Knitting needles usually last for many years. But they can wear down over time & may need to be replaced. Wooden needles are less durable than metal and can even break.
Find out all the ways knitting needles can wear out and how best to look after your wooden and metal needles so they will last longer.
Bamboo and Wooden Knitting Needles
Good quality bamboo and wooden knitting needles can last for many years, especially those with a larger diameter (4mm+, US size 6+). Long straight knitting needles are particularly durable.
Bamboo and wooden needles are more fragile than metal though. The surface can get rough making knitting less smooth and causing yarn snags. Needle tips can splinter in time too.
These issues are more common with lower quality needles, but all wooden needles do benefit from occasional maintenance to keep them in tip top condition.
Some woods are more durable than others. Hardwoods like ebony and rosewood knitting needles last best, but are quite expensive. Birch knitting needles are more affordable and a popular choice.
I love my KnitPro Symfonie wooden needles which are made from laminated birch. The special laminated process strengthens the wood, prevents warping and gives a lovely polished finish for smooth knitting.
Shorter, fine double pointed needles and circular needle tips made from wood (below 4mm / US size 6) can still snap and break, even if well made. I have had this happen to both 2.5mm double pointed needles and 3mm circular needle tips.
There is no way to fix broken wooden needles. You may be able to get a free replacement though if your needles are covered under warranty.
How to look after wooden knitting needles
Wooden and bamboo knitting needles get moisturised with the oils from natural wool and your hands as you knit. But it’s recommended to clean and moisturise them once or twice a year.
You can touch up rough bamboo or unpolished wooden needles by giving them a light rub with extra fine sandpaper.
Most of my wooden needles have a smooth lacquered finish. I use the KnitPro / Knitter’s Pride Symfonie range. They recommend cleaning needles with a dry cloth or paper towel. Then you can rub them with wax paper, or alternatively apply a very thin coat of natural beeswax and buff it to a smooth polish with a a chamois cloth or soft muslin.
Leave your needles for at least 24 hours to make sure they are fully dry before knitting with them again.
Metal knitting needles are more durable than other materials like wood and bamboo.
Aluminium needles are the cheapest type of metal needles. They are prone to scratching though and can become rough over time.
Aluminium, nickel & chrome needles can also corrode with use, causing rough and dull patches on your shiny metal needles. Look for metal knitting needles with an anodised finish to prevent this.
Stainless-steel & carbon fibre knitting needles avoid these issues and are virtually indestructible, but they are the most expensive.
Metal knitting needles can also suffer from cosmetic wear. The colouring or plating can wear off. This makes your needles look less pretty which can annoy some knitters, but it shouldn’t affect your knitting.
How to care for metal knitting needles
Metal needles can tarnish easily. A quick wipe with a soft cloth can bring the shine back. Microfibre cloths or glasses cleaning cloths work especially well for this.
If your metal needles get sticky, you can try wiping them with damp cloth with a small amount of glass or window cleaner on it. Make sure you rinse and dry them off well though.
Also wipe metal needles with a dry cloth before storing them and keep all types of metal needles away from damp areas.
How Circular Knitting Needles can break
While straight knitting needles mainly suffer from surface wear, circular needles can wear out in other ways.
Fixed circular needle cable breaks
The most common problem is the cable breaking on fixed interchangeable needles. The cable can suddenly come away where it joins the needle tip at one or both ends. This can happen with any fixed circular, but you are more likely to have issues with cheaper needles.
If you invest in high quality needles, they can come with a long or even lifetime warranty, so you may be able to get needles replaced for free. It’s still annoying when it happens though & can delay your project in the meantime.
It’s also possible to try and use a tiny bit of glue e.g. Gorilla glue to join your cable and needle back together. I’ve not had luck with this myself but other knitters have, and it could certainly help as a short term stopgap.
Interchangeable circular knitting needles
Cables can wear out on interchangeable circular needles too. I’ve had the screw part come off the end of the cable. But this has rarely happened my KnitPro cables and they are cheap to replace.
I use wooden interchangeable circular needles and find that the needle tips can be quite delicate on smaller diameter needles (3-4mm). I’ve even had a couple of tips snap on me, likely because they are so short. The finer needle tips have become quite worn and textured in the few years I’ve been using them. But they are still perfectly usable and I expect them all to last a long time.
Knitting Needles can bend or warp
Bamboo, wooden and metal knitting needles are all prone to bending. This can be caused by the warmth of your hands as you knit and your particular knitting style. Metal needles can also be easily bent by sitting on them.
While warped needles can look a bit odd, they shouldn’t affect your knitting. The diameter of the knitting needle determines the size of each stitch, not the direction or angle you knit with. So warped knitting needles do not have to be replaced.
If your knitting needles have bent slightly due to your knitting style, this may even be a bonus. You have your very own custom knitting needles that have moulded to suit you.
How do I know when I need new knitting needles?
If your wooden knitting needles snap or split at the tips, they will have to be replaced.
Also, if stitches are snagging or getting caught on rough parts of your needles and carefully sanding and waxing them does not fix them, it’s time to get new ones.
But if your knitting needles just look a bit worn, or even warped, they should still be fine to knit with.
If the look or feel of them really starts to bug you, it’s worth treating yourself to new ones though. Knitting time is a luxury to savour after all.
If you buy good quality needles, they should last a few years at least. So even if you splurge on $20+ needles, that works out at a few cent a week.
Why doesn’t everyone use metal needles if they last longer?
All knitting needles should be reasonably long lasting regardless of what they are made from.
In the decade I’ve been knitting with bamboo and wooden needles, I can remember just 3 breaks. These were all short & fine needles: DPNs or interchangeable tips of 3mm or less. Other than that, I’ve a few slightly gnarled interchangeable tips & that’s likely due to a lack of maintenance. But my needles are still in fine working order & I expect to knit with them for many more years.
So there are far more important factors than longevity when choosing knitting needles.
Metal vs wooden knitting needle preferences
Wooden and bamboo needles are easier on your joints if you have arthritis, due to being more flexible and warm to the touch.
Also, metal needles make the traditional click clack sound as you knit. Knitting is quieter with wooden needles, which you (and your partner!) may appreciate.
Practical reasons aside, knitting needle choice largely comes down to personal preference.
I grew up in the 80s knitting with the now vintage grey Aero aluminium needles. They are indestructible, but I discovered bamboo and wooden needles when I got back into knitting as an adult and never looked back.
I love the lightness, feel and silence of wooden knitting needles. I now only use metal needles at very fine diameters (< 3mm) where wooden circulars are not available. There are other knitters who adore their metal needles and wouldn’t use anything else.
How to choose the right knitting needles for you
Buying good quality knitting needles is an investment, as they should last several years.
But knitting needles are very much a personal choice. So I recommend just buying the size you need for your next project first, instead of going all in and buying an expensive fancy set with lots of needle sizes.
While the sets look oh so pretty in their box, and make a lovely gift, you may never use some of the sizes in reality. So you could still save money overall just buying the sizes you need separately.
Some yarn stores let you test out needles there which can quickly help you decide which you prefer. Alternatively, you may be able to try needles out at a local knitting group. If you can’t try before you buy, seek recommendations from knitter friends or trusted online forums.
Even with maximum research, you will only really know if the needles are right for you when you knit something with them. If bamboo or wood feels wrong, try mixing it up with some metal needles next time.
While bamboo/wood and metal are the 2 most popular needle materials, there are plenty of brands and variations to choose from within each type. It takes some knitters a few goes to find the needles that really click with them.
Once you find the knitting needles that spark joy for you, you can build up your collection over time, adding each size as you need it for a project.
Whichever knitting needles you use, they should last a long time with a little TLC. It’s amazing that a pair of humble knitting needles can create so much in their lifetime. Just one of the many wonders of knitting! How old are some of your knitting needles? I’d love to know. Just leave a comment below.