Wednesday, June 13, 2012

CTC - Spindle Whorl

I recently received a new challenge as part of the “Ayerton Challenge the Champion” project I initiated.  (See for more details).  While sitting around a campfire at a recent SCA Event I was pleased to have a conversation with a small handful of folks, one being the current MOAS of Ayerton.  Kelli Vandegrift, AKA Kara Atladottir ( is currently holding that esteemed position and had not yet thought of any sort of challenge.  After a bit of amusing banter and trash talking she came up with an idea.  She asked that I make a Spindle Whorl out of soapstone.  I said something along the lines of WTF!?  A brief discussion ensued where she explained what the item was and what it was used for.  I agreed to make one such item and here is the path.

My research started as most of my research does, on Google.  I found a ton of images of extant whorls and chose a few to use as a model.  It appeared that most of the whorls were either made of stone or lead.  My challenge specifically stated stone.  (I think that perhaps I may make a lead one in the future as well, just for the fun of it.)  I noticed that most of the stone whorls had little or no embellishments on them.  Only a few had simple designs cut into them.  I chose to do an unembellished one as my first attempt would be focused on making a well-balanced usable item.
Here is a few images of extant whorls which I based my design on:

I started out with a small block of soap stone which I happened to have lying around the house from another recent project.  I believe I purchased the soapstone at Blick's.  I used a hand held wood cross cut saw to trim the block down.

After rouging out the shape of the whorl, I  found that there were a few inclusions in the stone and it easily cracked.  Crap!  Well, that forced me to rethink my design.  I started by taking the three large pieces and dropping them a few times to make sure they wouldn’t crack again easily.  My design was now slightly smaller as limited by the size of the remains of the cracking.

After rough shaping with the saw, I used a few wood carving tools to do the shaping of the stone.  When the stone was about the form which I was happy with, I used some metal files and sand paper to smooth and balance it.  As my design was cut out using a saw and only eyeballing the shape there are some small abnormalities to the shape of my stone.


I used a small screwdriver to make the whole in the center.  Odd right?!  I know.  I was lazy.  Couldn’t find my drill bits and soapstone was soft enough.  Spinning a small screw driver actually bored a whole rather easily anyway.  Not many tools needed for this project so far!

After the whole was “drilled” through the stone I then used a small round file to clean it up and enlarge the whole to about the ratio that matched the picture I was using as a reference.  I went through this process twice.  Why?  Because I had a few pieces after the cracking incident.  One stone is about the size of an American penny and the other one is slightly larger which seemed to match the size of the extant stones I had seen.

To finish the stones I used some very fine grit sandpaper and my pants.  What!?  Your pants?  Yup.  I was sitting watching TV at about 3:00 in the morning and I simply used the texture of my cotton pajama pants to polish the stone.  Yup.  Just pants.  I just kept rubbing them up and down my thigh while I watched some bizarre middle of the night TV movie.

Next step is to cut some slivers of wood to be used as the shaft for the spindle.  Not sure exactly how to use these things.  I’ve watched a few videos on YouTube to try and figure it out.  I’m hoping that after I finish the Spindle Whorls the challenger will show me how to use them.