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Questions on some of the equipment needed for bobbin turning.

Today I have question: I would like to try to turn my own bobbins, but I don't know how to go about it. Which kind of equipment would I need? Is it hard to do? Would I be able to learn it from a book? What kind of wood is easy for a beginner to work with? I like to think of myself as a rather "practical" person, and since my household is without male help most of the time I'm used to do small repair-jobs by myself. For any hints I will be most grateful. (I haven't told my family about my newest idea, they'll find out soon enough anyway - you know how time flies when you are having fun).

Maria from Southern Bavaria, Germany

So glad that you enjoyed the information and the web site. When the time comes do feel free to contact me, and ask questions. This is something that I enjoy and now have time to do. I apologise for using English but I know less German then I do Dutch!

I have no doubt that the woodworker in your area will be able and willing to show you some basic pointers. Also the photos in David Springett's book do occasionally show how the tool is used to create a certain cut. That will be helpful as well.

Kenn Van-Dieren - Bobbins by Van-Dieren

You will need a lathe and sharp turning chisels and gouges, also safety glasses to protect your eyes. You can get by with hobby lathes for model-makers. I don't think you can learn from a book - my husband taught me and he learnt at school - I started by him holding my hands as I held the chisels to get the feel of the wood cutting.

You can buy bobbin blanks from people like SMP - they would be able to advise you on the easiest to turn - anything straight grained is fairly easy If you are within travelling distance of Brighton Sussex UK , I would be glad to give you a lesson (That goes for any other arachneans who may be reading this too)


I started my business back in 1981 as a bobbin maker. What I lacked in formal instruction I made up for in determination and passion! It was not easy, but I taught myself by trial and error. I broke a lot of bobbins that first year and shed a lot of tears. I didn't have a clue what I was doing, but over time I learned and I began to have my successes.

I spent countless hours in hardware stores and art shops staring at all the "stuff" they sell trying to imagine how I might use it in making bobbins. I convinced the butcher shop to save their bone and I searched far and wide for woods.

There were no books or instructions to follow, only my imagination. I did find inspiration in the antique East Midland bobbins, and books in which they were documented. I poured over "Pillow Lace and Bobbins", Jeff Hopewell, "The Romance of the Lace Pillow", Thomas Wright, "Lace and Bobbins", T. L. Huetson and "Lace and Lacemaking", Alice-May Bullock. Now the task is made easier by David Springett's wonderful book, "Turning Lace Bobbins". It is superb.

Buy a lathe and turning tools. This will take a little research. I used the Unimat 3, originally made in Austria but now out of production. You will need to borrow or buy a grinder and sharpening stones and learn how to use them. Sharp tools are paramount in successful turning. Many woods cause the tools to dull quickly and sharpening is an ongoing task.

The rest lies in your own imagination and practice. Use local hardwoods that turn easily. In the Northeast U.S. That would be something like Maple or Apple. Most lumber yards will let you raid their scrap piles without charge.

Pay attention to function. Like myself, I assume you are a lacemaker first and understand the function of a bobbin. Don't forget this as you create your masterpieces. Make a bobbin that will work properly. This bobbin will bring you the most joy.

If you can take one basic turning course this will teach you how to use and sharpen tools, and more importantly, shop safety. Learn how to use your tools safely. Also read everything you can on the woods you are using. Although most people can work with woods safely, some woods are extremely toxic to some individuals. Don't be afraid, but be aware, and at the first sign of respiratory trouble remove yourself from the turning environment and get help.

Good luck and find yourself a copy of David Springett's book!

Holly Van Sciver

There are 2 mini Lathes available at Harbor Freight Tools;


My DH has been eyeing them since I gave him a gift certificate for Harbor Freight for Christmas in the hopes he'd make me some bobbins!

Lori Howe
Arlington, VA

There is an advertising in OIDFA for M Pierre DESSERT, supplier for 'small lathes for miniature turning, many tools and accessories, training courses in small-size woodturning' as it is said. Free information on request. His address is:

F- 82390 Dufort-Lacaplette
tel (33) 5 63 04 50 19

I do not know him and did not test his product, this is just for information.

Sophie from Paris

To turn a bobbin one needs a miniture woodworking lathe and small chisels, which can be rather expensive. It is not hard once you learn to use the lathe.

David Springet has written a very good books that explain his method. However, I can't use his method as I have a very cheap lathe ( a Dremal, that isn't made any more) that doesn't have the features he uses.

But before I got the lathe I made bobbins that looked as good as turned ones by just whittling them with my Scout Knife.

Would you be interested in directions for the whittling?

Louise in Central Virginia, USA

If you do not mind, I would like to add a couple of comments on the Harbor Freight Tools lathes.

I think that you will find the smaller of the two lathes (#41999) is an exact duplicate of the Horror Lace Kit when it comes to turning bobbins. And should be filed into the same trash bin as the kit. The 1/8 hp motor is to small to do anything, the pre-set pulleys regulating the speed equal slow and slower, and is incapable of developing enough torque to maintain the speed once a tool is applied to the wood. The configuration of the whey's allows for a lot of flexing, throwing the tail stock spur off center, a problem with larger and better made lathes with this same configuration.

The other lathe (#41648) looks very much like the old Carba-tec lathe base and they probably bought Carba-tec's excess bases when Carba-tec brought out their new Mark IV. This is not a bad little lathe and I use the base on my machines. It is cast iron, heavy, and no flex in the whey's. The motor is a little small for turning but not impossible to use. Eventually you would throw a larger motor onto the back of it anyway. But the initial set-up is not that bad as a starter machine. Two problems with the Carba-tec is that the bearings wear out (I replace mine every 3 - 4 months but it is an easy process and the bearing are cheap) and their variable speed on/off switch has a funky hesitation in it when it is turned on. Requires adapting to a different rhythm of turning.

Although the information and URL's are good for the American Arachne's, it is a bit of a moot point for Maria in Germany. Apart from the weight costing a fortune to ship that far, the electrical system on the Continent is 220 volt, 50 cycle rather then the U.S. standard of 110 volt, 60 cycle and could not be used in Germany. There are small converters for using U.S. based current items on the Continent but the motor size is to large for these. Also, it really is illegal to use those converters here, and the reason they are limited in size to accommodate tourists using them short term.

Kenn Van-Dieren - Bobbins by Van-Dieren

Oh thanks for the "heads up"! That's the kind of information we need. Thanks for saving me from "the horror"! Isn't arachne wonderful!!

Lori Howe
Arlington, VA

Thank you so very much for your very instructive messages. Yesterday evening I visited your website and stayed there for almost two hours. I lost myself in the collected mails about bobbins, spangling bone-bobbins and so on. And the pictures of your beautiful bobbins!!!! It's all so fascinating.

First of all I'll get the book of D. Springett about bobbin turning. Then I plan on doing a lot of research at the local hardwareshops. Then when time and money will allow I'm going to get a lathe. Can I ask your advice before I buy anything so costly?

Yesterday I got the phone number of a local woodturner who also makes spinning wheels. Maybe he could show me a few basics.

It will take me a while though. But I'm not the one to forget about an *unstarted project*. Starting lacing took me a few years too (I bought a book and couldn't find a course). In the meantime thanks again. I really appreciate your help

Maria from Southern Bavaria

What a coincidence that you all are talking about turning bobbins. I turned my first pair of bobbins this week while I was away. Used my grandfathers lathe (a really big lathe I might add). I am hooked! What fun. Perhaps even more fun than the lace it's self... I'll let you know later.

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?

I will be using my kitchen table for the time being until the weather turns and I can use the porch. Can they both be used in this fashion or will they need to be bolted to a work bench?

Shelly Osborne

Kenn 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.

Lori Howe
Arlington, VA

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, Utah 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.

Jim Stavast

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