Looking around the internet-linked community of knitters, I find that far more of us are vulnerable to Craft Spread than in the 1980s when I had my first round of knitting obsession.
You know what I mean, I bet. You start out knitting, and then you have to do a crochet border and suddenly you have a huge collection of hooks too, and then you see what friends in far away places are doing with rug-hooking and/or tapestry and start leaning toward that stuff, and once that barrier is breached even in thought it occurs to you that Ha! I can spin my own yarn! and you buy a spindle or a wheel or both and suddenly there you are, with a lot of as-yet-unused yarn stashed away.
Or maybe you just end up with a lot of as-yet unused yarn stashed away. That part seems to be inevitable no matter where your interests drift.
Once you have that stash, and you start seeing people burning through their stash by kicking out scarves in a quarter of the time it would take to knit them, a loom starts to look pretty good.
How to choose the right starter loom for you
note: you may find you want to work through this list out of order, and maybe even in reverse order, before you buy.
1/ Research, research, research. A loom doesn't have to break the bank, but it's more expensive than a new set of sock needles, so you want to think it through. A great place to find out what kind of looms are out on the market is a shop that sells them. I like The Woolery, which offers a whole page on how to choose a loom (in fact, I like it so much I have considered the possibility of making it an in-person vacation destination.) I also like Pacific Wool and Fiber, with its huge range of looms.
2/ Think about your personal needs and wishes. Do you want to make blankets, and do you have an empty room just waiting for a large floor model? Skinny scarves okay, if your space and/or budget are limited? Looking for some compromise in between? Hoping to use fine yarns, or heavier yarns, either of which might require different accessories than what comes standard? Try to narrow your dreams down to match a few different looms that could fulfill them.
3/ Decide on your dealbreaker for both width and price range. You'll see looms that are just one or two inches apart in their maximum weaving width and believe me, those inches can make a huge difference in the finished product. Hope that this narrows down your options a bit farther.
4/ If you can, get some hands-on experience with different kinds of looms for 'feel'. Whether or not that's possible, you may also want to look up some reviews and, if you can find them, instructional videos on your shortlisted looms (YouTube is a great resource for the latter, and a lot of weavers describe their loom experience and preference on Ravelry.)
5/ Final step - and yay! this one stands a good chance of removing any further waffling on make and model - source a vender. If you're in the US this probably will not be a problem for you because stores you can't get to will ship a loom with pleasure. If you're in Canada and you're not tempted by the widely available Cricket, you'll have to look a little harder.
How I chose the right starter loom for me
1/ I haunted Ravelry, The Woolery, YouTube, knitting fairs, and blogs in waves, for about a year and a half, trying to talk myself out of getting a loom.
2/ I decided that if I was going to weave, I was going to opt for a rigid heddle loom. It's all I have space for, and I guessed that if I really want a blanket I can always weave long strips and then join them together in some decorative, reasonably secure way.
3/ I ruled out anything smaller than 12" and priced above $250 - and then, only if it came with a lot of flexibility for the future and was super compact, lightweight, and portable.
4/ I didn't do any test driving, but once I'd narrowed down my choices to two looms I did do a ton of video-watching and review-checking at Ravelry.
5/ Once I was in love with the #1 dream loom, I started hunting for a place to buy it. And, hello? there wasn't one! Seriously, no dealers anywhere that would ship viably to my address. Cue the panic. I can't remember now which loom it was - I think I've blocked it because I wanted it so badly at the time. I started looking for dealers of any viable-for-me looms other than the Cricket, which for some reason that escapes me now (contraryness maybe?), I had rejected. Nothin'. Then I remembered Gemini Fibers. Love that place, and it's not far from Toronto, and they sell looms. Ashford looms.
Done and done.
That's the 12" Ashford Knitters Loom in there, a close second to the dream loom when I did my shopping. Why I didn't go for the 20" which wasn't priced much higher, also escapes me right now. If I'd been thinking straight, I could be weaving shawls today, but on the other hand, knit shawls are pretty good too. And I am pretty sure there is some trick for getting any loom to give you double the width, though it's probably super labour-intensive at least compared to my appetite for expending effort.
For some reason, it wasn't till after I'd placed my order that I discovered Knitty ran a very detailed review of this loom right around the time I finally took the plunge. Would have saved me a lot of trouble had I looked at that first!