Saxony Wheels

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Malcolm Akehurst, a furniture maker in Whakatane in the Bay of Plenty, made several of these large kauri wheels in the mid 1970s. The design is based on a Canadian Production Wheel made a hundred years or more ago in Quebec. These are large graceful wheels which spin very fast: the ratio is often 20:1 or more.

One wheel was made for a customer who wanted it for his wife, and specified that it need not be a working model. He was firmly told “If it comes from this workshop it will work.” Some time after he took delivery of the wheel he saw Mr Akehurst and said it was the worst thing he had ever bought. Why? “Well, my wife is there spinning at lunch, dinner, and so on; I have to get my own!”

Tom Alexander of Christchurch made more than 50 wheels in the late 1970s and the 1980s. Initially his wheels were sent to the US to be sold by furniture companies, but some were also sold in New Zealand. He also made an upright model.

Alexander wheels are generally of oak, quite heavy and beautifully finished with carving around the edge of the table. Lead weights are hidden under the finials to help preserve the momentum of the drive wheel. The carving and brass bindings on the lazy kate match those on the wheel.

The first Ashfords (February-March 1942) were double drive wheels like the first one at right, which still spins remarkably well. About 150 of these may have been made. From April of that year the design changed to a Picardy style, with the whorl between the maidens and the flyer in front of them, projecting out towards the spinner, as in the second photograph. There is now a “pigtail” instead of an orifice.

At the beginning of 1943 the whorl appears combined with the flyer, a new invention which has become characteristic of most Ashford wheels. The rather battered wheel shown here has had a crude strip of wood added between the tips of the maidens, but this is not original. The spikes to hold bobbins may also be a later addition. These wheels sold well till the end of the war in 1945, after which demand fell off and Ashford produced no more wheels till the advent of the first Traditional in 1965.
More on Ashford and their wheels

Hal Atkinson (1895-1975) of York Bay, Eastbourne – across the harbour from Wellington – made spinning wheels as well as toys and rocking horses, and built several boats. Atkinson family members recall that his wheels all had the concentric circles on the treadle.

This wheel is made of kauri, a beautiful but rather soft native timber that Atkinson also used for his boats, and it shows the grooves of long use. It has tilt tension and an unusual fine corkscrew pigtail instead of an orifice. There is a stamped mark underneath the table, and another Atkinson wheel has almost the same stamps. When the two sets of marks are compared it is fairly clear that they sayThe first letters are probably like a serial number for each wheel, which would indicate that at least 19 were made. An old photograph shows 12 lined up in his workshop. The Roman numerals below the maker’s initials are 4 and 2, which I believe means the date 1942 though strictly speaking 42 should be XLII. This fits with Dorothea Turner’s description of Hal Atkinson’s wheels as among the aristocrats of wartime spinning wheels.

Ken Butcher of New Plymouth made half a dozen of these around 1970. They have no markings. He used a lot of honeysuckle wood but this one has kauri felloes (the rim of the wheel) honeysuckle spokes and the rest is probably tawa.

Keith Campbell (sometimes called “Boris”) was a carpenter and woodturner in Auckland. In the 70s he made wheels to be sold in a shop called “Home Spun” in Parnell. These two incomplete wheels have been found under a house where he used to live.

They are neatly and sturdily made, and it would be exciting to find a complete example. The dished sides of the 8-felloe wheel rim are distinctive and should be easy to recognise. The two grooves in the rim indicate that they were intended for double drive.

John Murray Cardno of Te Anau, South Island, made at least two of these Saxony wheels. One of the wheels was purchased at an estate sale in Estes Park, Colorado. It was marked and dated as made in 1979. It was made with a piece of beautiful timber with elaborate turnings. He was a highly regarded craftsman. He died in January, 2011. Murray Cardno also made at least two upright wheels, one of them is signed and dated JMD, Te Anau, NZ 1973.

E.R. Cole of Glendowie, Auckland, made a group of Karure lookalikes in the mid 1970s. They are slightly larger in most of their dimensions, and have a straight back edge to the table, whereas Moore’s Karure (see below) has a curve almost matching the front. The Cole has a more squared-off treadle, 4 grooves on the whorl instead of Karure’s 2, and the bobbins have a metal shaft.

Easycraft wheels were made by M.D. Johnson of Christchurch in the 1970s, and probably earlier. Another is known that has 9 spokes in the wheel.

A smaller Easycraft was also made by Johnson (shown in the second photo), and he also made the upright A-Line wheels.

Roderick Fraser (“Roderick the Miller”) of Waipu probably made the spinning wheel of which this is a part between about 1860 and 1880.
More on Roderick the Miller, his wheels, and spinning in early Waipu


Joe Gibson‘s very first wheel, made in Seatoun, Wellington, about 1970. It appears to lack the thistle which soon became his trademark (it can be seen on the swift in the foreground).
More on Joe Gibson and his wheels

Mr J.W. Graham of Okaihau, near Kaikohe in Northland, made this wheel and others like it throughout the second World War. It is made of kauri, has no stamp or markings and cost 4 pounds 11 shillings in 1944 (including freight to the South Island). This was his 65th wheel. It’s thought that some were sent to the Islands or India.

Graham wheels have some interesting features. The photographs below show how the bobbin is changed. The spindle bearings are hardwood projections, and the front one is removable when an oval of hardwood is swivelled to release it. The flyer and bobbin can then be taken off the spindle. The spindle and whorl remain in place, being fixed together. The spindle is held by a split pin preventing it from being drawn out of the back bearing.

The pictures also show the method of drive band tension: the mother-of-all is hinged to the table, and has a slotted wooden projection. Into it fits a threaded bolt fixed in the table. The mother-of-all is tilted by turning a nut with a washer, above and below the projection.

Hamilton wheels is the name usually applied to these. They were apparently made in Hamilton during the World War 2. Tradition has it that this was in a workshop set up by the Hamilton Returned Servicemen’s Association, or perhaps the Disabled Servicemen’s League, but it has been impossible to trace any such workshop. The chief maker was said to be a Mr Ewison but research by Lyndsay Fenwick suggests that he may have been Edward Hewison, a cabinetmaker/carpenter who had a workshop in Hamilton. He would have been in his 70s at the time.

Unlike most older wheels they are designed to run equally well either double drive or scotch tension – this one is set up for scotch tension, using the original guide and peg. These are a feature of every Hamilton wheel I have seen, and I am sure that they are an original part of the wheel, not a later adaptation. Hamilton wheels are made of kauri, and held together with wooden pegs. The crank which connects the axle to the footman is curved, a feature also found in some of the best norwegian-style wheels, which some spinners believe makes for particularly smooth treadling. Modern wheel-makers, however, say the curved crank is a purely aesthetic feature.

A Hamilton wheel features in this little wartime film:

The Homespinner was made by “Nees, The Furniture People” at a factory in Hanover St, Dunedin, in the 1970s. They may have been a very old family firm, as cabinetmakers and furniture retailers called Nees are listed in St Andrew St and George St, Dunedin from 1865 to 1896. The Homespinner is made from rimu, and was sold as a kitset. Nees also made the upright Eclipse wheel.

Jenny by Sleeping Beauty was developed by Ray Chisholm and continued to be made in the Omana Industries era of the company, apparently in the hope of competing with the Ashford Traditional. Its timber (like that of other Sleeping Beauty wheels) is tawa, though the drive wheel is made of veneered fibre board.
More on Sleeping Beauty wheels

Karena wheels, saxonies of an extraordinary 2-legged design, were made by Ian Baynes from June 1980 for 5 or 6 years. He named them after his wife Karen, who ran a knitting wool business called “Karena”. They were sold as kitsets, and have the usual patented Baynes flyer. The little handle on the back maiden turns it for removal of the bobbin, and the drive band is adjusted by a slide secured by a wingnut under the table. The one pictured here was bought new from an agent in Perth, Australia, along with the bulky flyer (on the right of the third photograph).
More on Ian Baynes and his wheels

Karure wheels were being made by John L. Moore in the early 1940s (and very possibly earlier) when he was living in Havelock North. They are double drive, tilt tension wheels, with the flyer assembly on the right, as shown in the second photograph (a back view). The number and placing of bobbin holders can vary. Similar but cruder wheels with different dimensions are occasionally seen, presumably copies.

The first wheel shown belonged to John Moore’s niece, and may well have been his own wheel before that. It has no maker’s mark. Another is known which has underneath the table the partial remains of a paper label that says:
Spinning wh…
A Toop and Son
Havelock North.
That wheel is said to have been used in Hawera during the Second World War to spin wool for socks for sea boots. A. Toop and Son became business associates of John Moore and manufactured these wheels to his design.
More on John L. Moore and his wheels

Kintyre wheels were made as kitsets in the 1970s, by Rotorua Woodcraft Ltd. They were designed for people who wanted a lighter wheel than the company’s upright Bressay. The wood is kiln-dried radiata pine, and the mother-of-all is hinged to adjust the drive wheel. Some Kintyre wheels have spikes to hold bobbins at the left-hand end of the table.

Don McIvor was a maths teacher at Parkway College in Wainuiomata, Lower Hutt. He made these wheels in the early 1970s.


Harold S. Martin of Fendalton, Christchurch made this old wheel that belonged to Dorothea Turner. It still spins well, though it is best suited to finer yarns.

The mother-of-all swivels to adjust drive band tension. The drive wheel was possibly from an old treadle sewing machine, or may have been cast specially. Like all Harold Martin’s wheels, it has three scallops of “pie-crust” decoration at the back edge of the treadle.
More on Harold Martin and his wheels

Mr. Mason of Invercargill made this double drive wheel which was bought new in 1967. “Mason” is stamped on each end of the table.


Small Mecchia is the name surprisingly given to these rather substantial saxony-style wheels: presumably they are small in comparison with the norwegian-style Mecchia wheel. Aldo Mecchia and his son Jim began making wheels in 1960, and from 1967 they made small production runs in their Hamilton workshop, Waikato Turnery. Until his death in 1981 Aldo still assembled every wheel himself.

The second photo shows the two screws on either side of the tension screw handle which adjust the alignment of the mother-of-all with the drive wheel. Mecchia saxony and norwegian-style wheels both have the distinctive cutouts in the left leg, and the bobbin-holder (rod missing on this wheel) suspended below the table. The tips of the maidens are also the handles of orifice hooks. A few upright Mecchia wheels were also made.

The original information that would have come with a Mecchia wheel can be downloaded here.

Miro wheels were made by John L. Moore, and seem to have been developed later as a smaller, lighter, cheaper wheel than the Karure.
A former owner of one remembers that she was given it by her father in 1942-3 when she was 12 or 13, so that she could spin for the war effort. Its construction reflects wartime shortages – the corkscrew-shaped orifice appears to be made from a cuphook, and the legs were broomhandles.
More on John L. Moore and his wheels

Nagy wheels are still sought after. This one has a metal plate that reads 1976 BY I. NAGY WELLINGTON NEW ZEALAND. It has two interchangeable whorls of different sizes, each with a single groove. Like almost all his wheels it is made from kauri, a beautiful New Zealand native timber.

The original information that would have come with a Nagy wheel can be downloaded here.
More on Istvan Nagy and Nagy wheels

H.H. Napier had a small factory in Takapuna, Auckland, in the late 1960s. He also made upright wheels.

More on Mr Napier and his wheels

Mr J.A. Nicol of Doonside, Nelson, was a retired engineer or woodwork teacher who was asked to repair a neighbour’s wheel. He took up spinning and in the late 1950s at the age of 80 he decided to make spinning wheels. He eventually made about 8 – 10 in all.

The wheel in the last three photographs has somehow made its way to Canada. Underneath, it is stamped with Mr Nicol’s details, and there is also his signature, a symbol that looks rather like a broad-brimmed hat, and the date 22.5.1965.

Mr E. Nicolson of the Hutt Valley made these wheels including a number for Miss Aileen Stace of Eastbourne. The name “La Paloma” is associated with the first wheel pictured, but no markings are now visible. The wood he used was dunnage from the Korokoro tip. Another is known which is marked “E. Nicolson” underneath. It was bought new in 1942 for 5 pounds.

The wheel in the second photo illustrates the range of variation that can be found – the maiden tips are much more tapered, 3 planks instead of 2 form the treadle, and there are slight differences in the shaping of the mother-of-all and the wheel rim.

Pipy was one of several types of wheel made in Auckland by Philip Poore (Pipy Craft Ltd) from 1962. This is an early Pipy; later he made the legs a little more sturdy. It was designed for double drive but can be adapted for brake tension or even bobbin lead.

The bobbins have a metal shaft, and the spindle runs in metal bearings. A hook flips over to secure the orifice. A cord is used instead of the usual rigid footman. “Queen Victoria had a spinning wheel with a cord footman” says Mr Poore, “which is all that is needed for a downward foot movement and is very light.”
The original information that would have come with a Pipy wheel can be downloaded here.
More on Pipy wheels

The Rappard Northern European was made in Dunedin. Three styles are found: the most usual one is relatively simple, with eight spokes. This one was bought new for $200 in 1980.
The next wheel is early and very rare indeed, with its finials around the wheel rim – it may have been the only one made. It bears a hand-carved mark under the table, with the initials JR and the date 73 (1973.) Later Rappard wheels normally have a stamp. The wheel on the right, with its 16 spokes, was bought new for $400 in 1981.
Like Rappard’s norwegian-style Mitzi, the Northern Europeans have a design carved on the treadle.
More on Rappard and Rappard wheels

The Saxonie, Majacraft’s only horizontal wheel, initially had its two conrods widely separated, as in the first two photographs. This arrangement apparently proved rather fragile, and later Saxonies look like the one on the right. They were discontinued about 2005. This style, with only the whorl between the maidens and the flyer in front of the front maiden, is known as Picardy.
More on Majacraft and their wheels

Ron Shearman of Marton made at least two Saxony wheels in his early years of wheel-making. The one on the left was purchased in the 1970s, but without the maker’s name. The turnings are similar to the wheel on the right. It came with his name on a string-tag and he named the wheel “Armagh – horizontal”, after the street of his house in small rural town of Marton.

Most of his wheels are upright wheels.

More on Ron Shearman and his wheels

Sleeping Beauty wheels had a complex history. The full story can be found here.

R.D. Maxwell was the maker of the wheel on the left, according to the paper label glued to the drive wheel. The label reads “Manufactured by R.D. Maxwell Cabinetmaker. Manufacturer of all types of high-class furniture.” There is an address in Penrose, Auckland. In the Post Office Directory, R.D. Maxwell is listed as a cabinetmaker at that address from 1966 to 1971 and it is during this period that he was assembling Sleeping Beauty wheels for Baillie and Watts. The wheel closely resembles the later Sleeping Beauty saxony in turning and general appearance, though it has a screw handle and sliding tension, which was soon replaced by a hinged mother-of-all as in the second photograph. This wheel still has the plain legs of the earliest model.

Later still, the turning of the legs became more elaborate, and the original hook-and-eyebolt fastenings of the front treadle bar to the front legs were replaced by leather straps. By this time a bulky attachment could also be bought (far right) which had only one arm on the flyer and an enlargement on the other side for balance.

By 1982 the company was taken over by Fisher and Paykel Finance and renamed Omana Industries. In 1983 it changed hands again, being bought by Ray Chisholm who continued making Sleeping Beauty wheels till 1987. Several other styles of wheel were also produced.

The assembly instructions and diagram for the Sleeping Beauty saxony are here. (These instructions date from the later period, when the connection of treadle bar to legs was by leather straps.)
More on Sleeping Beauty wheels

Charlie Tyler of Korokoro near Wellington named all his wheels: this one is Jeannie and is signed: ‘CA Tyler “Jeannie” Feb 1966’. It is made mostly of kauri. A similar one, Priscilla, is made of oak and very heavy.

The second photo is an example of a different saxony style by Tyler. Written in red ink under the table is “Made by Tyler Korokoro NZ 1973 Linda.”
More on Charlie Tyler and his wheels

Tyler also made some very small wheels as well as the large saxonies and double-table wheels he is best known for. This one has written under the table: Made by C.A. Tyler Korokoro NZ Sept 68 “Trixy”. It is only 76cm (30 inches) high. I have had difficulty deciding whether to class it as upright or saxony.
More on Charlie Tyler and his wheels

Guy Wagg who made these wheels came from a family who had been wheelwrights and coachbuilders in Masterton for generations. The one on the left dates from the early 1960s. The end section of the table tilts to adjust the tension, and is secured by a screw with a wooden handle. This is shown more clearly in the right hand photo, which is a back view of a different wheel.

Woodcroft Industries Ltd (formerly called “Woodturners”) of Avondale, Auckland, made these two models in the 1970s or early 1980s. “Wanaka” is on the left and “Wakatipu” on the right. They appear to be a variant of the Ashford Traditional, but the horizontal struts of the split table are parallel, the legs are nicely turned, and the drive wheels are made of fibreboard with ply facings. The rest of the wood is thought to be tawa. They were produced as a kitset and exported.