How to make a te-bōki

Useful hand-held straw brush and tool


The te-bōki (手箒 lit. “hand-broom”) are extremely useful tools during forging to hold down hot work, brush away scale, push back hot coals, hit apprentices (!), etc. At first sight they look pretty simple, but their making requires a bit of practice so that they become tough and rigid enough to sustain hard work. A good te-bōki should neither bend nor twist even under a man’s full strength. Here are the basics to making them. The rest is practice…

You will need…

Well, straw! We obviously use rice straw, but I can’t imagine why some other types wouldn’t work.

Beside strong steel wire and a couple of good pliers, you will also need a rough all-purpose knife, a solidly fastened vise, and a home-made nail-brush. A straw cutter is not absolutely necessary, but it’s very efficient at cutting loose and tied straw, and for finishing the tip of the brushes.

How to…

The first step is to measure the right amount of straw. I like to do this by filling the space made by joining in a circle the middle finger and the thumb.

Next the straw must be combed with the nail brush to align the stalks and remove messy leaves and branches. This will diminish the final amount of straw, so make sure to measure again.

Then — well, maybe you should start with this! — clamp a 15-20cm length of wire in the vise…

And make your first tie right in the center (see the next steps on how to make a tie). After you’ve made the first tie in the center, you need to fold the tips of the strands over (leaving the root part inside, acting as a bone). Make sure to fold them neatly and tightly.

To make a tie, you lie the bundle of straw against the wire on the opposite side of where you’re standing, and with the pliers go around the bundle as tight as possible, therefore ending by pulling towards yourself. You might want to do a second turn for more strength.

While still pulling and tightening, pivot the bundle counter-clockwise with your left hand to twist the wire ends together. This is usually when it snaps! With practice, you’ll learn to give in just a bit with your right hand as the wire pulls. The golden rule I figured out is that 3/4 of a turn is best.

You then unclamp the wire and finish twisting the wire ends. To have a beautiful twist, your ends should be at a perfect symmetrically centered 90 degrees angle. The tightness of the twist will depend on the distance between the pliers and the root of the twist. Tight is good, too tight makes it snap. Cut off the extra wire and hammer it into the straw.

You should make between five and six ties on the outer side (plus one that is now hidden inside). After the ties are completed, you only need to cut off the extra straw and you’re done.

To know if you’ve made a good te-bōki, try bending and twisting it with all your might. If it gives in, it’s no use trying it on red hot steel for heavy work, you’ll hurt yourself and get bad results. By the way, the te-bōki are soaked in water for about a minute prior to hot use, otherwise they’re just burn like.. straw!

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