How to Make Knitting Needles and Without a Needle Gauge

by Ragtimelil

I needed a pair of US 6 knitting needles and about five US 6 double pointed needles for a project. My needle gauge had gone missing. What was a desperate knitter to do?

It is sometimes hard to remember, as I'm moaning about having to buy another pair of knitting needles, that people didn't always buy them. In a diary of a Shaker from the late 1800s in New Hampshire, a sister mentioned that she would have to ask one of the brothers to make her a pair of new knitting needles. I don't know what they started with, but I've seen some of the needles in a museum and they were lovely. The wood had been polished to a fine gleam from busy hands.
Making knitting needles didn't sound like it would be too hard to do.

No Gauge

My experience making my own knitting needles taught me that straight and double pointed needles really are easy. I have tried circular needles without much success. But another twist to this tale is that I had lost my needle gauge. That's the little thingie that you poke your needle through to measure it and find out what size it is both in metric (millimeter) or in US scale. I have learned a secret about measuring needles and now can do it without a gauge.

Getting Started

needle chart

First you need to determine what size needle you will make. I needed both straight needles and double pointed needles in size US 6. When I thought about it, if I thought about it at all, the metric measurement actually told me what size the needle really was. The US scale is rather arbitrary and doesn't really tell me anything. So I found a chart, and there are many available in books and online, that gives the US to mm size of needles. Here's a portion of that chart.
There are other size scales too. The US numbers go up as the needles get larger. The UK scale goes in reverse.

measuring needles



You can see by this chart that a US 6 needle is 4 mm. All I needed was a ruler. If I laid a needle on a ruler that had metric scale, I could find out the diameter size in millimeters. The diameter is the distance across the circle, in case you forgot.




Another Gauge

hardware gaugeEven better, I remembered that I had one of those gauges from the hardware store used for measuring screws and bolts. It happened to have holes to poke the bolt through to measure the diameter and gave the size in both mm and fractions of an inch. This would come in really handy when I needed to go buy some dowels since they are usually marked in fractions of an inch.

If you need to make any metric to inches type of conversions, you can just put them in Google and it will convert it for you.

Making the Needles.

skewersThe two things I usually use to make needles are wooden skewers for small needles and dowels for larger ones. Skewers come in sizes pretty close to 4 mm. 
The skewers are bamboo, just like the expensive wooden knitting needles. All I needed to do was measure some of them until I found two that were a good fit.
They are already pointed on one end but they do need a good sanding to make a dull point so that it is sharp enough to knit with, but not so sharp as to be dangerous. Sand along the length too. The wood on some of them can splinter. When you do find good ones, they are a joy to knit with.
If you are using dowels, you might want to whittle a crude point on one end after cutting the length you need. Then sand the point until it has a nice rounded end to it. Look at some other needles to see how to shape this.

Finishing the Straight Needles

I like to made a button or knob on the end of my straight needles to keep the work from sliding off the end. You can glue anything on the end but I like to use polymer clay. I make a ball or a flat button but you can let your imagination run wild here. Before baking the clay, I gently push the end of the needle in the clay to make an impression. After baking the knobs (follow the instructions for your clay) and letting them cool, I use some good permanent glue to hold the end of the skewer/needle into the depression. Once it sets, it's done.knobsneedle ends

Making Double Pointed Needles

I needed to make some double pointed needles too for knitting in the round. They are simply pointed at both ends and are generally around 7 inches long. I needed to make five of them. 
I cut 5 pieces of 4 mm skewers and make a point on the cut ends. I sanded it well and that was it. I had a new set of double pointed needles and a new set of straight needles. Now, where is that yarn...
Staight Needles
Staight Needles
Double Pointed Needles
Double Pointed Needles
Updated: 03/08/2013, Ragtimelil
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Ragtimelil on 05/19/2013

Thank you.

Ragtimelil on 03/22/2013

Well, thanks! Yep. Desperation is the mother of invention.

katiem2 on 03/22/2013

This is fantastic, I'm forwarding on to my knitting relatives and friends. It's amazing what you can do with a little ingenuity. Great ideas and thanks for sharing. :)K

Ragtimelil on 03/11/2013

Yes, nothing like cold feet to get you moving to knit some socks. ha.
I'm letting my Etsy store fade out for a while. I'm not able to get supplies, store them, work or get to the PO until I get transportation. I'm just working online for a while.

dustytoes on 03/11/2013

You need to make some needles to add to your Etsy store - or maybe you have! I never would have thought to do this and make knitting needles myself. And I know what you are saying in your comment below - I never had the inclination to knit when I lived in Florida.

Ragtimelil on 03/09/2013

Why thank you. Much appreciated. I don't do as much as I used to but I try to do a little every evening while watching a movie. Of course the climate here doesn't inspire me as much as the cold winters in New England did.

Mira on 03/09/2013

Such a great article, Lana! Enjoy your knitting! :)

Ragtimelil on 03/09/2013

Yes, it comes in handy when the stores are closed, or you're out of cash or no car to get to the store. Bet you could do it with tree branches if you had to.

HollieT on 03/09/2013

I don't knit but this page is really detailed, informative and will no doubt save people a lot of money if they can make them instead of buying them.

Ragtimelil on 03/09/2013

They are easy to do, but I always used a needle gauge. I just recently discovered the trick of using a ruler. OK so maybe I'm a little slow..:-/

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