Canadian Production Wheel

Also known as a CPW, this kind of wheel was made in Quebec in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, with its main features being a large drive wheel, iron fittings, and a tilt tensioning system. These old wheels are all over, mostly binge used as decorations, but if not warped or missing any parts they can quickly be spruced back up to working condition. There’s of course a lot of them in Quebec, with a fair number in Ontario as well, as it was a kijiji ad that alerted me to the existence of this one in the GTA:







It had spent the past forty years as an accent piece in the home of a couple who had originally picked it up at an auction. Now downsizing their antiques collection, the couple had it priced to sell and when I saw the photos I couldn’t resist going to take a look at it. Depending on where you are, it can be relatively easy to get a CPW, but to find one in working or easily repairable condition can be a lot harder. When I saw the great shape it was in, it was about two minutes before the money was handed over and the wheel was loaded up in my car.

I’ve learned most of what I know about CPWs from the Ravelry group dedicated to discussing them. The extremely knowledgeable spinners in that group have amassed a wealth of information about these wheels and their makers. From casual reading I’d learned to tell the difference from a real CPW and a “spinning wheel-shaped object”–a useless decoration mass-manufactured in the 1970s and occasionally being sold as the real thing. I also knew to look extra carefully at the flyer/bobbin, as it’s the most likely piece to have been lost on an antique and the most expensive to replace. This wheel had its original set-up, right down to the leather bearings for the flyer rod:







The hooks on the flyer arms are a bit bent but truthfully it doesn’t affect the way it spins. And all the originally cast-iron fittings are still there and in good shape as well. The use of iron seems to be pretty unique to these old Quebec wheels, which were clearly made with durability in mind. Most eye-catching is probably the treadle, which you can imagine being used for decades without wearing out:







Another sign of a CPW is a maker’s mark. This can be easy or hard to locate, depending on if the wheel has been refinished, or if the maker was subtle about where they left their mark in the first place. This wheel happens to be a Desjardins, with an unmistakable mark sloppily stencilled in red paint across the table, letting you know in no uncertain terms who made it and that it came from Saint-Andre de Kamouraska. The Desjardins also numbered their wheels. Mine’s 205:







Some CPWs can be quite ornate, with flutes and beads and scallops and all kind of other fancy woordwork. Desjardins wheels… don’t really fall into that category. Don’t get me wrong, this is an engineering thing of beauty, and I think it’s certainly pretty on the aesthetic side too, but here’s a typical Desjardins decoration:







Yes, that’s red paint dabbed on the spokes. At first I thought it was the work of whoever bought the wheel way back when, but the Ravelry group informed me it’s original. Something to replace the turnings that would be seen on the spokes of wheels by other makers. I actually kind of like it.

So, how does it spin? I made a drive band from a length of cotton string and let me tell you, this is not a wheel for a beginner. There is a very narrow range when it comes to tensioning, between “too loose and the drive band flies off” and “too tight and the barely spun wool is ripped out of one’s hands.” If you’re in the right place, though, it spins beautifully. It’s smooth, efficient, and powerful. And clearly made for spinning large amounts of fine yarn, probably as supplementary income when the textiles industry was booming in Quebec. I like the fact that it’s clearly been used for its original purpose–there’s even something scrawled in cursive French on the side of the drive wheel that I can’t quite make out. I’m going to look a little more closely to see if I can read what it says.


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31 Responses to Canadian Production Wheel

  1. Nice score on that wheel.

    Your cat is totally adorable.

  2. Leslie says:

    Thanks! On both counts :)

  3. Lena says:

    I just bought what turned out to be a Canadian production wheel and I would love to know where I can find out who made it. Mine has FM engraved on it with not other stamps or marks. I bought here in Quebec from a lady whose mom spun some yarn on it. The lady also said her used to use a great wheel. Where do I find the ravelry group? I love your cat in the pictures, it so reminds me of my cat “helping” me spin.

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  5. Mirra says:

    I just bought one off of Kijiji today in my home town. It was well worth the risk of going out in the craziest snowstorm of the year. I’m sure mine is CPW because it fits most criteria, but there are no stamps or marking that I can see. Mine has the same beautiful cast iron treadle, iron fittings, and tilt tension. With a little TLC and a new drive band, this honey will be working in no time. I already named her Betty lol. This is my first wheel, and I know they are touchy, but I love a challenge. I figure, if I learn on a difficult wheel, then all wheels will be a breeze. I’ve been a knitter for the last 15 years, and making my own yarn has been something I’ve been dying to do for a long time. I’m a proud Canadian, and if this is in fact a CPW that is awesome. So my question is, if there are no marking or stamps, how do I know where it came from?

    • Leslie says:

      Hi Mirra! Congrats on your wheel purchase. It can be difficult to identify some of the unmarked wheels, but there are so very knowledgeable people on Ravelry who might be able to ID for you based on the style and small details. Try out the “CPW Lovers” group on Ravelry–if anyone can figure who made it, it’s them :-) They also have a lot of information about how to get your wheel up and functional (and a few hacks to increase versatility).

  6. Pauline says:

    Just bought a spinning wheel similar to the one in the picture, so excited got it in a yard sale for $40! Now I just have to figure out how to use it:)

  7. Terry Strimpel says:

    My “First” wheel was just (Ha !! Ha !!) for decoration, I had always wanted a wheel.
    Some 20 years later, I decided to finally learn to spin. Lessons were first on an Ashford, then true love hit me with a Thumbelina, both belonged to my great instructor. Then my Lendrum ( love it !!) found me. Yet, I still yearned for the Thumbelina. A Wee Peggy, found me next ( thinking I’d never find a Thumbelina) the Wee Peggy came home with me. It was getting a bit crowded in my cottage size home !!.
    Then I found a very complete Thumbelina on the internet in Canada in an Antique shop !!! With extras I’d never even dared to dream of. By this time I had realized that my original decorative wheel was a “CPW” !!! Plus, I had inherited my sisters decorative small antique wheel, along the way. They are all my favorites !!!
    My congratulations to you all of you, love those Thumbelina’s !!!

  8. mike bouchette says:

    About 15 years ago I bought a spinning wheel at an antique store just SW of Montreal. It has the name LOUISSISSON stamped on it. Is there anybody out there who can tell me about this manufacturer?

    • Elizabeth says:

      Take another look at the name. It’s more likely to be Louis Bisson. If you google that name with “spinning wheel” you’ll get plenty of information.

      • stella Rzadki says:

        Back in 1967, Centennial year we purchased one of these wheels from a farmer in Quebec.I have never spun on it and for the first years the children use to play with it as it stood as a decorative in our dining room. I have had it stored away in a closet for some time thinking I would donate it to the Grey osprey museum . I’m not spinning anymore so I do not feel challenged to get it going. I will recover it and let you know what I have and in what condition. Excited though to have chanced on this information. Stella

        • Leslie says:

          Glad the info was helpful, Stella! If you need more I highly recommend the CPW group on Ravelry–they are a treasure trove of info. I’d be curious to hear what you find when you take a look at it again!

  9. Martha E Johnson says:

    Just found out what I thought was a decorative wheel is a CPW in need of repair. Does anyone have the phone , email address of a spinning wheel mechanic in the St Augustine/Jacksonville FL Area?

  10. Hello Leslie! I have the sister of your wheel. same good condition too. Mine is #204 got her on kijiji for only 125$ a couple years ago :D I had someone to make me 5 other bobbins ans a wider whorl to slow her down if needed . Will you be at TWIST this summer? I will help my friend at her booth and I might bring my Desjardins for a spin!

    • Leslie says:

      Wow, that is really cool! Won’t be at TWIST, sadly, but you should definitely bring your DJ and show her off :D Who did you get to make your bobbins?

      • Christina Fasoula says:

        Judy Kavanaugh makes bobbins for me, She is a member of the Ottawa guild and also on Facebook in our group Filage Spinning Quebec. join us it would be nice to have you there! Since I post the first comment I had found while antiquing 2 complete flyer, bobbin and whorl of Desjardins wheel :) they have a slight difference in the whorl size , strange right!?

        • PJ Johnson says:

          Hi Christina and Leslie,
          I just brought home a cousin of your wheels! #188!
          Im so excited. I have a spinning this morning and then brought it home and I am expecting that since I had to take the wheel off that its going to be a bit of adjusting to get it spinning again. But it is such a beautiful wheel that I dont mind spending the time on her.
          I am in Lancaster County, PA. Wonder how she got here!!

          • Leslie says:

            Congrats on the find! Mine took a bit of tweaking but not too much to get it up and running, er, spinning :)

          • PJ Johnson says:

            Question for you. Do You have an idea of when our CPWs were made?

          • Leslie says:

            Hi PJ–I’m not sure of the exact time, but the CPW Lovers group on Ravelry would like know. In general, Canadian Production Wheels were made from the late 1800s to the mid 1900s. Early 1900s would be my guess!

  11. Eileen says:

    Such a lovely wheel! I was gifted what appears to be a CPW. My hooks are a bit wonky as well but seem to work fine. I also crafted a drive band from some cotton yarn I had on hand. The only thing missing is the footman. Can you tell me how long the footman is on yours? Thanks!

  12. Joan says:

    I just wound up with a CPW, having never heard of them before. I’d love a Desjardins – my grandmother was a Desjardins and I’m sure they are related to me!

  13. Iris J Garza says:

    I had one of these wheels but gave it to a friend whose also a spinner. She loves it. I already had 5 other wheels. Recently I came across another one at an antique shop. Not sure if I should buy it. The price is very reasonable but the wheel itselfl is woobly. Not sure if it would spin well. Thinking of going back and taking cotton cord and tying a drive band on and taking it for a spin. What are your thoughts?

    • Leslie says:

      Hi Iris! Wobbly wheel is a bad sign. If it’s not far from you, wouldn’t hurt to take a drive band (and some oil) and give it a shot, but if the wheel wood itself is warped in any way, there’s no fixing that (some say the heart is just like a wheel/if you bend it, you can’t mend it… apologies to Anna McGarrigle for using her lovely song to advise on spinning wheels ;-)). If the wheel looks unwarped but other structures need repair, it might be worth it, but I wouldn’t spend much on it. You can find good working antique wheels (already tuned up and being used for spinning) for around $250-300 on kijjiji occasionally, or through Ravelry groups.

  14. Nancy Wilson says:

    I bought an antique spinning wheel off a kijiji ad. The previous owner bought it years ago as an antique for display and never used it to spin. I washed it with murphy’s oil soap and then applied 2 coats of tung oil as it seemed to need some tlc. It has only one bobbin and the flyer is attached with a leather piece at either end which I believe is how it was originally made. It has 2 channels for a drive belt so I made 2 separate belts one for the bobbin and the other for the whorl. I had to add a piece of plastic to where the metal turned inside the upright fork to correct the balance. The wheel was not lined up with the bobbin and whorl so the belt kept coming off. Now the belt stays put even when treadling. I guess over the years the groove could have worn down where the metal turns the footman. I also tied two of the legs together with strong twine as one end where the treadle pivots kept dropping out. I have not been able to take the bobbin off the flyer. The whorl won’t turn in either direction. Also the whorl turns a bit unevenly (a slight wobble) There is a piece of rubber between the whorl and where it goes through the leather piece. That rubber is dried out and cracked and should be replaced it possible. I think these were made originally to only have one bobbin which meant you had to wind the wool into a ball by hand once the bobbin was full. I saw an Irish woman doing just that on a wheel much like mine.

    • Lulu says:

      I’ve refurbished four CPW’s and starting my 5th. One was in a box in 40 pieces and another was in a fire.
      Some of the problems you describe are because a double drive spinning wheel only has one drive band, not two. Google ‘double drive spinning wheel’ and watch some videos before you continue.
      Whorls on cpw’s normally turn righty loosey, so try that. Hold the flyer in front of you in your right hand and turn the whorl towards you with your left. Using a refrigerator to shrink the metal sometimes helps. Often the problem stems from not being sure which way it is supposed to turn.
      The piece of rubber will simply be a spacer. Most spinners will use a piece of leather as a washer. If it’s thick like 1/4″ or more then you have a mismatched flyer and wasn’t the original.

  15. Gail says:

    Just got one. Its #90.
    So excited. Its in fantastic condition.

  16. Ray Wilson says:

    Do you know who might be interested in purchasing a mid-1800s Quebec made spinning wheel? It has the original orange milk paint, as I didnt want to harm the original coating. I can include a photo to any interested parties.

  17. Anna Williams says:

    So excited to find this article! Very helpful as my husband just bought me a cpw!
    Do you have any suggestions for where to find extra bobbins?

  18. Gretchen Antelman says:

    I just bought a CPW wheel that appears to be in good shape except missing the footman. Where can I get a clear picture of the footman design to have remade, or what other word-arounds are there to replacing the footman?

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