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Ideas from Ed: The reel deal (Volume 6, Issue 6)

If you’re old enough to know what this is, you’re probably no “spring chicken!”

It’s a reel for wrapping up a rope clothesline! (If you don’t know what a clothesline is, sadly you’ve missed the experience of clothes that smell like fresh outdoor air!) Even back in the day, not everyone maintained a “permanent” clothesline, but sometimes had one that could be easily attached to two immobile objects, then wound back up later to be put away, out of the weather. This reel allowed the wind-up to go quickly and tangle-free. You held onto the larger handles and spun it around and around to retrieve the rope. This reel is missing one of the handles, and part of one of the “legs” has broken off. It was given to me by a friend who asked if I could repair it. It doesn’t have any real historical or sentimental value, so she was okay with my suggestion that I just make a whole new one. It was a quick and fun project.

You might want to spend the time to turn each part on a lathe, in which case you can make this out of any wood you choose. To keep it simple, I planned to use wood dowels. I already had poplar dowels in two of the three sizes needed, but my local hardware store only had the third size in oak, so my project used a mixture of both. To begin, I cut everything to length, measuring the originals.

To round over the ends of the main legs, I installed a sanding disk in my table saw and rolled the dowels gently against it. I used a piece of 80-grit sandpaper to touch things up.

Each of the legs had to have a through-hole as well as a partial hole, in the diameter of the cross-pieces. I used a Forstner bit in my drill press and held the dowel in a V-block to keep the holes aligned.

The trickiest part of this project was making the handles. They needed a deep hole (the diameter of the cross-pieces) in one end and a shallow, smaller hole in the other end as a recess for a retaining screw. I used a center-finding guide to locate the exact center of each end before drilling. Again, clamping things in a V-block kept the handles perfectly vertical while being worked.

Since the hole for the cross-pieces was drilled in the same diameter as the cross-pieces, I needed to do just a bit of hand sanding on the portion of the cross-pieces that are inserted into the handles. I also gave them a buffing with paste wax. That way, the handles can easily rotate around the cross-pieces without too much “slop.” On the end with the screw recess, I drilled a hole just a smidge larger than the body of the screw I used. Then I drilled a smaller hole in the ends of the cross-pieces for the screw. That screw is secured through the handle recess into the cross-pieces just enough that it’s snug and holds the handle without binding. I dabbed a bit of epoxy into the screw hole in the cross-pieces before inserting the screw to be sure the winding and unwinding action of using this reel would not inadvertently tighten or loosen the screw.

As on the original, I secured the cross-pieces with a bit of glue in the dead-ended holes, and then drove small brads into the legs to hold everything tightly together.

Here’s the original and my clone. My work really was meant to be functional rather than an exact duplicate, but nonetheless is pretty close.

I hope all your projects go well. Thanks for reading, and happy restoring!


If you’d like to download a PDF of this “Ideas” column, click here:

Ideas from Ed 2023_June_reel_deal
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