Fixing Up My 8-Shaft Table Loom

March 17, 2010

“. . . consign it to the flames.”

-Mary Meigs Atwater on badly made looms

Well, It’s been nearly a year of beady-eyed stares and tooth grinding, but I finally got my table loom working.

I wrote all about this unfortunate home-made loom it after I bought it, and buying it was my weirdest Craigslist adventure ever. Read here, if you’re interested:

Since last May, I have discovered more design mistakes. Susan at Thrums titled a recent post about her kitchen renovations “Making a Silk Purse From a Sow’s Ear.” I might have used that title myself, because it is a pretty good description of what I have been doing.

The thing that really shot me down was the problem of the shafts being too low. (Or the breast and back beams being too high, whichever.) One day I suddenly realized that when the shafts were at rest, the heddle eyes were exactly 2 1/8″ inches lower than the breast and back beams.

The lady who sold me this loom had been trying to weave on a warp that followed a v-shaped path. Whenever the warp was advanced, each separate thread was raked violently through its own heddle eye. I didn’t notice this when I bought the loom. It never occurred to me to look: Who would expect such a glaring design flaw? No wonder the pop-henge lady wanted to sell.

I knew that raising the shafts to the correct height would create slack in the lift cords. The only way to find out whether this was going to cause problems was to try it and see. But, since 2 1/8 inches isn’t a standard width for milled lumber, and we don’t have any power saws, I had to wait until the next time we took a trip to my parents house. My dad used his table saw to cut some oak blocks. They were a little long when I got them home, so I had to sand down the ends to make them fit. Here’s one in the loom:

The next problems to solve were with the path of the lift cords, which caught on and dragged over the sharp nuts and protruding bolt ends, catching and fraying the cord when I worked the levers.

This sent me to a specialty bolt store looking for low-profile cap nuts. I know. With a drill press and a willingness to take the loom completely apart, there would have been better ways to attach the levers to the loom than with regular bolts. I didn’t have either of those things.  Since I didn’t know whether I could get the loom to work at all, a total overhaul seemed premature.

The plain metal cap nuts weren’t an option–they just worked loose. This sent me on a search for locking nylon cap nuts. The nylon nuts protruded too far, especially since I had found it necessary to add nylon washers to cut down on friction between the levers and the lever assembly. I went back to using some of the plain, low-profile locking nuts from the bolt store. Fortunately, with the nylon washers taking up additional space along the bolts, the bolt ends no longer protruded pas the nuts, and the cord no longer scraped against them. I had also tied knots and used pony beads to push the cords out from the ends of the levers a bit.

On the underside of the castle, the lift cords rubbed across each other on their way between the guiding screw eyes, like this:

I fixed the problem by installing a new, smaller screw eye for one cord and fiddling with the heights of the other.  The cords still cross each other a bit, but they travel at different elevations, so they don’t abrade each other any more.

The next repair concerned the shafts. When I raised them the first and last shafts, they would tilt outward and catch on the underside of the top of the castle:

I didn’t want to add a set of permanent guides, because that would mean the only way to remove any shafts would be to untie all of them and lift off the top of the castle. So I used some wooden blind slats to make these little guides. They pivot on a screw and can be flipped out of the way to remove shafts from the front or back of the loom, like so:

I also had to:

  • Raise the beater to accommodate the corrected warp height. Put some little bumpers on it where it hit the castle.
  • File the screw eyes and bolt tops. The chewed metal was fraying the lift cords
  • Put on 600 heddles
  • Sand the rusty, rough metal heddle bars smooth. Polish them like crazy to get rid of the discoloring metal dust.
  • Make new apron rods and figure out how to cord them to the warp and cloth beams, which each had four holes (Joanne Hall’s excellent Tying Up the Countermarche Loom shows various ways to do this).  The old apron rods looked like this:

–Nylon beading cord reinforced with kite string, tied off-center. Now I understand why 10 pound steel rods were lashed to them when I got the loom. Oh, you poor lady…

  • Make an eenie weenie pair of lease sticks out of mini-blind twirlers. (I knew I saved all those parts from the Great Mini-Blind Massacre for a reason!)
  • Wash and trim a lot of grody mini-blind slats for beaming sticks. (Weaving with mini-blind parts is strangely satisfying–like drinking my mead from a cup made of my enemy’s skull.)
  • Figure out how to attach my Glimåkra raddle for beaming: modified ceiling hooks, as it turns out.

And does this hundred pound sow’s ear deserve to be a silk purse, or firewood? I’m still not sure. My trial warp is 2.5 yards of 13 wpi cotton/linen, which I am weaving up quickly into a 4-shaft, warp dominant runner. That is really not enough length to tell whether the possible variations in warp beam circumference are going to mess up tension over the course of the warp. Otherwise, it is doing okay. The slack in the lift cords doesn’t cause them to tangle. My irritations with the floppy floor of the shed are probably just par for the course when you try to weave close-set linen on a shallow jack loom. I’ll try it with all eight shafts, next.


6 Responses to “Fixing Up My 8-Shaft Table Loom”

  1. What an insane amount of repairs you’ve had to make! I’m sure I would have given in long ago. I admire your ingenuity tackling each issue, especially the little pivoting guide slats. I was amazed to find pony beads (that must be at least twenty years old) used for the tie-up on my counterbalance loom, and still intact after I’ve woven off four yards of warp, so they do hold up very well. I’m quite envious of that swinging beater. May each shed be clean and the weaving smooth!

    • trapunto Says:

      Thank you. Which of your looms is a counterbalance? Did I miss something?

    • trapunto Says:

      Oh, and I am liking the angle-able beater. One of the few advantages of this particular loom. I wonder why more table looms don’t have them?

  2. Dot Says:

    I’m impressed by your determination to get this working, I hope you can weave something now.

    My little 2 shaft Weavemaster loom has warp threads held down as you describe when shafts are at rest, if this wasn’t the case the shed would not be big enough to get a shuttle through when a shaft is raised (because it is so short from front – back). It has wire heddles which probably work better for this than the Texsolv on your loom.

    • Trapunto Says:

      Now don’t I feel silly! I went to the Mountain Looms website (supposedly the model for this homemade loom was a Mountain loom) and found a picture. Yes, I can now see that their heddle eyes are lower than their warp beams! Probably not 2 1/8″ lower, but lower. How does that not shred a wool warp? I can see how it helps increase the size of the shed, but my current shed is plenty big. I’m completely boggled. I need to think some more about this.

  3. I so admire your patience! I would have taken the Atwater route shortly after getting the loom home.

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