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by: Amos

Spinning wheel drive options: Double drive, Irish, Scotch, oh my!

Spinning wheel drive options

On a spinning wheel the flyer adds twist, and the bobbin “takes-up” or “winds-on” the twisted fiber, aka yarn. Both the flyer and bobbin spin, but they have to be able to spin at different speeds. This allows you, the spinner to control how much twist is added before the yarn is wound on to the bobbin. There are three general ways to control how twist is added, and yarn is taken up: Double drive, single drive flyer lead (Scotch tension), and single drive bobbin lead (Irish tension).


What’s the same

  • Fiber leaves your hand and goes trough the orifice to the flyer: the spinning of the flyer adds twist, making yarn
  • The bobbin stores your twisted fiber/yarn
  • Both the flyer and bobbin spin: If the bobbin and flyer spin at the same speed, only twist is added, and the fiber is not wound on to the bobbin
  • Adding “tension” by pulling back on the fiber being spun slows yarn from being wound on to the bobbin, which adds more twist. Releasing tension causes yarn to wind onto the bobbin.

What’s different

  • Scotch tension: the flyer is spun by the drive band, it always spins. The bobbin can stop, or spin slower, to wind on yarn. A brake on the bobbin controls how much tension is needed to spin the bobbin with the flyer.
  • For Irish tension: The bobbin is turned by the drive band, and always spins. Pulling or adding tension causes the flyer to spin to add more twist: otherwise the flyer slows to wind on yarn
  • For double drive: the bobbin and flyer are both driven by a drive band: the bobbin can slip, as with scotch tension, to add more twist.

Double drive spinning wheels


Double drive wheels have one drive band wound around twice, or two drive bands: Both the flyer and the bobbin are spun by the band, using whorls (pulleys). The whorl size can be changed to adjust the speed of the flyer and bobbin. Smaller whorls mean faster spinning (see “ratios” section below).

For double drive, the bobbin spins faster (has a smaller whorl) than the flyer to take up yarn. However, the whorl for the bobbin has a “U” shaped groove, which allows the drive band to slip when tension is applied to the fiber being spun. Slipping slows the bobbin, so that extra twist can be added to your yarn before take up. The flyer whorls have a “V” shape, which grips the drive band and does not slip easily. Sometimes two drive bands are used: no-slip elastic on the flyer; cotton or hemp on the bobbin which slip more easily.

Single drive flyer lead spinning wheels: Scotch tension


Scotch tension is a very common single drive spinning wheel configuration. With Scotch tension the flyer is driven/spun by the drive wheel. The flyer always spins and adds twist when the drive wheel is spinning. The bobbin can either spin with the flyer, which adds twist without taking up yarn, or can spin more slowly than the flyer (or stop) to take up yarn.

An adjustable brake on the bobbin is set so that applying tension to the fiber with your hand will make the bobbin spin, but releasing the tension on the fiber will allow the brake to stop the bobbin, and take up yarn. Since the bobbin tension can be set very light, you can have very light tension while still adding twist: scotch tension is great you want to spin very light yarns.

Single drive bobbin lead spinning wheels: Irish tension


Single drive bobbin lead, aka Irish tension, is similar Scotch tension, just flipped; in this case the drive band goes around a pulley on the bobbin. The flyer has an adjustable brake that allows it to spin faster or slower depending upon the tension applied to the fiber being spun. Because the bobbin is driven, take-up can be very strong with Irish tension, and this makes it a great wheel for bulky yarns. They also tend to treadle easily.

Drive options: the differences

Double drive offers consistent take-up. They are a joy to use for spinning fine and medium yarns. Some beginning spinners find it finicky to adjust a double drive spinning wheel, but it’s easily learned. The flexibility of using two different drive bands to control tension and slippage of the bobbin whorl add a great deal of flexibility. Additionally, many double drive wheels can be converted to Scotch tension. All in all, this is a very versatile set-up, though if you know you’ll be spinning either very fine (cobweb) or lots of bulky yarns, wheels optimized for that might give you a head start.

Scotch tension (flyer lead single drive) are great all-around performers. The tension on the flyer can be set to be very light, which is great for super fine yarns. Tension is relatively easy to adjust, and can span a very wide range, contributing to this being one of the most versatile systems. However, it will take some trial and error to make the minute tension adjustments required.

Many beginners like Irish tension: working with a strong pull makes it easier to get the “feel” of controlling tension. The strong pull also means that they are great for bulky yarns. They may require a more finesse and practice for fine yarns. Super fine or cobweb yarns may be difficult on Irish tension. Finally, Irish tension spinning wheels tend to treadle the easiest, which some people prefer.

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11 thoughts on “Spinning wheel drive options: Double drive, Irish, Scotch, oh my!”

  1. Gloria says:

    Hi, I have an antique large spinning wheel. I am missing the bobbin unit. If I send you a picture of the spinning wheel and the area I am missing the piece, would you be able to tell me what I need?

    1. Gretchen says:

      We’d be happy to help! Please contact customer service and send pictures by using this link:
      Contact Us

      We look forward to assisting you!

  2. Trish Terry says:

    Thank you for this great information! I am new to spinning and looking to purchase, although it’s very overwhelming. Is the Ashford e-spinner a Scotch or Irish tension version? And what about the EEW Nano? Any help would be greatly appreciated. I’m wanting to try it out, so I am looking to not spend a ton, but would like to find an e-spinner similar to how the Ashford works, but with a EEW Nano price. Thank you in advance.

    1. Gretchen says:

      Thanks for your interest! The Ashford E-Spinner 3 is a great electric wheel and not difficult to get the hang of even if you’re fairly new to spinning. Although a bit pricier than others we really stand be the quality and ease of use. It is very reliable and gives a very consistent spin even after a great deal of regular use. Ashford is also wonderful about standing behind their products. It is a Scotch-tension wheel (drive band turns the flyer) with a 5/8″ orifice that is about 6″ high. The jumbo bobbins accommodate quite a bit of yarn and we like that the speed is easy to adjust (up to 1,800 rpm).
      We don’t carry the EEW Nano so I’m afraid I can’t really offer a very full comparison. It is well-liked as a “starter” e-spinner and being even smaller is great for portability. It is primarily plastic and from what I’ve heard it is a little louder, although not problematically so. The top speed is around 1,000 rpm so it is not quite as suited to “production” spinning. However it is well-liked as a little more approachable starter e-spinner so if you’re not sure whether this is something you’ll use frequently the EEW Nano price may more suited to testing it out. That said, if you think you’ll use it pretty regularly the value of the Ashford’s quality has always been a favorite for our customers.
      I hope this is helpful, and please feel free to let us know if we can answer more questions or help with an order!

  3. sharon peruzzi says:

    I have just found a asford traditional double drive spinging wheel at a thief shop and like to put it together and star using it.

    1. Gretchen says:

      What a great find! Ashford has excellent videos and assembly manuals you can download to help get your new wheel up and running. Please let us know if you need help with that or if we can help you get any parts or bobbins. Happy spinning!

  4. Jenny Thompson says:

    Thank you very much for this, it is quite helpful! I ended up with a crafter-made (I hesitate to say homemade, as it is labeled O. L. Colley-Wheel #49, March 1987, implying that they made least 49) wheel with absolutely no instructions on how to set it up or use it. I now know it is most likely a double-drive setup! That only leaves four additional parts I have no clue what are. ;-p

  5. Roslyn Chrichlow says:

    Many thanks. I have an Ashford Spinning Wheel but recently bought a different wheel. It was hand/home made but drew the fleece well. It was a relief to know that the way it was built was a known method – Irish tension wheel. I will show your information at my next spinning meeting.

    1. Gretchen says:

      So glad that info was helpful for you – please always feel free to reach out with any questions. And thanks for sharing with your group!

  6. orlando says:

    interesantes su publicaciones me interesa sobre todo conocer distintas posibilidades de hilados y de ruecas para hilar hilos tanto manuales como electricas

    1. Gretchen says:

      Hola, Orlando, ¡gracias, me alegro de que esto haya sido útil para ti!

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