Over on Donna Lee's blog, she's musing - marveling - over the difference a knitting needle makes. And since I got nothin' else to blog about (still spinning, still knitting, sold the silk/wool, eeee!) I thought I'd throw out a few comments on the subject of knitting needles.
What it really comes down to, for me, is the point. Sure, metal needles are 'fast' - the yarn slides along it quickly - and wood and plastic are 'slow' - yarn moves along it slowly. But beyond that, really, it's all about the point. That's' what you work the stitches with.
This is the point of the oldest set of knitting needles I own. I'm not much of a collector; these came from my grandmother.
I doubt they're older than WW2, because they're made out of anodized aluminum. I'm not sure when anodized aluminum became commonplace for knitting needles, but it's got to be fairly recent. (Methods used for aluminum refining are crazy complicated and it only became a matter of mass production when the airline industry got big and needed lots of it.) As you see, the point is relatively narrow, yet dull at the end. Not pointy. You won't draw blood with it unless you back it up with a hammer.
This is the point from one of my beloved Boye crap needles:
As you can see, it's got the same hallmarks; narrow, but with a fairly blunt tip. These needles are also anodized aluminum and have been available at discount stores (Woolworth's, Wal-Mart, K-Mart) for at least twenty years. For all I know, my grandmother got her needles at the same place and they're the same brand.
But notice the blunt tips.
This is the point of a set of plastic needles I've got, that I consider to be the ideal point:
Wooden points are much the same.
You see what I'm getting at here, I think. Narrow is good; sharp is bad. I think, for a lot of beginner knitters, the thought is that for difficult yarns you need a pointy needle to show it who is boss. In fact, usually you need the opposite. The sharper the point is, the easier it is to split yarn with.
The sweater I'm currently working on, the circular cardigan, is knit with Lara from Elann, which is eight thread-like plies of mercerized cotton, twisted together. I love the stuff. Out of curiosity, I went to Ravelry to see what other people had to say about it. Apparently, knitters consider it 'splitty'. I sincerely wonder what needles they're using to knit it with. I'm using an Inox circular:
I'm not having a problem. And half the time I'm reading a book while I knit this stuff, 'cause I'm doing straight stockinette. A pointy needle would split the living hell out of the yarn, that's true. But a nice blunt needle? No problem that I can see.
Super-pointy needles seem to be a favorite for lace, too. I'm not quite sure why. Yes, you need something narrow, so you can dig into stitches for K3tog and other craziness. All those dozens of doilies I knit over the years? I knit them with these:
That's a double-point on the top and the circular on the bottom. Both narrow with blunt points. Rarely, I do have trouble digging through stitches with them. But I've never split yarn while using them.
So, food for thought. Ultimately, the best needle is the one that works for you. But I think a lot of knitters out there need to try a narrow-yet-blunt point before they really decide for sure what works best.