Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Testing the "Myautowinder.com Level Winding System" for the Electric Eel Wheel 6 - Pre-release Version

Full Disclosure - For this blog post, I was lent a prototype version of the level winding system (LWS) from Myautowinder.com, along with the base of an Electric Eel Wheel 6.  The flyer shown is not the final product, and further improvements and changes will be made to the released version.

Maurice Ribble, of Dreaming Robots, recently asked me if I'd like to test a third-party autowinding flyer for the Electric Eel Wheel 6.  I was very intrigued to experience spinning with a flyer that automatically moves the yarn guides, so of course I said “yes!”  I’ve always wondered just how much of a difference it would make to me, not having to stop spinning at regular intervals, and how much it would speed up spinning and plying by making it a more uninterrupted experience.


I've been quietly aware of a company called Level Wind Systems Inc. at Myautowinder.com for a little while now.  I first saw that they'd developed an autowinding flyer for the Heavenly Handspinning wheels a year or so ago.  Since I first encountered them, they've gone on to develop autowinding flyers for many other makes of spinning wheels and e-spinners, and now it's the turn of the Electric Eel Wheel 6.

This is two firsts for me, I've never spun on the Electric Eel Wheel 6, and I've never used any kind of level winding system, so I'm coming at this with fresh eyes. I usually spin on my Nano or my Hansen, so it's going to be very interesting to see how the Nano's Big Daddy compares to my favourite little e-spinner.

My First Impressions



The Level Winding System is a neat little device; it’s very simple and uncomplicated to use, with an attractive laser-etched design on the front metal panel. 


To test the LWS autowinder fully, and get a feel for its idiosyncrasies, I decided to spin two relatively full bobbins.  Firstly, I’m going to be spinning this combed top that I’ll be combing myself using a blend of two parts turquoise to one part black, in superfine merino.  


After that, I have a gradient of 43 hand-blended nests of regular merino that I’ve been preparing for a future blog post.  These are both very typical of the fibre that I like to spin regularly, so that should help me to obtain a true opinion.

Probably the first thing I should comment on is that to reduce vibration, the base of the Electric Eel Wheel 6 needs to be attached to a metal plate to increase weight and stability.  (The metal plate will accompany the flyer when it is eventually available for purchase.)  This added weight wasn't an issue for me, and in some ways, the metal base made moving the wheel around the house a little easier.  


I could perch my little tattoo foot pedal on the base plate, sling some fibre under the bobbin, and move it all to where I wanted to spin in one trip, gripping onto the base plate firmly.  It does of course add quite a bit of weight to the EEW6 - The wheel, flyer, bobbin and base weigh in at 2.02 kilos (compared to 1.3 kilos without the metal base).  


The metal base is only slightly wider than the flyer arms of the LWS, so it doesn't really add an awful lot to the overall footprint of the EEW6.  If I were to own the EEW6 and LWS, I think I'd be slightly less likely to travel with it, because of the additional weight - but I have my Nano for that anyway...

The Automatic Level Winding Action



I've made this little animated gif to show the movement of the yarn guide in action.  It's a very simple, idea - the yarn guide travels back and forth on a worm gear system, transferring the spun yarn onto the bobbin in a zig-zag pattern.  The speed of the movement is fixed and the worm gear rotates completely independently of the Electric Eel Wheel 6.  The WooLee Winder uses a similar self-reversing thread but uniquely, the LWS uses a motor to move the yarn guide rather than a gearing system.

Battery Power



The Level Winding System is powered by two AAA batteries that sit in the hollow flyer arm, balancing out the weightier flyer arm containing the gearing system.


I found that different brands and types of battery affected how well the flyer was balanced, and I did notice an increase in vibration with the significantly lighter lithium batteries.


When I used the lightest, Energizer Ultimate Lithium batteries, the weightier yarn guide arm would fall to the bottom - something that didn’t happen with the other two.  This was just a minor inconvenience, but I would say that the heavier Member’s Mark AAA batteries balanced out the flyer best of all of the batteries I tried.  (Unfortunately, these aren’t available in the UK, but they may be similar to regular Energizer alkaline batteries, as Energizer also make Member’s Mark batteries.)

The instructions state that good quality alkaline Duracell or Energizer batteries should be used and to avoid cheaper batteries.


The Level Winding System is turned on and off by this very accessible toggle switch and there is a little blue light on the right-hand side that comes on when the autowinding flyer is powered on.

The Orifice



The size of the orifice is about 14mm.  I didn’t have the original orifice reducer for the EEW6, but as the LWS uses the same flyer rod as the Electric Eel Wheel 6, the orifice reducer will fit the autowinding flyer.  I generally spin fine yarns, so this size of orifice works for me.

The Yarn Guides 


The yarn guides are made from heavy-duty plastic.  They’re a simple design of a hollow cylinder with a cut-out to pass the yarn through.  The instructions describe the guides as ‘replaceable’ and a second set is provided with the flyer.  You can also buy spares on the Myautowinder.com website, so I think they have to be considered a consumable item

As the guides are plastic, I suspect that some spinners might experience erosion of the plastic caused by fine singles passing over the edges at high speeds.  I had a similar issue with my Electric Eel Wheel 5 that originally had a plastic flyer and hooks.  To fix this problem, I just placed some copper tape over the plastic parts that were wearing away and the grooves stopped growing.  If I owned an LWS autoflyer, I would definitely wrap sticky-back metal tape around the guides to make them last indefinitely.

 


How does the LWS flyer affect the spinning experience?


This was a very important factor for me.  When I first bought my Hansencrafts Minispinner I was very tempted to buy myself a WooLee Winder to save myself from having to stop spinning to move the yarn guides.  However, when I read up on it, the consensus seemed to be that a WooLee Winder increases the pull of the yarn, slows down the flyer a little, and makes the wheel slightly noisier.  I much prefer a very light take-up and so I knew that this trade-off wouldn’t be acceptable to me, and I would become irritated by it.

I’m very pleased to say that I was able to achieve the very lightest of tensions with the LWS flyer on the Electric Eel Wheel 6, and I didn’t notice any difference in the spinning experience when I turned the autowinding function off.  It was an absolute joy to be able to sit back and relax to spin without having to constantly monitor my bobbins, or keep my eye on a timer to remind me to stop and move the yarn guides.


One thing that hadn’t occurred to me before I tested the LWS is that when you remove the need to move the yarn guides, it allows you to sit much further from the wheel.  This gives you a few advantages: it distributes the twist more evenly along the single, the need for an orifice reducer diminishes as ‘yarn wobble’ is less bothersome over a longer distance, and any noise that the wheel is making becomes less distracting when you sit 2 metres away from it.


The main thing I love about the LWS flyer is probably an advantage that only a very small minority of spinners will appreciate...  My favourite place to spin is sitting on the sofa, with the wheel perched on the conservatory windowsill next to me.  I'm a sideways drafter, but as I find it painful to turn my neck to look at the wheel, I've got used to spinning with an interval timer, reminding me to move the yarn guide every few minutes.  I cannot begin to tell you how much more relaxing it is to just sit back and watch a film while I spin for a long stretch of time, without having a timer going off regularly.  Just not having to stop to look at my bobbin every few minutes was an absolute joy.

In recent years, there’s been a lot more talk about mindfulness and the flow experience, and how achieving this higher state of mind is beneficial to one’s mental health.  It’s so much easier to become completely absorbed in the calm, rhythmic, relaxing activity of uninterrupted spinning if you have no interruptions.  Not having to stop to move the yarn guide means that you can completely zone out, or totally focus on what your hands are doing.

Bobbins 


Another advantage that the LWS has over the WooLee Winder is that all of the gearing is in the flyer itself, so there is no need to buy new bobbins to go with the LWS flyer.

Forgetting to turn the LWS autowinder on and off


When I began spinning my first bobbin, I was turning the LWS flyer on and off every time I stopped to rejoin my next nest of fibre.  I quickly learned that this really wasn’t necessary and turning the flyer off mid-spin makes it very easy to forget to turn it back on again when you resume spinning … 


At one point I noticed this large mound of yarn forming in the middle of my bobbin when I’d forgotten to flick the flyer back to the ‘on’ position.  To resolve the situation, I let the yarn guide move along a few mm and completed a full layer using what now felt like the old-fashioned method of spinning a mound and allowing the yarn guide to move along a few more mm until a layer had been completed. 


This is my bobbin after I completed a layer with the autowinder turned off, so it is completely possible to use the LWS flyer with the motor switched off.

The instructions say that there is no need to turn off the flier to take a short pause, pre-draft, or prep fibre.  I would add a cautionary tale to this:  At one point, when I had only been using the EEW6 and LWS flyer for a short while, I had to quickly stop spinning to answer the phone.  When I returned, I came back to this: -


The single had twisted back on itself and got tangled up in the self-reversing screw.  Thankfully I managed to free my singles by carefully snipping the yarn with scissors, and pulling the fibres out with needle-nosed pliers without any casualties, but I did have about 15 minutes of minor panic when I was worried that I might have damaged the precious Level Winding System.  From then on, I always held my singles under tension while I changed my fibre over, or turned the motor off if I was stopping spinning, or moving away from the wheel for any amount of time.

One of Maurice’s concerns was that spinners would forget to turn off the flyer and quickly flatten the batteries.  Having used it for a while, I would say that I don’t think I would have an issue with that.  The motor makes a gentle whirring sound, which is relatively noticeable from a short distance when the wheel isn’t spinning.  So, unless you were in a real hurry to put your wheel away, I think it would be difficult to forget to turn it off.  I don’t think I will step away from the LWS flyer again without turning it off, as I learned my lesson the hard way…

Noise levels


The constantly moving yarn guide does produce a quiet whirring noise, but it wasn’t loud enough for it to be an annoyance, or even particularly noticeable over the sound of the rotating flyer.  I did find that the wheel vibrated a little more when the yarn guide was at the far end of the flyer, but as I didn’t have the original EEW6 flyer to test, I couldn’t make a true comparison.  I suspect that the LWS flyer, with two arms with differing weights and profiles, made the EEW6 quite a bit noisier at high speeds than with the original flyer.  I normally spin at a relatively low speed, which is not quite half of the maximum speed of the EEW6; at this speed, I was very happy to spin without the sound of the wheel being bothersome to myself or anyone else in the room, and the TV could easily be heard without the wheel being distracting.

When it came to plying however, I did find that past the halfway mark on the dial, the wheel began to vibrate and I found myself plying at a lower speed while other people were in the room so as not to irritate my family, or be a distraction from whatever they were watching on TV.  Of course, whether something is loud or noisy is very subjective and even decibel levels aren’t a true reflection of whether something might be considered noisy.


I made this simple video comparing the sound levels of the Electric Eel Wheel 6 with the LWS flyer attached, beside the Nano, as I suspect that quite a few people reading this are familiar with the sound levels of the Nano.


In the second video I made, this is the point where the wheel is rotating at about 66% of its maximum speed.  I wasn't happy to go much past this speed because of the noise the wheel was making - I'm told that the final design has been improved to balance the flyer better and reduce vibration.

Winding off for plying


With an autowinding flyer, like the LWS or a WooLee Winder, the yarn wraps around the bobbin diagonally.  I don’t think it looks quite as neat as a meticulously filled bobbin, where you’ve moved the yarn guide religiously every minute - but then not everyone is as obsessive about filling a neat bobbin as I am…  

The diagonal wrapping of yarn around the bobbin of an autowinding flyer does offer a very clear advantage in that when you are plying, the singles come off the bobbin much more easily than if the yarn has been allowed to build up in lots of separate individual areas along the bobbin.  Any experienced spinner will tell you that if you allow the yarn to build up in large mounds on your bobbin, you run the risk of those little hills collapsing, which can often mean that you have to pull on your singles a little harder during plying - increasing the chance of breaking your yarn.


I’ve made this little animated gif of me walking backward 6 metres while I make a chain-plied ball as I wanted to demonstrate just how smoothly the yarn comes off the bobbin with the LWS.  Normally I would take my time, especially when I’m pulling singles from the bobbin ends, as there’s always a chance that the yarn has got caught somehow.  This time however, I was able to fly through making my chain-plied ball as I was confident that there was no way that the singles could have got caught up under an avalanche of collapsed yarn.


I've uploaded a video of me spinning on the Electric Eel Wheel 6 and this section of the video gives a fuller demonstration of how I pre-chain ply my singles before adding twist.

How speed affects the bobbin filling 


I’m generally quite a sedate spinner.  For me, spinning is a relaxing, mindful activity and I tend to spin with a short, sideways draw, without maxing out the speed capabilities of the wheel.  For plying, however, I tend to step things up a bit.


I often chain-ply my singles into a plying ball and add twist later by running it through the wheel as quickly as I can.  While plying the full bobbin I’d spun earlier, I hit upon an issue. This was the first bobbin of singles I spun -


It was spun between settings 2 and 3 on the EEW6 dial, so between 30% and 50% of the wheel’s capability. You can see that the singles are laid onto the bobbin diagonally and they are quite spaced out along the bobbin, creating an even layer.


This however, was plied on the 5 setting on the EEW6 dial, which is about 85% of the wheel’s maximum speed.  It’s about as fast as I’m comfortable to ply at, but it did reveal an issue with the LWS I was testing.  As the yarn guide moves at a fixed speed, when I spun faster, it created a build-up of yarn at the ends.  I suspect that the prototype self-reversing screw moving the yarn guide was taking a little longer to change direction at the far end, which only showed up when I was putting yarn onto the bobbin at high speeds.

To resolve the issue, I turned the speed down to 3 (50%) to see if that rectified the situation.

 

As you can see, at this lower speed, the winding on of the bobbin by the yarn guide corrected the bulging areas enough for me to finish plying the full bobbin.  I was really quite surprised by how well it managed to correct itself.

(I am reminded that this is a pre-release version of the LWS and I'm told that this should be rectified when the EEW6 autowinding flyer goes into production.)

I thought it would be interesting to compare the two bobbins side by side: the spun singles on the left, with the finished plied yarn on the right.  


Plied yarn normally takes up a lot more space on a bobbin than the singles for the same yarn, which is why I finished the first bobbin at that point. I was initially quite surprised by how much room was left on the bobbin of chain-plied yarn when I finished. As the yarn covered the bobbin faster during plying, but the yarn guide was moving at the same speed, this resulted in a more efficiently filled bobbin. There was a lot less overlapping of layers going in opposite directions, and the yarn is closer to a perpendicular angle across the bobbin tube. I think this highlights that if you’re the kind of person that would normally meticulously move the yarn guide every minute or two, you would manage to get more yarn on the bobbin than if you used the LWS autowinder.  This wouldn't be an issue for me, as the EEW6 bobbins are a decent size anyway and I rarely spin bulky or fancy yarns, but it is a definite consideration for some.

Spinning Fancy or Slubby Yarns

I wanted to see how the pre-released version of the LWS autowinder managed with a textured yarn that was less than even.  I have a big bag of short fibres that are the waste from blending colours with my mini wool combs that I like to use up in core-spun yarn.


The LWS coped very well in the less slubby areas, but in spinning this small amount, the yarn guide stopped moving on 3 occasions when it hit upon a large slub, rather than letting it pass through and onto the bobbin.  I may well have had a problem with the yarn slubs getting stuck on the yarn guides with the regular EEW6 flyer, but I decided to stop spinning this lumpy yarn as I didn't want to damage the motor driving the yarn guide.  

I should add that I have seen images of slubby core-spun yarns spun successfully with an LWS flyer on a different type of wheel, so I suspect that this may be an issue that will be addressed when the upgraded self-reversing screws are produced.

I did encounter other issues with the pre-released version of the LWS autowinder, but I don’t think it’s relevant to mention them here;  the test flyer I was sent used a printed self-reversing screw, which is bound to have imperfections that wouldn’t be present in a refined, custom manufactured one.

Price


Updated 26-01-22

The introductory price for the LWS for the EEW6 is $295, but it is like to increase after February 8th 2022.  This price is comparable to a WooLee Winder, and around what I would previously have expected to pay for specialist spinning equipment.  

Having had the pleasure of spinning on the Electric Eel Wheel 6, I find myself slightly amused that it is more affordable than the autowinding flyer that is soon going to be available for it.  I think this only serves to reinforce what excellent value for money the EEW6 is, compared to every other e-spinner or spinning wheel around.  

When Maurice Ribble brought out the Electric Eel Wheel 4 in 2015, his original goal was to use mass-production methods to make electric spinning wheels affordable to the many, rather than the few.  Today, the Electric Eel Wheel 6 can hold its own very impressively amongst the increasing competition, and it does so with very few compromises.  With the Electric Eel Wheel 6, Maurice Ribble has demonstrated that affordability does not inevitably mean a reduction in performance.

This wasn't intended to be a review of the Electric Eel Wheel 6, but I find myself seriously regretting not being able to justify investing in the EEW6 Kickstarter.  Add onto that the possibility of now being able to use an auto winding flyer with it, and you would have an extremely competitive spinning wheel.

Summary 


After spending three weeks with the LWS and Electric Eel Wheel 6, it’s time to send it on to its next destination.


A lot of that three weeks was spent writing this blog post, photographing, editing and making videos, and yet I was still able to spin over 1100 metres of chain-plied, sport weight yarn.  That’s well over 3 kilometres of singles - spun and plied.  I’ve never in my life spun that amount of yarn in such a short amount of time.  To me, that’s evidence enough that an autowinding flyer speeds up the spinning process - even if it does mean that you can’t fit quite as much on a bobbin.

I would however add a couple of notes of caution - For someone that’s been spinning for over 30 years, I'm quite a sedate spinner, and so most of my test spin was carried out at less than 66% of the EEW6's capabilities.  If you are a spinner that regularly maxes out the speed of the Electric Eel Wheel 6, Maurice informs me the LWS flyer reduces the rpm capabilities of the EEW6 by 10%.

Several improvements have been made to the final version of the LWS flyer to balance it out and reduce vibration.  I'd be very intrigued to see a side-by-side comparison video of the EEW6, with and without the updated LWS flyer to see how well they've managed to overcome the noise and vibration issue I was having.  I'd be very happy to share it here!


I’ve heard many spinners say that because they are used to using a wheel with a WooLee Winder, they would never consider buying a wheel without one.  I can now completely see where they’re coming from.  It would definitely feel like a backward step.  I can imagine that the option of buying an autowinding flyer for the EEW6 will pique the interest of quite a few spinners that have been holding off from buying one for this reason.


I definitely foresee myself one day, in the dim and distant future, owning an Electric Eel Wheel with an autowinding flyer, but for now, I’ll return to my cute little Nano, and keep on moving those yarn guides like it’s 1984.


Thank you, if you've read this far!  If you found this post interesting or useful, please pin it to Pinterest.  It makes a big difference and helps other spinners find it too.


Spinning Supercoil Yarn Using Waste Fibres

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2 comments:

Frau Leo said...

Thank you for this in depth review, it was really interesting to see the LWS in action! I first became aware of the LWS through the Schacht Ravelry group. Right now, I am not sure the expense for an LWS or Woolee Winder would be justified considering how little I spin. I am however toying with the idea of getting an EEW6.
Best wishes, Andrea

Kathryn - Craftmehappy said...

Ah yes, the LWS would be a luxury if you don't spin frequently. I would say that since I first backed the Electric Eel Wheel 4 Kickstarter in 2015, I spin much more frequently, and my spinning has improved immensely. I think there's something about its portability that allows you to spin anywhere, or in snatches of downtime, while treadle wheel spinning is much more of an event.