Lee Valley & Veritas
Woodworking Newsletter
  Volume 11, Issue 2 - November 2016    
From the Collection
Hawkeye rope maker

The product produced by this item elicits much interest because, frankly, few people think about where rope comes from, how it was made or, for that matter, that almost every working farm or community had one of these things. Rural living meant that one had to have on-hand repair items that allowed for work to be completed. Rope was an important and versatile tool around the farm.

The cast-iron rope maker enjoyed success from 1880 onwards under names such as Wonder, New Era, Ideal, Nuway and the one shown here, the Hawkeye. Earlier primitive versions of the same tool were often built of wood and used rods to provide the power to the hooks. All models have been found in three-, four- and five-hook versions. Rope making is deceptively simple after one learns the rules. Using various materials, rope in some form has been made for more than 5,000 years. It requires the twisting of strands together to form a continuous cable. After it has been twisted, the cable becomes extremely versatile.

Hawkeye rope maker

The tool shown today is a three-strand Hawkeye rope maker made in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, with the fourth hook being for the core. It appears the manufacturer had a habit of moving frequently, as the identical machine is often found with Minneapolis, Minnesota, and also Spooner, Wisconsin, cast into the frame. The New Era rope maker appeared around 1911 and is identical to the Hawkeye. It was also made in Minneapolis. I am unsure of the connection between the two models.

The tool and the advertising paper it was found with is a convenient marriage. It was common practice to combine a tool with an advertising paper in order to facilitate the sale. In this instance, the brochure adds value to rather than detracts from the price. Given the large number of accolades in the brochure, there must have been some success with the New Era winder. It is possible that at some point the two companies merged.

New Era rope maker advertising brochure
New Era rope maker advertising brochure

As a gizmo, a rope winder/maker has a high number on the interest scale. The public are fascinated by watching ordinary twine being made into workable rope. Commercially, the zenith of rope making involved the use of ropewalks – long buildings specifically made to allow for the horizontal construction of long cable with the largest being well over 1,000 feet. In the Far East, a vertical method was used to achieve the same length for rope construction.

D.S. Orr

D.S. Orr has been a collector, user and student of woodworking and metalworking tools and practices for more than 40 years. Now retired, he has devoted even more time to these endeavors.

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