More about Flyers


Are you getting tired of flyer stories yet? I keep harping on them because I can’t emphasize enough the importance of them. This past weekend, I was in an antique mall in Pennsylvania where they had a Danecraft wheel for sale. Danecraft was a furniture company that make reproduction Saxony-style wheels back in the 1970s when the Bicentennial was approaching and everyone was nostalgic for the Colonial era. For all the research that supposedly went into these wheels, there were some design flaws. I have one that is an excellent spinner but some folks find them too easily broken. The one in PA was beyond broken — it was missing not just the flyer but the whole Mother-of-All and tensioning screw. Even with that level of disability, the antique store was asking $495. And this for a wheel that in prime condition is worth $100, if it spins. The mind, it boggles ….

Today’s specimen did not cost $495. It did not even cost $100, and that is good because it had the wrong drive wheel on it. Fortunately I had at home a similarly mismatched wheel and once I had the two together, was able to swap drive wheels and get two correctly matched wheels.

The flyer, however, was a problem. Of course. I seem to find the most craptastic flyers of all times. Here’s what we had this time:


bisson mended flyer 01

Note the distinctive spine down the center of the flyer. This was the style of a family of wheel makers named Bisson. In this case, the wheel is marked Jos. Bisson. Note the left arm of the flyer — see the seam where the wood changes color?

bisson mended flyer 02

Two nails. Not even glued on.

bisson mended flyer 03

Now, yes, someone made a brave attempt to repair this flyer. I’m a big fan of functional repairs, when they work. I think a functional repair adds character and shows the utilitarianism of a piece. But, like a Red Ryder b-b gun, you’ll put your eye out with this thing.

A flyer does just that — it flies while you are spinning. It will turn so fast, you won’t even see it moving. If you are spinning and paying attention to your fiber and this thing let loose, it could do some serious damage. One spinner reported that when her flyer gave way in mid-spin, it was flung across her living room and put a dent into the wallboard. Yes, they spin that fast.

Clearly, if Mr. Bisson was to be made to spin again, it would NOT be with this flyer. Additionally, the MOA mount was loose to the point of falling off:

bisson moa mount

The crusty old finish I could deal with, but the level of woodworking required was beyond my skill level. Therefore, the wheel was packed off to Fred Hatton, a marvelous woodworker in Pennsylvania who is the hero of many a spinner with an antique wheel. Fred builds replacement parts.

After summering in the Poconos, Mr. Bisson returned home in spinning condition with a lovely new flyer:

bisson 1

A faithful reproduction of the original Bisson, down to ridge on the flyer. The flyer shaft, bobbin, and whorl are all original; only the flyer arms are remade.

And the MOA repegged:

bisson 2

The wheel is a fantastically smooth spinner and having the craftsmanship of a new flyer only contributes to the smoothness:

bisson 3

While we are talking about missing bits and replacement parts, note that the maidens holding the flyer are NOT Bisson maidens; they are from a Canadian Production Wheel, probably a Bordua. The MOA is suspect, too, although it IS Bisson, judging by the little “pine tree” tip on the left. The wrong maidens and suspect MOA contribute to a lower value for this wheel and are points I was able to use to negotiate a very reasonable price for this wheel. The reasonable price was necessary to off-set the cost of having the new flyer made.

Next thing is to clean this crusty old piece, something I am not exactly looking forward to, given that it appears to have a red milkpaint finish on the bench. This will be a tricky restoration, something that will further contribute to the cost of this wheel. By the time she is done, I will have probably $400 invested in her, a price she will not command on the market so she no doubt will stay with me for the immediate future. Fortunately, she is an excellent spinner so she will be put to work when she is cleaned up!


One Response to More about Flyers

  1. Wendy Fjelstad says:

    1. Are maidens meant to be removeable from the MOA?
    I have a walking wheel with a Minor’s Head. I can easily turn only one of the maidens, the other maiden turns stiffly and not enough to remove it from the MOA, even after rubbing the threads with paraffin wax. I obviously I don’t want to force and possibly break it. Perhaps the maidens aren’t intended to be removed?
    2. Would walnut oil be a good choice for leather bearings on the MOA? What about sewing machine oil? This has been recommended to me.
    3. Should the drive wheel hub hole be lubricated? If yes, with what?
    I’ve fashioned a replacement bearing/bushing out of leather for my drive wheel hub. It seems to work just fine as my wheel turns smoothly and easily without lubrication. But I’ve been told to lubricate the hub hole with vaseline. What is your advice? I’ve also read not to add oil to the hub hole on modern spinning wheels. Does this same advice apply to antique spinning wheels?

    Thank you. Your website is very informative.

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