Home Equipment Ropemaking


Reels are used to twist fibers into long lengths of single strand yarns. The two basic types of reels are two-armed[990] [1014] [1030], and four armed[110] [973] [1005] [1010] [1040].

I wanted something I could use to quickly make single-ply yarns on my own. Cranks and crooks are a two person task. With a reel, I can make plenty of home-made yarns for the next steps in making finished rope, without going to the hardware store.

The two reels described here are my interpretations of reels seen in books and on-line. There is no reason you have to assemble your reels the same way I did. These were the methods that made sense to me at the time. Then next one will most likely be different still. It's not like there were factories turning these things out by the thousands. Experiment. Let me know what you come up with.

Two-Armed Reel

The two-armed reel is also known as a "winding frame".[990]


I needed something that could knock down to the smallest possible size, and fit into a rigger's bag.

Two-Armed Ropemaker's Reel.

Figure 1: Two Armed Ropemaker's Reel.



Two-Armed Ropemaker's Reel Parts.

Figure 2: Parts for a Two Armed Reel.


In Figure 1, the right side of the picture is the front of the reel, where you stand when twisting yarn.

The front bar and the two horizontal rails are about ten inches long. The back piece is eight inches long. All four pieces are nominal one inch square oak.

The distance between the outside edges of the horizontal rails is six inches, so once around the reel is a foot of yarn (give or take a bit).

Everything rotates on a 1/4" iron axle, two feet long.

End Detail of Two Armed Ropemaker's Reel.

Figure 3: End of Two Armed Ropemaker's Reel.


Knocked down, this reel makes a package 2" by 2" by 1'. With the iron axle sticking out a further foot.


Four-Armed Reel

This reel isn't as portable as the one above. It doesn't knock down conveniently, and takes up a lot of empty space when packing.

Four Armed Ropemaker's Reel.

Figure 4: Four-Armed Ropemaker's Reel.



This reel is made from nominal one inch square oak.

End Detail of Four Armed Ropemaker's Reel.

Figure 5: End of Four Armed Ropemaker's Reel.


Hand Reel

In 2023, I came across Erik Brinkman's page on bast ropemaking in northern Europe.[105] In it, he has an early illustration of a ropemaker spinning yarn with a hand held reel.

I had to try it.

Hand Reel.
Figure 6: Ropemaker's Hand Reel.


The main part of the reel was a five inch long piece of 1 x 4" oak scrap, the axle was 1/4 inch round stock, and the handle a piece of a tree branch, maybe cherry, about an inch in diameter.


When I first tried spinning yarn with this reel, the fibers kept slipping off the front ears, so I filed a groove in each ear. Problem solved.

I had a hard time twisting yarn holding the reel in my hand, as shown in the original illustration.[105] I ended up clamping the handle to my bench, and using this reel like the two shown above.

Once the yarn was twisted, however, the hand reel did a good job of twisting the yarn for folding. Perhaps not as fast as you can do with a spinner but maybe faster than you can twist with a crank. This is now a permanent part of my tool kit.


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