The other day I mentioned a steam-powered rope-braiding machine. And I got a lovely email from one of The Commentariat, with a link to a very cool Japanese rope-braiding artist who does amazing work. I immediately shared that link with all my rope-kinky friends, who are now all variously happy and envious.
Rope braiding machines are a completely different animal from rope twisting machines. If you search the intertubes for “rope making machine” you will most likely encounter a rope twister. With a rope twister you’re tightening the fibers against themselves so that they bind: rope. With a rope braider, you have a different problem – you need to move the ends of the threads between eachother, which means that you need bobbins on moving somethings that spin and move relative to eachother. So the basic rope braiding pattern looks like this:If you’re interested in building your own machine, it’s complicated. Your spindles have to weave in and out so the ropes go between eachother, which means that the spindles are located in a race; they’re geared against eachother, and they’re guided by the race. Your drive system depends on the moving spindles engaging correctly with eachother and not jamming – especially if you’ve got power behind it. You can buy rope braiding machines from India and China for not a huge amount of money. But expect to have headaches over importing them. This Indian-made rope braider has the takeoff on the bottom, and the bobbins at the top; probably a good design: what happens if a piece of the thread breaks and drops into the bobbin race? Sccrreeeeeee!!! That’s what happens. This sort of spinner design is also how carbon fiber rod is made – beautiful stuff – and stainless steel braid for your hot rod engine or your water-cooled PC. Now, think about being in a room with fast-rotating bobbins carrying lots and lots of carbon fiber or stainless steel wire: what can go wrong? The worst things that can go wrong are horribly wrong, indeed!
I remember one climbing store I saw in Germany that had a rope braiding machine in the window – they would do your rope in custom colors. I bet it wasn’t cheap. Mountain climbing rope is kevlar core with nylon surrounding it (kevlar used to have problems with UV) and I imagine getting the tension right between the nylon and the kevlar was interesting – and has life-threatening implications if you don’t get it right.
So, here’s what one of the vintage (the one I saw was steam powered) machines looks like in action:
That’s a thing! I imagine that getting the tension in the bobbins is a concern. I imagine lubrication is a concern. I imagine finding spare parts is a concern. And I imagine that winding the bobbins is fun, too. Picture what an industrial-age factory full of these things would have looked and sounded like! (Workers in old cotton mills died horribly and often)
Now that you’ve seen the old machine, you can appreciate the beauty of the Japanese machine:
Notice how it’s making square braid; the machine appears to have a swappable plate that allows the weave and the pattern of bobbin movement to be changed. It’s a beautiful beautiful thing.
There’s more on braiding on this site [Kumihimo by sylvus tarn] Hand done! I’m so impressed!
And lastly, computerization turns up everywhere: if you have a braiding machine, and you can exactly vary the pattern and the tension, you can make shapes of varying dimensions in your weave. Why make sheets of carbon fiber and lay them up into an object, when you can just weave the object?
Hat tip to Commentariat triple agent sylvus tarm, who emailed me with the link to the kumihimo! [sylvus’ crafts are here – check ’em out!] I had no idea it was an art form in Japan, but – of course – there are so many applications for braided silk in Japanese culture, and they tend to take everything they do and turn it to “11.” So of course it’d be high art. I won’t look at the tsuka-ito on the old swords in the museums quite the same way, now that I realize that it’s got to be hand-woven from silk thread on the older mountings. Aiee!
In case you’re not tired of braiding machines, here’s a Lego technik one: