will hold 16 or 18.
After peering at a lot of blurry photos I decided that a Woolhouse (rare), Ashford or a Le Clerc would be a good used reel for me. A Glimåkra would have been my first choice, but they are expensive. The Le Clerc holds more warp than the Ashford.
Then one day I happened to find an older Le Clerc reel on an ebay auction that was ending in a few minutes for a very good price. There was no time to ask the seller about mold. Usually, I won’t bid on ANYTHING made of wood without asking the seller where it has been stored. Old weaving equipment is often banished to damp basements, sheds, and garages. I also take note of the sellers location. If they are in a humid area with mild winters, I’m wary.
I bid, I bought, I regretted. The warping reel arrived from Tennessee smelling faintly of mold. It was covered with a fine layer of that sitting-in-storage, ground-in, house-dust-of-ages kind of gunge, which always makes it hard to tell visually what is mold growing on the wood itself, what is mold growing on the gunge, and what is just gunge. The metal axle was rusty.
I let the reel sit in the entry-way for a month. Should I should try to clean it up, or just get rid of it before the mold could spread? I decided to risk a cleaning. Der Mann kindly de-rusted the axle with Naval Jelly. It wouldn’t have been good to use bleach on the wooden parts–any residue could transfer to the warps and discolor them. Besides, I am allergic to it (another legacy of the moldy farmhouse). On a sunny day I washed everything outside with a rag dampened in sudsy hot water. I did a lot of rubbing before I rinsed and dried it.
This is never a great way to treat an old piece of varnished wood, but at least the gunge is gone. As long as I’m careful to store it in a dry place with good air circulation, maybe it will be okay?
I hope so, because I like it! Here it is with its first warp.
I don’t know if the current Le Clerc warping reels are made as nicely, but I can certainly recommend the older ones. Judging by the the logo and the opaque brownish-yellow varnish, mine is from the fifties or sixties. It is a beautifully joined tool. If you make crosses at both ends of your warp, the circumference is almost exactly 2 yards. You can move the peg holders anywhere you like for odd-number-yard warps. The design is simple. Gravity holds the axle slotted into the heavy butcher-block base. The body of the reel slots onto the axle, where it rests on a nylon ring to reduce friction. If you remove the adjustable peg holders, It folds to about 3″ wide. The lumber is all top notch: unblemished Canadian maple.