Tag Archives: looms

Some Thoughts On Buying A Used Loom

Three people have spoken with us since November asking us our advice about getting into weaving.  In particular they have directly enquired about buying looms…what did we think?  …where should they look?  …what should they look for?  …how much should they be spending?

So I thought that as a way to reawaken this blog I might take some time to warm-heartedly reflect on weaving, and the weaving community, and looms, and our place in this grand mess.  :)

1. So you want to weave, eh?

Have you ever woven before?  That’s always the first question we ask.  And it’s okay to hear, No, but I think I’d really like to.  After all, that’s where everything starts.  What we don’t like to hear is, No, but I went and bought a loom. (!)  And we know that that happens too.  But there are a lot of looms for sale that have never been used by the people who bought them – both women and men – because they thought it might be for them, but who had not really considered everything involved.  Buying a loom can be like buying a puppy.  Do you really have the time and commitment for it?, not that you cannot learn to live your way into it.

The best way to get into weaving is to first find someone who weaves, and who is willing to sit down with you and to place your hands on one of their looms, and who will sit with you over hours of coffee and share their life with you, because that is what weaving is all about in the end, trading your life for making cloth.  True, you might find a club that sponsors classes, but we see those as a second step in the process.  The bottom line is whether there is someone who can personally spend time with you to ease you into this life?  That person might be a teacher of a class.  But let’s face it, some teachers are in it for themselves.  Some clubs exist as gatekeepers to a self-perceived exclusive domain of knowledge.  And some weavers are personally threatened by others’ interest.  We’ve seen it all.

What we share here is meant to simply be encouragement from one basic weaver to another.  We have nothing to prove and only encouragement to give.

We were extremely fortunate to have met our mentor, Susan.  First of all she is a weaving fanatic…she lives to weave.  Secondly, she is volumetric in her experience and knowledge, having forgotten more in her lifetime than we will ever come to know about weaving.  But best of all, she is personal and humble.  (And she’s got a great sense of humour and is a hoot to be around!)  There is no end to the time she will spend with us to work through something.  If you don’t understand something she is talking about she will come at it from another perspective and then another until you do.  We are truly blessed by her.

So.  The first thing to do is to find someone who can put you in the cockpit and hand over the controls to you.  And the rest is up to you.

If your answer is a growing, Yes!, then you need to evaluate how much time, and how much space, and how much money you want to spend, and what those things all do for you.

2. Do you have the time to weave?

We do not have a television.  We have a computer.  We watch the news in the morning.  We get weather reports throughout our day.  We have email.  We watch a movie at night.  Other than that we live in this beautiful place and have built our lives around doing stuff that primarily allows us to gratefully live here and that serves other people for free.  So we have cleared everything else back so that we can do things like weaving.  We made time so that we could weave.

We bought our first loom in 2015 for $400CDN from a young mother who overreached and who wanted to weave but who had two small children and a tourism business she had built and woke up one day and said, I will never get to weave.  And good for her that she came to her senses.  Experience cures nonsense.  Kids tend to do that.   This is precisely how we got our first loom, a 45″ LeClerc Mira that sat in her garage for a couple of years and needed attention.  Do you have the time to weave?  But consider this.  Perhaps you do not have the time to weave on a full-sized loom, but you can do it on a smaller loom set off in the corner that you can come and go from as you wish?  Not all weaving requires the same amount of time.  To weave a lot of material on a big loom requires a lot of time in every respect.

3. Do you have a place to weave?

Looms take up space.  The wonderful thing about my mentor is that her whole life revolves around weaving.  Looms and weaving material are packed into every square inch of her house.  I am glad that she is as smart as she is because I would never be able to remember where all the items are that she has squirrelled away everywhere! ;)  It is a genuine wonder for me to be in her home, like a great library just packed with books.  A treasure trove!

But all kidding aside, only you know the space that you are willing to commit to a loom…and all the supples you are bound to accumulate with it.  And there will be lots of those, more than you can imagine, bins and bins of them, just mark my words.

4. Do you have the money for a loom?  (If not, then take heart!)

***This is really what I wanted to write about today.  Buying a loom.

This blog is meant to encourage everyone to weave.  Of course if you have a lot of money – and a lot of people do – then this blog really is not for you.  If you can phone up a retail outlet for looms and give them a credit card number and take delivery on a loom without batting an eye, good on you.  But for those of you who are working people and feel the intuitive draw to weave, and have the time and space and passion to do so, then we are on your side.

If you have looked through this site you know that items like wool and cotton and yarns and supplies can be had and built and stored.  If you want to weave and do not have money for yarns then rags are everywhere and for a bit of resourcefulness you can produce rugs by the score that are much better than anything you can find in Wal-Mart…a craft you can be proud of.  And of course if you are in our area we have wool galore that we keep for free for others.

Here’s what you want to consider if you are looking for a loom and do not want to spend a lot of money on one.  First of all take your time.  There are a lot of good deals out there as I write.  In Hamilton, ON there is a 45″ Nilus LeClerc in great shape for sale for $500 that says negotiable on it, and in Red Deer there is a 36″ Artisat LeClerc for sale in perfect shape for $500, and in Calgary there is a $5,000 Colonial V2 LeClerc for sale for $1,800.  And there will be others that will come up.  Take your time.  We paid $400 each for a Mira and a Fanny, and got all sorts of accessories and books and benches, etc. with each of them, along with a genuine New Zealand Wee Peggy spinning wheel for $150 that is in perfect condition!  Do not get too anxious once bitten by the bug.

Warning: There are a lot of sellers out there who will take advantage of you!  Some do not know what they are selling.  That is one key sign that what you are going to pay is too much.  Ignore them!  It is not nice to say, but I am going to do it anyway, these people are greedy idiots.  I always keep my eyes open for looms at a good price.  I do not do it so that I can buy more…I am no dragon.  I buy they so that I can restore a piece of equipment that should not go to waste.  I buy them so that I can preserve a wonderful tool.  I buy them so that I can pass these on to a deserving person.

A couple years ago I bought an old abused LeClerc Jano loom.  It needed to be torn apart and refurbished.  You can read about it here: https://borealweaver.wordpress.com/2015/11/23/an-intimate-look-at-a-jano/ and https://borealweaver.wordpress.com/2015/12/03/jano-restored-pics/. I paid $70 for this loom.  I stripped the wood and scoured and polished the metal.  It’s a wonderful little machine!

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A while ago I ran across an ad for another one.  When I enquired I was informed that they wanted several hundred dollars for it since it was an antique!  Bologna!!!  It is old…nearly 90 years old.  But it was junk.  If you were a collector and it was in perfect shape, then perhaps you would pay that.  But its wood was very worn, its metal was darkened, and that means that its heddles and reed were likely worthless and need to be replaced.  And yet they claimed that it was in good shape.  I honestly doubt if they knew what ‘good shape’ meant.

Another ruse is someone who has a loom and who looks up what a new one is going for and takes a couple hundred dollars off of that price and wants to sell it to you as a ‘deal’.  Believe me, that is no deal.  Something better will come along.  You may have to drive to pick it up.  And it may need reconditioning.  But if you are willing to do the work, the deals are out there.

Now I have been rightfully chided by some who say that they do not have the skills to recondition a loom.  And that is a fair statement that I respect.  But I also know that there are a lot of people out there who do have the skills and who would love to rework a loom at no price…or perhaps for a pie or a couple of loaves of homemade bread.  And if you do not have friends like that, then it is time to make new friends!

5. So…

If you really want to weave and have limited money don’t worry, be of good cheer.  Make it so.  Enquire.  Find good people.  Consider what you want out of it and what you can give to others through it.  Deny other things so that weaving can take root.  Carve out a space.  Don’t overspend…buyer beware!  And be at peace and have fun with what you can do!!!  At least that’s how we see it.  It’s a great way to give back in a world that seems more heedless and impatient by the day.  And good luck.

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On Reconditioning Looms (45″ Leclerc Nilart Loom (1975))

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Sanded and Refinished Treadles

I spent the last three days reconditioning a 45″ Leclerc Nilart 12-harness weaving loom.  Disassembled last Sunday I could have simply brought it home and set it up.  Outside of some superficial scratches and dents it was in very good condition.  However, this loom is 42 years old.  In spite of it being the newest loom we own its age in-and-of-itself warrants full dismantling.  And in spite of the tedious nature of disassembly, inspecting, cleaning, scouring, sanding, refinishing, oiling, lubricating, and reassembly, it is well worth it from several standpoints.

Here’s how to do it…

1. Wood

eralWarm, giving, flexible, shock absorbing, and economical, wood is an is a excellent medium to use in loom construction.  However, wood also requires maintenance in two areas.

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Checks in lower temple uprights

The first area of caring for wood lies in the fact that over time wood dries out.  Wood itself is not stable.  Over time it continues to shift.  Some woods are less prone to instability.  Sometimes this happens when wood is used that is not fully cured.  Relative humidity and temperature also plays a role in a wood’s stability.   Leclerc looms are built of maple.  Maple is a more stable wood because it has a dense grain.  They also use well-dried lumber.  Yet even maple can warp and crack.  This is a pic along the bottom of one of the upright temple panels.  Over a period four decades this wood checked.  It is small and minor and does not affect the function of this machine, but simply oiling it may have prevented it from occurring, adding some elasticity to the cell structure.  Factory varnish may have helped to prevent this as well; I find that in many of Leclerc’s looms they lack finish on hidden/unexposed parts.  I understand doing so on places such as joints/mortise-and-tenons.  But it would be better if all surfaces were treated.  So once the loom was fully assembled I lightly sanded and oiled  all unfinished surfaces using boiled linseed oil.  Here’s a before and after image of the harness guide rod blocks…dirty, unfinished before…then the wood given a drink…and reconditioned afterward…

The second area of caring for wood involves noting areas that are worn.  Any wear indicates an area of friction.  Friction is a sign of loom inefficiency, eating up precious energy that the loom operator exerts in weaving.  It may not seem like a lot, but incremental inefficiency can add up to a lot of effort.  That’s just not needed.  Of course a hand loom requires effort.  Part of the joy of weaving comes from its associated bodily-kenisthetic joy; weavers feel the movement of their bodies translating ultimately into cloth.  Removing or smoothing these areas lessens these friction points.  Of course the cause of this wear will also need to be remedied.  But for now it is important to return the wood back to a better finish.  Light sanding and fine steel wool are in order here.

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Here is where the rough lip of a washer wore into one of the treadle supports.  It required effort to do this.  I’m glad that someone else did all that work and not me! ;)

The third area is repairing any functional damage done over the years.  Broken parts need to be firmly fixed; unprofessional repairs need to be put back together correctly.

Additionally, the fourth area lies in the cosmetic repair of chips, dents, scratches, and dings.  These  can often be lightly sanded out and then refinished.  But it is best to not try and do too much to character marks; it is, after all, a used loom and most will have experienced some unavoidable, unwitting, and unforeseen misfortunes.  It is, after all, a tool, and tools get worn over time…just hopefully not too much through unwarranted abuse.

Smoothness of operation is also a big concern.  These treadle spacers had not been smoothed on their ends.  They were rough and would have required undue effort to perform.  I lightly touched these to a sanding disc and they were instantly as smooth as glass,in spite of still bearing the marks of their initial roughness (you don’t want to sand these out since it would change the length of these spacers).

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The last area involves evaluating the wear that has taken place on its joinery.  Weaving is by nature violent.  The clanking of treadles.  The winding of the warp.  The concussion of the beater.  These add up to a lot of vibration over time.  A well-built loom using well-dried hardwood will withstand a lot.  Nevertheless, evaluate and shore up any loose joints.  This can often be done with spacers and wedges.  If the loom utilizes lag screws in its construction be mindful that if these loosen they may lose their purchase over time.  I find that I have sometimes needed to increase the diametre of these screws.  This is usually the easiest.  Converting these to bolts, where practical is also a possibility, as are using lag inserts, or refilling holes with a very strong epoxy and redrilling when thoroughly dried.

2. Metal Fittings

This Nilart had been kept indoors its entire life.  Nevertheless, its hardware needed a vigourous cleaning.  Where its corrosion come from is anyone’s guess.  Every major bolt was so-damaged.  Leaving metal in this condition will eventually weaken the wood with which it is in contact.  It will also wear on the part itself, causing it to loosen eventually, which will wear whichever joint is involved.  It also creates a lot more friction, requiring greater and greater effort to weave.

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Heavily corroded structural bolts.

Some used looms, you might guess, need their metal fittings fully replaced.  My first loom had sat in an unheated garage for years.  It had obviously also sat in another building where it had experienced some water damage as it had water marks on some of its wood along its lower parts.  That it had not sat in water was equally clear since the wood had not swollen.  It looked like someone had put it in a barn for a while where it was exposed to some snow?  The joints were all tight.  But many of its screws and bolts needed to be replaced because of being thoroughly rusted.  In some cases the holes needed to be redrilled to fit the newer, larger fasteners.

This new loom also had an exceptionally ill-cast brake wheel.  Why the original owner did not request a new one from the factory when it was first purchased is beyond me.  I cannot imagine having worked with something like that for years and years.  This mis-cast piece also gouged the wooden cradle in which it rests below the back beam.  Everything was terribly coarse and would have required much more effort than it now does to turn since I have removed all excess material.  Here’s some pics to show the initial, then half-filed, then fully filed, sanded and polished end.  It works as smooth as glass now…

Polishing the front reel’s cast iron ratchet steel end made it turn much more freely as well…and made it truly beautiful.  Steel wool was all that was required.

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The heavy treadle connecting rod was fully corroded.  After it was polished the treadles move with no resistance whatsoever.  It required some very fine emory cloth to clean it back down to bare metal, and then fine steel wool to polish it.

All of the washers used as spacers required finishing on their unfinished side.  Washers have a finished side with a rounded edge, and an unfinished, cut side.  Virtually all of these had rough lips on the cut side.  These were all sanded off, then that side of the washer was polished.  Then now glide easily and do not cut the wood against which they rest.  Here’s a before and after, showing the lip, how to flat sand, and the polished product.  Nice…

I also cleaned the bars on which the heddles rest on each harness.  I used 0000 Fine steel wool to do so.  While these bars did not appear dirty, just think about the fine grime that settles over forty years.  The difference before and after was incomprehensible.  What appeared clean before became as slick as ice afterward.  The heddles (inserted small eye) now move freely across the width of the shaft.  Just imagine the added cumulative effort required to operate the lamms every time they move up and down if all of the heddles have even the slightest resistance to lateral movement on them!

3. Reeds

Never, ever use a corroded reed.

The reeds on this newly-acquired Nilart were tarnished, but not corroded.  The difference between a tarnished one and a polished one is night-and-day.  And when you consider that each reed passes friction on to every yarn of the warp, you can imagine the cumulative effect.

The effect of a corroded reed is not only to add even more friction to the beater bar, but carries with it the possibility of wearing or even breaking warp threads.  Unless you like to retie broken warp threads from a rusted reed, then get a new reed.

A tarnished reed can be easily re-polished.  The reed on this Nilart had to be cleaned first – I used a soft rag with ammonia water.  Then I wiped it thoroughly and briskly.  And at last I placed a new buffing wheel on a low-speed grinder and worked it carefully, gently, but firmly in between the reed bars.  This brought the reed back to a lustre…and it is smooth!  Before and after…

Reed bars also need to be carefully straightened.  I find that a flat screwdriver with a wide blade works very well.  Never use it as a prying tool.

4. Loom Finish

Leclerc makes a great loom.  The finish on the outside of the temple cabinet and along the beams is that of fine furniture.  However, on all four Leclerc looms we own the less-accessed parts often are left with a coarser finish.  Some of that is from less-highly finished wood itself.  But most of it is from less effort involved in applying the varnish with which these were initially produced.  Don’t get me wrong, this is not a poor finish…just not that of a fine cherry table, for example.  Since I was dismantling the entire loom I took the time I lightly sand all pieces that were found like this to a smooth finish and then applied boiled linseed in a light coat.  The point of the light sanding was not to remove the original finish, but to smooth the rougher parts of the varnish itself out and then to reseal it with boiled linseed oil.  The effect of this is overall less friction/chance of binding.  Anything rough on a loom is an anomaly and counter-productive and should be looked after, at least here it is.

5. Add-Ons

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Untrimmed plastic harness guides.  Looks tacky and may hamper shaft movement.  Trimmed with a sharp knife while holding excess plastic with a needle-nosed pliers.

A loom is a tool, not a showcase.  Anything that you can do to increase its comfort and ease of functioning should be done…within reason, of course.  On the Jano loom that I restored I added pieces of plastic that I trimmed off of a plastic toboggan (Crazy Carpet).  These pieces I screwed along the inside of the temple uprights near the top as the shafts were rubbing there.  These were attached after I refinished these parts.  They not only protect the wood, but add to the ease of operation as well since they are so slippery.

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All of these have had a cumulative effect of not only making this loom beautiful, but functional and much easier to work.   Obviously you know if you are capable of any of these repairs and refinements.  For me this is second-hand.  If it is not for you then hopefully you know someone who can do this for you.

Some people drive their car without ever checking the oil level!  I feel much more secure in winding the first warp onto this loom with having done all of this first.  And since it was disassembled for transport it was just one more step to doing it right…

Leclerc Nilart Loom

The Multiple Harness Nilus (MHN) (bottom right) appears to be the predecessor of the Nilart Loom made from the late 1950’s – 1985 by Leclerc.  Its 1957 manual sates: It is constructed the same was as the 4 harness ‘Nilus’ loom except for the mechanism which is different because of the high number of harnesses.  At the time a 45″, 12 harness MHN cost $260…or $2,274 in 2017’s buying power.