How Steel Needles Were Made
by Bas Ingrouille
The manufacture of steel needles to play the
78 records that came
with the advent of the
78 record player were turned out by the 200 thousand a day.
35¢ a 1000 for standard
Fine needles sold for
25¢ for 500 and spear type for 25¢ for
250, cheap considering the process that went into their manufacture.
demand fell off, labor and costs of materials went up so high that the
prices of needles also went up.
and more manufacturers stopped
Today no steel needles are made in Canada.
made in U.S.A.
and England, but as demand drops further
go up more manufacturers will stop making them or the prices will have to
go up to meet the increased costs.
make steel needles for
78 talking machines,
a steel rod 3/16"
diameter is used of carbon steel.
The first process is to reduce this
rod to 1/16" wire, the diameter of the standard needle,
smaller for medium and still smaller for fine needles.
The operations are as follows:
The rods are first heated to 5000 degrees in an annealing furnace
and then cooled to soften them.
In this heating
and cooling process they
become oxidized or coated with scale.
To remove this, they are tapped
hammer after which they are "pickled" in a solution of soda and
and again heated in another furnace cooler than the first to
the effects of pickling.
They are then passed to a wire drawing machine,
where the 3/16" wire is drawn through a die about 1/8" diameter,
of #8 wire.
and hardens the wire making it necessary
to repeat the annealing process before another reduction in diameter is
Therefore this process must be repeated about
5 times before
reduction to 1/16" or
#16 wire is obtained.
The long coil of small wire is now passed to a forming machine,
appearance like a lathe.
As it is fed through it straightens
and cuts it
These rods are taken up and taken to a grinding
an ingenious special
mechanism which points the ends of about
150 at a time.
They are fed to it sideways
and held in exact position,
fed through and turned,
as they grind against the stone, by means of
rubber-tired wheels or rollers.
One end of the rods being pointed they
are turned and again fed to the grinder to point the other end.
double-pointed rods pass to the cutting machine.
The operator feeds about
100 levelled by pushing against a plate to even them, places them in a
cutting machine with guage set at 5/8"
from the shear blade.
lever cuts off the
100 needles at one stroke.
The shortened rods go back
to the grinder and then to the cutter until the rod is used up.
continued all day.
The now rough needles are spread evenly to the depth of an inch over
the surface of a heavy iron plate or tray.
While on this tray they are
heated to a cherry red in a special furnace, then
and put into
large double cans containing whale oil or hardening oil to harden them.
These tanks are kept in a water tank for cooling purposes,
cans have strainers in the bottom,
removed with needles in
them the oil drains back into the outer can, which always
remains in the
The needles, perfectly straight and hardened,
but still rough and
gummy with oil, are placed in
huge pans or troughs which slide back and forth
with a jerking motion, like an ash sifter,
top of a washing machine.
Here they are treated
to a bath of soft soap or soda and water.
they roll about in the bottom of the pans and
after a thorough shaking up in this solution, they
and while still damp, are placed in a
with 300 needles
tumbling machine like
a slowly revolving barrel
soon take the place of envelopes
pivoted at an angle of 45 degrees.
their bulk in sawdust is mixed with them and in a short time dries them.
They are then separated
from the sawdust by a vacuum that sucks off the
sawdust but leaves the needles all dry.
It is now necessary to prepare their surfaces for the final polish,
and to do this they are scoured.
A batch of several
thousand is mixed
with a pasty
and the mass is wrapped into a cylindrical
packet about 5" in diameter and two feet in length.
Several of these
bound together with strong cord and placed into a machine
called a mangler in which they are rolled about back and forth between
two slabs as one would make a roll of dough.
After this careful rolling
or massaging treatment is continued for
some time, the needles,
against one another in the scouring
are thoroughly cleaned and
and taken from the packets
and rinsed in clear water.
They then spend another turn in the
sausage like packets
and are rolled
this time in fine polishing compound.
From this last mauling they emerge
as finished product
and are sent to the
stockroom to be weighed (not
counted) into tins of
100 or more as required.
There are about
16 processes between the steel rod and the finished
Or, if we count the number of operations necessarily repeated in
the wire drawing
and annealing, pickling, hammering,
etc. there are about 42 handlings in all and yet at no time is a needle
Is it no wonder that manufacturers
no longer produce the phonograph
needle, especially with the demand dropping off,
and costs rising,
still with this extensive process needles are still being sold at $2.50
for a 100.
But not for long.