Do you really need to buy wool hand carders for your fleece preparation?
Why not just use dog brushes, instead? Dog brushes are pretty cheap and available just about anywhere. Sounds good so far! Now, the big question: do dog brushes actually work for wool?
Dog brushes will work for small amounts of very clean and easy to prepare wool, if you are willing to take significantly more time to prepare your wool for spinning. If you have larger amounts of wool to prepare or wool that is more difficult to get separated out into spin ready fiber, you need to use wool hand carders.
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You can use dog brushes for wool preparation
You can use your dog brushes for wool preparation, but the real question is should you?
I know that dog brushes are cheaper, a ton cheaper, and easier to find, but they do not do as good of a job as the wool cards.
I do have to admit, I used dog brushes on my Angora rabbits. This is simply because the rabbit needs groomed, not just the fiber carded, so I needed something smaller to use on the rabbit, itself.
As far as using dog brushes on wool, to be perfectly upfront the dog brushed do not work well and they take forever to get any decent amount of carding done.
3 main differences between hand cards and dog brushes
While dog brushes may look similar to hand cards at first glance there are some significant differences between them and how they function.
Hand cards are stiff bristled
Hand cards for wool are stiff bristled, meaning if you ran it across the skin on your arm it would hurt.
This makes sense because hand cards are made to separate out the individual fibers and make them even, while taking out any chaff or tangles.
The bristles, themselves are also more substantial, meaning the wire used in the carding cloth is thicker wire and much less flexible than the wire used on the grooming brushes.
Dog brush bristles are much more flexible
Dog brushes are made to feel good to the dog while brushing out the hair, so the bristles on the dog brush are much more forgiving.
Dog brushes are made to align the fur all in one direction and to be used repeatedly, not in one or two passes. The dog brushes also help distribute oil down the hair and massage the skin while brushing.
Dog brushes are also made to be used against the skin, not against another brush, as are the wool cards.
Additionally, dog brushes do not hold the dog hair, the hair is anchored by the dog! With wool cards the wool is both held and aligned with the cards.
The arrangement of bristles is different
The bristles on a dog brush are further apart, while the bristles on a wool card are very close together in order to catch all of the fibers in just a few swipes.
The dog brush is made to go through most of the hair, the wool card is made to thoroughly go through each and every fiber of the wool, separating and straightening.
Wool cards will give you more results from your time
The final main difference between wool cards and dog brushes is that wool cards get so much more done for your time.
Dog brushes are small and need to be constantly reloaded and unloaded, while hand cards can card much more wool at a time and do a better job of it.
With each swipe of a dog brush you are getting 3 inches or so of wool aligned, with each swipe of a hand card you are getting more like 8 inches aligned plus that 8 inches is deeper.
There is significantly more wool prepped before per carding when you are using using wool cards versus dog brushes.
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Wool cards give you better results 8-12 times faster than dog brushes
By just eyeballing it, the wool card looks to be 4x the size of the dog brush.
But, that’s just the size of the carding area, you also have to take into account all of the extra passes over the wool to get the same results with dog brushes.
You are looking at more like 8-12 times more work done with wool cards than dog brushes.
How did I come up with that? Each card holds 4x the wool, so every time you use your hand carders, you are already 4x more productive than dog brushes.
The reason it’s more than 4x is because when using dog brushes you have to work harder for the same results, this is the 2-3 times as much work part.
Take the initial 4x, because of the size of the wool card, and multiply that by the 2-3x more passes with the dog brushes, you end up with the figures 8-12 times as much work to prep wool using dog brushes rather than wool cards.
For your time, wool cards make money sense
Now that we have some figures to use, the 8-12x more work done by hand carders versus dog brushes, let’s see which one is a better value for your time.
Wool cards are going to run you anywhere from $73-116. We’ll use the $90. Dog brushes will run you anywhere from $9-10 for a slicker, the round or oval brush with the bend wire teeth.
The math here is easy, the dog brush is $9 and takes 8-12 times the passes to make the wool spinnable, which is $72-108 worth of results when compared to the wool cards.
The wool cards are worth the money, if you do not have endless time to spend carding wool.
If your top concern is cost and you are willing to work with clean wool and put in 8-12 times the effort, then use the dog brushes.
The Joy Of Handspinning has a nice article on using wool cards, if you want to give them a shot!
Dog brushes for easy wool and a ton of spare time!
I actually have a few dog brushes that I bought for my Angora rabbits. The dog brushes were small enough to use on the rabbit for the occasional brushing to keep the fiber nice and prevent matting.
I decided to use them to prep a small amount of wool for spinning to see how they did. To be blunt, it took forever!
Mostly because the dog brushes are no where near as aggressive with getting into the wool and separating it out.
So, at least from what I see with my small experiment here, dog brushes will work for very clean, easy to prep wool only.
Any fiber that is a bit challenging needs a more aggressive carding, which requires either a crazy amount of recarding on your part or using a wool carder to begin with.