Save $$$ and Build your Own Fibre Picker
Finally, finally, finally! The plans for the FAB Fiber Picker have been completed. So many other tasks kept presenting themselves as more important than the plans, that I seemed to get only five minutes each week to work on them. Hopefully though, it’s been worth it.The plans describe in clear format, exactly what materials you will need, how to build it and how to use it.
The package includes more than forty, 3-dimensional, CAD (computer aided design) drawings as well as many photographs and assembly instructions, to help you build your own picker that will last several lifetimes. If nothing else, you will have produced something for future generations to puzzle over, leaving them to determine the possible use of this strange and lethal-looking gizmo, found in an attic.
My next task is to convert the cement-mixer-cum-fiber-tumbler into 3-dimensional drawings too. The simple, bolt-on cage has attracted a lot ….well, relatively, a lot …of attention, since the videos of it in action were posted on YouTube.
How to price the plans was the difficult part. For the hours, days, weeks and months, spent building pickers, playing with them, tweaking them and drawing the plans cannot be reclaimed in the price, so it simply comes down to making a donation to the Llama Sanctuary, which is precisely where the all money goes from Fibre Arts Bootcamp in any case.
Here are a few excerpts from the plans:
First of all, let’s get the warning over with. The machine you about to make contains many long, sharp spikes, capable of flaying your hand, leg, or any other bit of anatomy you care to place within. I am quite sure it also has the power to dissect small children and other creatures, so keep them away too. The picker is extremely dangerous and should be kept out of the reach of young children, when not in use. You might not think the hamster is in any danger, but I’ll bet my new alpaca socks that you’ve been surprised by inventive little minds before, haven’t you?
The spikes are very sharp, or at least they should be if you follow these instructions and are frequently obscured by lovely soft fleece just begging to be touched and squidged.
Complacency when using the picker can lead to some very painful injuries, the most common and excruciating involves being spiked under the fingernail, from which there is a very serious risk of tetanus.
Do you still want to make a Picker? You’re not easily dissuaded, are you?
What is a Picker?
The Picker is one of the key tools in the wool processing industry. It is designed to tease open locks and clumps of fiber, preparing it for combing or carding. As the locks are pulled open, a lot of chaff, vegetable matter, dust, sand, rocks, twigs and other yucky things are released and fall out into the picker. You may be surprised at just how much rubbish is left in the machine, even after working apparently clean fiber. The picker will also blend different types of fiber such as sheep, alpaca, llama and camel.
Lambs Fleece – Before and After Picking
Depending on the nature of the fiber, its intended use and the number of times the fiber is passed through the picker, you can even spin directly from picked fiber.
This picker is the result of a considerable amount of trial and error. Once we found a design that worked, we then broke it down into modules, testing numerous combinations of spike length and spacing, spike angle and separation, together with seeking the optimum size of machine that would make it affordable, functional, movable and practical. I’m sure there are other pickers that do a good job. Some have been designed for safety at the expense of functionality and others look like mediaeval torture implements that do a fantastic job, but are just waiting for little Johnny to test it on the cat.
The FAB Fiber Picker finds a niche between the two and is the result of several years of experimentation. The fact that it’s in almost daily use here at Fibre Arts Bootcamp, should be testimony to its performance.
Watch the Picker in action:
Materials & Construction
Initially, I built the Pickers from Pine and Birch. They all suffered from the effects of humidity and we don’t even live in the Everglades. Often, we operate our Pickers outdoors, but store them inside and the change in humidity caused swelling and warping problems when using solid wood. If your Picker will always be used in the same room, at the same temperature with the same humidity, then solid wood may be acceptable. However much I dislike the idea of using plywood, it provides perfect stability through all environmental conditions. The slightest warp or swelling in the Picker Body will cause the Rake to become, either loose and sloppy or otherwise it will stick and you will ‘cuss and holler.’
Finally, spend a couple of minutes making a ‘Picker Cleaner.’ Cut up an old wire coat-hanger or steal a bit of your neighbours fencing wire (please don’t steal ours). A piece of wire about ten inches long with a slight bend in one end makes a simple tool for cleaning out the fiber that gets stuck in the spikes. Make it really fancy and carve a wooden handle for it, if you like.
Then remember to use IT ….and not your fingers!
A good way to remember to use the tool, is to tape a beautiful lock of bloodied Merino to the wall.
No special tools are required, but a drill press will make life so much easier. If you don’t have one, ask your neighbour. Actually, it’s probably better if you don’t steal his fence wire after all. If he has a fancy saw bench, take him a clutch of Budweiser and use his saw as well.
Other than a sharp pencil and a keen eye for accuracy, it’s plain sailing.
Every Fleece is Different
Not all fiber needs to be picked. Some llama fleece is very loose and open when it comes off the animal and can even be spun directly from the locks. Other fleece may be seriously matted and must be pulled apart by hand before it can even be picked. Sometimes, one pass through the picker is all that is required to prepare the fiber for combing, other times, you may need to run the fiber through three or four times to achieve the desired result.
Picking breaks up the integrity of the locks, so you should consider each project carefully, before running it through the machine. If you want to maintain the individual locks, then don’t pick it. A blending board or comb may be a more suitable tool for maintaining lock integrity.
Washing fleece compacts the fiber and sometimes it requires picking before it can be combed or carded. If the fiber has become slightly felted during the washing process, then the picker is the perfect tool to open out those clumps that would otherwise clog the cards or combs.
That’s it. If you’ve been hankering after a fiber picker for so many years, but couldn’t think of coughing up hundreds of dollars for one, now you can build a top quality machine for less than the cost of a night out. I suppose that depends on whether a night out with you is spent gazing through shop windows accompanied by an hour in Pizza Hut or a soul-stirring night in the theatre followed by Sushi and Martinis?
Please bear in mind that every dollar donated for downloading a set of plans, goes to support the needy llamas and alpacas in the rescue sanctuary.