The Broom Making Process

                                                                                                                                                                                                                     

Overview

The act of making a broom can be reduced to “tying grass on a stick,” as The Broom Brothers’ Dan Donaldson likes to say; or even just tying twigs or grass into a bundle, as with the homemade “sedge brooms” of the Deep South.  Making a broom can be accomplished by as simple a process as that, or by as complex a process as machine (-aided) mass production in a factory setting.  Ralph and Dan loosely follow the southern Appalachian folk tradition by employing only a handmade, foot-controlled wooden reel to aid in attaching the broomcorn to the handle with twine.

More about traditional broom making

                                                                                                                                                                                                                     

Broom Corn

The birth of a broom begins many months before it is actually tied; in April, May and/or June, we plant several acres of broomcorn.  At the end of the 110-120 day growing cycle, we harvest that portion of the crop that has survived the battle with weather and weeds then let it dry.

More about broomcorn

                                                                                                                                                                                                                     

 Handle Preparation

Meanwhile, suitable sticks for handles must be harvested or scavenged.  We collect handles in the dead of winter when the sap is down and snakes are asleep.  We then water-season the raw wood in a large stock tank with circulation pumps.  After the handles spend at least a couple of months in the flowing water, we (solar) kiln-dry them for several months to prevent excessive checking/splitting and wood-boring insect problems.  (This is the deep, deep South you know…)

More about handles

                                                                                                                                                                                                                     

 Assembly

Once the raw materials are ready, we sand, shape and lacquer the handle into the desired final state.  The recently-dried broomcorn must then (paradoxically) be soaked in hot water to render it pliable enough to weave or plait onto the handle.  The aforementioned wooden reel is then wound with strong, supple nylon twine which possesses just the right amount of elasticity.  The reel is placed on the floor where the seated broom maker controls its rotation with his feet, maintaining enough tension to weave the twine tightly around the broomcorn and handle—more tightly than you might expect.

 

After the newly-tied broom dries on one of our hanging racks for a couple of weeks, sometimes aided by a day or two lying out in the sun, we stitch it  round or Shaker-style into a flat shape with the aid of a simple clamp.  After stitching with linen thread, several more coats of lacquer are added for a brilliant finish and every broom is fitted with a leather lanyard for hanging.  (Hanging a broom, as opposed to standing it on its bristles in the corner, preserves its shape and dramatically lengthens its life.)

                                                                                                                                                                                                                     

Trimming

Some flat brooms are then trimmed off straight/even at the bottom with our 100+ year-old broom cutter while some are left in their uncut state, with a shaggy or wispy appearance.  Straight-trimmed brooms are stiffer than shaggy ones, and the more you cut off the stiffer they get; the stiffer the broom, the more well-suited it is for sweeping rough or textured surfaces like brick, low carpet or heart-pine floors.  The softer shaggy brooms are perfect for cleaning hardwood and other slick, smooth floors.  The thin, curled split ends pick up and hold/move dust and minute particles of dirt without leaving streaks of dust.   As an aside, cobweb brooms are always left uncut to take advantage of the brush ends’ power to ensnare their target.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                     

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