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Make Your Own Fibre Needles (Bamboo)

Since there's no one out there manufacturing fibre phonograph needles any more, I thought that I'd show how to hand make these little shellac saving beauties and spread the joy! They're great for playing records without disturbing the entire household.

Here's the materials you'll need:

  Some bamboo shish-kabob skewers or some bamboo you might have on hand.

  An 'exacto' knife or razor blade

  An emery board type nail file

  Some paraffin wax

Now here's how it's done.
Cut a section of bamboo skewer just slightly longer than a medium tone or soft tone steel needle. Then, cutting lengthwise, removing the shaded areas of the (end view "1") piece of bamboo skewer. Now you have a little triangular stick. Check the triangular stick to see that it is small enough to fit into the triangular needle chuck on your soundbox. You want it to fit the chuck with as little clearance as possible. You don't want it to be snug, but sized just right to insert freely.

Then cut away the gray area (2) to form a point. One of the points of the 'triangle' is what actually forms the point of the needle. Make several small cuts instead of one big one with the exacto knife to gradually form the point; you don't want to split the fibres. Just try for a nice point. It also helps to make sure the edge that is going to form the point is also one of the hard fibres that runs through the bamboo. This will give your needle the strength to survive an entire record. 


And this is what you end up with (a pointed triangular stick). Now here's how you get a really good, sharp point on the critter. Take your emery board nail file and give a couple of very light wipes along the edges (3). Wipe towards the point of the needle. Then across the lighter yellow area to work the edge to a very sharp point. 

It takes a little practice, but once you work out the bugs and get the hang of it, it's a breeze.

Now take the needles and steep them in hot paraffin wax for a couple of minutes. This stiffens the fibres, reduces friction and (most important) boils out moisture and keeps it out. There is one caution - when you melt your paraffin wax, do not directly heat the melting container on the stove or other heat source. Take a can, put the wax to be melted into it, then place that can in a small pot of water that has been heated to boiling. That way, the wax will only heat up to 212 degrees, well below it's flash point and thus avoiding a very unpleasant 'whooooooff!' of igniting paraffin wax. The paraffin part isn't absolutely necessary, but it gives the best results. It's also how it was originally done.

Some records need to be played a couple of times before they get 'used to' fibre needles. Clean records play best, worn records, not terribly good in some cases. The more you play a record with a fibre needle, the less fiber needles will wear on subsequent plays. Fibre needles will tend to clean out the grooves fairly well (not nearly as good a cactus needles, though).

Subsequent sharpenings of the fibre needle can be done with an emery board. If the point needs to be reshaped for optimum angles, you can use the exacto and then touch it up with the emery board.

Be prepared to occasionally experience some of the pitfalls of fibre needles from time to time (wearing out before the end of the record). The better the condition of the records you play, the better the fibre needles work. They also don't produce the wear that steel needles do. The quality of sound is also much softer than steel.

Page Created: 11 October 2003