With so many people making such great DIY lucets for the 7 Day Lucet Challenge, I thought I’d ask an expert for tips on what makes for a great lucet. A number of participants have said that the lucet they made was not comfortable, or that they wanted to tweak the shaping of the horns. Some folks have thin, inexpensive lucets imported from China, and those can jab into your palm. If this describes you, you might want to listen to Dennis’ perspective before you go back to the drawing board or decide that all lucets would feel the same in your hand.
Dennis Burges is the man behind Wool Tree Mill, and although they are a small family-owned, made-in-the-USA business, Dennis figures that Wool Tree is currently the largest manufacturer of lucets in the United States. (Admittedly, it’s a niche market!) His lucets are known for their elegantly simple construction and their solid, sturdy feel in the hand.
Dennis was nice enough to share the story behind his lucets, why they are shaped the way they are, and why he offers the lucets in 3 different sizes.
Below is the transcript of my interview with Dennis. Enjoy!
Me: Why did you start making lucets?
Dennis: Jena and I have been making hardwood tools for fiber arts since the 1970’s. We have designed some original tools, but have favored old traditional tools. A few years ago Jena ran across a drawing and a description of a lucet in an antique book that described craft tools. The book described the lucet as Norse in origin and dated it in some form back about 800 years.
Although the drawing was not very detailed, we made a first prototype model and started finding out how to use it. It was immediately obvious that lucets make better cord than i-cord. Gradually we discovered how to modify and improve on the design. The forks, for instance, should turn outward to control slippage while you are using the tool, but they can’t turn too much or they impede the formation of the knots.
We experimented with size until we had what we thought was just right for hand work. Later we added two additional sizes for other purposes. We decided to shape the handle so that you can distinguish what side you are on as you turn the lucet left or right.
Now our small woodworking studio is the yarn world’s largest maker of handmade hardwood lucets, making them for hundreds of shops.
(Footnote from me: Having a lucet that is different on each side allows you to keep track when you are doing things like beading that you only want to do on one side consistently.)
Me: How many prototypes did you go through before you settled on the current design?
Dennis: For the basic lucet, I'd say six or seven rounds and tests, not counting constant changes in wood selection--still going on. We changed methodology and tooling a couple of times. We're semi-likely to go to cherry only for lucets (production issues). We've sold over two thousand lucets now.
Me: Did you experiment with various thicknesses for the lucets? What kinds of factors did you consider in making changes to the basic lucet design so that it was "just right for handwork"?
Dennis: We tested thicknesses as thin as 1/4" and as thick as 1/2. After making many test laces with all thicknesses, Jena settled on 3/8" as having the best feel in the hand. Hardwood doesn't come in these thicknesses as lumber so we have to mill it to thickness as a first step. Fiber arts is all about the feel so we can't avoid the milling.
We needed to find the best distance between forks so that there is enough room to work with the knots. That said, we want a compact design--easily carried and packed. The amount of turn out on the forks and the turning point was another trial-and-error set of tests. The fiber has to stay put until you are ready to slip it off. Then it has to slip off readily.
Me: Jena is your wife? Did she inspire your career making fiber arts tools?
Dennis: Jena (she actually uses an accent over the a because that's where the emphasis is on a long a) is my wife. She is the fiber artist and has been all of our more than 42 years of marriage. She is also a capable woodworker (and a PhD in applied linguistics). She is almost always the one responsible for design ideas for our tools. She revises our designs until I get it right. She is an avid knitter (addict).
All of that said, she was the one who inspired my career in fiber arts tools. She had taken up weaving (we used to make and sell looms) and wanted a drop spindle, so I turned one. Then she wrote a short book on drop spinning and we included it with our spindles. Our basic trade at the time was as luthiers building classical guitars in Palo Alto. We were just hippie dropouts enjoying the anticipated American Renaissance. Good times.
Me: I love that you have been together so long and have inspired each other to do new things throughout your relationship!
One more last question that I get asked a lot, but I'm curious on how you would answer it:
You offer 3 sized lucets. A customer asks you what size they should buy. How would you advise them?
Dennis: I would advise that they buy the original. It’s on the Stitch Diva website as "fine." We made the Teaching/Demonstration size next after several requests from people who were teaching lucet classes in their shops. Finally, we added the medium. A couple of local knitters said they had larger hands and would like to try a larger lucet. They liked them so we tried adding them to the line. They do sell, but in low volume. Jena doesn't like the medium. At trade shows she and I have both used the teaching size for demonstrations.
Wool Tree Mill Lucets are available on the Stitch Diva Studios website.
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