Robin Wheel 03-01-19 04

Robin Wheels No More

My amazing Robin Spinning Wheel had a minor breakage this past weekend.  The flexible connector from the pedal to the treadle arm broke.

Amazing Design

Gilbert Gonsalves designed a most amazing spinning wheel for his wife Robin.  She needed it to be sturdy and portable, and he went far beyond that in his design.

I was speaking with him at Rhinebeck once.  I made the mistake of comparing my two wheels (the Robin Wheel and a Louet wheel I own).  As a result, he spent five minutes showing me why his wheel is a much better wheel.  He wasn’t bragging…just showing me the differences.

Robin Wheel 03-01-19 03

This past weekend, I was finishing up the plying of my Tommy Yates Preferred Blend yarn.  I’m hard on my spinning wheels, but plying demands more of my wheel than any other activity. So, this little piece broke (see read circle at the bottom of the photo).

Robin Wheel 03-01-19 07

This is a cylindrical piece of flexible vinyl.  It’s 1/4″ in diameter.  The piece of vinyl is inserted into the drilled-out hole inside the treadle arm.  It’s held in place with a little tack.

I didn’t have anything that would perfectly replicate this critical piece to my spinning wheel.  It needed to be durable and flexible and allow a small nail/tack to go through it.  It also had to be 1/4″ or less in diameter.

I decided to contact Gilbert at Robin Wheels and ask if I could purchase a replacement.

Gilbert has never been easy to get in contact with.  I had no business phone or e-mail.  So I did a search and believe it or not, I found his personal phone listing.  So I called.  Fortunately, he sounded delighted to hear from me.

A Library Burns

We arranged to get my 1/4″ vinyl cylinder piece replaced.  But I also found out that due to health reasons, he’s no longer making Robin Wheels.  I was very saddened to hear this.  Even sadder, he hadn’t been able to find anyone to take over his business.

He sounded so sad to know that his design and years of expertise would not live on.  I am sad too.

It made me want to take a crash course in woodworking to see about saving his lifework somehow.  The best I could do was to let Gilbert know just how much joy his work had brought me.

Now that I’ve completely depressed my readers, I will show you the amazing work his wheel helped me accomplish.

Current Spinning

I had two bobbins with sufficient singles spun. So, I decided to ply them up.

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Tommy Fiber 03-01-19 03

This hank of yarn turned out to be 3.8 ounces (or 108 grams) and approximately 500 yards.  Which is a light fingering weight yarn.  Interestingly enough, this is the perfect amount and weight from my sock knitting machine, so I may just try and make a pair of socks with this.  The blend of silk, bunny, alpaca, corriedale, merino and lamb’s wool should make an awesome sock.

Tommy Blend Spinning 02-24-19 02

So, hopefully my homespun will work in the old Gearhart.

19 comments on “Robin Wheels No More

  1. I,too, have a Robin Wheel which I purchased a few years ago when gilbert was still making them. I was spinning at a local festival yesterday and the little plastic connector piece broke! I have placed a call to him in the hope he will be able to send me a replacement piece, I love this wheel I,too, am sorry that he will no longer be making them

    1. You may want to get a supply of 1/4″ vinyl splining to replace it – eBay sells it rather cheaply. Or even cheaper still is 1/4″ vinyl tubing which you can get at your local hardware store.

  2. Huh. At the time of this writing, I was apprenticed under Gil. I had even sent him an email, asking for more time and a formal schedule in the shop, and the wheel I was building was in the last finishing stages. He even had several buyers lined up for an auction for the production wheel I was helping with.

    The apprenticeship did peter out, as he was thinking about moving, and I had no desire to move in with him (that did seem to be a sticking point).

    It was a shame, he was a good wheelwright.

    1. Howdy! I have a Robin Spinning Wheel and wondered 2 things; how do I get extra bobbins? Are there bobbins made by other companies that will work with the ones I got from Gilbert? Secondly, I haven’t spun since I got my wheel; now our 5 kids are grown and I’m back to spinning. My question is: how do I use both drive bands? I’m embarrassed to admit that I forget! Any help is so appreciated!!

      1. Howdy Lyn…for bobbins, I don’t know what I’d do if I needed another bobbin of two. I would probably bring my current bobbin from Gil to the local spinnery store and see if that had one that would work as a replacement. I don’t know of any other wheels that would use the same size bobbin, especially since the different ratio whorls are built into the bobbin. As for the two drive bands…I’m not sure what you mean. Mine only uses one drive band and the tensioning is done with the leather band over the orifice. Getting someone back onto their Robin wheel is always exciting, so good luck.

  3. Love, love, love my Robin Spinning wheel and just had the same thing happen to me. Thanks to Joe Wilcox for identifying what exactly what I need to make the repair. It is so sad that Gilbert Gonsalves fine harp tradition will not be passed on to another artisan. He was so fond of his work and so willing to share it.

  4. First met Gil a million years ago at the Maryland Sheep and Wool. I was a bit down because another wheel maker had commented that another wheel on the market was not welcome. On the way up the hill to my barn/booth Gil pointed out that for the most part “one man/woman” shops like ours were making wheels that fit unique spots in the family of wheels – we were not competing. Of course. We chatted every year.

    A few years later he wanted to show me his early sketches of a new, smaller wheel – the Wee Robin. We talked about the popularity of small wheels and how in the 80s and 90s no one wanted one. Louet for a short time made the “Hatbox”.

    As I wind down my shop days I have mixed feelings. On the sad side, I will miss the shows and the fiber folks and that my wheels will no longer be offered at a booth.

    1. Thanks for this David. I love how Gil treated everyone at Rhinebeck (which was the only place I’ve ever seen him). Exactly how I try to be when I’m at craft shows (both with co-vendors and shoppers). He’s a class act.

  5. I, too, have broken the vinyl pieces. How can I replace them? I met Gil some years ago in Maine, have seen him at Rhinebeck and have loved my Wee Robin wheel – A LOT!
    Warm wishes,

    1. You may want to get a supply of 1/4″ vinyl splining to replace them – eBay sells it rather cheaply. Or even cheaper still is 1/4″ vinyl tubing which you can get at your local hardware store

  6. I, too, have a beautiful Curley Maple ROBIN wheel. Both plastic treadle connectors broke on my wheel recently.
    I went to The Woolery, my favorite spinning supplier, and they had the 1/4″ flexible plastic connector! It’s made for an Ashford wheel, but it works for the Robin wheel.

  7. I agree about the Ashford replacements for the footman pieces. They work beautifully.

    Also, the Woolery will make you a replacement drive band when the old one becomes too fragile. To attach it, you’ll need to take the entire wheel off the back of the mother of all (there’s a nut on the back where this is done), which seems a bit scary.

    After you place the new band on the wheel, you put the wheel itself back on. It’s an unpleasant process (who wants to dismantle their wheel?), but a whole lot better than trying to fuse plastic with a lighter to put a closed circular band on the wheel while it’s intact.

    1. How do you measure for the drive band? Mine disintegrated, and I want to get a replacement. Best to use string? Which whorl?

  8. I’m so grateful to find the info on the replacement footman pieces. I have a recently purchased used Wee Robin. I am hoping to find out what size drive band I need to get for it. Is there anyone who can tell me? I, too, would love to know if there are any bobbins that would fit and where to get them. I fortunately have the 3 that came with the wheel but would love to get more as they are so small.

    1. Most of the replacement drive bands aren’t purchased in the final length. Buy one that you can size by trying it on the actual wheel…or you can just fashion one with cotton string.

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