Spool vs reel – for native English speakers (or very advanced non-natives) Does anyone know the difference between a spool and a reel? I got the impression they were synonyms, but in cave-diving, for instance, they are not quite the same (I discovered this through Google - I don’t know anything about cave-diving). Thanks for your help!
Sep 2, 2018 11:47 AM
Answers · 15
In Britain it is common to refer to a 'reel of cotton' when speaking of a spool of sewing thread. I have many sewing friends who use this expression.
September 2, 2018
Hi Mikkel, just of the top of my head... A spool simply holds a line (thread/cord/rope/cable/etc). You take the line from the spool. A reel is for gathering line, and usually works with some kind of winding mechanism. I checked image searches for both words, and reel tends to refer to fishing, film or audio tape. That's a general start - does anyone else have anything to add?
September 2, 2018
This is a very interesting question. The best answer I can give is that they are used in colocations, and we have customary or traditional choices that are used in different contexts. I am going to give some examples off the top of my head. I am not going to try to reverse-engineer the reasons why we use the words we use. We speak of "a spool of thread," never a "reel." The device for winding up fishing line is always a "fishing reel," never a "spool." Camera film for a still camera--a meter or two of film, wound into a cylinder that is longer than it is wide--is "a spool of film," never a reel. Movie film, hundreds of feet long, is wound on a large, flat, circular "reel." To the best of my recollection, the film can be "wound on a reel" or "spooled on a reel," but even though the verb "spooled" can be used, the holder is a "reel." Old-fashioned magnetic recording tape also is wound on a "reel," and the old-fashioned machines are called "reel-to-reel tape recorders." Here is one special case. The thread for a sewing machine comes on a spool, but before it can be used, some of it has to be wound onto a very small reel which is always called a "bobbin." As far as I know, it is always called a "bobbin," and the word "bobbin" is not used for anything else. Another word, "coil," refers to rope, hose, cable, or wire, that has been wound into a circular shape with many turns. Using wire as the example, we can say that the wire has been coiled. The coil can be freestanding, or it can be wound around some kind of central holder. That holder can be called a spool, reel, or core. "Coil" can also mean the combination of a spool together with the coil of wire that is wound around it. P.S. The operation of bringing an airplane jet engine up to full takeoff speed is called "spooling it up."
September 2, 2018
Hello Mikkel. I would say that spool and reel are sometimes referred to synonymously. However, I would define the difference as being - A reel refers to the material/object; for example cotton, cord, wire, hosepipe etc. being rolled around something, the spool. The spool could be just a simple stick/twig or a more sophisticated design for a particular purpose. A common example would be fishing with a rod and line. You cast out the line, then, using the spool rewind (reel in) the line. Probably within the context of cave diving this would be a safety line which can be rolled/reeled out and then rolled/reeled back again. I hope this id useful to you.
September 2, 2018
To me, they are sometimes synonyms, although slightly different. A spool is usually wider than a reel. e.g. you have (had?) a reel of film, and a spool of cotton. Therefore, on a reel you usually have a single turn per layer, whereas a spool has many parallel turns per layer. Although - from memory, electrical cable comes on reels, not spools, so there are probably exceptions!
September 2, 2018
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