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Using found wood for bobbins

Using Found Wood for Bobbins

Below are a question posted to the list, and 4 of the answers it generated. We have such a wide knowledge base on the Lacemaker's Mailing List!
First, the question:

I was at my father's house helping him to "prune" some of his flowering cherry trees (which hadn't been pruned for about 10 years) and we cut down some rather large sections of the trees. As a result I now have several chunks of cherry wood that I would like to see about making into bobbins and I need some questions answered by our bobbin-makers out there in email land.

First, how big a piece of wood do you need to make bobbins out of? I have several pieces, all about one foot long (300 cm?) ranging from about 2 to 6 inches in diameter. Most are relatively straight, though one has a section that is rather gnarled. Will these be suitable for bobbin turning?

Also, will cherry wood even make a good bobbin? How much would you charge for making the bobbins or could I trade you part of the wood for your own use in exchange for you making a certain number of bobbins for me? I'm sure your answers will be somewhat dependent upon what you find if and when you actually see the wood, but I thought it would be really neat to have bobbins that were made from the cherry tree outside the house where I grew up.

Any replies would be best sent to me privately, me email address is given below.

Diana Remington, Lynnwood WA

And here are the answers!
Since Betty, Elizabeth, and Diana have all asked the question I will attempt to explain. I am a bobbin maker in upstate New York and I harvest a number of the local woods here.

[ First, how big a piece of wood do you need to make bobbins out of? ]
The key to this question is in the straightness of the wood. A bobbin blank is generally 3/8th to 1/2" square and 4-1/2" long for East Mids and 5/8th to 3/4" square for Danish or Bucks Thumpers. If the piece is very straight, then you can get 2 blanks from a 1" piece. I always cut right through the center core of the wood because you do not want that in a bobbin. That is where the most checking and warpage comes from. So cutting through the centerline of a 1" piece will give you two 1/2" blanks. Also, the gnarled piece will produce the prettiest grain pattern.

[ Also, will cherry wood even make a good bobbin? ]
I harvest and make bobbins from cherry, maple, oak, walnut, lilac, willow, grapevine, locust, osage, Apricot, Ash, Plum and Copper Beech to name a few. Even kiln dried wood that I buy generally gets put on the shelf for awhile. I have discovered that some lumber stores really do lie to you. :-) I currently have around 12,000 blanks sitting around.

I have made bobbins for people from their wood and store the remainder for their use only in a reserve section of the shop. The main thing is to process the wood correctly prior to turning a bobbin.

First you must coat the ends of the wood to retard the drying process. Uncoated, the ends will dry faster then the middle, and severe checking (large cracks) will result. Coating the ends slows this down and controls it better. I generally use a paraffin wax but any sealer (paint, polyurethane, candle wax, etc.) will do. I always view a raw piece of wood as a tree. I seal the ends, then cut it into appropriate width slabs, usually 1" to 1-1/8th inch square. Then I sticker it the same as regular boards are stickered. Stickering is placing scrap wood between the layers to allow air to circulate all the way around. I use bamboo skewer sticks for this. Then place the wood in dry area for about 4 months. At that point it can be trimmed down to approximate blank size, restickered, and allowed to dry for another 2 months. I generally turn a couple of bobbins from the wood at that point and check the shaving to see if it is really dry or not. Rule of thumb is the denser the wood, the longer to dry.

If your wood was cut a while back, and not sealed, it is not the end of the world. It just means that less of the wood is available to work because of the checking. If the pieces are thick, some drying may still need to happen. I hope that this answers some of the questions. Feel free to contact me with any other ones. Knowledge only has value when it is passed on to others.

Kenn Van-Dieren - Bobbins by Van-Dieren

Hi, my name is Robert Baldree, and I have been making bobbins for a few years now out of whatever came into my hands... I won't claim any special qualifications, but I can list a few references (from the list) of people for whom I have either made bobbins to order or supplied a box of bobbins for Lace Day events. Hardwoods like cherry dry out to quickly after they have been cut, and the wood will split and crack in such a way as to make it unusable VERY quickly!!! You can treat with P.E.G or wax (write for more info if you need it) or you can write, and I will walk you through process of using microwave to steam the water out of smaller pieces.

I turn bobbins out of most any "found" wood, depending on the style of bobbin desired. For a midlands style bobbin, I need only about 5-6 inches long, and no more than 1/2 inch square. The wood does not have to be square, just that there has to be at least that size inside the piece to be turned.

Also, the knots (called burls) are often the most interesting and challenging pieces to work with in the wood. Even if it can't be worked smooth enough for a bobbin because of internal voids or bark intrusions, it can be worked into other items that you or your father might treasure, like pens, letter openers, and the like. Some interesting ideas have come from things like this, like having made meaningful bobbins from the pieces of an old (oak) rocking chair that belonged to one persons' grandmother, things from old trunks or furniture that just couldn't be repaired anymore...that sort of thing.

Robert Baldree

Kenn seemed to cover the points from making bobbins from your own timber, fresh cut or seasoned. There is another quick way to get very small section [bobbin blank size] timber dry quickly. Use your microwave oven!!! Yes, you did read it correctly.

I have used this method on rare occasions and it does seem to work, If you start off with oversized bobbin blanks 3/4 inch square by 7 inch long. The trick is to take things SLOWLY. *Always use the microwave on the defrost setting* and set the time for about 5 mins, then rest for about 20 mins and repeat a number of times this can be done over several hours or days the longer the rest time the better. The timber can be then reduced in size and the process repeated a number of times until dry.

One way of how to check when the wood is dry is to weigh it before placing in the microwave and when it stops loosing weight then it is dry, you will need some good scales that you can reed in one gram increments to check this.

You will not get 100 percent results some will split and if you do not use straight grained timber they will twist. but if you are in a hurry it can help.


On another point I am not sure but I think that you would not be allowed to send timber outside of your own country as it could pass on timber diseases?

Thanks Chris Parsons

Bobbins hand turned & hand painted
Lace Bobbins. 4 Lilac Cottages Coleford, Bath, BA3 5NL United Kingdom.
Tel/Fax +44 (0)1373 812023 e-mail CP.Lacebobbins@btinternet.com
My Web page ~http://www.btinternet.com/~cp.lacebobbins/

I agree with everything that Kenn has said regarding turning wood into blanks. I, however, use slightly longer blanks for turning. I use 3/8 x 3/8 by 4 3/4 inches long for East Midland bobbins. The bobbin that I make is just over 4 inches long, but a little addition length is needed for the way I hold the bobbin.

Cherry turns just fine. Several people have asked me if I want their wood in exchange for a couple of bobbins, but in most cases, it is not worth it for me. For example, cherry is very inexpensive to purchase and can be purchased in thin boards. Therefore, cutting into blanks is very easy. Drying and cutting blanks from logs, though, is time consuming. I have yet to find an easy way to get a flat side that also runs along with the grain. For woods that are inexpensive and readily available, it is not worth it for me to exchange a couple of bobbins for the remainder of the wood. If they were to pay for the bobbins, however, it would be a different story. On the other hand, if the wood is meaningful to me, such as a tree that recently fell down from the home that my DH grew up in, then its worth the extra time. Also, someone has offered me several logs of gorgeous ironwood!! Now THAT is certainly worth the extra effort! I'm waiting and hoping that someone will offer me some purple lilac -- I have yet to find some anywhere!

Pam Edwards

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