Bodger Clothespins

Dateline: 6 September 2014

(click pictures to see enlarged views)

A bodger is a traditional craftsman of the British Isles who would take his tools to the woods, build a temporary structure for the summer months, and make useful woodenware with the greenwood about him. You can see bodgers on YouTube. Most of them now set up their temporary shop under a tent. 

It is the workshop-under-a-tent that I can relate to as I make my Classic American clothespins for 2014. I'm not using simple tools that can be easily carried into the forest, and I'm not working with green wood, but I am working under a tent, and it makes me feel ever so bodger-like.

The tent is nothing special. It measures 10' x 10' and is the Easy-Up kind you see at farm markets. The sides can be rolled up, or secured down. I have my table saw in there, and my new Grizzly shaper. And, as you can see in the above picture, I also have this year's onion crop curing on a rack. Such a tent can be a downright handy tool to have around.

I have thought long and hard about how nice it would be to have a "real" clothespin production shop. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that working under a tent in my yard for a couple months a year is actually an ideal situation. Why complicate matters with a permanent building when it isn't really needed? They cost quite a bit to make, and you have to pay taxes on them forever after. 

If I want to expand my operation, I'll just get another Easy-Up. Any new machinery can be stored in a shed when winter comes. This idea, born of necessity (my existing small workshop is crammed full of Planet Whizbang business stuff), is working out perfectly… for the second year in a row.

I think I've mentioned before that, years ago, when I was writing for Fine Homebuilding magazine, a reader of the magazine contacted me to say he was going to be in the area and wanted to stop by and see me and my workshop. The same thing happens occasionally these days when someone says that would like to stop by and see my farm.

Well, I don't have a farm, and I have never had a workshop that was worth seeing. Trust me, I've got nothing here that is worth anyone going out of their way to see. It's just a cluttered little redneck-like rural homestead in the boonies, and I've just added to the clutter with my clothespin bodger tent. People drive by and look at the tent, with power tools whining away, wondering what I'm up to now.

In the picture at the top of this essay I'm cutting ash boards into 3.5" lengths (flitches). That's step #1 in the clothespin making process. I'm doing the cutting with a homemade crosscut sled on my old Craftsman table saw. I made the sled a long time ago when I was a home remodeler and occasionally made cabinets. It's a downright handy tool.

The picture above shows flitches that are being machined on my table saw. I am cutting the "grip grooves" in the clothespin ends. I made a special three-bladed saw to do this job but it still isn't working right. I need to modify it. No time for that now. So I'm running the flitches through the table saw three times to make three grooves. The Grizzly power feeder is new and it's an awesome tool. Now, instead of pushing each flitch through the saw with a push block, I just feed the flitches into the power feeder as fast as I can, and it moves them along very nicely. 

Te picture above shows my new Grizzly shaper with the power feeder. I'm making the spring seat groove in each flitch. Last year my son and I used router tables to make the grooves. The work was so tedious and boring that he decided to go to school in the fall and get a "real" job. 

I don't mind tedious and boring because I've had some of those "real" jobs and I think they are more tedious and boring. I'll do tedious and boring sunup to sundown, six days a week, if it pays the bills and allows me to work out of my home. 

In other words, if tedious and boring translates to freedom, it's well worth it. At least it is well worth it to me. Besides that, tedious and boring, when they are part of a creative, entrepreneurial endeavor are not really tedious and boring. It's just part of the process, and the final result (beautiful hand-crafted clothespins, in this case) is what keeps the fire in my boiler going, so to speak.

Anyway, that shaper, with a power feeder, is making my life as a clothespin bodger so much easier that I'm on the verge of giddy ("feeling great happiness and joy") as I feed piles and piles of ash flitches into the machine.

Ahhhh, the life of a clothespin bodger. That's the life for me!

Classic American clothespins made under my bodger tent last year.
The top one is  coated with linseed oil, the bottom one is unfinished.


Sunnybrook Farm said...

No brick and mortar necessary! I love it, good thinking.

Unknown said...

The beauty of your type of "tedious and boring" work is that you get to see the product from beginning to end. I feel for the folks at the factories I work in who day after day handle the same few pieces repeatedly, often not really knowing what the parts are or what they do.

RonC said...

Not to mention that "tedious and boring" work gives you lots of time to think too. Of course if you have to fill your mind with things to think about first.

That breathing apparatus in the top picture...Is that something you came up with or is it a Purchase part? I always wear a dust mask as I deal with Asthma, but masks fog up the safety glasses. I went with a full face shield version that works pretty good except you can't wipe the sweat off your face in the summer. That looks like a snorkel with a filter on the end.

Also, a tent workshop is easy to clean! Put the tools away, pull down the tent and let the rain wash the dust away.

Well, I gotta go and pull up onions and get more tomatoes to can.

Unknown said...

Yippee!!! Can't wait to order clothespins. The cheap ones I get are not worth the effort. Solid piece ones split in the wink of an eye and inferior spring ones come apart with a fart. (Sorry...couldn't resist.)
Pray tell, how do we order some of your fine woodworking, albeit tedious craftsmanship Master Kimball of Humble Bodger Building???
Your most enthusiastic fan, (I'd say "admirer" but that might send the wrong message!)
Pam Baker

Everett said...

Ooh! Ooh! Ooh, Trying hard to think what I can use a nice new Grizzly shaper for!

Herrick Kimball said...

Thanks for the comments, everyone.

The respirator I'm wearing is a "Resp-O-Rator." You can do a YouTube search and see it in action. Or just Google it. It works pretty well for someone who has a beard. I've used it for several years. Takes some getting used to.

You're funny. I hope to have finished clothespins to sell in early November. That's the plan. They will be available at the Classic American clothespins web site. I will, of course, announce their availability here. I appreciate your enthusiasm!

Anonymous said...

Why can't you use a dado blade with spacers to cut the finger grooves?

Herrick Kimball said...


The arbor shaft on my table saw is not long enough to get three blades with spacers and nut on. If I buy a new saw (which I'm considering) I'm hoping to find one that will do this.

ELittle said...

Hi Herrick, Are they oak or ash? In the middle of the post you said you were cutting oak boards into flitches! Just wondering! I am considering getting some more of your pins. We don't hang clothes out side but may have to in the not to distant future, but I use them for a lot of things around the inside of the house!

Just about to pick the first tomatoes from the High Tunnel! Couple more days.
Regards, Everett

Herrick Kimball said...


The wood is ash. I have corrected the text. Good eye.

Congrats on the early tomatoes. Very nice.