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Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Tutorial: DIY Yarn Swift for under $15, and some helpful links!

I decided (in lieu of my normal Wednesday links) I'd share a tutorial for my awesome DIY yarn swift, as well as the links to the projects that helped me arrive at my final product. This swift combines all the best attributes of the other DIY swifts I liked, without as many setbacks. It's sturdy as heck, spins on ball bearings, adjusts to hold a skein as small as one yard or bigger than three yards (this was a requirement specific to my large skein niddy noddy - enormous skeins are great for dyeing), can be disassembled for storage, and cost me about $12.

Get the tutorial and links after the jump!

You need:
  • A used wooden lazy susan - there were four for under $7 at my favourite thrift store, I'm sure you can find one on the cheap. New ones aren't terribly expensive either, and generally cost less than the hardware required to build one (seriously, wtf right?).
  • Two pieces of 2x2 wood, 42" long. I used the cheapest finger jointed fir - it's a mess to work with, but it's cheap as chips and this swift is very large and isn't pretty enough to leave out anyway. Word to the wise: finished 2X2 isn't actually 2" by 2" - about 1/2" is lost when the wood is milled.
  • Four 8" lengths of 3/8" dowel.
  • 4 bolts about 3" long, with matching nuts and washers.
  • A drill.
  • Clamps, if you have them.
  • Either a saw, hammer and chisel, or a table saw and dado blade.

Start by finding the centre of your 42" 2x2's, and find the actual dimensions of the piece of wood (most likely 1 1/2"). Cut a dado (notchy thing) at the very centre of each piece. The dado should be as wide as the 2x2, and half that measurement deep. The two pieces fit together in this joint and should lie flat. The dado joint for my swift was done (by my dad...) on a table saw, but this swift tutorial shows you how to do it with a handsaw and chisel.

Find the centre of your lazy susan. Draw yourself a guideline along the diameter of the lazy susan, and draw a second diameter line perpendicular to the first. Drill four holes (big enough for your bolts to go through), one on each line, and each the same distance (in my case, 6 1/2") from the centre mark where the two diameter lines meet.

On your 2x2's, measure and mark in both directions from the centre point the same distance you measured from the centre point on the lazy susan to where you drilled the holes. On one side of the bottom 2x2 (I determined which was top and bottom by which side, when they were jointed together, had a slightly nicer finish), drill all the way through at this mark. It's important to drill this hole vertically. Line up the hole with one of the holes on the lazy susan and bolt them together, loosely enough that the 2x2 can swing a bit from the bolted point.

Next we drill the other three bolt holes. Start by lining up the mark you just made on the other side of the centre point of your bottom 2x2 with the hole in the lazy susan opposite the bolted point. Clamp the 2x2 in place, and drill through both the lazy susan and the 2x2, using the hole you already have in your lazy susan as a guide. Slide a bolt in and secure it tightly. Now take your top 2x2 and line it up at the dado joint. Do your best to line up the marks you measured from the centre with the holes on the lazy susan (perfection is optional here - mine is half assed and it works great). Clamp everything, and drill again; use the holes on the lazy susan as a guide and try to drill as vertically as possible. Put in your bolts. This is what it should look like now, from the bottom:

Important step for your later sanity: Mark both the top and the bottom piece with an arrow that corresponds to the same mark on the lazy susan. Unless you are a measuring and drilling genius, it isn't all quite centred and will only go back together after disassembly in one way. Marking the correct way saves you the trial and error later.

Now, take the bolts out and set them aside, along with the lazy susan. Put your 3/8" bit in your drill (or whatever size corresponds to your dowels, if you've chosen to go smaller) and grab one of the 2x2's. Find out which side will face up when the swift is assembled, and measure and mark  1" in from both ends. Measure and mark a further 3", 6", 9" and 12" in from the 1" mark. Drill about halfway through the 2x2 at each mark - these are the holes your dowels will sit in to hold your yarn, so if they go all the way through, you may have problems getting your dowel to stay in the swift. Drilling 3/8" holes is a pain in the wrist - to prevent your drill from catching and twisting your wrist, you may want to predrill with a smaller bit first. Go slowly and be careful.

Clean up, put your tools away and assemble your swift! Throw some yarn on there and wind away.

Notes about this swift:
  • It's ugly. I know. Put it in the closet when it's not being used - it's easy to take apart. It's a good idea to store the bolts in the holes in the 2x2's - then they won't get lost.
  • It's heavy. This means that when it gets going, it doesn't really want to stop, and the smooth ball bearing action only encourages this. If you need to stop winding, reach out and stop the swift, otherwise it will keep going and snag your yarn. Also, if your kids are about face height with the arms of the swift, for god's sake don't let them near it when it gets going. You'll feel like a jerk, and they'll feel like a kid with a broken nose.
  • Most lazy susans don't have enclosed ball bearings, so yarn could get sangged in there if you aren't careful. Ball bearings are covered with grease. Unless you want your yarn to be as well, keep it away.
  • Those 2x2's will stand you in good stead, come the zombie apocalypse.
Here are a few links to the swift projects I looked at before deciding to make this one:
  • I took most of my inspiration from this tutorial, but I didn't like the point of rotation - not smooth enough for my tastes.
  • This one is awesome and rather pretty, but I didn't have a porch umbrella lying around. It also can't go nearly as big.
  • This one isn't sturdy enough for my tastes, but hey, a swift is a swift and as long as it works...
  • This is certainly the cheapest DIY swift I've seen, but again, not so sturdy. As an indie dyer I wind a LOT of skeins and I needed something that could survive a great deal of abuse.
There! You are armed with all the knowledge you need to have your very own yarn swift, for less than the cost of lunch with the girls.


  1. This is amazing! What a great tute.

  2. lovely! and I still have 2 lazy susans from when we made & gave them as Christmas gifts - when the revolving platform used to cost less than $2 & hardwood scraps were inexpensive.

  3. I bet if you made 2, you could use one as a swift and one as a reel to wind onto! Imagine reskeining, with zero effort.... ah a girl has to dream :)

    1. Put a higher handle a bit off center and use it to rewind.

  4. Did yoy make your winder also? I am look for a ball winder - Also trying to talk hubby into making me a spinning wheel 8P

  5. Hi Charlotte,
    I got my ball winder through KnitPicks - I think it was about $20. It's not the highest quality, but it's served me well!

  6. Fantastic - thanks for sharing. Made mine yesterday. Didn't even have to buy lazy susan as darling daughter gave me hers!

  7. Just finished making this. Thanks so much for your detailed directions! I think the swift is quite beautiful (especially compared to many of the other DIY options out there).

  8. Very nice, well-written tutorial. My boyfriend took notes and will be making me one soon! Yay, me!