Drum carding – fine tuning my technique

I’ve struggled a bit setting-up my drum carder so that I get the best from it. It certainly helped having had it refurbished by David Barnett its maker, so that it now has lovely new carding cloth and bearings. I hasten to add that the terrible state of the teeth (shown below) was not my doing; this was how it was when I acquired it secondhand.  I didn’t even know you could replace the carding cloth unti l saw that you could buy the cloth online.

The terrible state of my drum carder prior to replacing the carding cloth


The newly refurbished and cleaned drum carder ready for action with my new technique!

The Suffolk and Texel fleece batts and rolags I have processed since I got it back have been a vast improvement on the ones produced by the machine when the tines were bent and damaged. However, I still didn’t really know how to adjust the drums in relation to each other. It was only last week at the September meeting of my local Brighton Textile Art Group that I was able to get some advice on how best to set up the carder, and how to work with home-scoured raw fleece, (not merino tops as seems to be used in most YouTube videos). ‘Sitting next to Betty’ (she was actually Sass), and getting first hand knowledge and demonstrations was really useful. I thought it would helpful to share the advice I received and have tested since then. Do bear in mind that this is a Barnett hand carder, and other models may differ:

1. Set your licker-in and main drum so that a sheet of printer paper can only just slide between them. This meand that the fibres can be gently picked from the licker-in by the main drum, stretched and aligned and finally plucked completely onto the main drum.

2. Take the time to pick and open up the fibres as much as possible. Use your fingers or a picker machine of some sort, and pick out nepps, matts and vm as to go. My picker usually makes this a breeze, but its not working well with the soft, blocky and short-staple Shetland I am processing at the moment. Even when using a picker, nepps and some vm gets left, and this Shetland is very neppy. Although this feels tedious, I have found that extra time spent now is saved later whilst spinning, and results in a smoother yarn.

Using a picker machine to pick fibre prior to carding.

3.  The next bit of advice was that you should be able to read a newspaper through the opened up web of fibre as it’s fed into the drum carder. I have read this elsewhere, and it made sense to me; presenting the fibres in as thin a layer as possible should result in more thorough processing.

3. Turn the carder handle slowly. Mine is a hand one, but the same applies with a powered one. I just go slow and it’s immediately apparent that there is a big difference between going too fast, when everything gets jammed on the licker roller, and going slowly when you can see the fibres being picked out and carded properly.

4. Put the batt through the carder a second time.  Take it off the main drum after the first carding, and gently stretch the batt lengthwise. Then dividing it lengthwise into narrow strips, (avoid disturbing the alignment of the fibres as much as you can). Open up these lengths into thin webs and feed them one after the other into the carder to re-make the batt. I find splitting the batt into two thinner layers before dividing it into narrow strip gives a good result, but this doesn’t work well with the short staple Shetland I am working with at the moment.

5. Put it through a third time if it is fine fibre.

6.  When feeding your fibre in just let it be drawn in by the licker-in, don’t hold it back or push it in or it will catch around the licker-in drum.

7. Don’t over fill your main drum unless you use a packer brush. You don’t need a special one; I use a wide, stiff bristled wallpaper paste brush, and something similar will do fine. I usually hold it just above the licker-in, but find it also works well if held at the rear of the main drum. Swapping over means you can wind the drum with alternating hands to give them a break!