Decorate Your Loom
Want to decorate your loom? You’re not alone. It’s been done by weavers for centuries. Look at photos and drawing of old looms, and you'll see carvings, inlays, stenciling and other embellishments.
Historically, decorations have been added not only by weavers, but also by the makers: stencils of the loom manufacturer’s name, the stripes and flowers on Newcomb rug looms, and carved castles on some Levard looms.
Why decorate a loom? Why not? I’ve been decorating my looms for years. I add embellishments when it fits the loom and the loom's purpose. Sometimes the design holds a special meaning for me and sometimes the design is dictated by the loom itself.
The design is up to the weaver. Some people carve in their last name, the name of their loom, a symmetrical object like a sun or a flower, a pin stripe. Decorating your loom can also be as simple as beveling of the edges of square timbers for a more finished look.
The most difficult part of adding decorations or parts to a loom is to choose a place that’s appropriate and a design that seems right.
It is important to place a decoration where it can be seen but does not interfere with the loom's operation; the castle, the beater, the loom frame or even the bench.
I am not a hand woodcarver (I wish I had that skill!) My decorations are created using machines such as routers and drills. With a little practice in basic woodworking skills, you’ll be able to use simple power tools to customize your loom.
A router is a power tool you can use to carve shallow designs in wood. There are two basic operations you can do with a router, plunge (cut straight down) and slide (move sideways.) Routers take bits of different shapes; the contour of the bit dictates the shape of cut made. For example, you could use one bit to cut a channel with vertical sides and another bit to cut a channel with sloping or curved sides. Routers can either be hand-held, or set into a router table.
I use templates and patterns with my router. These guides simplify the process of cutting an accurate design.
A drill cuts a long narrow hole using a bit. The type of bit varies depending on the type of material being cut (ie: wood, metal, and concrete use different bits.) Drills can be hand-held, or mounted as a stationary drill press.
Spurred Drill Bits
Below are several types of spurred drill bits. These are what I recommend for woodwork. The center spur keeps the bit from wandering or jiggling and the outer edge of the bit is made so that it starts cutting in after the center is safely established.
I always practice first on scrap wood. Try to use the same hardness of practice wood as the loom part you intend to decorate. Power tools and hand tools act differently in soft woods than they do in hard woods.
When I’m ready to do the actual carving or drilling, I take the loom part off the loom, into my shop and clamp it down onto clean cardboard (to protect it from getting stained or dinged up by my workbench.)
Note: When working with power tools, always use eye and ear protection. Wear a dust mask while sanding or painting. Make sure you understand the operation of any power tool you use, and follow all of the manufacturer’s instructions for use.
[Editor’s Note: If your loom is still being manufactured, you might consider buying an “extra” of the loom part you wish to embellish, as a further margin of error.]
Carving Designs with a Router
I clamp the template firmly onto the wood, then attach a bushing to the router. The bushing rides the inside edge of the template, guiding the router bit as I cut the design into the wood, ensuring accurate carving. This is how I carved the flower design pictured at the beginning of this article.
Inlay designs are those in which a hole is drilled or carved into a surface, a decoration inserted into the hole, and then fixed in place, typically with glue.
This round walnut inlay on the beater was done with a piece of wood that came from a small wooden table I built fifty years ago. I saved the table when my parents passed on, and later dismantled it for the wood, a nice black walnut hard to find now-a-days.
The walnut inlay is set into a circular recess I cut into the top of the loom beater brace with a router. The inlay was carved on a router table, a common woodworking item which no woodworker should be without; my router table is simple and homemade.
An easy and useful inlay project is to add a dark dowel at the exact center of the beater cap, the back beam, and shafts; it's an aid to me when counting, threading and warping.
These inlays are dark hardwood dowels set into drilled holes, glued in place with wood or Gorilla glue, and then sanded flush. Be sure to use a bit with a center spur when drilling the wood.
A clean edge bevel, in which you use a router to cut along the outside edge of a corner, looks good and erases most of the "dings" the loom has suffered over the years.
I like to start a bevel (either a 45-degree cut or rounding of an edge) about three inches from the floor and stop the bevel two inches before the top or two inches from a joint. For beveling I use a 45-degree bit with a lower bearing which keeps the bit from cutting too deeply.
Adding Corbels and Braces
A corbel is a structural bracket that helps distribute load. You can add decorative corbels and braces to your loom's frame: they look nice and add structural integrity to the loom frame.
A corbel can be made, finished and attached to the loom after it is finished. A carving or inlay, however, cannot usually be done well directly on the loom. For those projects, it’s a good idea to remove the part from the loom before you begin.
If woodworking isn't your thing, stenciling with paint is fun and there are colors available to fit any decor. You can order stencils off the web or visit your local craft store. Be sure to wash the loom's surface first with a wax remover so the paint will adhere well. Make sure to work in a well-ventilated area. (Design pictured on loom, by Designed to a T, used with permission.)
- Tools and accessories are available from Woodworkers Supply
- Inspiration for women who haven't done much woodworking can be found at Women in Woodworking and Caz Foster's website.
William Koepp lives in California. He became interested in weaving in 1976 with a loom he built for his wife Gaye from plans they bought; in 1980 a larger loom was built from plans he drew. A self described "hobby weaver", no weavings have ever been sold or commercially exhibited, but they are occasionally given as gifts. Other hobbies include woodworking, walking and sports cars.