Ask Catherine – bamboo/wood vs metal needles and hooks

I got an email from lovely lady JW, inquiring:

“What is your opinion of bamboo crochet hooks? Do you know if one is allowed to take them onto an international aircraft journey? and finally, where in the UK can one purchase them?”

Thanks for the great question! In general, the tools one uses to knit and crochet can make a huge difference in one’s enjoyment of the craft(s). Everyone is different in their preferences for bamboo/wood vs metal (or plastic, or casein). Some general guidelines:

Metal needles/hooks are more slippery than bamboo/wood, so people say they are “faster”, since they don’t cling to the yarn as much. Fast is good if you’re confident in a craft, but a beginner knitter may choose bamboo/wood because the stitches will be less likely to slip off the end of the needle by accident. I always recommend bamboo/wood needles to my beginner knitters.

Bamboo/wood hooks and needles are warm in the hand, flexible, and less likely to cause RSI problems.

Metal needles tend to have sharper tips (a bonus, in my opinion).

Bamboo is more environmentally friendly than wood.

Metal circular needles tend to have neater joins, making pushing the stitches over that area easier.

All of the above said, I tend to use bamboo knitting needles and metal (aluminium) crochet hooks (I am a fast crocheter and like the speed of metal hooks). There are some exceptions – I very much like ADDI Turbos (metal) for knitting circular needles, and I do have a few sizes of bamboo crochet hooks. Those hooks are much lighter in weight than the aluminium ones, but they tend to have a “wedge” shaped sharp under-hook area that will split the yarn if I’m not careful. However, I keep them around so I don’t have to argue with security people at airports.

Which brings me to your next question, JW! Airline travel as a knitter/crocheter can be tricky. Sadly, this is not due to the airline regulations themselves (nearly every major airline in the world allows both knitting needles and crochet hooks, even metal ones!) but the lack of training of those regulations given to security personnel at various airports. Also, some airports have restrictions, even if the airlines don’t. For example, Heathrow airport doesn’t allow knitting needles, but BA, Air France, Ryanair, EasyJet, all the major American airlines and other airlines flying out of Heathrow DO allow them. Since no one wants to see me on an international flight without knitting (I would go CRAZY trapped on a plane for 7 hours with nothing to do!), I tend to just throw bamboo needles into my hand luggage (with a project on the needles) and hope for the best. I take an identical pair of needles in my checked luggage in case the hand luggage ones get taken off me. I can say that I’ve NEVER been stopped going through Heathrow because of knitting needles. Sometimes I will take a crochet project instead to be on the safe side (you will never have a problem with a crochet hook, JW, not even a metal one). I was making a sock on double pointed knitting needles recently and was concerned I’d be stopped because those needles are particularly pointy and aggressive looking. So I put the project on a spare piece of yarn, slid the DPNs into a closed small umbrella (so the x-ray machine would show the spokes of the umbrella and not the needles), passed it through security that way, and then put my project back on the needles when I got on the plane. I would feel bad about defrauding airport security personnel, except that I am ABSOLUTELY NO RISK TO ANYONE with my 2.5mm bamboo DPNs, and also I am ALLOWED to have them on the plane, it’s only the airport that has that restriction.

So to answer your questions specifically JW, I like bamboo crochet hooks, but not as much as metal ones. Yes, you CAN take them on an international flight (double check your carrier, but it’s a rare one that doesn’t allow them).

Re: purchasing hooks/needles, I buy all of my materials online, as the prices are MUCH better than in-store. For crochet hooks, I use Purple Linda Crafts and this seller (that’s metal-only) on eBay. There are loads of people selling brand new bamboo crochet hooks on eBay.

Thanks for the question, JW! Keep them coming, all!

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5 Responses to “Ask Catherine – bamboo/wood vs metal needles and hooks”

  1. 1 Jo March 3, 2011 at 10:58 am

    Gatwick airport’s FAQ page explicitly say that they will take away knitting needles at security. Madness!

  2. 2 skylark August 3, 2011 at 11:29 pm

    I was ready to give up on knitting as I had v. slippery metal needles and slippery yarn! If it wasn’t for bamboo ones I wouldn’t be knitting at all!!!

    You can easily sharpen wooden knitting needles with sandpaper – just decide on the slope you want to achive so that you don’t have too steep an angle on them . You can smooth them as fine as you like with nail buffers, and rub in some clear nail varnish if you want them slipperier.

    It’s also easy to shorten them with a junior hacksaw – bamboo esp. is very hard; just saw a little all the way round the diameter, hold them down on a steady surface (eg table edge) and snap off. Sharpen as above.

  3. 4 Tanya H December 11, 2013 at 6:38 pm

    I have a terrible time getting the stitches off a metal circular needle is there anything I can do to make the first row easier to remove as I am working with 119 stitches

    • 5 catherinehirst December 11, 2013 at 7:05 pm

      This is a good question. You have a couple of options. You can try to make your cast on looser; use bigger needles for the cast on and then swap to the smaller ones on your first row. Or use a different cast on method that makes looser stitches (try the long-tail cast on and use a light touch when tightening).

      If you have money to invest in new needles, get lace tips – they are extra-sharp and will help you get your needle in there more easily.

      Finally, you could use a provisional cast on with thicker yarn and then use your actual yarn for the project on the first row – of course you will need to cast off that row later. This method is really only worth it if you’ve got an extremely thin slippery yarn.

      Good luck!

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My name is Catherine Hirst.
I’m a crafter in London.
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