Workroom Buttons
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General Machine Information

Can I use my new machine out of the box?

Absolutely... right after you mount (or clamp) your machine to something.  It was not designed to stand alone.  This is true of all American machines, regardless of brand or age.  This old Wade machine is bolted to a 17" piece of 2" x 6", which makes it nicely portable.  Note we mounted it at the very BACK of the board so the handle action won't tip it forward:


The second photo shows the hole we drilled to accommodate prong back buttons and long findings, like brass fasteners and hair elastics.  Line it up with the base hole; we recommend drilling a larger diameter so nothing snags on the sides.

We also like bench grinder stands:  mount your machine to a board (we used 12" x 12" plywood, but you could go bigger), then the board to the stand.  Creative customers have also used old typewriter stands, discarded kitchen cabinets, and secondhand side tables.  Of course, you can mount it to a work bench if you never plan to move it.

What's the best way to care for my new machine?

We suggest a thick coating of bearing grease (found at any automotive supplies store) where the handle meets the pin ("piston").  Clean any dirt, dust or metal shavings that may have accumulated there, then apply the grease with a Q-Tip.  We like stainless sewing machine oil for other moving parts (some customers swear by WD-40), but whatever you use... apply very lightly and wipe away any excess.  You don't want oil dripping down onto your die!

It's a good idea to periodically wipe down your machine.  91% isopropyl alcohol is a cheap and effective cleaner but everyone has a favorite (try to avoid solutions that contain mostly water).

Why is there an Allen wrench included with my machine?

The Allen (hex) wrench is a useful little tool.  Use it to tighten the screw on the side of the base (which secures the lower die, if desired —not essential, but sometimes helpful).  You can also use it to prevent the pin from spinning around when screwing on snap, grommet, rivet, and ventilator dies.  Just push it into that little hole toward the top of the pin and hold it there.  Simple, yet effective.

Stick a neodymium magnet on the side of your machine and you'll have a place to store the wrench when not in use.

What do you mean by "modify" the die?

Typical American button die (bottom)Rowley Co. machine baseHandy Jr. No. 1 machine base

Button dies stems fit into a hole in the base of the machine.  Our machinist can turn die stems to a smaller diameter so they fit machines with smaller base holes.  If you already have a machine, please note the brand when ordering new button dies, otherwise we can't guarantee they will fit your machine.

What's with the weird button sizing system?

When we refer to, say, a #36 button, we really mean a 36 ligne (pronounced "line") button.  Ligne is an old French measurement system adapted by German button makers in the early 1700's.  40 lignes was eventually standardized to equal one English inch, so a #40 button equals 1" and so on.  It's still the industry standard for buttons and snaps.  Approximate metric equivalents for common American sizes are as follows:

#16 = 10.00 (10.16) mm  (3/8")
#18 = 11.00 (11.43) mm  (7/16")
#20 = 12.50 (12.70) mm  (1/2")
#22 = 14.00 (13.97) mm  (9/16")
#24 = 15.50 (15.24) mm  (5/8")
#28 = 18.00 (17.78) mm  (11/16") — American dime
#30 = 19.00 (19.05) mm  (3/4") — American penny
#36 = 23.00 (22.86) mm  (7/8") — American nickle
#40 = 25.50 (25.50) mm  (1") — American quarter
#45 = 28.50 (28.50) mm  (1-1/8")***
#50 = 31.50 (31.75) mm  (1-1/4")
#60 = 38.00 (38.10) mm  (1-1/2")
#80 = 51.00 (51.00) mm  (2")

Sizes are before covering; fabric will increase button diameter.
***American #45 and European #44 are generally interchangeable.

You say your button fronts are "standard American half-ball" shells.  What exactly does that mean?

We're actually describing the shape and height of the shell (button front, or top).  The most common are variations of a basic dome:

American Flat
American Half Ball
American Full Ball

It gets tricky, because European and Asian manufacturers use different terms for two of these shapes:
  • American Half Ball = Continental Bombe = UK Standard Dome or Quarter Ball or Half Round = Asian Regular or Standard
  • American Full Ball = Continental Half Ball = UK Standard Highball or Halfball = Asian Mushroom
Continental and UK Standard button have slightly different dimensions, but are similar enough to be considered interchangeable (just remember you need to "translate" the different shapes).  India uses UK terms; Turkey uses European.  Some Chinese factories and distributors use American terms for their European-sized buttons (so buyer beware).

Our dies are designed to use American half ball shells.  However, we found they can also accommodate American flat shells as long as care is taken to center the shell.  We stock flat shells with a special non-slip coating to facilitate this.

I'm really only interested in cutting out felt circles.  Can I buy just the cutter?

Certainly, although you'll have to jury-rig something if you plan to use it without a machine.  Machines include a cutting block, so you might want to purchase one separately, as well.

I have a question about using my button machine.

Please take a look at our (very basic) button machine tutorial, or check out our Tips for Better Buttons page.
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