Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Printable Yarn Gauge Reference Tool

If, like me, you've despaired at the results you get with a WPI gauge, or you've struggled with a spinner's control card, here's an idea for a resource that could be a more tactile and visual alternative.


Last year I blogged about some handspun yarn labels that I'd designed, so that I could organise my stash of yarn that I'd spun myself.

I spent a good many hours weighing, measuring, calculating the wraps per inch (WPI) and labeling all of my handspun yarn so that I knew exactly what I had.  Unfortunately, when it came to actually knitting up my handspun yarn, I realised that I'd got nearly 50% of the gauges wrong.  

To further add to the confusion, there doesn't seem to be an industry standard for WPI and after a quick search, I found at least 3 different systems that give a wide range of figures, especially for finer gauge yarns, which pretty much makes the whole WPI system completely redundant!

If you're new to calculating the gauge of yarns, I should probably tell you that the wraps per inch method is widely considered to be the quickest way to calculate the gauge of any yarn. To put it simply, you wrap your yarn around a ruler or inch gauge and count the number of wraps it takes to fill up an inch.   Unfortunately, I'm coming to realise that this method is not without its flaws - especially when it comes to handspun yarn made from unusual fibres.  

Take the rose yarn above, for example.  I was comfortably getting 13 to14 wraps per inch on my inch gauge (on the left), making it between a 4 ply/fingering and a baby/sport yarn on the Ravelry WPI system, but when I came to knit it, it was knitting up much, much bigger and tighter than it should.  After quite a bit of swatching, I realised that it knitted up much closer to the stitches and row measurements of a worsted weight yarn.  A worsted weight yarn would have 9 WPI on the system I was using, so in an effort to work out what I'd done wrong, I wrapped my rose yarn around my homemade inch gauge, 9 times, as loosely as possible.  As you can see with the gauge on the right, there is definitely room for more yarn on there, but I'd already confirmed with swatching that it was a worsted weight yarn.

These three yarns are another example of how basing yarn gauge on thickness alone is an unreliable method.  The yarns above are all classed as double knit, yet at first glance, they decrease in thickness from left to right. The first is a loosely spun plied yarn, the middle is a densely spun single ply and the third is a mohair yarn with a halo - making it very difficult to determine the WPI.

The problem is, WPI does not take into account the density, elasticity, loft, drape, halo or the inconsistencies of a handspun yarn.  It's also incredibly easy to unknowingly stretch or compress a yarn - giving you a false WPI reading.  
Undoubtedly, the only truly effective way of working out the gauge of a mystery yarn is to knit a tension square to make sure that it knits to the correct size for that yarn gauge.
However, I decided to make myself a reference tool, so that I could learn exactly how WPI should be measured and I would then have a resource that I could compare future handspun yarns to.  I'd much rather knit a swatch for gauge once, rather than four times - as I did for the rose yarn.

My theory was that if I have a lot of yarns that I already know the gauge of, I can make a visual and tactile reference tool that would show me exactly how those WPIs should look, as well as being a useful resource for quickly trying to establish the gauge of handspun yarn.

Fingering / 4ply
14 wpi
Sport / Baby
12 wpi
Double Knit
11 wpi
9 wpi
Heavy Worsted / Aran
8 wpi
Bulky / Chunky
7 wpi
Super Bulky / Super Chunky
5-6 wpi

I used the Ravelry standard yarn weights to give me the WPIs of all the yarns that I knew the gauge of and worked backwards from there.  (I'm from the UK, so I'm used to slightly different yarn gauge terms than the US.  I've listed the UK gauge second - although we rarely use 'worsted' to describe yarn weight in the UK.)

How to make your own yarn gauge reference tool

Materials I used to make a Yarn Gauge Reference tool

First print out the sheet of yarn gauge tags onto cardstock.  I used some 250gsm linen card from Craft Creations.

Here's a close up of the tags, but if you print out the PDF here, the inch measurement should be accurate.

If there's one thing I've learned from making this inch tool it's that yarn needs to be wrapped as loosely as possible when you are measuring WPI on the Ravelry WPI system.  I realised that if you don't somehow attach your yarn to your WPI tool, it's virtually impossible to measure the WPI of a yarn, without inadvertently putting a little bit of tension into it.  I taped my yarn to the back of the tags and then wrapped it around the appropriate number of times for that yarn type.  The yarn above is labeled as a sport/baby weight, so I wrapped it around 12 times and then taped it to the back of the tag.

After writing on my yarn weight details I used my Crop-a-dile to punch holes in the top and bottom of the tags and then inserted the eyelets.  I used 1/8" and 3/16" eyelets as I found that yarn thicker than worsted would not fit through the 1/8" eyelets.  I had the Crop-a-dile and eyelets left over from my scrapbooking days, but if you're buying eyelets specifically for this project I would recommend the larger 3/16" eyelets.

I attached a 12mm jump ring to the top of the tag, opening and closing it sideways with pliers.

It's quite difficult to see in this picture, but I used a Big Eye Needle to thread about 30cm of yarn through the lower eyelet.  As mentioned previously, I needed larger eyelets for worsted/aran and above yarns. 

Here's one of the tags finished, with yarn attached with a lark's head or cow hitch knot.  I made 21 of these, 3 for every yarn gauge I wanted to reference.  I'll probably add more in the future to give me a wider reference for comparison.

I opened up the 2-inch loose leaf binder ring and threaded on my newly made tag next to the other two baby/sport yarns, making sure that the jump ring was facing in the same direction as all of the others.

Here's how my yarn gauge reference tool looks with 21 tags on.  I love it!  It's so visual and tactile and just seeing the yarns gradually increasing in thickness is going to really help improve my skills in determining the weight of a yarn.  It's going to be so much easier comparing yarn with yarn, rather than a line on a piece of paper or wood. It will also be an aid in reminding me of the different idiosyncrasies various fibres have, and the effects those characteristics have on WPI.  I don't for one minute think it will eliminate the need for swatching, but I'm really hoping it will help me to get it right first time more often.

This blog post contains Amazon affiliate links to similar products that I purchased myself to make this yarn gauge reference tool. If you click through and purchase, I will receive a very small percentage of the purchase price.


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Friday, January 04, 2019

Altering a case for my Electric Eel Wheel 5

Several years ago, I mentioned a train case that I'd altered to keep my Electric Eel Wheel 4 in.  Well I've got the Electric Eel Wheel 5 now and I've finally got around to finishing the case properly.

The bag is a train case that I bought on Amazon.  I chose it because it's sturdy and compact, but a good size for the Electric Eel Wheel and accessories.  With a bit of alteration, I was able to give it a protective wooden base and make it double as a lazy Kate too.

Materials used to Alter the Train Case

The only problem with a lot of train cases is that they come with these hinged sections, which, if you want to use it as a makeup bag, are very handy, but make it impossible to put the spinning wheel in the bottom.  These little hinged shelves were attached to a wooden base, which I wanted to keep for added protection, so I used a grinding tool attached to my Dremel to grind down the rivets to separate the upper part of the insert from the lower part.  This was really the hardest part of the alteration as those rivets took some grinding down!

I'd bought a tallish, rigid case as I knew that I also wanted to use it as a simple lazy Kate; (it also gives me a lot of space above the wheel for storing fibre).  I held up two bobbins, side by side, next to the case and then marked the centres of the bobbins.  I then drilled two matching holes on either side for the lazy Kate rods to go through.

I had some large scrapbooking eyelets left over from my paper crafting days and I glued them into the holes with E6000 to neaten it up a little.

Here's the wooden base that came with the train case, once the hinged shelves had been removed.  I knew that I wanted to keep the rods for my lazy Kate inside the case all of the time, so that I could ply while I was traveling.  With my Dremel tool, I cut a couple of brass rods to fit the diagonal of the base to give me the maximum possible length of rods.

The base of the case was rigid, but I also wanted to strengthen the sides as this would be where my lazy Kate rods came through.  My other half cut some squares of wooden board to fit onto the sides and he then drilled some holes to correspond with the holes I'd drilled into the sides of the bag.  I spray painted these boards black and then attached extra strong double sided sticky tape all around the edges.

To make sure that the reinforcing boards were perfectly aligned, I inserted the brass rods into the holes and carefully slid the boards into place.  (There's actually a mistake in this picture as I later realised that I needed to remove the wooden base before I could attach the sides, as the wooden boards fit snugly behind the base.)

You'll notice that I've looped a couple of rubber O rings over the ends of my brass rods.  I originally found that occasionally, the rods would work their way out of the holes while I was plying.  I found that putting these O rings on one end acted as a stopper and my rods no longer fall out.

I love that I can now ply 2, 3 or 4 singles together and keep everything neatly stored away afterwards.

There's now room for The Electric Eel Wheel, lazy Kate rods, at least 4 bobbins, a battery, foot pedal and lots of room on top for fibre.

Well it took me a couple of years to finish my case properly and I'm now looking for a similar, smaller case for my Electric Eel Wheel Nano, which should arrive in the summer.  Any ideas?!

This blog post contains Amazon affiliate links to similar products that I purchased myself to alter the train case. If you click through and purchase, I will receive a very small percentage of the purchase price.


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Monday, December 17, 2018

Orifice Hook for the Electric Eel Wheel

I keep losing my orifice hook for my Electric Eel Wheel.  It's made of stainless steel piano wire, so it's extremely strong, but it's also extremely fine.  I actually managed to lose it for about 6 months.  As it's fero-magnetic, it had actually got stuck inside my machine and it was only when I inadvertently knocked it when I was picking up my wheel that it fell out.

Lots of people on the Electric Eel Wheel keep asking for alternative orifice hook, so I wondered if there was a way of altering the original to make it a bit easier to pick up.

It was actually pretty easy when I found the right tools.

I love it!  My Electric Eel Wheel now looks like she's wearing a single dangly earring  - just like me in the 80s!  If anyone would like a step by step, just let me know and I'll try to post a tutorial.

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Tuesday, November 27, 2018

The Evolution of the Electric Eel Wheel

Three years ago I wrote a review for the Electric Eel Wheel 4.  I loved that little wheel, but it did have quite a few issues - some I managed to overcome, but others I just endured.

Despite its problems, I was so thankful for the invention of the Electric Eel Wheel 4, as it allowed me to try spinning on an electric wheel for the first time, at a price that was low enough for me to take the risk.

I thought it would be interesting to look back at the inception of the Electric Eel Wheel to see just how far it’s come in less than a decade and to show a little of what the future holds for this little machine that’s taking on the big boys.

The Electric Eel Wheel

Maurice Ribble, the inventor of the Electric Eel Wheel, has been committed to designing and inventing an affordable, yet extremely usable electric spinning wheel, for several years now.  He felt that spinners were being exploited, and that it was time to introduce a little competition to redress the balance.

I first heard about the Electric Eel Wheel when I was searching online for an affordable e-spinner - I wanted an electric wheel as I was finding spinning on my Ashford Traveller more and more painful.

Unfortunately, when I first looked, every electric spinning wheel was prohibitively expensive, especially as there was no way for me to find out if I would even enjoy using an e-spinner before I bought it.

Image from Glacial Wanderer, January 2009

I did, however, stumble upon Maurice Ribble's blog, where he talked about his experience designing an electric spinning wheel at a more affordable price.

I love looking at these early images of the Electric Eel Wheel in its infancy.  It shows just how far the Electric Eel Wheel has come in under a decade. The romantic in me also loves the fact that it was invented for his wife, Emily, to save her from lugging a full-sized spinning wheel around to spinning and knitting groups.

I love how home-made and functional it looks in its wooden box, but still, Maurice realised that there was a demand for this slightly inelegant looking e-spinner when many of Emily's friends started asking him to make one for them.  At the same time, Maurice also generously ‘gave away’ his design as an open source project, helping other spinning enthusiasts to build their own Electric Eel Wheels at an affordable price.

By the next year, you could buy a kit to build your own spinning wheel in a box, and if you didn't have the technical know-how, you could buy an assembled version.

Image from Glacial Wanderer, February 2010

You can see that the Electric Eel Wheel is gradually rising out of the box and it's started to become a little more compact.

The Electric Eel Wheel 2

Later that year, Maurice made several improvements on his original design, improving the motor life and reducing the volume, increasing the bobbin capacity and improving the assembly process, making it easier for people that bought it in kit form to make their own.  This was the birth of the Electric Eel Wheel 2.

Image from Glacial Wanderer, September 2010

It was now starting to look ever so slightly more commercial, with a custom, plastic controller box to protect the electronics.  It was however, still modestly hiding away in its box.

The Electric Eel Wheel 3

By 2013, there was enough demand for the Electric Eel Wheel, (in what was still a very niche market,) that Maurice was able to redesign it, using laser cut parts bought in bulk, making it cheaper to build and quicker to assemble.

Image from, September 2013

The Electric Eel Wheel 3 was a much more professional and commercial looking machine and it had finally escaped out of the box!  It was starting to look a little more like the Electric Eel Wheel on sale today.  Anecdotally, I know a lady that still owns this version of the Electric Eel Wheel and it spins just as well as any spinning wheel.  She does find it quite noisy though.  

The volume of the Eel is one of the main problems that Maurice Ribble has had to try to overcome, and is continually trying to improve.  Keeping the cost down means using a cheaper motor and light, thin veneered wood, which just aren't going to be as quiet and as stable as a heavy, solid hardwood electric spinning wheel, using a brushless motor.

In 2013, an Electric Eel Wheel 3 sold for $290 and you could buy a self-assembly kit for $240.  That's pretty incredible considering that it was difficult to buy any kind of decent e-spinner for less than $800 at the time.

The Electric Eel Wheel 4

In March 2015, Maurice took the big step of launching the Electric Eel Wheel on Kickstarter, in the hope of funding the production of the 4th iteration of his little wheel.  For the project to go ahead, he needed to raise $5,000.  In the end, with the help of 245 backers, he managed to raise over 10 times that.

Some of those original 245 backers helped to form a community on Ravelry where they showed off their altered wheels, shared spinning tips, showed off the yarns they had spun and gave new spinners advice.  Fundamentally, they also shared issues that they had with their wheels - the main problems being the sound levels and the sharp yarn hooks.  The wonderful thing is that Maurice was, and is, a very active member of that group and Maurice listened to everybody.  Maurice also read my blog post about the Electric Eel Wheel 4 too, and took on board all of my comments.

Continuing in this spirit of openness and sharing, the Electric Eel Wheel 4 is open sourced, and if you are technically minded enough to build your own, you can find more information on how to here.

The Electric Eel Wheel 5

November 2016 saw the Kickstarter for the Electric Eel Wheel 5.  Maurice Ribble wanted to address everyone's issues to make an even smaller, quieter spinning wheel with a more usable sliding hook system.  A lot of the people that invested in the first Kickstarter jumped onboard to get the improved Eel Wheel and word was slowly spreading about this new affordable electric spinning wheel.  With a target of $5,000 to get the project off the ground, the Electric Eel Wheel 5 raised over $90,000 on Kickstarter - which is pretty incredible when you consider that this is a niche product that very few people have seen in person.

There is no doubt that the Electric Eel Wheel 5 and its later updates are a significant improvement on the Electric Eel Wheel 4 and its predecessors.  The sliding hook system on the 5 caused a lot less frustration (once initial issues had been resolved) and the sound levels were much improved.

Here is a little video showing the 4 and 5 side by side just to get an idea of the difference in volume.

You can hear that the 5 has thankfully lost that annoying high pitched whine that irritated most people.  The Electric Eel Wheel 4 noise levels measured about 68 decibels at my spinning speed, but the Electric Eel Wheel 5 measures a much more bearable 59 decibels.  (For the uninitiated, 70 decibels is twice as loud as 60 decibels.)

My family and I are all quite sensitive to noise and so I purposely wouldn't use the Electric Eel Wheel 4 when others were in the room, as I knew the noise would be too loud for anyone to watch the television at a comfortable level.  I am however happy to use my Electric Eel Wheel 5 with others in the room - albeit at a slightly lower speed than when I'm on my own.

I should probably point out that the first Electric Eel Wheel 5 came with a plastic flyer spindle and sliding hooks.  Quite a few spinners (myself included) started to see a wearing down of the plastic where the spun yarn was running over the plastic and so Maurice sent out replacement aluminium flyer spindles and sliding hooks to anyone affected.

The Electric Eel Wheel 5.1

Maurice is constantly working on new ideas and asking members of the Ravelry forum what they want in an electric spinning wheel, whilst listening to the problems and issues that arise.  It's a very unique and open business model and it's almost like later models of the Electric Eel Wheel have been designed by Maurice, but with Ravelry members as his design consultants.  Most companies are incredibly secretive about new ideas and inventions, but Maurice will happily risk sharing designs and ideas that he has for future models of the Electric Eel Wheel, knowing that feedback from Ravelry members has helped the Electric Eel Wheel become the little gem it is today. 

I never actually got around to writing a review for the Electric Eel Wheel 5, as Maurice had brought out the 5.1 very soon after everyone received their updated aluminium flyer rods and hooks.  

The 5.1 has a coat of varnish on it - so it looks much more finished than previous wheels -  I did have a problem with wood chipping off both of my wheels, so this definitely takes the design up a notch.  It also feels more finished and professional as the underneath is now enclosed by a detachable base.  Probably the biggest improvement made for the 5.1 is that the bobbins now have bearings at either end - making them quieter than the Bobbins Up bobbins that shipped with the 5.0

The Electric Eel Wheel Mini

Image from Kickstarter, November 2017

In November 2017, Maurice Ribble launched a Kickstarter for a new kind of Electric Eel Wheel - The Electric Eel Wheel Mini.  It was one of his most ambitious spinning projects yet as he challenged himself to make the smallest, most affordable electric spinning wheel ever.  Some would say that he'd already done this with the Electric Eel Wheels 3 - 5 but Maurice wanted to make a wheel that was even more affordable, to encourage many more people to try spinning for the first time.  The Electric Eel Wheel Mini sold on Kickstarter for an amazing, $50.   Unsurprisingly, over 1000 people backed it.
Maurice described it as a new category of spinning wheel to help bridge the gap between drop spindle and spinning wheel - the price being far closer to that of a drop spindle.  Inevitably, with such a low price tag came compromises - it was quite noisy and it was so light it needed to be strapped down to stop it from wobbling too much.  Changing direction to ply was also slightly awkward, but it was still an excellent introduction to spinning for a lot of people  - many of whom went on to upgrade to the larger model once they knew that they enjoyed spinning.

The Electric Eel Wheel 5.2

Image from Dreaming Robots

The latest and current model is the Electric Eel Wheel 5.2.  This went up for sale on the Dreaming Robots site on November 9th, 2018.  Once word went out that these were for sale, 100 of these wheels sold out in less than a day.  

I love the fact that it now retails at $260, which is $30 less than the Electric Eel Wheel 3 sold for, way back in 2013.  It just shows that being able to buy materials in bulk and mass produce many elements of the wheel has enabled Maurice to pass these savings onto his customers.

One of the most notable differences is the plastic flyer wheel.  I'm a little torn on the decision to use plastic for the flyer.  I much prefer the look of the wood, but I can appreciate that plastic helps to keep the price down when you are working in large quantities - also, the thin wood of previous flyers could warp, which would add to the noise levels and the vibration of the wheel itself.

The frame has bearings built into the front and back for the flyer spindle to sit in to help quieten the wheel further.  The back panel hinges downwards to make it easier to change the bobbins.  I love these design features and I feel it improves the quality feel of the wheel significantly.

Image from Dreaming Robots site

The spindle is also made from one piece of solid steel - the earlier flyer spindles were made from two pieces of aluminium screwed together and some people found (myself included) that the rods weren't completely straight - which added to the wobble of the wheel.  (Mine would go for a little walk when I used the aluminium spindle at high speeds.)  Making it from one piece of steel will lengthen the life of the spindle and reduce the chance of having a 'wobbly wheel'.

Quite a few people on the Ravelry forum requested a faster wheel so that they could ply faster and spin shorter fibres more easily.  The 5.2 spins at a maximum of 1400 rpms, which is 40% faster than the previous model.

The sliding hooks have also changed, making them significantly easier to move than the ones on the 5.1.  I must say though, I'm a little uneasy about how they look, but aesthetics are probably a little more important to me than most.

There is a regular discussion on the Electric Eel Wheel Ravelry forum on the aesthetics of the Eel and how important keeping the price down is, compared to how the wheel looks, and the functionality of the wheel.  Personally, I would rather pay more for an attractive, quiet wheel, but opinion is very much split on this issue.  Making the Electric Eel Wheel as affordable and as enjoyable to use as possible is at the forefront of Maurice's design concept and I cannot fault him for that.

The Electric Eel Wheel Mini 2

Update:  The Name of the Electric Eel Wheel Mini 2 has now been changed to the Electric Eel Wheel Nano to reflect the fact that it is a complete redesign and is even smaller than the original Electric Eel Wheel Mini.

After the success of the Electric Eel Wheel Mini, Maurice took the feedback he received from his tiny wheel and made a radical decision - to design the new Mini completely out of plastic.  At first, I think quite a few people were quite uneasy at the thought of having a completely plastic spinning wheel, but as images and footage of the wheel began to come out, people started to come around to the concept of a tiny plastic spinning wheel. The primary reason for making the Electric Eel Wheel Mini 2 Nano was to make an affordable, yet easy to use electric spinning wheel.  By using modern, injection moulding techniques, it's much easier and cheaper to make a thousand wheels out of plastic, than it is out of wood.  Also, by making the frame out of one solid piece of plastic rather than several pieces of wood, there are far fewer variables - making for a quieter wheel with fewer vibrations.

Image from Kickstarter, November 2018

The Kickstarter for the Electric Eel Wheel Mini 2 Nano launched on the 15th of November 2018 and it reached its target in less than an hour.  The Kickstarter has been running for 12 days now and already over 2,400 people have backed it - and there are another 23 days to go!  I think that's a real achievement and it shows just how much confidence has built up around the Electric Eel Wheel product range over the last few years.

The new Mini has a much more open design than any of the previous Eel Wheels, allowing you to see how much yarn is on the bobbin very easily. It's also significantly quieter than the previous Mini and apparently, it's quieter than the 5.0. Changing direction is done by the flick of a switch, which is a real improvement on the previous Mini.

The basic Kickstarter package is just $60.  I'm in the UK and so I anticipate that this is going to cost me about £80 with shipping and import duty.  Even for an entry level spinning wheel, that is incredible!

Update:  The Kickstarter for the renamed Electric Eel Wheel Nano ended on the 21st of December 2018, with 4,351 backers pledging $498,671 in total.  It successfuly exceeded it's goal by 3,324%.  
Due to many people bulk buying, the total number of Electric Eel Wheel Nanos sold was 5,381!  That's some achievement and will have a massive impact on the number of people learning to spin in 2019.

Future Electric Eel Wheels

Maurice Ribble is fundamentally an inventor who found a gap in the market.  He's constantly working on new ideas and designs.  He compares the design process of the Electric Eel Wheel to mobile phone companies, constantly working on future iterations of the device - improving it and upgrading it so as to maintain interest in the product and to keep the product fresh and innovative. 

One request that is often made on the Ravelry forum is for the Electric Eel Wheel to have some kind of auto flyer, similar to the Woolee Winder so that spinners don't have to constantly keep stopping to move the sliding hooks.  Maurice is working on his own, redesigned version of this for future wheels and it could well be a possibility in the future.

There's also talk of a phone app so that you can see how fast you're spinning, how long you've spun for and maybe even get the app to communicate with the wheel to get it to stop and start instead of using a foot pedal.  All of this is very exciting and it's why I love the Electric Eel Wheel!


The Competition

You only have to look at the number of new Electric Eel Wheel forum members every day on the Ravelry forum to see how much talk there is amongst spinners about the Eel and how information about it is slowly spreading by word of mouth; whether it's amongst spinning friends or over social media. Everybody loves a bargain and everyone loves to share information about bargains with their friends.  Telling everyone about the £1,200 spinning wheel you've just bought might be considered a little vulgar, but plenty of people are telling their friends about the £80 spinning wheel they just backed on Kickstarter.

Until now, the big e-spinner companies haven't taken the Electric Eel Wheel seriously and it's been pretty much overlooked - the Ashford site describes their e-spinner as the smallest, lightest and most versatile electronic spinner ever, and the Hansen website describes their e-spinner as the lightest, most compact, technically advanced e-spinner that is commercially available today.  (Incidentally, the Ashford e-spinner weighs 2 kilos, the Hansen weighs 2.2 kilos and the Electric Eel Wheel weighs 1.8 kilos.)

While one or two of these superlatives may be true, it's obvious that the Electric Eel Wheel is not yet seen as competition by these bigger companies.  I believe that with the future release of the Mini 2 Nano and the current performance of the Electric Eel Wheel 5.2, the big companies have got some serious competition on their hands that they can't afford to ignore anymore.


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