This instructable shows how to make a working drop spindle, lazy kate and niddy noddy out of K'nex, A drop spindle is a tool for spinning yarn or thread from fiber, like wool or cotton. A lazy kate holds multiple spools or spindles of yarn and allows them to turn freely so that the strands can be plied together. A niddy noddy is a traditional tool for winding a skein of yarn. This instructable does not teach you how to spin. There are many excellent tutorials on the web that teach how to spin on a drop spindle -- but you should look for one that demonstrates with a bottom whorl spindle, not a top whorl spindle, since that is the kind we'll be making here.
Step 1: Making the Drop Spindle's Whorl
The first step to making a drop spindle is building the "whorl" or disk at the bottom of the spindle that acts as a flywheel to keep the spindle turning. There are many ways to do this. I've shown a few of them here. Feel free to play around and come up with your own designs.
A couple of things to consider when designing the whorl are radius and weight. If the radius is too large the whorl may bump into things (like your leg) while you are spinning. If the whorl is too heavy it could break a fine thread, but if the whorl is too light it will stop turning quickly and you will be constantly having to flick it to keep it going.
It isn't actually the weight of the whorl that determines how long it turns -- it's the moment of inertia. Physics teaches us that if you want to maximize the moment of inertia of an object of fixed mass, that mass should be distributed as far from the center as possible. So the ideal whorl would have only thin spokes connecting a heavy rim to the center.
All of the whorls shown here work just fine.
Step 2: Attaching the Spindle
Insert a grey rod through the center of your whorl and fix it in place with a couple of tan clips. Then add two more tan clips near the other end of the rod as shown. These act as the hook that is found at the end of a wooden drop spindle.
You can simulate the hook with a single clip. This requires you to make a half-hitch with the thread after winding on and before resuming spinning, just like with a traditional spindle. But if you use two clips to make the double hook shown here, you'll find that you can wrap and unwrap the yarn around it much more quickly. Try it! You'll see what I mean.
The whorl has a tendency to slide down the spindle (especially if you are spinning wool "in the grease"), which is why this design is only suitable for making a bottom whorl spindle, not a top one. If it bothers you, you can add more clips or spacers to the spindle below the whorl. I just push it back up again if it gets too low.
Step 3: The Lazy Kate
The Lazy Kate is super simple to make. The one shown here holds two spindles, so that you can make two-ply yarn. It would be easy to expand it to hold more spindles for three or even four ply yarn. After loading the spindles into the kate, add gray clips to the whorl ends to hold them in. You may also need to push the hooks on the spindles down to keep them from catching in the hubs of the lazy kate.
Step 4: The Niddy Noddy
This K'nex niddy noddy creates a skein that is almost exactly 2 yards long, which is a fairly standard length for a skein. Make two cross bars and the central shaft as shown and connect them together, making sure that the cross bars are at right angles to each other.
To use it, tie the end of your yarn to the end of a cross piece, grasp the center of the shaft in one hand and wrap the yarn around the cross pieces in the pattern shown in the first picture. After you get the hang of it, the yarn winds very quickly with the niddy noddy just rocking gently from side to side as your free hand guides the yarn to the correct place.
Step 5: A Finished Skein
Here's a small skein of woolen yarn that I spun, plied and wound with my K'nex spinning equipment!
These are fun designs that are quick to make, cheap (if you already own the K'nex), and very portable. I sometimes demonstrate spinning to children and I plan on using these spindles in the future. Many kids have K'nex at home, so I can send them home with a bit of wool knowing they'll have what they need to follow up on their first lesson.
And did I mention how pretty the colors are when the spindles are turning?