Updated: May 1, 2020
Are you confused by all the different gauges of needle? Don't know your stars from your triangles?
In this handy guide, I will demystify felting needles so you can feel confident you're purchasing the right needles for the project in hand.
Let’s begin by looking at what 'gauge ' means and what the different 'styles' mean.
Gauge and Style
The gauge refers to how thick the needle is, a thicker needle typically has more barbs and is 'stronger', meaning it will felt faster and is better suited to coarser wools. The higher the gauge number, the finer the needle. So, a 32g is stronger (thicker) than the finer 42g needle.
The styles refer to the shape of the working part of the needle (where the barbs are situated). Some needles have a triangular (regular) shaped working part, some a twisted, some a star shape and so on and this it turn influences the positioning of the barbs on the needle. The positioning of the barbs on the needle dictates how quickly the needle will trap and felt the fibres of wool together.
There are several different styles of felting needle:
Triangle (also called regular)
Needles are typically used for the following tasks:
32g for coarser wool and building up core shape.
36g for coarser wool, building up core shapes and attaching shapes.
38g building up core shapes, continuing to build up shapes, attaching shapes together, adding some details. A good all-rounder needle.
40g adding some details, smoothing out and for use with finer wools.
42g adding fine details and really smoothing out your work and for use with finer wools.
That's a lot of different styles and gauges to get your head around! So lets have a closer look:
Triangle needles -
available in a 32 gauge, 36, 38, 40 and 42 gauge-
The 32g is a strong needle that is good for working with coarser fibres and firmly attaching arms and legs to bodies etc. It isn't very good for finishing the surface of a piece of work as it leaves puncture holes and is too strong for finer details like eyes, mouths etc... as it's not accurate enough.
The 36g is similar to the 32g with similar properties.
The 38g makes a good all-rounder, good for building up the core shape of work, attaching pieces together and adding some detail. For finer details you need to move up to a 40g. (I made a video on 6 ways to use a 38g triangle needle as it's my favourite needle, you can find it here).
The 40g is a finer needle for adding details and smoothing down the surface of your work. It isn't so good with coarser wools and for building up core shapes (it would take you a long time!) Finally,
The 42g is a very fine needle, best suited to the delicate addition of features and also for smoothing down finished pieces and needling over holes left by smaller gauged needles. It is also a very precise needle.
If you are using 32g, 36g or 38g needles (working with two or more together at the same time) and are finding it hard to stab into the wool, try swapping one of the needles with a higher gauge like a 40g and you will find the lower gauge needle easier to use.
Star needles -
available in a 36 gauge which is good for starting a project, coarser wools and attaching pieces together like arms, legs etc.
38 for slightly finer work and finer wools. They have 4 sides, and the barbs are spaced at regular intervals 2 per side. Star needles make a good all-rounder.
Twisted/Spiral needles -
available in a 38 and 40 gauge these needles have been twisted so they felt quickly create a firm and smoother finish minimising the surface holes you can get with other needles. Not so good for building up a larger core shape.
Cross star needles -
available in a 38 gauge they are like the triangle needle except they have 4 sides with barbs on, so they felt quickly.
available in a 32 and 40 gauge these needles have the barbs facing the opposite way, so they pull the fibres back out instead of felting the fibres inward. These are used for making a furry (as opposed to smooth) surface for 3D forms, great for adding fuzz and texture but make sure your work is firmly felted beforehand else these needles will pull your work apart!
The 40 gauge is more 'easy going' than the 32 gauge, they feel a bit strange to use too!
Forked and crown -
these needles are typically used by dollmakers for planting hair and eyelashes.
Needles do become blunt over time!
Felting Needles do go blunt over time, if you are finding it's taking ages to felt something, think about how long you've been using your needle. A good way of testing whether your needle needs changing is to use a brand new one and compare the difference. This will quickly tell you if you need to replace your needle or not.
What's the best and safest way to store felting needles?
Often needles will come in a plastic tube that you can store them in. I supply needles in a recyclable Kraft envelope with a bit of brown paper tape to secure them. My personal use needles are kept on my work table and are pushed into a felted pin cushion. You could felt a solid shape and make your own 'pin cushion' to keep your needles in if you don't want them packed away. Just keep them out of sight and reach of children and pets.
Please note that suppliers paint the tips of their needles a certain colour so you can identify the gauge of needle. However, there isn't a universal colour code so suppliers use different colours. If you buy from the same supplier it's easy to keep track but if you shop around, the colours won't match, and it can become a bit confusing!
So now you know your spirals from your reverse needles and the difference between a 32 gauge and 42 gauge and everything inbetween!
So, which is the best felting needle to use then?
Lower gauge needles for the start of projects and for felting coarser wools.
Higher gauge needles for details and smoothing out a finished piece.
And the style/type of needle? I honestly don't think it matters too much as it's mostly down to personal preference. Experiment and try different needles and see what you prefer to use. When I started needle felting I used triangle needles and found the 38g to be my favourite. I've experimented with different styles but always go back to the triangles! I would suggest really getting to grips with a few favourite needles so you have something to benchmark others needles against. But most of all, just have fun and enjoy the process.
Let me know if this handy guide has been helpful to you and what YOUR favourite needle is and why. If you are looking for Triangle gauge needles, then head over here
If you'd like more useful hints and tips like this, just sign up to my newsletter and receive these tips straight to your inbox. And don't forget, if you are looking for carded wool and felting tutorials, head over to my website at www.thewoollyrabbit.co.uk
Who am I?
I’m Elaine, and I started The Woolly Rabbit to help, inspire and encourage others to learn the relaxing and rewarding skill of needle felting.
Starting with needle felting workshops in 2018, I began to design needle felting kits and quickly grew an online shop selling felting wool, needles and other needle felting bits and bobs,
There are helpful videos and free tutorials available on my YouTube channel and a blog that answers commonly asked questions. I hope you enjoy following the video tutorials and maybe even join me in a workshop someday. In the meantime, enjoy your felting, enjoy the process, experiment and try not to stab your fingers!