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 How to Make Your Own Bamboo Phonograph Needles, Fibre Needles are Back!
Dan Gilmore
Posted: Jan 11 2009, 09:24 PM


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I thought I'd grant myself permission to post in full my own article that appears elsewhere. laugh.gif


Make Your Own Fibre Needles (Bamboo)
By Dan Gilmore

Since there's no one out there manufacturing fibre phonograph needles any more, I thought that I'd show how to hand make these little shellac saving beauties and spread the joy! They're great for playing records without disturbing the entire household.

Here's the materials you'll need:

Some bamboo shish-kabob skewers or some bamboo you might have on hand.

An 'exacto' knife or razor blade

An emery board type nail file

Some paraffin wax

Now here's how it's done.

Cut a section of bamboo skewer just slightly longer than a medium tone or soft tone steel needle. Then, cutting lengthwise, removing the shaded areas of the (end view "1") piece of bamboo skewer. Now you have a little triangular stick. Check the triangular stick to see that it is small enough to fit into the triangular needle chuck on your soundbox. You want it to fit the chuck with as little clearance as possible. You don't want it to be snug, but sized just right to insert freely.

Then cut away the gray area (2) to form a point. One of the points of the 'triangle' is what actually forms the point of the needle. Make several small cuts instead of one big one with the Exacto brand knife to gradually form the point; you don't want to split the fibres. Just try for a nice point. It also helps to make sure the edge that is going to form the point is also one of the hard fibres that runs through the bamboo. This will give your needle the strength to survive an entire record.

user posted image



And this is what you end up with (a pointed triangular stick). Now here's how you get a really good, sharp point on the critter. Take your emery board nail file and give a couple of very light wipes along the edges (3). Wipe towards the point of the needle. Then across the lighter yellow area to work the edge to a very sharp point.

It takes a little practice, but once you work out the bugs and get the hang of it, it's a breeze.

user posted image



Now take the needles and steep them in hot paraffin wax for a couple of minutes. This stiffens the fibres, reduces friction and (most important) boils out moisture and keeps it out. There is one caution - when you melt your paraffin wax, do not directly heat the melting container on the stove or other heat source. Take a can, put the wax to be melted into it, then place that can in a small pot of water that has been heated to boiling. That way, the wax will only heat up to 212 degrees, well below it's flash point and thus avoiding a very unpleasant 'whooooooff!' of igniting paraffin wax. The paraffin part isn't absolutely necessary, but it gives the best results. It's also how it was originally done.

Some records need to be played a couple of times before they get 'used to' fibre needles. Clean records play best, worn records, not terribly good in some cases. The more you play a record with a fibre needle, the less fiber needles will wear on subsequent plays. Fibre needles will tend to clean out the grooves fairly well (not nearly as good a cactus needles, though).

Subsequent sharpenings of the fibre needle can be done with an emery board. If the point needs to be reshaped for optimum angles, you can use the exacto and then touch it up with the emery board.

Be prepared to occasionally experience some of the pitfalls of fibre needles from time to time (wearing out before the end of the record). The better the condition of the records you play, the better the fibre needles work. They also don't produce the wear that steel needles do. The quality of sound is also much softer than steel but loud enough.







2003,2009 Dan Gilmore/UndeadMedia Productions, all rights reserved. Used with author's permission.
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celticguitar666
Posted: Jan 16 2009, 01:47 PM


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Hi Dan thanks for the post.
I use these on my player with excellent results. My technique is a little different but result is same. I use bamboo that I harvested from a local garden that has a small bamboo forest and I let it season a while. I am not trying to discourage use of the skewers because they are readily available but I don't have much luck with them they seem to fail quickly usually right when I am trying to record a record. They seem very brittle where as the natural bamboo is real hard and resonates more smoothly and takes a polish and I get more plays per needle. I also keep them short as it makes the play back louder. I does take practice to get it right and get consistant smooth sound. I would suggest using an less important record to practice with before using your more significant recordings.
I cut a strip and use a sanding board to get the triangle shape then an emory board to define the tip. Getting it to fit the chuck is also a neat trick that takes practice to get a good fit with the tip at right angle to groove. Too bad there isn't a tool to pass the bamboo through to get the shape without the trimmimg by hand. I am quite handy and I am going give that idea a whirl. sort of a modified moulding plane. If I come up with a workable idea I will pass it along There must be a way because I don't think they made them by hand for mass production but you never know.
Fiber is good for you wink.gif
Dwight
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Dan Gilmore
Posted: Jan 16 2009, 08:46 PM


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We have a lot of native bamboo growing down here in the Carolinas that makes great stock for fibre needles. If you cut the needle from the outer edges of the bamboo stalk, you can get one tough fibre needle!

As I understand, fibre needles were mass produced by hand in Japan (for the most part). They rived long triangular strips and cut and pointed them all by hand. ohmy.gif

I forget what specific species of bamboo they were made from but it is slightly different between the common (and nearly identical) varieties that grow in China and the Carolinas. Very hard stuff to transplant and cultivate but if it ever gets growing, it is nearly impossible to eradicate. There's a couple of local stands around here where it grows to 40' high or more and is nearly half a foot around at the base. Native varieties of Bamboo grow pretty much everywhere from Northern New Jersey on south. Good stock for making fibre needles!

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orthophonic
Posted: Jan 21 2009, 10:45 PM


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There is a stand of bamboo near here on 74 wink.gif I wonder if they might share some of it and if there would be a way to mass produce these needles so that they can be had cheaply by whoever wants them? The makers of these things must have had some automated way to make them line up as to side grain and surface so that the leading edge would be on the "right" side. I'd like to look into any info that anyone might have so that we can get these in decent quantities that are cheap, easy to make and of good quality. I think that I would like this smile.gif
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Dan Gilmore
Posted: Jan 22 2009, 07:33 PM


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The original ones were made in Japan from a particular variety of bamboo with unusually dense fibres, so there was not much of need for aligning the cuts with a hard fibre. They were all hand cut and shaped. They had some kind of mechanization for cutting the 'rives' from the bamboo, though. I suppose that there might be a way to make a cutter that rives off long strips of bamboo of the proper dimensions. I have a few ideas about how to accomplish that part of the task, but I'd need a machine shop to make it.


Dan
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Dan Gilmore
Posted: Dec 11 2009, 08:40 PM


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Just discovered something interesting -

I took the term 'riving' (that is, to 'rive' bamboo') and discovered that all I had to do was to start a cut on a piece of bamboo (at the 60 degree angle) and just peel it back in order to produce a good edge, as it were (you don't have to run a blade the whole length of your fibre needle to get a good edge.

How simple!


Dan
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Wound2Tight
Posted: Jan 14 2010, 12:00 AM


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I have some old stock bamboo needles but have never used them. I tried one once, but didn't much like the sound. I've also found a packet of what looks like catus needles that are coated with something black that I don't use. Exactly how many plays do you get out of a bamboo needle?
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Dan Gilmore
Posted: Jan 14 2010, 10:03 PM


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Depending upon the method you use to sharpen them, you can get a heap of plays out of one bamboo needle.

I'll use an emery board to sharpen the needle between plays until the angles of the needle get screwed up and then either reshape them with an exacto knife or cut them with a needle cutter.

I've gotten about 20 plays out of one stock needle when I'm in the mood to let the stingy side of my Scots ancestry take over. cool.gif


Dan
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celticguitar666
Posted: Jan 2 2012, 09:25 PM


Phono Nut


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Joined: 12-January 09



QUOTE (Dan Gilmore @ Jan 14 2010, 10:03 PM)
Depending upon the method you use to sharpen them, you can get a heap of plays out of one bamboo needle.

I'll use an emery board to sharpen the needle between plays until the angles of the needle get screwed up and then either reshape them with an exacto knife or cut them with a needle cutter.

I've gotten about 20 plays out of one stock needle when I'm in the mood to let the stingy side of my Scots ancestry take over. cool.gif


Dan

I like that being scots ancestry myself I haven't posted in a while but I have many more records now since then and have a lot of needles (n bamboo that is) but alas haven't played them much as I have renewed my interest in OMG... Electric Guitar
Dwight
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Dan Gilmore
Posted: Jan 6 2012, 07:31 PM


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Joined: 6-January 09



Ah, another guitar player who collects phonographs!

I've been playing guitar since I was about 7. I decided to add banjo a while back - a fairly easy instrument to become proficient on but it will screw with your mind, especially when you play a banjo for a song or two and then immediately pick up a guitar to play. laugh.gif

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