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Making a Miniature 18th C. French Spinning Wheel

Wm. R. Robertson

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If there is enough interest I will tell the whole story of making a both a 1/12th and 1/6th scale copy of a 18th C. Ladies French Table Top Spinning Wheel for Silk. This story will take some time and this thread will get very long…...

This story, as all miniature copies starts with the original and since it is from France, therefor we must go there. So years ago I found myself shopping the streets of Paris for antiques. Now this does not mean buying as often the the objects I like are way beyond my means, but the search for something wonderful that would make a perfect miniature. So we find ourselves in a little shop on rue Jacob….


And in this shop is a beautiful tiny spinning wheel with a Severe base, rosewood turnings and gold gilt metalwork…… it is also priced at 200,000 French Francs! As I recall that was around $ 30,000.


Now I had been thinking about these types of spinning wheels for some time and had even started a little picture file….


Now why were these so small and who could have used them? These were for Ladies of Court and want to be's, they were not made for serious work in industry, they were made to play at a little spinning while chatting with friends. This was the time when the Queen Marie Antoinette like to play at being a milk maid at Versailles.


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Now who might have made this type of spinning wheel? In Bergeron's book Manuel du Tourneur, 1792-4 he shows this very wheel.




The next thing one may wonder is we see these wonderful engravings but how accurate are they? The answer is they are quite accurate, here in the same book is a gentleman's lathe, and the real thing when it was sold at Christie's in London in the 1980's. BTW I should addd that the spinning wheel shown has 8 spokes, of the more than a dozen of these I have seen they all have just 6 spokes so that must just be and engravers error.




Now just why would a fancy spinning wheel and a lathe be shown in the same book from the 18th century? Bergeron had a shop A La Flotte D'Angelterre on the Rue de la Barillerie, no 15 across from the gates to the Palais de Justice. This is about right in the center of the map on the Isle de la Cité. As a matter of fact that whole street was lined with tool shops selling tools to the trade, tools to the court workshops and tools to Ladies and Gentleman of Court. Hence Bergeron's shop catered to both men and women and he shows a few pages of ladies sewing stands, etc. in his book….. there exists a 1817 price list that prices everything in thing in the book…… and while we we are on the subject, this is one of my favorite books, I would love to have that lathe but I am lucky enough to have some things mentioned in it. Here is a thread on another forum I wrote about Bergeron and a caliper found in Copenhagen, near the end it has some of Bergeron's earliest trade cards.






Now that we know our subject I leave you for now, in the next installment I'll tell the story of finding another spinning wheel the next day and how special that was…..

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Oh, yes, please do tell the story about making these, long stories are the best!

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  • 4 weeks later...

Back to our story, the next day, which was the last day of a month long trip, I was at the famous flea market in Paris which covers about 15 blocks, it have everything from very fancy shops to people selling out of the backs of their cars in alleys......


And it was in one of these that I saw and was able to buy a nearly identical spinning wheel that somehow stayed un disturbed for 200 years... It even had the last work on it was obviously away from sunlight as the velvet was as deep and bright as when new.


This was back in the day as would say before 9/11 when the airlines would let you take something this on the plane and practically let you hold it on your lap. So off I went to bring it home.

Now for the fun part, remember I told you I already knew about these spinning wheels, well that is because I have Bergeron's book that shows them. This is the 1816 printing which has much larger plates than the first edition and two volumes of text containing about 1100 pages, all in French. Since Bergeron's book was in print for nearly 50 years it can be found, much rarer is the English translation of the first volume which was first issued as a series of papers in the 1860 s.... Well, I had that too...... So here we have the real object, the book about making it from the period and a later translation of it....


Since the drawing was in the French inch, pied du Roi, which is foot of the king.... I even used 18th c. French scales and tools to take my measurements.

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  • 3 weeks later...

So the next step was to measure and document every detail and make drawings for each part.




Here you can see the drawing for the spoke, in pencil is the full scale size, 2" scale in red and 1/12th scale in black, remember I am making this in two different scales at the same time.




And a close up of turning the spokes with the drawing in the background, This way I can keep both in focus while I free hand turn the brass with gravers.




The rim was turned out of a larger piece of brass on a bigger lathe. This is the rim for the 2"… still not very big.




Next a holding fixture was made and a set of 12 evenly spaced holes drilled around the perimeter.




Here is a close up, the drill is .012", smaller than a size #80, pivot drill, this is a flat drill used in the watch and jewelry trade. What I remember was I drilled all these holes without breaking a single bit!!!!!!




Here are the parts of the wheel so far, it is always fun to start this kind of a project with the fun part… in this case the wheel. I use dentist's root canal drills to taper the holes so there will be a place for solder…….. 




When I write next I'll show how I soldered them together and more…..

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  • 2 months later...

Time for a little more on this project now that summer is over……. the next problem would be how to hold all the parts in place to solder them together and get the hub perfectly in the middle. To do this I made a holding fixture. I turned and milled it from aluminum.




Then using a resistance soldering machine to heat the parts for soldering. This works by having the probe shown in the picture wired to a electronic control unit, when one steps on a foot switch it sends power thought the two electrodes causing anything between then to get red hot. This puts the heat in just the exact spot where you want it. For this is use Stay-Brite solder which melts about 450 degrees.




After a trip to the ultrasonic cleaner to I put the wheel in a 6 jaw bezel chuck, this is a type of chuck made for jewelers to watch bezels which the crystals mount in. Then with a turning tool I bore out the center so the wheel will turn true.




Next I'll work on the little finials between the spokes.

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I just found this photo on the internet, best one I have ever seen of this type spinning wheel in use. It is of a mid 18th century painting of Archduchess Marie Christine of Austria.




Here is the proper caption for the painting however I'm not sure who the artist was or the size...


Marie Christine of Habsburg-Lorraine: Archduchess Marie Christine in a white gown, gouache

Schloß Schönbrunn Kultur- und Betriebsges.m.b.H.


Here is the web site where you can read more about her,






and a detail….



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  • 4 weeks later...

Beautiful painting!  Somehow I get the feeling that the spinning wheel is at risk of toppling over on her lap.  How heavy would it be?

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  • 4 weeks later...
  • 4 weeks later...

When I last left you I had just finished truing up the wheel after soldering. The next step will be those little finials between each spoke. But first I will digress a little to go back to just how to use a lathe and where did I learn this. One thing about miniatures is there are not a lot of off the self cutting tools to make parts so one must learn to be a toolmaker. Today if you read a text book about lathe work it will tell you to use cutter #??? and put it in holder #???, then turn on the machine. That does not teach one how to make things so I go back to a time when the books told one how and why a cutter cuts, what do the chips coming away look like and how to tell by studying them if the machine is cutting perfectly. From this you learn how to grind cutters….. so here are some samples from some of the 19th C. books in my collection….



Once the cutters are ground I set up my Taig lathe with both front and back tool posts, this way I can bring two different tools to the work with one setting….. the dial gauge on the front reads the position of the length of the turning to a thousandth of an inch.


and a close up…...


These turning are then held in a pin vise and had the sides sawn off with a jewelers saw giving them a flattened look, then polished and soldered in place…..


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Hmm...I would love to spend a day or two with your books. Great to see another post on the spinning wheels, and like the idea of using two tool posts, thanks for showing that.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I do have a whole book case full of what I call "tool" books.... They are either about tools of how to use them..... Maybe a third are 100 to 300 years old. Sort of like the men and miniatures topic, who would have thought that in a discussion on spinning wheels we would get it to how to make lathe bits?

It is hard to tell but are many people following this topic?

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Well...fine miniatures and good tools go hand in hand I think and for a fairly newby in the world of tools I find it all fascinating and informative.

And this thread has 562 views at the moment.

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  • 2 weeks later...

This is my Original and authentic Miniature 18th C. French Spinning Wheel.

It need some little restorations, a column and spindle accommodations have been lost.

For more information do not hesitate contact me in this forum.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Now that  the flywheels are finished it is time for the other brass parts. They are made using typical miniature machining practices such as turning, threading, milling and filing. when finished each part is polished.


Here is the water cup being turned, in this case after roughing it out with tool bits I use a graver to give it that hand turned look of the original…. and you can see the original water cup laying on the headstock of the lathe.




Next the flyer mount is turned and milled….. here is the milling




Here the mount for the flyer is being hand taped, this is the largest thread on the project at 0-80




After the thumb screws are turned the heads are sawn and then filed to shape




Now this was sort of a odd way to make a molding in brass, instead of milling it I did by using a drill press as a over arm router, this is cut from both sides and is a rather complex form. Being that I did this 14 years ago I can't remember just why I did it this way. I do remember it took a lot passes.




These long strips were then formed around a wood form and gold soldered together.




So that should be the metal parts so far…… we will deal with the flyer next…..



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