How to Buy a Used Loom
What can you do if you're ready to buy your first loom, but can't afford the cost of brand-new?
You might consider buying a used loom.
Purchasing a used loom can be a positive experience if you know what to look for and what to avoid.
Figuring Out What Kind of Loom You Need
The first thing you should figure out is what kind of loom will best suit your needs. Looms come in variety of sizes and configurations. The best loom for you will depend on many variables, including: what you want to weave, the ergonomics of your body, and the space you have available.
How Many Shafts?
Think about the kind of weaving you want to do. If you intend to weave plain-weave rugs and scarves, a two-shaft loom will suffice. But if you'd like to weave something with more structure, such as block weaves and twills, you'll want at least a four-shaft loom.
Most used looms on the market will be two, four, or eight-shaft looms. But you can occasionally find multi-shaft looms with twelve, sixteen, twenty-four, or even more shafts. These looms typically have mechanical or computerized dobby attachments that are programmed with the weaving pattern and pick the appropriate shafts to raise when you step on a treadle. Multi-shaft looms provide more design options, but are more expensive.
First-time weavers might want to keep things simple and start with loom that has two, four, or eight shafts.
Table or Floor Loom?
With a floor loom you push a treadle with your foot which then causes a mechanical system to raise shafts and open the weaving shed. A floor loom has several advantages: it leaves your hands free to throw the shuttle; you use the strongest muscles in your body to raise the shafts; and (unless it's a direct tie-up loom) you can connect each treadle to multiple shafts, making the process of raising all the shafts needed for a given shed more efficient. All these things mean that you can weave faster and more ergonomically on a floor loom than you can on a rigid-heddle or table loom. The downside of a floor loom is that they tend to be larger and less portable than a table loom.
On a table loom, you raise shafts with your hands, usually by flipping levers. Typically, each shaft has to be raised independently. This means that if you have a shed that requires six shafts to be raised, you will have to flip six levers to create the shed. This makes weaving on a table loom slower than on a floor loom. The benefit of a table loom is that they are more portable. Some even fold down to fit into a suitcase for airline travel. They are often less expensive than a floor loom.
Finding Used Looms
Once you have determined the size and capabilities of your desired loom, it's time to start looking.
One place to find a used loom in good working order is through a local weavers' guild. Weavers are often upgrading and want to sell their current loom to make way for the new loom. Buying a loom from a weaver raises your chances that the seller will be able to answer questions about the loom and its features, something you don't get when you purchase a pile of sticks at a yardsale where the seller shrugs and says, "That was grandma's old loom. I think it's all there."
Purchasing a loom locally also has the advantage that you can ask to test-drive the loom before making a purchasing decision. Like knitting needles and spinning wheels, it a great idea to try out a few different kinds of looms to see which works best for your body.
Another place to find used looms is online, either through general sales sites such as eBay and Craigslist, or through sites that specialize in used fiber equipment. A potential drawback to purchasing a used loom over the Internet is that looms can be heavy and expensive to ship. Many looms are too big to ship by conventional postal methods, and have to be shipped by a freight or moving company. Because of this, many sellers of larger looms post them as "local pickup only" meaning that you will have to arrange to transport your loom.
I have travelled as far as nine hours one-way to see and purchase an unusual loom, but you must take into account the cost of your time and travel when deciding if a loom is good purchase. It's also sometimes possible to arrange to meet the seller at a convenient half-way point.
Some websites that sell used or reconditioned looms:
Evaluating Used Looms
When checking out a used loom for possible purchase, first check that all the necessary parts are included. If the loom is assembled and in working order, it's pretty easy to tell everything is there.
Sometimes, however, looms are stored in a disassembled state. If you're facing a pile of sticks, check that it has all of the following:
- Front and back beams
- Warp and cloth beam (where the yarn and cloth wind on)
- Shafts (where the heddles go)
- Heddles (the more the better)
- Treadles (if a floor loom) or levers (if a table loom)
- Mechanical system to raise the shafts. This might be jacks and lamms (for a jack loom) or pulleys and a roller bar (for a counterbalance loom.)
- Original hardware (bolts, etc. for rear assemble)
- Front ratchet and pawl
- Rear break
Check the brake for signs of wear. If it is a friction brake, the cylinder should be smooth and without deep grooves. If it is a dog-and-pawl break, the teeth of the gears should not be grooved or broken. If the loom is assembled, engage the brake and check that it holds when you pull on the back apron rod.
If the loom is assembled, you should also check whether the loom is square. To do this, measure from the back left corner of the loom to the right front, and from the back right corner to the left front. Ideally, the two measurements should be the same.
Sometimes a loom comes as a package deal with nice accessories such as shuttles, reeds, sleying hooks, books, manuals and yarn. It is always nice when a loom comes with a bench. Other possible extras would be spare heddles, tension box, warping board or raddle.
A Field Guide to Used Looms
Age isn't particularly important when you search for a loom, as looms can last for hundreds of years and still function beautifully.
An antique loom is one that is more than 100 years old. Usually these are "barn frame" looms, the type often seen in museums and used by 18th- and 19th-century weavers. There are several different styles, but the one thing they have in common is their size and weight. Commonly carved from trees, they vary in workmanship, from skilled woodworking of exceptional beauty, to primitive and functional.
These looms are superb but require some fine tuning to work fluidly. Somewhat easy to find, you may have to travel to purchase one and the price can range from $200 - $1200 or more depending on the loom's condition, provenance, and completeness. Barn looms that are missing parts are usually less expensive than those in full working condition. If you are handy and enjoy projects, restoring the loom yourself can be a worthwhile project.
Barn-frame looms usually have a five-foot "footprint" meaning the feet are all roughly five feet from each other—they are also tall to accommodate a heavy over slung beater. You will need a lot of space for this loom, but if you aren't picky it will sit very well in your living room, bedroom or even kitchen. It will just dominate the space!
Vintage looms are looms between 50 and 100 years old. Many vintage looms were manufactured by Newcomb, Union, Reed, JL Hammet, and other companies between 1875 and 1940. These include table looms, floor looms, and even automatic fly-shuttle looms that change shed with every beat of the beater, no treadles necessary.
Janet Meany and Paula Pfaff identify these wonderful looms in their book The Rag Rug Handbook.
Vintage looms begin to incorporate some interesting design features, and unlike barn frame looms—which were made one at a time and often by a family member or friend of the weaver—vintage looms were turned out by the hundreds.
Vintage looms are still easy to find; they were made to be sturdy and often have metal parts as well as screws.
With these looms it's important to check for all the parts and hardware. Should any be missing, it's unlikely you will be able to find original parts, so you will need to be creative in replacing any missing parts.
Modern looms are those dating from present day to roughly 50 years old. Around 1970, with the "back to basics" movement, looms and weaving became popular once again.
Modern looms include everything from handmade looms created by small one-man shops, such as the "Putney Mountain Loom" made in Vermont, to larger companies such as LeClerc, Macomber, Schacht, AVL, and others.
The advantages to purchasing a modern loom include:
- Parts and accessories are easy to find—you may even be able to purchase them from the original manufacturer—and relatively inexpensive.
- The looms are common on the used market.
- They can be easier to use than an (often quirky) antique loom.
However, because of all these advantages, you may find that a modern used loom is more expensive than the antiques or the vintages.
Modern looms often have many more features and options available than a vintage or antique loom, such as more shafts (eight shafts or more), overhead or under-slung beaters, supplemental warp beams, sectional warp beams, and more.
One thing to remember as you search for your loom is that they are wooden machines, each designed for a particular purpose.
It's not uncommon to fall in love with looms and go from having one loom that you use for all your weaving projects, to having several looms, each one specialized to weave a specific type of textile.
Personally, I have floor looms (my favorite), table looms (for projects that require less space), tapestry looms (for weaving Navajo-style rugs), two-shaft looms (for simple plain-weave projects), four-shaft looms (for more variety in patterns), barn looms (my passion), and one very unusual cross between a barn frame loom and a rigid heddle loom that I have yet to find any information on.
The best thing about having several looms is that they can be warped with different projects, allowing you to move between projects without interruption.
Locating Manuals for Used Looms
When you purchase a used loom, ask if the owner has the original manual. If not, and it is a modern loom, look online. Many loom manufacturers have manuals for their looms published as PDF files on their website, or will sell you a print copy for a fee.
Tracking down manuals for vintage looms, where the manufacturer is often no longer in business, is trickier. Janet Meany's website is a wonderful resource. It offers scanned in reproductions of the original manuals for many vintage looms.
For further information on choosing a used loom, check out these links:
- eHow: How to Buy a Used Loom
- HGA's Website: Special Consideration When Buying a Used Loom
- eBay: Buying a Weaving Loom
The best part of shopping for a used loom is the hunt: enjoy!
Kathryn McMahon owns her own consulting business, Kathryn McMahon Consulting, which specializing in 18th and 19th century spinning wheels, looms, and related accessories. She works with historic museums throughout the North East.
Kathryn and her husband Walter own Fossil Creek Farm in Central NY, where they raise a small flock of registered Finnsheep and German Angora rabbits. The fiber is offered for sale, or hand-spun and then woven by Kathryn on one of her numerous looms.