Turning Tip Letters
Spragge's Bobbin Turning including Bone
THE BIRTH OF A BOBBIN
> ----- Original Message ----- March 2, 2000
> > I checked out the two lathes at Harbor Freight Tools. Can someone tell
> me which would be best for making bobbins? The one seems to be twice the
> size of the other. Will the small one be powerful enough? For the extra few
> > dollars should I go for the big one?
> > Shelly
Lori Howe wrote:
> Kevin wrote me about those lathes and said the cheaper one compares to the
> Horror Kit for lacemaking. In other words....don't touch it. The other is OK
> for playing around making bobbins for yourself only, but if you think you
> might be a serious bobbin lacemaker it's not for heavy use.
> Good luck. I'm still looking for a "serious" mini lathe.
I have seen both the Harbor Freight lathes and wouldn't buy either of
them. The thing I dislike about the HF lathes is the cheapness of
constuction and lack of accessories needed for making bobbins. They
come with a dead center instead of a live center for the tail stock
end. They don't offer any means for driving the bobbins as the drive
end provided is too large for the size of stock needed for bobbins.
There is a lathe/turning mailorder supply house in Provo, Ut about 10
miles from where I live, that stocks several smaller models as well as
the big ones. They have a web page at www.craftusa.com. You might want
to check the lathes that they offer. I bought a Jet Mini lathe from
them. It has a 1/2hp motor, a live center, 6 speeds, They also offer
a special square drive center that accepts bobbin blanks from 5/16" to
1/2". I have been happy with this lathe.
from Ken Hare about chooseing a lathe:
You don't know me but my wife is a subscriber to Arachne and
I was picking up her mail and noticed your interest in lathes.
As a bobbin maker myself I have searched long and hard for
good bobbin lathe and have come to the conclusion that if
you want perfection you have to build it yourself !!
I find five things are vital, a good solid construction with cast
iron bed,variable speed (I once thought this wasn't needed but
I now wouldn't be without it), good bearings, a cam lock tool rest
and a powerful motor with high speed capability.
In England we can obtain several "mini lathes" but one stands out
and it is made by a company calld Selbix and it has all the good
points that I mention.
I have used it for two years and it has been faultless.
I turn alot of bone and no other material is as punishing on a
lathe but the Selbix has shown no signs of wear on bearings etc.
to speak of.
I found the Jet web site.
The Jet web site is http://www.jettools.com/ go to the woodworking page
and then Lathes / Woodworking Mini lathe
from Kenn Van-Dieren about lathes:
I think that Jim Stavast put the information very well concerning the
Harbour Freight lathes. My comments were based on only viewing the graphics
on the web site as well, and as he has looked at them closely has a better
idea of them.
Certainly do look at www.craftusa.com. and check their lathes. You may also
wish to contact the following companies for catalogues -
Penn State Industries
2850 Comly Rd, Philadelphia, PA 19154
TEL: (215) 676-7603
Pen making supplies and kits, a large selection of woodworking machines,
tools, and accessories..
340 Snyder Avenue, Berkeley Heights, NJ 07922-1595
Small Tool Specialists
Regarding you question of working on your kitchen table, you should be
concerned with the weight of the lathe and if there is the capacity to
secure it in some fashion. I tend to use the Carba-Tec lathe which weighs
about 30 pounds. I have had some success with mounting the lathe to a
section of plywood that can then sit on a table. The base of the plywood is
covered in a rubber material put out by Rubbermaid and Contact for covering
cabinet shelves and sold in supermarkets in the U.S. This absorbs a lot of
the vibrations from the machine and minimises the "creeping" effect of the
torque that is created. If you can clamp the base to the table without
marring the table surface, it would be better. This will not help you with
the sawdust problem in your kitchen <g> but will help stabilise the unit
will in use.
Jim's comment about the live center is very valid. This will keep the tail
of the blank from heating up with friction and causing the blank to move
off-center. You will need to consider a three or four jawed chuck as a
drive center at some point, but the standard drive spur will work at the
As I still own 5 of the small lathes, I have not do a lot of research into
this subject for the past year or so. The mini lathe market has expanded
quite a bit the last while and there are some good buys out there. The Jet
lathe that Jim has was not available yet when I was looking for lathes.
While you want to get the most for your money, the main concern must be for
the strength of the base unit. Every thing else can be tossed or replaced
as needed, but the base will stay around for a long time.
I discussed the Vimark Lathe with Ken and here is his reply:
I did consider the Vicmarc myself but as far as I can remember I
found it to "big" as the 1"x8tpi demands a big chuck ( yes I use a
small chuck for bobbin making not one of those stupid square drive
things which are useless ).
Also I seem to remember the top speed was rather slow for bobbin
making as the Selbix in top speed is over 5000 rpm and I think the
Vicmarc is quite a bit slower.
For turning wooden bobbins I consider 4000 rpm to be the minimum
speed ( a friend of mine turns at 9000 rpm ).
In fact if you take the safe turning speed of wood on a full size lathe and
scale it down the best turning speed for bobbins would be 150000rpm!!
But the main thing is that you should be happy with your lathe and enjoy
using it and if you do it must be the right one for you.
Dear Kenn, Ken and Jim,
I have wanted to make my own bobbins for quite awhile but the talk of lathes
has really inspired me. So when I heard of a woodworkers show just 25 miles
away this weekend, I happily dragged my husband to it this morning!!! We had
a blast! I checked out all the lathes and tools and am more convinced than
ever I'm going to do it. Thanks to the bobbins makers who wrote me with tips
and minimum specifications I knew what questions to ask. They had the JET
lathe there and it was only $299. Much cheaper than the other lathes I'd
researched with similar features at less than half the price. I am also working
on the possibility of a computerized model and haven't decided yet weather
to go with that or the JET. But it sure helped to have a few knowledgeable
questions to ask, thanks to the help on arachne of Ken Hare, Jim Stavast
,and Kenn Van-Dieren . I didn't sound like a "stupid woman" at a mostly all
man's venue. Thanks guys!!
I'm glad you had a good time at the wood show,it can be confusing to see
so many toys in one place!!
The features you list look ok but be wary about a couple of things.
The 6" toolrest is a bit too long for bobbin turning--- do they make
a smaller one say about 4".
I say this because the tool rest will stop the tailstock from coming near
enough to turn a bobbin blank .
Also do they do variable speed ? as belt changing can be a pain
if you plan to turn anything other than bobbins.
If bobbins are all you are going to turn then just leave it on top speed !!
How are the tootrest and the tailstock clamped ?
If they need spanners or allen wrenches to adjust them then watch out
as this can be a real pain in the ##### when you are working.
Allways go for camlock every time on all moveable fittings --- please
take my word on this!!
Bobbin Turning Letters
Tips on turning bobbins from Kenn :
I have a tendency to cut my blanks larger then necessary but that gives me
the option of making Midlands or Continentals out of them. Normally a
Midland blank should start around 3/8" and a Continental around 1/2". I
also cut the blank to 4-1/2" so I have a little extra length to play with.
Sometimes an end will crack while drying or the grain may look better if I
change how much I take off initially. BTW, nice find on the net for Mike
Bester. I was not aware of him before but enjoyed the page. I shall write
Stay with the hard woods when starting. It will make it easier to turn. I
know that Rockler (www.rockler.com) sells exotic hardwoods and I think they
also have some available in 3/8" dowel as well. That may be easier to start
then trying to figure out how to get wood cut up if you do not have a saw
from Kenn continued in another letter....
Yup. Me again. I have harvested a lot wood over the years and harvesting
for bobbinmaking is quite like harvesting for full sized wood.
The first thing to remember is that wet wood warps. When looking at wood to
harvest, do not use the small branches that will temp you. Each branch has
a center core for transporting water from the base to the leaves. You need
to stay away from that portion, as it is the wettest. So if your blanks are
going to be 1/2 square, you need at least a 1-1/4" thick branch to start.
Some will say never use branch wood at all but I do.
First you want to cut the branch into quarters, right down that center core.
Then it is gone. I usually then cut it to approximate length and seal the
ends with a sealer. Any sealer will work but I use paraffin because it is
cheap and easy. I melt it in a tin can on the stove and then just dip then
in. Can be messy but it works. Then throw it on a shelf for a couple of
months. The wood needs to air dry through the side of the wood and sealing
the ends keeps them from drying faster then the remainder. That is where
the warpage comes from.
After sitting on the shelf for awhile, I go back and cut it into oversized
blanks and reseal the ends. Then back on the shelf for another couple of
months. At that point I turn a couple of bobbins to check the dryness. If
it is to wet the bobbins will still warp. Also, you can pinch the sawdust
together and if there is excess dampness, it will tend to stick together in
I rarely use wood that I have not had control over for less then six months.
Even kiln dried wood that I have purchased. Part of that is my peculiarity
but not all kiln dry wood is correctly dried by companies either.
There is a way to dry small amount in the microwave but one must use care.
I can look up the directions if any one is interested. Last time I did it,
I got to buy a new one for my wife.
another letter from Kenn :
The reason bobbin blanks start square is because of cutting the wood on a
straight table saw first. Once the blank is trimmed down to the 3/8" square
blank for Midlands or 1/2" square for Continentals, then it can be trimmed
to length and readied for the lathe. The square blank can be mounted onto
the lathe with either a 3 or 4-jawed chuck that will grip the wood or by
using a drive spur that has a 1/2" square depression in it in order to grip.
Once you can rotate it, it can be then turned round. You can also purchase
exotic woods already made up in doweling but it is expensive. You can make
your own dowel maker with a wood high speed router but that is time
consuming as well. Easier to just chuck it up and let the chips fly. <g>
Feel free to ask these questions. All bobbin makers approach the craft from
a different set of experiences and knowledge. There is no one right way to
make one, but you can certainly make a lot of them wrong. <g>
another Hint from Kenn:
One thing I will add is that when turning the neck, make
certain that you leave a very small curve at each end instead of squaring it
off. The radius will help strengthen the joint and keep it from breaking as
easily. Even if you get on that holds together with a square cut, it will
still easily break if dropped.
mor information from Kenn (2001):
There are a number of mini lathes out on the market and more companies are
getting into the field and competing at this point. Part of your decision
will be based on what you can afford along with what you need. Most of the
brand name lathes are good as long as you look at it as a base. There are
add on's that you need. When looking at a lathe, look at how strong the
whey's are. Whey are the flat base that the tail stock slides back and
forth on and also what the tool rest attaches to. You want the least amount
of flex in the whey's. I have always opted for cast iron for this reason.
The cast iron also lends more weight to the entire unit and vibration is
Motors are also important as we noticed this past week. But you do not need
a small motor for a small lathe. You need at least a 1/4 horsepower motor,
preferably mounted behind the lathe. There should also oil ports on the
motor bearings and mounting it behind leaves them accessible.
Now once you decided what lathe you want and take it home, there are still a
number of items that you need. The tools that you turn with are very
important. You need thin tools to make the intricate cuts but also of a
quality that it will keep an edge. You will also need a tool sharpener
(another Pandora's box of types and styles) and then you will need to learn
how to use it effectively. You can destroy more bobbin blanks with dull
tools then you ever will with bad cuts or poor designs. Also when you buy
the tools they will need to be sharpened prior to using them the first time.
Tools are machine sharpened at the factory. That is not a good enough edge
to turn with.
How you turn a bobbin will also affect your lathe choice. The lathe will
come with a drive spur and requires that the entire bobbin be turned at one
time. I always recommend that one add a 3-jaw chuck to replace the drive
spur. (I know, an additional $60 or so) But this allows you a lot more
variation in what you can do. The chuck allows you to grip the wood rather
then holding it with a point on each end. Plus you can turn small pieces
with out using the tail stock. Or center drill a blank by gripping it in
the chuck and using a drill chuck in the tail stock.
Wood. Pandora # 3. If it is wood it can be turned. Having said that,
some wood turns easier then others. Stay away from soft woods. The fibers
tend to bend when turning rather then shearing off and you end up with lots
of fuzz to sand off. Also not all hardwoods are ideal, especially for
beginning. Oak and walnut are open grained woods so you have to work at
getting smooth enough edges on the head so that threads do not catch in the
grain. Fruit wood are generally good for turning, but stay away from
orchard wood. Pesticides are absorbed through out the wood and remain
there. Apple is usually grainy but pear, plum, apricot, nectarine and
Cherry usually turn up well.
Exotic woods seem expensive but remember you are working with small blanks
so a little goes a long way. Lacewood (London Plane) tends toward open
grain. Purple heart is good if the grain is not to open in the blank,
Cocobolo and Cherry are generally safe bets. Ebony is good if dried
correctly. I also use a fair amount of Bocote, Bubinga, Chechen, Ipil,
African Blackwood, Zebra, Katalo, Tulipwood, Redheart, Paloba Rosa and Pink
Eventually you will find certain woods that you like to turn and tend to
stay with them. I tend to turn a lot of Lingum Vitea and Lilac. The lilac
I can harvest from by back yard and turns to a nice smooth finish with
little sanding. Colours range from pink to lavender with the majority of
wood being a light yellow. Lingum is a very heavy wood that will sink in
log form and is the hardest of the hardwoods. Tears the edge off of the
tools so few people use it but has some nice grains to it. When turned the
colour is a dark tan but once exposed to sunlight will turn varying shades
of green. Even sap wood will stay tan colour with flecks of green in it.
So this it beginning of your long quest. I would recommend that you at
least purchase David Springett's book on bobbin turning. He also has a
video that covers much of the same information but also included things not
in the book. Remember that is only explaining his method of turning
bobbins. Your approach may differ slightly or radically. All that really
matters is that you have a bobbin that works when you are done. You can
obtain the book from most of the larger lace suppliers. I also have a small
booklet on turning available and also have other wood turners websites noted
on my site.
Kenn van Dieren
Bobbins by Van-Dieren
Rochester, NY 14609
Web site : http://www.bobbinmaker.com
from Brian Leiman about Polishing Bobbins:
I think it is fair to say that most bobbin makers use a friction polish that
they apply on the lathe while the bobbin is turning. It is the heat that
gives the polish and shine.
Second choice would be lacquer ( Neil Keats is especially keen on this
finish} It gives a soft shine and to my mind a somewhat better grip.
(though i still use friction polish myself!!)
Thirdly, there is a new product on the market which is an exceptionally
fine paste which polishes the wood rather like a jeweler polishes a stone.
It is very nice on most woods and i am now using it extensively.
Some makers also use beeswax (or a derivative) that works well too.
I have to say that i hate polyurethane, especially the gloss. I call it
a"Toffee apple finish" I think I would rather use a vegetable oil than
.....bone bobbins made by Fran Bloomer of Knotworks Lace Bobbins from Round Rock, Texas.
The dog bones from Petsmart are what she has used for several years. You have to select the bone
carefully (she says), but her results are great. They finish up so smoothly
and can be dyed as well. Hope this gives you added info.
from Jim about Bone bobbins etc.:
Actually isn't really "dogbone". The bone is probably from a
cow/bull/steer and it is used by dogs to chew on. ;-)
It turns quite easily as long as the tools are sharp. I have made
several nice bobbins and only broken a few during turning. The hardest
part is getting the largest diameter out of the piece as the bone is
most often slightly curved. It is difficult to find the point on the
ends on which to put the center which will give the largest diameter
when turned to a round. It is also quite brittle and care must be used
when turning the long neck if you are turning the bobbin all at the same
time. If you are using the Springett method of turning the head and
neck first and then reversing the piece and using collets on the long
neck while turning the rest of the body it may be a little easier. I
usually turn them all in one piece instead of using the collets but my
son likes using the collets.
You should also try turning Corian, the imitation stone counter top
material. It turns nice and the bobbins look like they are made of
stone. It is a little more fragile than bone and you must be very
careful in turning the neck as just a slight groove at either end of the
neck may result in it breaking. I go to a local kitchen cabinet shop
and scavenge through their garbage bin for pieces that are about 1/2"
square and 5 or more inches long. I have made some nice bobbins with it
including a number of pairs about 1 - 2 inches long and 1/16th inch in
diameter to use for earrings or lapel pins. I also end up with lots of
prickers and lazy susans from all the ones I have broken the necks off.
Bone infomation from Brian Leiman
Bone blanks have become very hard to find and very very expensive.
If you live in America then you go to your large pet store and by a
sanitized "extra large shin bone" From what I have had sent to me you
should be able to get about 4 possibly more blanks from one of these. Just
make sure that the section of the bone gives you the thickness that your
Before your saw it up, boil it in water that is laced with caustic soda and
what we call "Napisan" (the stuff you soak nappies in (Diapers in
American???)) for about two hours. Let dry, bleach in sun (We Aussies can
do that most of the year!!) or just cut it up and turn it.
Bone smells like mad and it seems to sink into your skin. DW makes me
shower before I come into the house after a few hours of bone turning.!
Bone is more conducive to "scrapers" than wood, and whilst i use my skew
mostly, some actions are better done with a scraper.
Brian from Cooranbong in Australia
Another letter from Brian about bone bobbins:
Can I just say that the cost of bone blanks are very considerable and also
hard to get.
The process of buying and preparing your own blanks is also very time
The when it comes to turning them, it is more difficult, takes longer (You
are forever sharpening your tools)
And finally your wife says, "Get in the shower, you are smelling like a post
mortem room" And even after the shower the sickly smell stays with you.
For all of that, I love turning bone... when I can get it.
Kenn van Dieren wrote (in response to Mary Dahlberg's question):
> Wood. Pandora # 3. If it is wood it can be turned. Having said that,
> some wood turns easier then others. Stay away from soft woods. The fibers
> tend to bend when turning rather then shearing off and you end up with lots
> of fuzz to sand off. Also not all hardwoods are ideal, especially for
> beginning. Oak and walnut are open grained woods
Well, I know *nothing* about turning bobbins (sold off my Dremel lathe
after the first try; the less said on the subject, the better... <g>), but
have been turning *the subject* in my mind for years... :) And I have some
very firm views on *woods* as the result.
Being a lacemaker first and foremost, my viewpoint is *slightly* different
from Kenn's, who's a wood-crafter first, and lacemaker second. While I
agree that any wood can be turned into a bobbin, I wouldn't even
*consider* half of the woods that *some* (not you, Kenn <g>) wood-turners
love; our *aims* are different...
For me *as a lacemaker* a bobbin has to be made of wood which is *very
dense* and relatively heavy.
Dense, so there are no pores wide enough to trap the finest thread passing
by the head (oak will *never* do; its pores can, sometimes, be as wide as
1/32". You can fill them, and fill them, and they'll *sill* snag).
Relatively heavy, so that the "handle" end of the bobbin offers a decent
counter-balance to a "neck" loaded with yards of thread, even *without* a
spangle; if it doesn't, then your tensioning is going to be twice as
Kenn, being a lacemaker himself, does not go off the deep end in search of
his woods, but I have met some woodwokers who, not knowing *s...* about
lacemaking, still thought they knew all about my needs...
> Purple Heart is good if the grain is not to open in the blank,
> Cocobolo and Cherry are generally safe bets. Ebony is good if dried
Good Ebony is second-best only to bone as far as handling goes -- it's
very dense and very heavy. It's also very expensive, even in the "white"
varieties. Cherry is lovely for doll-house miniatures (v. dense and an
almost perfect immitation of mahogany, which, these days, comes from
different, much younger, sources and is much more open-pored), but don't
put all your money on it when it comes to bobbins; it's *brittle*, so the
skinny "neck" is likely to snap as you wind. Other fruit woods (apple,
plum, pear) are similiar -- beautifully dense and iffy under pressure
The "bush" woods (yew, boxwood, lilac) are *terrific* for density, and not
bad for weight; they seem to be flexible (not brittle) for years.... The
difficulty is in getting blanks that are thick enough, unless you're
rooting out a 100yrs old bush...
Cocobolo, Purple Heart, and other popular exotics. They're dense,
reasonably heavy, beautiful to look at, and not brittle... Perfect....
?... If not perfectly sealed, they'll stain your thread (especially if you
like to leave your project untended for a month or so). If perfectly
sealed, OTOH, they might be so slick, that the hitch will not stay on the
> Eventually you will find certain woods that you like to turn and tend to
> stay with them.
I'm not saying that bobbin turners and lace makers are in two oppossing
camps but, quite often, we *do* have different viewpoints. What a
woodworker "likes to turn" might not, necessarily, be what a lacemaker
will enjoy working with... And a lot of semi-novice lacemakers don't
*know* what makes one bobbin better than others (I have more useless
discards than I could afford at the time)
> I tend to turn a lot of Lingum Vitae and Lilac.
Both woods meet the basic requirements (density and weight) and neither
leaves a red stain on your thread, so both are good (and be prepared to
pay extra for Lignum; it's a bitch to turn, being so hard)
I count my blessings *daily* for having hooked up (via Arachne, of course;
the best things in my life, after my family, *all* come from Arachne <g>)
with a woodworker who *listens* to what I say I need, and adds *his* 50%
of *intelligent* insight, to give me my "dream" bobbins...
Out of curiosity... I do like variety, so not all of my bobbins are made
of the same wood (but most *handle* the same, which is what I aim at; I
don't like tactile distractions, while my eyes are glued to the diagram
placed *above* my pillow). But, having tried several different woods, I
come back, again and again, to olive... It's as perfect on the pillow as
it is in the kitchen (I have as many olive-wood utensils as I can find),
but Neil seems to be the only bobbinmaker who uses it... *Why*???
Tamara P. Duvall