Making Tatting Shuttles


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I started making wooden tatting shuttles because of a conversation in the CompuServe Crafts forum. It sounded like an interesting problem to work out. I have had help in modifying the shuttle design from several people in the forum, notably Kathy Morgret and Marjorie Wilser. I have been able to refine the designs somewhat myself as I learned (and have about forgotten by now) to tat.

If the veneer isn't thin enough, I sand it to about .020" with my new Performax Thickness Sander. This picture shows a piece of Cherry veneer being carried through the sander on a vacuum assisted carrier board.

I make the shuttle shells by stack laminating 3 layers of veneer in a bending form. This makes them both strong and light. The next picture shows glue being spread on the veneer. I coat all but the outside surfaces with a thin coat of glue to insure a strong bond.

When I'm making a shuttle with a brass spike or brass hook I inlet  a piece of brass into the middle layer before lamination.  Wood glue doesn't stick to brass at all, so I use a polyurethane glue,  as in this picture:


The next picture shows the shell being clamped in the bending form.

After the shell cures in the bending form for a couple of days, I mark and cut it before adding the center post. I was very happy when I came up with the combination gage you see on the right. It helps me draw center line, measures the length of the shell, helps draw lines perpendicular to the center line, and has a template for marking out center posts.

The center posts are shaped from soft maple and are chamfered on the sides to allow more thread to be wound on. The maple is easier to shape with hand tools than some of exotic hardwoods, and is soft enough to allow a controlled crush if the tips later separate due to wood movement. Starting with post stock of the right thickness makes a big difference in how much work it is to fit the post and how will it fits. Here's a picture measuring the shell with my new taper gauge. I laid out the gauge on my simple CAD program, and glued it to some thin maple.

Here's a picture of drilling the hole in the post. Yes, that really is a hand drill, and No, it wasn't used just for the photo. It doesn't take long to drill by hand such a small hole, and by using the hand drill I just use the same bit always chucked up in the hand drill because I don't use it for much else.  Actually this picture is out of date now, as I've gotten some a quick release insert for my electric drill.

After drilling the hole I relieve the sides with a file:

Here's a picture of countersinking the hole in the post:

Here's what it looks like when this part is done:

I round the top and bottom surface of the post by hand with a carving knife. This is a post for a 2 inch shuttle. As you can imagine, seeing how lost it looks in my fingers, that a 1-3/4 inch shuttle isn't likely soon:

I've been experimenting with a jig to put a radius on the posts.  It does a more precise job, although it perhaps isn't as much fun.  Or at least it won't be once I've used my new oscillating spindle sander more than a few times.

It may not be all that obvious.  The white rectangle on the left is the template I use to measure the radius of the shell.  The rectangle running from bottom left to mid-right holds the pivot point.  It has magnets mounted in the bottom so it stays still.  The other long piece has a small pin at the left end to hold the post.  The block clamps it to the pin and keeps the post from turning.  The holes in the piece let me adjust the radius.  I slide the whole jig until the sanding drum just makes contact with the center of the post.  Then I swing the holder from side to side on the pivot.

Once the center post is made and fitted, the shells are glued to the post. I've found that using just enough glue makes the job of removing squeeze out much easier. Here's a picture of the new glue spreader I made:

The shells are clamped to the post using a special clamp with leather covered concave pads:

I've been trying some different clamps.  The advantage is that I can use them with one hand, and there's no rotating action to skew the shells.  I made wood and leather clamp pads, drilled and tapped holes in the clamps and fastened the pads to the clamps with machine screws.

Alas, these clamps introduced as many problems as they solved.  I could use them with one hand, but they tended to clamp harder on one side of the shuttle than the other.  Luckily there was an article in Fine Woodworking about clamping this month, and it spent some time talking about the advantages of using cauls.  For shuttles, all that's needed is a piece of masking tape holding the back end together, while my fingers hold the other end.  Works very nicely with the old clamps.

Initial shaping of the shuttle is done with a scroll saw. Go to Outline Drawings if you would like to see outline drawings of the various sizes and styles of shuttles. In the photo below you can see that I've pasted a cut out drawing (with post it note glue, great stuff) on the shuttle. It's much better than tracing an outline with a pencil. It's easier to cut what you can actually see.

but all final shaping and sanding is done by hand. This photo shows how I bevel the edges at the tips.

They are finished with lacquer, and hand rubbed with pumice and rottenstone.

If you would like to read a little more (but without pictures) about the shuttle making process, go to New Technical Stuff. By now, you may have figured out, as I have, that these pictures could be used to help you learn to make shuttles yourself (assuming you wanted to make them the same way I do). If I minded that, I wouldn't put them up here. If you want to give it a shot and don't understand something, or want to get a more detailed description of some of the steps, by all means drop me an e-mail message and ask.

Here's a picture of a shuttle that Ladyhawk made after reading my page and asking a few questions. She didn't do ANYTHING the same, but I think it's a nice innovative approach.

I make shuttles in several sizes: 2 inch, 2-1/2 inch, 2-3/4 inch, 3 inch and 3-3/8 inch, not counting the spike. You can have your shuttle made with or without a spike for joins and picots. I also make them with a brass hook or brass spike laminated in the shell.

I don't try to stock all shuttles, there are too many variations of size, wood, and style. I will custom make your shuttle to order. It takes around a week. Sometimes I have a few shuttles in stock if you're in a hurry.

I make shuttles, and other things, because I want/need to. I assume you understand. If not, you could try reading Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. I sell the things I make to get them out of the house. Of course, I also earmark shuttle money for my new toy fund.  Where else can you get something this pretty that you can actually use for only as little money?

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