Monday, April 12, 2010

Canoe Say 'Spinning Wheel'?

Other than the phrase "whatever floats your boat," it might seem that spinning and canoeing have little in common. But today I couldn't help but think how much buying a spinning wheel is like buying a canoe. A bit of history might help explain.

Back in another life, my husband and I owned a whitewater paddling school and we sold kayaks and canoes. To match customers with boats that would best suit their needs, we needed to figure out what those needs were.We spent a lot of time asking personal questions, doing on-the-water demos, educating buyers.

In February when I decided to buy a spinning wheel, the flashbacks started. Only this time, I was on the other side of the transaction.

Setting Wheels In Motion
In February, I'd never even demoed a treadle wheel. I've made miles of hand-twisted cordage, but I've only spun on a drop spindle and on the great wheel my dad made for me from a recycled bicycle wheel. But I did a little research (mostly based on price), picked a model, and contacted a dealer.

The dealer was Apple Hollow Fiber Arts in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin. Owner Kathi Cascio took a couple of rustic furniture classes I taught with my husband at Sievers a few years back. I didn't know then but I do know now: She could sell canoes, if she put her mind to it.

I started by telling Kathi what I thought I wanted in a wheel. In particular, I'm interested in making thread that incorporates my basswood bark. Kathi asked me to send her some of the fiber so she could sample it. I sent her basswood, some basswood-and-wool cordage I twisted, and a small looping sample made from that cordage.

Kathi addressed questions I wouldn't have known to ask. She recommended a couple of choices, in my price range and a little above it. I chose to spend a little more now, but I think this wheel will serve my needs very well for a long time.

I can almost hear spinners out there laughing at the idea of just one wheel. Moving on...

The Plan Comes To Fruition
Today I drove a couple hundred miles round-trip to pick up the wheel and, more important, get the spinning lesson Kathi offered along with it. On the drive home, I felt a list coming on. I think it applies to more than just spinning wheels and canoes.
  • Get Good Help. A knowledgeable, experienced dealer can help you gather, sort, filter and interpret the information that will help you make the most informed choice. 
  • Spill The Beans. In some ways, sharing information with a dealer is not that different from sharing your medical history with a health care provider. Even House needs a history to make an accurate diagnosis.
  • Be Patient. It might take some time for the dealer to fit all the pieces of the puzzle together in a clear picture. Give them a chance to think before you press for a recommendation.
  • Be Open Minded. If the dealer suggests something other than what you expected, ask for their reasoning and give it careful consideration. Remember, you're buying their knowledge and experience.
  • Be Fair. The dealer who sorts out all that information, helps you make an informed choice, helps teach you -- that dealer has earned the sale. I'll save my soapbox speech on that topic for another time.
I'm off now to read the owner's manual for my new wheel and then to sleep, perchance to dream of sheep jumping over the basswood retting tank. I know. That's baaaad.


  1. As an owner of four canoes who lives on the edge of a small river, this posting caught my attention. We actually recently bought a canoe that is the current incarnation of our first canoe, bought in 1976, which we just love, but which got soggy bottomed, repaired by the factory, and now got soggy bottomed again, but it is still useable. Buy soggy bottomed I mean: no stiffness, not that it is wet.

    Well I don't know anything about spinning wheels, but I can relate to having a good salesperson help with a purchase. And also the opposite, which recently happened to us in regards to another expensive purchase. We made the assumption that the sales person knew his stuff, but it turned out to be head knowledge, not hands on knowledge, and we bought something wrong for us. Expensive lesson.

    Have fun with your new purchase.

  2. PS, you made my day. Sounds like the canoe you invested in 30+ years ago served you well! Hope you have fun wearing out the replacement.

    And thanks for adding a good point about your other purchase. The best choice for one person isn't necessarily the best for another buyer. Sometimes a salesperson might mean well, but being able to recite the catalog isn't the same as knowledge and experience.


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