To Cable Needle or Not to Cable Needle?

Over the course of my knitting experience, I’ve seen a variety of cable needles.  From metal, to plastic, to wood.  Different shapes and sizes.  There’s a fair amount to choose from.

But my question is: Do we really need cable needles?  For the longest time, I thought I couldn’t make cables without them, but as our knitting needle options have expanded so has my knitting mind.

I’ve seen a lot of changes in how we approach knitting, too.  Methods have changed.  Techniques can be done with new tools.  True, no one intended the tools for these new uses, but if they work, why not?

It’s taken a surprisingly long time for these changes to happen.  Looking at it now, I’m stunned that it’s taken so long.  It seems so obvious now.

New Tools, More Creativity, Easier Knitting

What tools am I talking about?  My favorite knitting needles, of course.  Circular needles, especially interchangeable circular needles.  Maybe I’m imagining things, but it seems like the flexibility & versatility of these needles (pardon the pun) has spawned greater creativity in how knitters knit.  Maybe it’s just me.

At first, circular needles were meant to replace the ridiculous amounts of double pointed needles needed to produce sweaters and what not.  And they did that job very well.

Then knitters noticed they didn’t HAVE to only knit in the round with circular needles.  Flat knitting works just as well on circulars as on straight needles.  Better, when you have a big project with hundreds and hundreds of stitches.

As circular needles improved from the early days of metal wires with crappy, fraying joins, they became more popular and more widely used.  The Magic Loop method was unvented, replacing multiple double pointed needles on small diameter projects.

For those who don’t like the Magic Loop method – I’m not a fan – the obvious solution is to use 2 shortish circular needles in place of double pointed needles.

“But,” you say, “I want to know about cable needles!”

I’m getting there.

The first cable needles I used were metal, came in a set of 3, with 3 different shapes and small variations in needle length and diameter.  They were very easy to lose and I never did figure out why they had different shapes.  I used the J-shaped one exclusively.  The other shapes just puzzled me.

The J-shaped cable needle was ok.  It got the job done, when I didn’t lose it and and end up put my knitting aside for months or years as a result.

See how rigid my knitting mind was?  I didn’t have THE cable needle, therefore, I couldn’t knit.  At all.  Crazy.

I switched to wooden knitting needles and found that my hands stopped hurting.  (For more on wooden knitting needles, see my post here.) I still used the metal cable needles, and they didn’t seem to hurt my hands, probably because I used them so little.  Still, I thought it might be nice to have a wooden cable needle.

Enter the Knit Picks wooden cable needle.  They used to come in a set, one longer, one shorter, so one was about 2″ and the other was about 3″ long.  The shorter one has disappeared from their catalog.  No loss.

Essentially, these were teeny, tiny double pointed needles with ridges every inch or so.  I’m not sure the ridges helped, but the needle worked well enough, until it broke (easily).  Hmm.

Is the Ideal Cable Needle a Sock Needle?

Happily, my mind has softened?  loosened?  expanded?

“If,” I said to myself, “I can replace double pointed needles with circular needles, even at small project diameters, why can’t I replace a cable needle with a double pointed needle?  Or a short circular needle?”

So I tried it out.  Both alternatives work really, really well, especially if you use needles that are a few sizes smaller than your project needles.

I’m pretty sure this is the reasoning behind the new double pointed needle design by Addi.  I haven’t tried any Addi needles out because until recently all their needles were metal.  (I know they have some bamboo ones now.  Maybe I’ll try them someday.)

The new design, a kind of hybrid between circular needles & double pointed needles, is pretty much the same length as their regular double pointed needles, but with a tiny section of cable in the middle.  I’m guessing this makes it easier to keep the stitches on the needle.   Anyone who’s worked with double pointed needles knows how much the stitches like to just fall right off the needles and run away.

Since Addi specializes in sock needles, I doubt they designed these to be cable needles.  They look like they might be the ideal cable needle.  Too bad they’re only available in metal.

If you’ve tried these out, especially if you’ve used them for cable knitting or other non-sock purposes, let me know.  I’d really like to hear about your experiences with them!

6 thoughts on “To Cable Needle or Not to Cable Needle?”

  1. Hello Karen, 

    I am definitely a beginner! This is mostly greek to me! I run a website for prepping for survival and am looking for a way to expand my skills and looking at knitting. In the event things went south I think this could be a very useful skill to have.

    I am going to bookmark this site and give it a go. I feel you have a lot of good information for me to go to for learning! I was wondering though, after clicking around on the site, would it be possible to add to the menu a place where I can go through from the beginning of learning how to start with knitting so I don’t have to search?

    I could even see a course or paid membership to do this because I have no clue where to start!

    Thanks for sharing this valuable information!


    • Hi Chad!

      Well, knitting is certainly a way to make useful & necessary items, but I wonder where you’re going to get the yarn? You may have to look into spinning – a drop spindle is cheap & easy to use, as long as you can get wool. Linen plants (for fiber) can also be grown in most of the US and turned into yarn, but it’s no good for colder weather. Ditto for cotton & it’s much harder to grow. If you plan on stocking up & storing yarn for the long haul, definitely check out my post on storing yarn.

      I’ll work on getting some more useful beginner stuff on the site. In the meantime, my “World’s Easiest Scarf Pattern” is great for beginners. No cables or cable needles needed!

      Good luck with your prepping!


  2. Since I began to use interchangeable circular needles I became a huge fan. Thank you very much for this post. I personally have had an awesome experience using CLOVER Takumi Combo Interchangeable Circular Knitting Needles. Circular Knitting Needles are a great invention. The pair of needle tips joined in the middle by a flexible ‘cable’ is so cool!

    • Hi Ann,

      Thanks for your response!

      CLOVER Takumi use bamboo needle tips, right?  I think bamboo needles were the first ones I used that didn’t hurt my hands, so I definitely appreciate them.  I haven’t tried their interchangeables. 

      We’re so lucky there are so many to choose from!  Have you tried any other kinds?  Why are these your favorites?

      Happy knitting!


      • I think Ann missed your question, but I can tell you why the Takumi interchangeables work for me. To be honest, I haven’t really used anything else; I did enough experimenting to decide I liked bamboo better than plastic – yes, they’re bamboo, it’s wonderful! – then tried these and didn’t really look back.

        1. Cost-efficiency. Sure, I could buy a size 8 16″, and a size 8 24″, and a size 8 36″…. but with the interchangeables, all I have to do is buy one set of size 8 needle-ends, and one of each length of connecting cord. Store the excess cords, screw the needle-ends onto whatever I need them on, and there I go. And if one of my needle ends breaks or it turns out I need two circular needles of a given size, I can just pick up a spare set of that part rather than paying for an entire new fused needle, and it’s the equivalent of buying one of every needle I have the cord length for.

        There’s a multi-kit that is basically “every length of cable and size of screw-on needle you could need for the kind of yarn you find in your average general interest craft store.” Once I realized the Takumi needles worked for me, I waited for a 40% off one item coupon and just bought the full set. At more than a hundred dollars for the set, it’s a large initial outlay (the cashier bit back a cuss word when she rang it up, it was hilarious) – but counting every possible combination of needle size and cord length, that’s sixty circular needles for the price of a dozen or so. More importantly, because it’s in the category “knitting needles”, the only time this item is excluded from the standard 40% off one item coupon is when knitting supplies are already on sale, and because any given knitter is probably only going to buy this once, it’s not a routine enough loss for the craft stores to remove that little loophole. Sure, I may never get around to using the biggest needles for their intended purpose, but I’ve put them to use as endcaps a few times, so it’s not a complete waste.

        2. Versatility. Working on a seamless jacket and need to put the stitches for your sleeveholes on hold? Stick on a pair of needle tips way too large for the project you’re working on and there you go. Your hat just increased enough that you need to go up a cord length? There’s a fitting (sold separately, sadly) that will let you screw two cords together, so you can remove your back needle, splice on the cord you want, stick the needle back on that, pull through, then detach your original cord, reattach the needle parts and continue as you were.

        I won’t say they don’t have their own issues, mind. Because the needles can screw on, that also means they can get unscrewed as you work, which leaves a groove that your yarn can and will get stuck in. It takes a while to learn to remember to tighten your needles every row or two, and to get the hang of gently teasing out the loop that didn’t avoid the gap (or just unscrewing the needle enough to forcibly shove it back onto the cord where it belongs.)

        But all in all, I consider them one of the three most useful “non-essential” items I’ve acquired, and collectively my single most useful piece of knitting paraphernalia.

        • I love interchangeables. I think most knitters do these days. I haven’t tried any bamboo interchangeables yet because I love the smoothness of wood needles, so like you, I’ve discovered what I like and I haven’t looked back.

          I totally agree with you on the plastic vs. bamboo issue. I have no interest in plastic or metal interchangeables. I’m hoping to try bamboo interchangeables in the future, especially since it looks like Takumi has made some nice upgrades to their needles.

          Happy Knitting!



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