I'm hesitant to start with this. Working with good tools when you're just learning is vital. If you use poor quality goods, you may run into problems that are not you. When you have experiance as a spinner, you'll be able to tell good quality fiber from bad, good tools from poor ones, and thus be able to figure out if the reason the frickin' thing won't do what you want it to is because it's not possible, or if it's because you bought bad fiber or a bad spindle.
However, the downside to spinning as a hobby is, unless you live within driving distance of a specialty shop, you won't be able to find good supplies quickly. Ordering online is good, but it can take time, and sometimes these things are expensive. So, we're going to do a quick rundown on how to make a spindle, and how to salvage fiber from things like yarn and cotton balls.
First up, the spindle. In order to know how to make one, you first have to understand how it works. And it is really, really easy. A spindle is a stick that you twirl to put twist into string. A quick excercise is to go get something with a pointy end, like a pencil or a knitting needle, and about a yard and a half of string. Yarn will work too. Tie the string into a loop and then to the eraser end of the pencil (or knitting needle). Hold the free end of the string in your left hand and roll the pencil down your thigh. The string should wrap itself around the pencil shaft and then start coming off the tip. You should notice the two strands of your loop twisting together as well. If you repeat this motion a few times (rolling the pencil down your thigh in the same direction each time) you should build up a good deal of twist in your string.
You can actually spin this way. It's just irksome and it will take a very long time to produce even a few yards of yarn. Also, it's a pencil attached to string. It doesn't look very cool.
You speed up the spinning process by making the shaft spin faster. This puts more twist into your yarn, which will speed the other aspects of the process up nicely. So remember this in the future: the faster and longer your spindle spins, the more yarn you can produce.
One way to speed up a spindle is to add weight to it. This gives the spinning motion momentum, causes the spin to last longer, and when you have it parked, makes it reluctant to spin in the opposite direction. You want it to spin a little like a gyroscope or a top, so whatever weight you add needs to be evenly balanced. The simplest way to accomplish this is to use something round.
I use toy car wheels. They sell them at craft stores, they're light enough for me to do lacewieght or lighter yarns, and yet they have enough weight to get a fast, sustained spin. You can also use:
-circles cut out of cardboard
-Circles cut out of anything, really
If it has a hole, can be made to have a hole, and is relatively even all the way around, you can probably turn it into a weight for a spindle.
As for your shaft, you want it to be long. A foot long shaft with a good weight on the end will make a pretty decent spindle. The longer your shaft is, the more room you'll have to wrap yarn on it. (and OMG I just realized how many dirty jokes I could make about this. For your sake, I shall restrain myself) (but really. Shaft. LOL) and the more yarn you can fit on the spindle, the better. Another consideration is if you can get a hook on one end or not. Hooks are not necessary, but they secure your yarn and keep it from unwinding when you're spinning. Wooden dowels, at least the kind sold in craft stores, tend to split in half when you try to screw a hook in to one end. Another solution would be using a thick piece of wire, like from a hanger, and bending one end into a hook, but this could be a little difficult to use.
I use crochet hooks, the long kind for afghan making. These usually come with some kind of stopper on one end, which can be useful for keeping the weight on, and of course, they already have a hook. No drilling, screwing, gluing, bending or taping required.
The third thing one must keep in mind is whatever you use as a weight needs to stay put. And I don't mean fall off. The biggest problem I have with the toy car wheels is that they will spin in the opposite direction when I get the thing moving. This shortens the spinning motion and it doesn't feel very good. So glue and tape may be required after all.
This is my shopping list for making your own spindle:
-1 pack of toy car wheels with a 1/4th inch diameter hole
-1 afghan crochet hook with a stopper on one end and a shaft as close to 1/4th an inch thick as possible.
-a piece of paper. You don't need much.
-(optional) electrical tape.
The directions are pretty simple. Put the crochet hook through the toy car wheel. It will probably be a loose fit. If the wheel moves on the shaft, take it back off. Take a small strip of paper, fold it up and slip it into the wheel well, then jam the shaft back in. If it won't fit, use less paper. You want a really tight fit. You don't want this moving AT ALL.
The tricky part is going to be this: You want the wheel secured at the top, about a quarter of an inch from the hook. Why?
Well, that's the next part of spindle mechanics: Where you put the weight.
The weight, BTW, is called a "whorl". What we are making is called a "drop" spindle, and the name is very appropriate while you're learning because that's what you're going to do more often than not. Drop spindles have two major categories: Top whorl and bottom whorl.
My personal preference is for bottom whorl, but this is because bottom whorl is easiest to turn into a support spindle. When you're learning you want a spindle that doesn't wobble much, and all other virtues aside, even a well made bottom whorl spindle will wobble because of the way it's weighted. Top whorl has a more stable, centralized spin, and will be much easier for you to learn on. However, it's going to be a bitch to get the wheel to stay a quarter of an inch down, not go sliding up and not go sliding off.
Get out the electrical tape. I would suggest cutting several small pieces to wrap around the top of the shaft above the whorl. You can go nuts below the whorl, as long as you have no sticky bits hanging out (these will catch your fiber and make a bit of a mess out of it). You can also use glue, but it may only work if you've acquired a wooden crochet hook.
When you have everything assembled, the glue is dry, the tape is securely taped and the wheel won't budge, get out that loop of string and tie it to the shaft just below the whorl. Run one end up above the whorl and wrap it around the hook a few times. Hold it up, and then give the shaft a good hard twist to the right. If it spins without a significant wobble and the spin lasts a decent amount of time, congrats. You've just made yourself a functional spindle.
Now for fiber.
Lemme tell you this right now. You get really into spinning, you will consider polyester to be the spawn of Satan, but that's the easiest-to-salvage fiber I can think of, other than cotton balls (which you do not want to start with because the quality is really crap)
When you go to the craft store, first check for felting supplies. Sometimes they will have okay-ish wool roving in packs of about four ounces. If not, look for a skein of bulky yarn made of three strands: A thick colored strand, which is what we're salvaging, a thin inner core, and an even thinner strand of nylon binding the whole thing together. You can pull all three apart in pretty short order.
This is how to do it: cut a strand about a couple yards long. Untwist one end until you can grab the nylon strand, and then start pulling it out. The yarn may snarl a bit, so be kind of gentle, and if it does snarl, go down to the clump and kind of ease it on down. When it's off, throw it away. You won't need it again. Repeat the process with the inner core. What you should be left with is a loose, light, fluffy bundle of fiber to play with.
Again, these are not the best supplies to use, especially not for learning, but if you cannot get hold of anything else, or you're in a hurry to get started, these will do in a pinch.