The “right” weight for end-feed shuttles, is a frequent topic of debate among handweavers and questions we get from customers. Some insist that they must be quite heavy; others like them as lightweight as possible. So who is correct?
The late Allen Fannin once posted in discussion at www.quilt.net/weaving: “With the heavy ones just a flick of the hand sends the shuttle across the warp, even wide ones. With the light ones you really have to give it a throw and hope it will travel.” He went on to further explain why he used a heavy shuttle. “The demand for lighter than optimum shuttles stems from a throwing style adopted by most handloom weavers which involves lifting the shuttle off the race after each pick. In which case, weight can be a factor. However, if the shuttle is allowed to remain on the race and is a simply slid back and forth without lifting, shuttle weight becomes a non-factor.”
On the other end of the weight debate, back in the Winter 1997 issue of Weaver’s magazine expert weaver Sharon Alderman wrote: “For those of us throwing shuttles by hand . . . extra weight is unnecessary and, in fact, is a liability. A heavy shuttle thrown too hard will hurt the hand catching it [and] a heavy shuttle thrown too gently will not succeed to traveling all the way across the web. It makes sense, therefore, for the end-feed shuttle that is sent across the warp by a weaver’s hand to be as light as possible. I have woven with heavy end-feed shuttles and with light ones. I can weaver longer and better with a lighter shuttle.”
Two well-known and very respected weavers expressed absolutely opposing points of view as to optimum shuttle weight. The conclusion must be that the perfect shuttle weight varies from weaver to weaver depending on strength, shuttle-throwing style and just what one has become used to.
Some of the perceived need for a heavy weight end-feed shuttle may be because when they first appeared for handweavers they were either modified power loom shuttles or designed after them. Power looms pitch shuttles at a constant force. As their bobbins empty, their weight decreases. So, the shuttles themselves must be heavy enough that bobbin weight is insignificant. If an older style end-feed shuttle is the only type a weaver has used it may be assumed that they must be heavy.
Mr. Fannin’s method of never lifting his heavy shuttle off the race worked great for him and his loom. However, it will not work when using a counterbalance or countermarch loom that has no race. It is not possible with a full width warp where the shuttle must be thrown past the end of the race to clear the selvedge. So, weavers who must constantly lift their shuttles up and out of the shed may find a lighter tool less tiring to use.
Weavers who have little arm strength, arthritis or small hands often request lightweight shuttles. Those who learn to weave in Europe or in a Swedish manner start off weaving using lightweight shuttles and tend to continue to prefer them.
With our different end-feed shuttle styles, sizes and an assortment of wood choices, Bluster Bay shuttles can vary widely in weight. One of our 15-inch end-feed shuttles, for example, can weigh as little as six ounces if it has an open bottom and is made from black cherry. On the other hand, a closed bottom shuttle of the same style made from wenge might weigh nearly twice as much. There should be a Bluster Bay shuttle with a good weight for any weaver’s preferences and weaving style.