SWMBO knits woolen socks and uses wooden sock stretchers to form them
into shapes. Sock stretchers look like this: http://tinyurl.com/5mhpcv
From what I've seen, the older stretchers are planed and smoothed clean
but left unfinished. She wants a large quantity and my shop is unable to
handle the volume, so we had a local guy make some of these up for her
out of sugar maple. She put a damp sock on the new stretcher and
overnight, the wood warped. The older ones she had did the same thing,
but she expected the newer ones to stay unwarped.
I wasn't surprised but she's disappointed. She's asking me if there's
anything we can do to avoid the warping. Sealing the wood might help but
she's determined to have the wood unfinished. I suggested blonde shellac
but I don't know if that's going to be much of an improvement.
To further explain, the warping doesn't affect the functionality of the
stretcher. It still does its job, warped or not. But she's also looking
to sell both socks and stretchers at a craft fair and wants to sell flat
Wood warps. All wood warps. Every piece. Every species. It just does.
Warping occurs when the wood absorbs water from the air, and one side
expands more than the other. I once brought home a piece of pressure-
treated 1x2 that was straight as an arrow. After two days in my garage,
it literally looked like I could put on a string and use it as a bow.
The wood at the store stays fairly straight because it's in a nice, neat
pile where it's _forced_ to stay straight.
1. Make them from plywood. It warps less, but it still warps.
2. Make them from MDF. It will warp hardly at all, but then it's not
really wood any more. I made some six-foot-tall cabinet doors for a
client's garage cabinets, and they still warped a little.
3. Use a finish.
Pick a species that shows "high stability" on
http://www.woodbin.com/calcs/wdpick.htm . The ones that also show "low
weight" are generally relatively inexpensive. Quarter sawn will help.
Let them dry well before surfacing and cutting.
Is there some old sock stretchers around anyplace that are not warped? It
could very well be that this process just warps the stretchers. Putting wet
wool on thin wood is going to make the wood move. My thought include...
1. Go to some kind of wood alternative. I know that plastic may not be very
crafty and organic, but it may work very well for this application.
2. Just go with the warpable product with a good explanation for the buyer.
Something along the lines of, "We could coat our stretchers with some kind
of heavy duty, potentially toxic finish. But in the interest of keep our
costs down and giving you a natural surface to shape your sock on, we
decided that alittle warping is OK. Traditional sock stretchers warp and so
will our product. Nothing to be alarmed about. It is our way of bringing you
a traditional product to make these hand formed socks."
Remember, it is a FEATURE, not a liability! Give them the whole story. It
could very well cost a lot more to make a warp proof sock stretcher.
Education is the key here.
3. Make it out of some thick, heavy duty tropical wood. This would cost
much more. I doubt if that would be attractive to you.
Lee Michaels, old marketing guy
Thanks Lee and everyone esle
. SWMBO replies:
Lee Michaels wrote:
The old sock stretchers that I've been able to buy in antique shops,
garage sales etc. are all warped. The warping occurs in the foot
area..... the old stretchers are all unfinished, and visibly worn,
and beautiful. One can't help but think of all the women who have knit
socks that the stretchers have stretched to give to husbands, lovers,
friends and to send overseas in the WWs. The sock stretchers that I
have been able to purchase are I think 50 - 100 years old. It was one
of these old stretchers that we used as a pattern for the new ones.
There are metal ones sold, but I don't like them. They have no
intrinsic value to them at all, and aren't cheap either. I much
prefer the look of 100% wool hand knit socks on the wood stretchers.
I prefer an authentic product.... that is why I wanted the wood
I like your thinking !
Cost is an issue, I payed $10 per sock stretcher and it does take 2 to
make a pair.
Thanks, the old marketing guys usually have the best ideas. SWMBO
She goes on:
Cedar might work..... it is a natural smell and that would be ok with
me... ie: cedar chests and such.... but isn't cedar soft wood ? I
thought I needed hard wood for this project ?? She who doesn't
Neither do I. The original ones were a hardwood, likely maple. There's
not a lot of stress on the wood, so cedar likely would be ok, but maple
sure does look pretty.
Someone else had mentioned baltic birch, and I had suggested that as
well. But Lee is right. If they're going to look like reproductions of
the original, they should be solid wood.
Something else to consider.
Cedar does have the aromatic oils. You very well may use them up over a
period of time. But some people react to those oils. Not exactly like an
allergy, but folk can develop rashes, etc.
The oils are bad news for moths, etc. And some people do have a strong
reaction to cedar. My wife does. She would pass out if she had to smell
cedar for very long. It has a powerful effect on her.
Now I know that is probably not that common. But...., if you are going to
sell a product to the public, it may be a consideration.
Make them out of quartersawn straight-grained wood. They'll move in
width, and somewhat less in thickness, but they shouldn't warp.
Something with a low shrinkage rate would probably help, too. Cedar or
teak both have low shrinkage and also tolerate moisture well.
She's determined to have the impossible.
If she wants wood she must accept warping.
If she refuses warping, make the stretchers out of plastic or stainless
Tell her she's on the "welcome to reality" portion of the tour.
Woodworking links and more at http://www.woodenwabbits.com
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