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Admit it: it’s been a long time. How long? Well, we won’t go there.

But you know what your wheel wants most: a day at the spa. It’s been working hard and seldom complains, but it will feel and perform a whole lot better after some TLC.

First up: a thorough cleaning. By nature, the spinning process generates lots of fibery dust, much of which accumulates in, on, and around your lovely wheel.

While dust may seem like a cosmetic issue, it can actually affect your wheel’s performance over the long term if it’s not cleaned out on a regular basis. Dust and debris can cause abrasion in moving parts and even accelerate surface wear on wood.

But hold off on the bubble bath! Wood is sensitive to any moisture, so a vacuum attachment with a soft, nonabrasive brush works nicely, as does a dry microfiber dusting cloth designed to attract dust and dirt.

If there is anything really sticky or yucky on the wood’s surface, you can moisten a cloth or paper towel ever so slightly to wipe it off. You may as well take off the drive band; the wheel will be easier to clean without it. Cotton swabs work well to get the fibers and dust out of little crevices (such as the orifice)...

and if you happen to have one of those nifty microcleaning attachment sets designed for vacuuming dirt out of the nooks and crannies of electronic equipment, try it out. The surrounding floor area probably needs a good vacuuming or wipe down as well (actually, my whole house does, but let’s not get too ambitious).

For flyer wheels: Remove the flyer and wipe off any old oil or dust from the shaft. Wipe the ends of the bobbins and whorls (pulleys) or use a cotton swab to clean the ends.

If you have replaced your wheel’s flyer with a WooLee Winder, dig out your owner’s manual and see how to take it apart to clean and oil it. The canned air sitting near your computer might be helpful here, to blow out any fibers that have collected in the WooLee’s flyer arms.

For spindle wheels: Remove the spindle and wipe both ends. If you have a great wheel that uses braided, dried cornhusks for the front and rear spindle bearings, you might want to replace them.

Once you have cleaned things up, it’s a good time to dig out your owner’s manual and see what it says about oiling moving parts and preserving the wood’s finish. Generic advice about wheel care is just that: generic; every manufacturer has ideas about what optimizes their products’ performance. Obviously, owners of antique wheels are on their own, but owners of modern wheels should be able to track down the original instructions from the manufacturer if they’ve been lost. Some manufacturers have them online in PDF format, which makes it easy to download another copy. If yours does not, you can also contact the manufacturer or a local dealer directly.

Spinning wheels are part hardworking machine and part beautiful wooden furniture, so they need protection from the daily fluctuations in humidity and regular lubrication so they will continue to function well. But exactly how (and with what products) these two goals are best achieved is subject to differences of opinion. If you are ever in need of entertainment (and edification) and have half a dozen wheel makers at the same table, ask an innocent little question about whether wheels should be waxed or not and what to use. I once thought the most difficult part of that question would be deciding what brand of paste wax to buy! Thus, I will refer you first to your wheel’s maker: what does he or she think is the best way to preserve the finish and reduce moisture transfer? Some wheel makers advocate paste wax and others don’t, and you may or may not choose to follow their advice, but it’s worth knowing before you decide because once you have waxed your wheel, you would need to remove the wax before using a different wood finish.

Waxing a spinning wheel isn’t difficult, but you’ll probably need to set aside an hour or two for the project. I use Johnson Paste Wax for my wheels because it’s readily available at hardware stores and doesn’t contain silicone (which would make any potential future repairs difficult). Other paste waxes will probably work just fine, but I haven’t experimented with other brands. What you don’t want is furniture polish that is made for quick shining and dusting rather than bona fide wood protection.

Once your wheel is clean, apply a thin coat of paste wax with a soft scrap of cloth.

Work in the direction of the grain and be sure to avoid the rim of the wheel (the groove in which the drive band sits). Don’t wax your whorls (pulleys) or bobbins either, unless your wheel manufacturer recommends it. But if your wheel has a wooden tension screw, go ahead and wax it.

Often they are left unfinished, which leaves them vulnerable to drying out. Let the wax dry for a few minutes until the surface looks hazy, and then bring on the elbow grease: use a clean cloth to buff the waxed surfaces until they glow.

This takes some effort, but think of it as the “massage” stage of your wheel’s spa treatment.

And as long as you’ve made a big mess in the living room, you might as well grab your wooden niddy noddies, lazy kates, and reels and give them a good dusting and finish up with nice protective coat of wax as well. The axles of lazy kates get especially dirty from the oil that remains on the bobbins. Waxing your kate will make the oil easier to wipe off when it accumulates.

If you want additional information about paste wax, I’d recommend reviewing Alden Amos’s excellent discussion of the subject, which appeared in the Fall 1997 issue of Spin-Off: “A Lick and a Promise...or, Waxes, polishes, and your spinning wheel’s finish.” In The Alden Amos Big Book of Handspinning, he also offers a back-to-basics recipe for spinning wheel polish if you want to make your own (page 371). Those with antique wheels might want to rustle up a copy of The Care and Feeding of Spinning Wheels by Karen Pauli (it’s out of print but used copies are relatively easy to find online). She offers in-depth coverage of basic wheel repair, restoration, and refinishing as well as a thorough discussion of lubrication and trouble-shooting for old-style wheels. Pat Bownas also has a useful article in the Fall 2011 issue of Spin-Off, “Quick Fixes for Antique Wheels.” She doesn’t specifically cover wood finishes, but she offers good self-help options for getting antique wheels running more smoothly. If your wheel is not running well, check out Bobbie Irwin’s Spinner’s Companion for trouble shooting simple wheel problems. Should your wheel’s health problems require expertise beyond the DIY realm, try contacting your local guild to find a craftsperson in your area who can help.

Now, time to treat your newly shining wheel to a spanking new drive band -- unless, of course, you use a synthetic one and it’s still in good shape.

And last, but not least, freshly oil all the places your wheel usually needs oil. Most wheels are going to need oiling on all moving parts: at the main wheel axle (both sides), at the front and rear maiden bearings, and each bobbin end, and possibly the footman and treadle, depending on your wheel’s construction (before oiling any plastic parts, check your owner’s manual). Your wheel will want oil every time you sit down to spin.

Leather parts on some wheels can be greased with petroleum jelly to prevent them from drying out and cracking.

A common recommendation is to use 20 or 30 weight motor oil. Again, be sure to refer to your wheel’s owner’s manual if you have a modern wheel. I just became the proud owner of a Jonathan Bosworth book charka, and the owner’s manual tells me that it has teflon or sealed ball bearings that require no oiling. In fact, oiling would be bad for such a set up. So don’t make assumptions based on generic recommendations -- check on your wheel’s individual needs before potentially making an expensive mistake that you and your wheel will regret.

I knew that wheels needed lubrication to function efficiently, but thanks to Judith MacKenzie’s DVD, Popular Wheel Mechanics, I now know that oiling serves to clean a wheel’s moving parts as well. (Engineering types probably figured this out much sooner than I did!) Lubrication cleans out some of the fibery dust that would wear out a wheel’s parts sooner and keeps parts cool. Judith cautions against oiling any plastic parts and feels that one should change one’s oil of choice on occasion to prevent build up (she offers WD-40 and Tri-Flow bicycle oil as good alternatives to motor oil). However, I’ve heard other wheel experts say that plastic parts should be oiled, so, once again, I refer you to your handy owner’s manual.

There are also a few free videos on YouTube that deal with spinning wheel maintenance and are worth checking out--Alden Amos shares some tidbits on wheel repair; New Voyager Trading (Kromski) has posted a three-part series on wheel care here, here, and here; and Ashford has a short clip on oiling your wheel.

Turn over a new leaf, maintain your investment, and enjoy a smoother spinning experience -- promise your wheel you’ll treat it to a spa day once or twice a year. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got three other wheels in the waiting room!

Lee Juvan learned to spin on a walking wheel when she was twelve in a summer workshop at Old Sturbridge Village in Massachusetts. She bought her own wheel in 1990, and she’s been at it since then. Lee is the designer of several patterns published in Knitty, including Shroom and Shelburne.

You can see more of her work on Ravelry.