Note: I have a set of these pictures over on Flickr. You can see them with notes there too.
Starting to spin:
The first thing to do is put all the belts on. My ex-Lendrum belt goes around the largest wheel and then around the BOTTOM pulley on the accelerating wheel:
I just tilted the accelerating wheel up so you can see how the belt goes on. The rest of it goes into the groove around the edge of the large wheel. The other, little skinny string belt goes around the top pulley on the accelerating wheel and then around the little pulley on the spindle. Below, you can see the ex-Lendrum belt going UNDER the accelerating wheel, and the string belt going around the groove in the accelerating wheel itself.
Here's a view from the spindle end, embiggened for detail.
Look closely. You see what's holding the spindle up against those corn husk bearings? That skinny little belt. That's it. It took me a long time to wrap my mind around that. That little belt also has to pull against the spring that wants to make that mousetrap lie down flat too. And as I understand it, you're supposed to tension the mousetrap so that it's standing up at right angles to the bottom of the box. Funky.
And yes, the spindle is supposed to point down like that. I'm not sure why.
For now, ignore the fact that the spindle in the picture above already has yarn on it. :) Here's a picture from the spinner's position, showing just a leader tied to the spindle. You want to spiral down to the tip. A big hint: you CANNOT put a lot of pressure or pull on the spindle. It'll pull right off the bearings. Remember that it's only held there by the tension on that little cotton string belt!
So now I actually want to start spinning. I have cotton punis (or poonis) in my stash. They're basically cotton rolags, rolled around a dowel so that the fiber is pretty compressed. You can buy them very inexpensively in many places.
I lay the leader over my puni and start turning the drive wheel clockwise. The twist will run up into your fiber and you can start drafting.
Notice that you can't use two hands for drafting. (Your other hand is turning the wheel.) Yeah. That took me a while too. But I'd been spinning cotton on my Country Craftsman earlier this year, and I've gotten a lot more comfortable with drafting cotton and keeping the thread together. Cotton is a short staple fiber, and needs a lot of twist to hold together. Charkhas are ideal for this.
You spin holding the thread at an angle to the point. The camera angle is a little wonky here. But you can still see how the thread comes up at an angle from the point of the spindle. From there, the trick is drawing your hand back at about the same speed that the twist is entering your fiber. Then stop drafting, reach out a little ahead of your fiber supply and pinch off the twist, and add a little more twist to the yarn to keep it together.
To wind on, you turn the wheel backwards just enough to un-spiral the yarn from around the spindle. Then you change the angle you're holding the yarn so that it's straight back, turn the drive wheel clockwise again, and wind on, starting back at the disk, and then spiraling back to the point. Here's the angle of yarn for winding on:
And before you know it, you have a spindle full! Woohoo! (Yeah, I could probably have gotten more on there, but it's my first large amount of yarn spun on the charkha.)
I know I gave short shrift to the actual spinning process. But it's kinda hard to take pictures with one hand, hold your fiber in another hand and turn the wheel with ANOTHER hand. I'll see if I can get a little video up so you can see what I'm doing.
I hope this has been helpful and/or interesting to someone. It's been a pretty fun learning experience for me. I have literally POUNDS of cotton in my stash, and this should be a good way to use it up.
If I've said or done something egregiously wrong, someone PLEASE tell me. I've pretty much done all the figuring out of this on my own, with help from MANY internet sources. But I don't think I've every actually seen anybody else with a charkha in real life. Videos, yes. :)
Here are a couple of good resources: