Last year, when I set about to process my very first raw fleece (still wondering what was in the water that day), I had an academic understanding of what steps were required, and what tools I would need to execute them.
As with most endeavors, there are plenty of places where a beginning would-be fleece processor can cut corners and muddle through. Don't have a big enough pan to simmer the locks on the stove? Disposable turkey roasters from the grocery will get you through. Hesitant to spare $100 + for proper wool combs when you aren't sure you'll ever attempt fleece processing again? Not to worry, you can get by with a dog comb.
This one is very like what I used. Its bent wee pins do an acceptable job of opening up a lock so it can be spun. It will even remove some vegetable matter, leftover dirt, and short fibers.
As long as you don't mind accidentally removing the hide from your hands with it from time to time. Hint: When the bleeding starts, the combing should stop. Oh, and once your hands are that torn up, you will have to wait for them to heal before you can properly spin again.
And of course, dog combs wear out. I mangled about four of these over the course of the fleece that I processed, and remember that half of that got thrown out, so who knows how many combs would have been required to do the whole thing. The pins would all start breaking off, and I'd make another trek to the pet food aisle at the grocery. Hint: If you won't feed your actual DOG anything from the pet food aisle at the grocery, perhaps it's not the best source of fiber processing tools, either. Just saying.
I was cognizant of these, and other limitations on my fleece-handling equipment. But for reasons which escape me completely, I was not willing to cough up the dough for real wool combs.
I am a knitter who will not flinch in the face of $55 sock needles, even though the $7 ones do a perfectly reputable job. I waited till I could afford a very fine and very pricey spinning wheel, in spite of the fact that less expensive models are well known to produce string. And don't even let me start in about yarn. Suffice it to say that I have learned over and over again that if you buy great yarn, you may get great knitting. And if you buy crap yarn, you will absolutely get crap knitting.
So now that my first fleece project is well enough behind me to afford perspective, I am seeing the error of my ways. Hindsight has provided the wisdom that I might not have required an entire year to comb out the locks if I had had tools that were made to do the job. And here's the worst part: Fiscal Reality: 4 dog combs cost almost $50. The salves, lotions and bandages I got to repair my hamburger hands added up to $65. Already more than combs would have cost. Add to that the opportunity cost of not learning what my beautiful fleece could have become under better tools.
The answer comes straight from the pages of "DUH" Magazine: Time to suck it up, Buttercup.
Here are the storied Forsyth Mini Combs, sadly not currently in production. Still, hope springs eternal...Carson has a pair, and he has to sleep sometime.
These are made by Blue Mountain Handcrafts , and come in this gorgeous mahogany/oak combination. Don't they just make you want to touch them? You can even get a special tine straightener, in case you have the bad luck to bend a tine. Beastly clever.
This knockout set comes from the Benjamin Green Studio. they can be used freehand, like the others, or you can clamp one to your table and use them in the style of larger comb-and-hackle sets. Stunning.
I think I'm finally ready to own up to the place that playing with string now has in my life. And I'm going to save a fortune on bandages.