Knitting needles - Metal vs. Bamboo: some tips and ideas - Edey's Vintage and Current Needlework
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Edey's Vintage and Current Needlework

Knitting needles - Metal vs. Bamboo: some tips and ideas

 This would be a good time to share some thoughts and experiences I've had with using these two different types of knitting needles, with the idea that maybe it will help others to avoid some problems. 

Some background: I've been knitting, off and on, since the 1960's, dropped it for a long time, but with the inspiration of all that is available on the internet, I picked it up with enthusiasm 3 years ago, when I began knitting socks. At the time I only had metal needles, and it was a struggle to learn how to use double-pointed needles (dpn, for short), because they kept slipping out of the stitches as I worked them around the sock body. Somewhere I learned about bamboo needles, and took a chance on using them instead. Eventually they became my favorites for almost all of my knitting, however they did have drawbacks; the tension was looser, the stitch didn't slide off the needle as easily as it was being formed the same way it did with metal, and the work was slower because of it. So I thought I would again try metal, specifically the somewhat newer, slicker needles available now. So below these are some of the things I've found out about using the different needles. 

1.  As mentioned above, the gauge/tension of the stitches was quite a bit different comparing metal to bamboo. I started a shawl with fingering-weight yarn and size 3 metal circular needle with a very slick needle surface. My stitches were close together and small. After several inches I switched to a bamboo circular of the same size, and after a few inches of using the bamboo needles, the stitches were loose and larger. It isn't very  noticeable, but it surprised me that there would be that much difference in stitch size with the same size needle. Once again this illustrates the importance of gauge and making a test swatch with knitting. 

2.  Muscle/joint pain: In a previous blog I wrote about knitting toe-up socks, with the peacock blue/turquise socks. With those socks I used metal needles throughout, used the same number of stitches as for socks I had previously knitted, but when finished they were smaller than socks made with the bamboos. But I also had quite a bit of wrist and finger pain, and swollen joints all the way up into my shoulders, so much so that I was limited to the amount of time that I could work on the socks. I didn't connect the pain to using the metal needles, until I started working on the shawl mentioned in #1. When I worked on it with the metal needles, everything hurt; when I switched to the bamboos, the pain went away, and knitting was fun again. 

3. Eye fatique: the light glinting on the slick metal surface of the metal needles really tired out my eyes and after an hour or two of knitting, I would have to set it down to get my eyes to rest and re-focus. The bamboo needles didn't give me problems like this. 

Now some tips on the care and feeding of bamboo needles. 

1. When I first got my bamboo needles they seemed dry to the touch, like raw, unfinished wood feels. So, thinking along the lines of keeping wood furniture waxed and polished to preserve it, I began experimenting with one set of needles, trying various waxes and oils on the needles to see what it would do to them: 

       a. cold cream - I know it sounds weird, but basic cold cream is a mixture of oil, beeswax and water; I smoothed this into the bamboo needle, let it dry and then rubbed it with paper toweling, cotton rags and waxed paper to see what it would do. It worked very well, and it was right at hand, so I grabbed it to try. 

      b.  olive oil - worked okay and didn't leave an oily residue, but cold cream worked better.

      c.  mayonnaise - this worked good too, but not as handy as the cold cream

      d. candle wax - didn't do much. 

My bamboo needles now have a nice polished feel to them, which helps in moving the yarn along on the needle as it is worked.  I feel that the oils and waxes also helped to keep the bamboo flexible and stronger than they would otherwise be in their original state as dry and unpolished. The natural oils from the wool yarn also help in keeping the needles polished. 

I hope these tips help with enjoying knitting.  They have for me.  





Pat said:

I would never have thought of using cold cream! Thanks, Edey! That lessened my hesitation of using bamboo needles. I've knitted for over 50 years and have never tried them.

March 25, 2010 12:59 PM

Edey said:

One other tip for the bamboo: the Takumi bamboo needles have a burned-in logo on the needles, that tends to catch the stitches as they slide along the needles. Sanding that away with a fine emery board took care of that.  Sanding made it difficult to read the size imprinted on the needle, but if you have a needle gauge then that is not a problem.

March 25, 2010 1:31 PM

Edey said:

Pat - someone I know bought the more inexpensive sets of needles available on e-bay and elsewhere, and said they liked them, with a little prep of fine sanding and waxing.

I've read stories of needles breaking, but so far that hasn't happened to me, although some of my needles have gotten a nice "bow" to them. I think the waxing prep may help protect them against breakage.  Edey

March 25, 2010 1:34 PM

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March 26, 2010 9:33 PM

Anna Marie said:

I'm hoping to learn to knit and find this information quite interesting. I'll be paying attention and know who to consult along the way.

March 28, 2010 12:42 AM

Edey said:

Anna Marie, please feel free to ask any questions, and join us on the Hobbies and Crafts forum in the Dollar Stretcher Community forums. Knitting can be a good hobby that is easily transportable to have with you for moments when you have to sit waiting for something. Think of all the empty minutes you might spend waiting, and what you can get done if you added up all that time:  A ski cap, mitts, socks, wash cloth, baby clothes, etc. Hand made socks are so much more comfortable than store bought, they just feel luxurious!  


March 28, 2010 12:41 PM

cheapchic said:

fasinatting knitting both with bamboo and metal I do both and plastic and a type of wood they are ok to work with I have been knitting and crocheting over thirty years ok I gave away my age as an old person my niece would say Im okay by her because I taught her to use anytype of material in needles from wood to bamboo to plastic to metal does the same purpose for her she says she is 11 years old now to teach her needlepoint and cross stitch and sewing on lace to pillow cases...

March 29, 2010 10:44 PM

Edey said:

CheapChic - so glad to hear that you are passing on what you know to another generation. I'm sure you niece will always appreciate the time you spend with her.  


March 30, 2010 11:51 AM

Valerie said:

I LOVE my bamboo needles! Once I tried them I gave up almost all my metal and my plastic needles. I have never used any type of treatment on my needles but they have become more "slick" with use from the natural oils in my skin and yarn. After 1 pair of socks my favorite set of bamboos releases my stitches almost as easily as a pair of plastic or metal needles. The only drawback to bamboo needles I have found is that they may become dull but still very workable. Thanks for introducing your readers to the joy of knitting with bamboo!

April 4, 2010 8:19 PM

Edey said:

I've wondered about if the tips could become dull eventually. Some of mine are more pointed to begin with, and are easier to work with because of it.

Could they be sharpened? maybe in a pencil sharpener? possibly one for a make-up pencil? Or another way may be is just to sand them with some very fine sand paper, using a rotation to get the tip more pointed. That's worth some thinking about it.


April 5, 2010 1:29 PM

Christine said:

I too was having pain in my hands and had to limit my knitting to an hour a day.   But once I switched to wood needles, I no longer had any pain issues and could knit as long as I wanted.  I have no idea what the difference is.  Possibly cause the wood is grabby, I'm not holding on as tight?

April 26, 2010 10:29 AM

Sindar said:

Hi :) It's nice to learn this tips. I like to use metal types needles than bamboo. However after reading your tips, I will make sure my bamboo will be useful again. Thank you for sharing this.

October 7, 2010 9:44 AM

Which suit you the best? Metal or bamboo? » Da'Knit said:

Pingback from  Which suit you the best? Metal or bamboo? » Da'Knit

October 7, 2010 10:17 AM

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