Salvaging a rusty pair of hand cards or a drum carder with aged carding cloth may be easier than you think. Whether you left your beloved wool carders out in the garage for too long or just scored a drum carder at your guild sale, it is a bummer to card a batch of wool and discover that it is suddenly stained orange. To keep your future projects from being pumpkin spice colored, we recommend turning to a synthetic fiber: fake Halloween cobwebs.
As odd as it may sound, fake cobwebs are made of a relatively coarse and abrasive nylon that makes them ideal for knocking rust off the teeth of a tool with carding cloth. You can find them in most stores in the fall – many craft and party stores sell them year-round – for less than five dollars for a one- or two-ounce bag. They usually go on sale on November first, just in case you’re feeling extra thrifty.
Even better, you might have an unused bag in your own holiday decoration stash. You could also repurpose some that you’re using this Halloween – though we caution that if you go this route, to make sure that you are using dry cobwebs and not carding any sticks, dirt, etc. that may have been picked up while outside.
Before Getting Started
Make sure all fibers have been cleaned out of your hand cards or drum carder by giving them a thorough cleaning with a flicker or cleaning brush. If there’s any dirt or dust left behind, a vacuum does wonders for cleaning up the carding cloth. If necessary, carefully use a tweezers or dental pick to remove any remaining fibers, dirt, or vegetable matter.
Once clean, give your carding cloth a good inspection to make sure it is worth the time to attempt this method. Press your thumbnail into the carding cloth – around the edges of a hand card or doffing strip on a drum carder – to see if the cloth bounces back or is brittle, chalky, or dried out. Likewise, if the cloth appears to be flaking or crumbling, or if there is deep corrosion or pitting on the metal teeth, it is most likely too far gone.
Grab your scissors and open your bag of synthetic decorations. You should find an unstretched, almost roving-like web that is between five and twenty feet long. Find an end and cut the cobwebs into three-inch lengths. How much you’ll need will depend on the severity of the rust and the tool you are restoring. A lightly rusty pair of handcards may only need a few sections; a drum carder that is borderline salvageable may require the whole bag.
Removing the Rust from Your Hand Cards or Drum Carder
Card the cut cobwebs as you would any other fiber. Like any wool project, several passes will be needed, though in this instance you will judge when you are done by how the carding cloth looks, not the fiber. As you work, the nylon will begin to take on an orange or grayish tinge, which means it is working. The coarseness of the nylon is knocking off the surface rust on each of the thousands of teeth on your hand cards or drum carder; the more you work the nylon, the more rust will be removed.
Just exactly how much elbow grease is needed to fully restore your cards or carder will vary on a case-by-case basis. When you think you are done, try carding once more with some unused cobweb and see if it continues to come away orange-tinted or if it is still white. If orange, repeat the process until it no longer picks up color.
If after several attempts you simply cannot produce an untinged batt or rolag, your cards may be too far gone. Contact us for current pricing on installing new pads on your hand cards or a refurbishment of your drum carder.
Now that your hand cards or drum carder is clean, we recommend carding some junk wool as soon as possible to prevent them from rusting again. While the fake cobwebs do a great job of cleaning, they leave the teeth of the carding cloth bare and dry. A small amount of grease remains in any washed fleece, and fleece picks up a small amount of oil from your hands during processing. These small amounts are just enough to coat the teeth to keep them from rusting from the ambient moisture in any room. By carding some junk wool, you will remove any remaining coloration and deposit a small amount of oil on the teeth of the carding cloth.
To keep your equipment from rusting while not in use, store it in a temperature and humidity-controlled environment. While garages, attics, and outbuildings can be great for fiber storage, the life of your fiber art equipment will be greatly reduced if they are not stored properly.