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I hope this page will give you a good idea of the stages of the birth of a bobbin. I suppose every bobbin maker has his/her method and routine and will differ from mine. However, all must start with a square blank which is rounded, marked off, shaped, sanded and polished.

This is the blank that I start off with:

  • It is 13 cm by 7.5 mm square and has been carefully checked for any flaws. Its grain, especially at the neck, should not deviate by more than 15 degrees from the central axis, as a greater angle would result in a weak point and a possible break. I don't mind it breaking while it is still in my possession (ok - I get very upset!!), but once it is in the hands of the lace maker, I want to be sure that should it then break, it has been caused by "mal-treatment" and not by a flaw in the wood.

  • The blank has now been rounded to a diameter of 6.25 mm to 6.50 mm. I use a vernier to check the diameter for the first 3 to 4 bobbins in the morning. Thereafter it is by sight only and all of them will be within this range. The outline of the bobbin has been marked off with a brad awl from a gauge and the 1 mm spangle hole drilled. I have a gauge for every type of bobbin I make
  • The outline has now been "lifted" and I have started shaping. The first two beads have been completed.
  • The beads, coves and thistle head have been finished and the shank and neck have been roughly cut. This is about 8 minutes into "labour".
  • The turning part has now been completed in full. The first & second sanding (320 & 600 grit) has been done and a coat of cellulose sanding sealer applied after each sanding The sanding sealer is friction-dried by rubbing the bobbin with it's own fine wood shavings - while spinning at 2000 rpm. The high gloss you see is caused by a thin coating of wax oil which serves as a lubricant and cutting agent for the final compound finish
  • Finally the natural shine! All that now remains is the parting of the "umbilical cord" (almost done here) and finishing the ends by hand. Apart from this, and the drilling of the spangle hole, the entire process is done while the lathe is spinning at top speed (2000 rpm). Time to this point: roughly 16 to 18 minutes. Not bad, eh?
  • All that is left now is for the stork to arrive and transport the baby to its new mother.

    The wood I used here is Cape Ironwood (Olea capensis) or Cape Olive and is not to be confused with Lignum Vitae which, in the US, is also called Ironwood. It is a very hard, dense and strong wood and a pleasure to work with. I have turned knitting needles with ironwood and, according to the lady who uses them, much nicer to knit with than aluminum or plastic.

    My work area in Durbanville.

  • When I have the time I will replace this photo (or add one showing it in the Wilderness). Up against the wall is the drill extension cable with which the spangle holes are drilled. It is powered by a 12th hp (ex computer terminal printer) motor which does not have starter windings, so it requires to be given a hand start after being switched on. Unfortunately my current lathe placement is below a window and there is no place to mount the motor. So currently I am drilling the spangle holes with a small battery powered drill. The 1 mm drill bit will drill about 3000 spangle holes before it has to be replaced - not because it is blunt, but because it has worn down and is less than 1 diameter and the wire paper clip, which is used to clean out the hole, no longer will go through. The lathe is a Record CLI 36 x 15 model and I've had it now for more than 20 years. It's a marvelous machine and has not given any trouble. Over the 20 to 23 I've used it, I must have turned at least 22000 bobbins and taking into account the bead spinners, knitters and other turning, I consevatively estimate the the motor has run some 9000 hours - continuosly for more thsn a year!!
  • Unfortunately Record was bought out by a US firm who don't manufacture lathes under the Record name but ones that are machined in China.