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.

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10 Responses to “My Le Clerc Warping Reel”


  1. I have one of these too — purchased at a garage sale on the spur of the moment before I was weaving, and never regretted! Mine has a black rubber (bendy) cap on the top of the metal tube, which is handy if you tend to drop things in inaccessible places (like that tube). You might be able to find something like it in the electrical department of your local hardware store, if you want one too.

    Your warp is beautifully wound — mine are never that tidy except at the crosses.

  2. trapunto Says:

    Thanks for stopping by my blog, Amelia. You know, I was wondering if there might be something meant to go on top that never made its way into the package. I have some extra rubber feet I bought for my ironing board. Those might fit.

  3. Cally Says:

    That is a really splendid reel – sometimes I guess it pays to let one’s guiding rules for life go out of the window for a minute or two, though in general I think your wary approach to mould is more than justified.

    • trapunto Says:

      Thanks. It was easy to make the bid, but a real struggle to make the decision to let it in the house. Mold is one thing it pays to be obssessive about!


  4. What a lovely picture of the reel with the warp wound on it. Ignites the weaving desires! I hope, after all the input of your hard work, you’re happy with the final result of the rescued piece, especially since the older workmanship is so amazing?!

    • trapunto Says:

      Hi Spinninglizzy! Yes, I am–aside from not much liking the nearly-full jar of toxic Naval Jelly now on our shelf. I SO hope I never need it again.

  5. Nanci Says:

    Hi, I’m about to make my first warp on a LeClerc reel that I also bought on eBay. No problems with mold on mine. There’s a wonderful seller from Quebec who sells many used LeClerc items. I’ve been very happy with what I’ve purchased from him. Takes awhile to get from Canada due to customs but always well packed, shipped quickly from his place, reasonable shipping (I live in MI which helps). His name is bluepaintshop for anyone looking for reels, LeClerc looms, shuttles, electric winders, spool holders (I got a very nice one at a good price), spools; he’s even added some weaving yarn lately. He must live near the LeClerc manufacturer in Quebec. He adds new product every Saturday, visible by Sunday.

    Thanks for posting. I’m a beginning weaver and was looking for more information on how to wind a warp on a reel and found your blog. Nice to see how it should look.

    Nanci

  6. Sarah Frazier Says:

    I have an 8 harness Bergman floor loom. Do you know what the value of it would be?

  7. Paula LaPorte Says:

    all very interesting. I have been using a warping board – maxing it out each time because I weave rag rugs and just keep weaving one after the other until the warp is used up. I was just gifted a LeClerc warping reel and wondering if I should switch over. Does anyone know of a good site for visual instructions on using the warping reel?


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