Knitting Needles—Materials Matter

Should you reach for metal, wood, or something else to cast on your next knitting project?

Katrina King Apr 16, 2024 - 3 min read

Knitting Needles—Materials Matter Primary Image

I have several types of needles in my kit, but they are all metal. Should I have a mix of materials? Photos by Katrina King

Knitting needles are one of the great debates in the craft, and there are several opinions on what material is best: laminated birch, airplane metal, carbon fiber, bamboo, and more. Most options fall into two distinct categories: metal or wood. I started out on wood needles and transitioned to all-metal because I love to knit lace and want sharp points. I wonder, though: are there instances where wood is a more comfortable or effective option?

A prime example of having my needles affect my knitting came while working on the Pyrope Shawlette by Heather Zoppetti. I chose a lovely laceweight yak/silk from Lisa Souza Yarns. While the extra-pointy tips of my needles were wonderful for the complex patterning of lace on both sides, I had to take extra care to keep the entire project from sliding off the needles when I wasn’t looking! Thankfully, the lace section is a small portion of the whole, as a dropped stitch took quite an effort to fix.

Even in stockinette stitch, the yak/silk likes to ravel down quickly when a stitch is dropped.

While my lace tips are lovely for thinner yarns and complex stitches, I found that they can cause trouble with heavier weights of yarn. In creating swatches of the cable pattern in Annie Modesitt’s Vest for the Cricket Match, the worsted-weight yarn by Madelinetosh flowed smoothly over my metal needles. I had to pay attention to my pointy tips catching in the plies of the yarn and splitting it.

Maybe for an experiment in both wood and metal needles would be to find a cotton yarn and cast on Kate’s Simple and Beautiful Shawl. It would be interesting to see which needles work best with cotton as a good summer knit. Would the metal get uncomfortably warm sitting outside? Would a wood tip be able to handle the lace sections? Are there differences in gauge between the two?

Which needle will my cotton like better: metal or wood?

The debate over what material is best for knitting needles continues. Maybe instead of coming down on one side or the other, it is better to see what works best for the project at hand. As for me, I’m off to do some shopping, as I see having options in my kit makes for a better knitting experience.

Katrina King is the assistant editor of PieceWork, an avid crafter, and continuing student of life.