Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Let's Tour the Broomshop

I often get emails from folks who are skeptical about how our brooms are made because the quality is so good they assume that they are machine made, so i will attempt to give you a tour of the tools we use in the broom making process. Just recently we were featured on a local news program so I will start by posting a link to the video so that you can see the boys working hard. I was off doing a show that day, so they missed me.

In this first photo you see our pedal operated winding machine which we use to wind the broom corn onto the broom stick with. This is one of the hardest and most dangerous jobs in the broom shop and I you can see Seth winding brooms in the beginning of the video in the link I posted above. We use sassafras sticks which we get from the Ozarks of Arkansas where the wood grows wild and it is harvested and kiln dried in an old fashioned kiln. Our broom corn is grown by the Amish, in Southern Illinois, and we dye the corn ourselves in a variety of colors (mostly rust, or black but occasionally we will do purple, green and red).

Once the broom corn is wound onto the stick it then goes to the sewer who loads it into the historic "Shaker Vice" which is what makes the brooms flat. The shaker vice is featured in the second picture on this page and in the video Thurman explains that this particular vice has an iron casting that dates back to 1878. You can also see a demonstration of Michael sewing a broom bare handed with a flat needle that has its hole in the center of the needle. Michael has hardened his hands to the point that he no longer needs to use finger tape and leather palm cuffs, unlike me. when I sit down to sew a broom with my sissy girl fingers I tape nearly every finger with surgical tape, then I put my thick leather and metal palm cuffs on and get to work. I probably waste a good 10 minutes just prepping to sew (I do not have calluses caused from pulling on the strings and blistering... thank goodness). Most brooms take about 4 rows of stitching, the smaller ones we do two lines on.

When the broom is sewn it then goes into a pile next to the platting table where it will eventually be platted. Platting is what we call the basket weave decoration that goes over the metal winding wire at the top of the broom. The plats are actually the stock of the broom corn plant and we cut them into about 8 inch sections then slice them in half and we soak them in buckets of water to soften them up, then using the contraption we call a winding table (in the fourth photograph) we use our feet on the wheel for tension as we weave the plats onto the broom. Much like sewing this requires a great deal of upper body strength and we get quite a workout from platting.

The final stage of broom making is what we call "trim, hole and leather" and it's exactly that. We use a guillotine style trimmer to trim the broom corn flat, then using a drill press we drill a hole at the top of the stick and finish up with a piece of leather. There you have it.

We make a variety of brooms for many different purposes, all of which i will highlight in my upcoming blogs so please keep posted.

Cheers to making a clean sweep!!