I spent the last three days reconditioning a 45″ Leclerc Nilart 12-harness weaving loom. Disassembled last Sunday I could have simply brought it home and set it up. Outside of some superficial scratches and dents it was in very good condition. However, this loom is 42 years old. In spite of it being the newest loom we own its age in-and-of-itself warrants full dismantling. And in spite of the tedious nature of disassembly, inspecting, cleaning, scouring, sanding, refinishing, oiling, lubricating, and reassembly, it is well worth it from several standpoints.
Here’s how to do it…
eralWarm, giving, flexible, shock absorbing, and economical, wood is an is a excellent medium to use in loom construction. However, wood also requires maintenance in two areas.
The first area of caring for wood lies in the fact that over time wood dries out. Wood itself is not stable. Over time it continues to shift. Some woods are less prone to instability. Sometimes this happens when wood is used that is not fully cured. Relative humidity and temperature also plays a role in a wood’s stability. Leclerc looms are built of maple. Maple is a more stable wood because it has a dense grain. They also use well-dried lumber. Yet even maple can warp and crack. This is a pic along the bottom of one of the upright temple panels. Over a period four decades this wood checked. It is small and minor and does not affect the function of this machine, but simply oiling it may have prevented it from occurring, adding some elasticity to the cell structure. Factory varnish may have helped to prevent this as well; I find that in many of Leclerc’s looms they lack finish on hidden/unexposed parts. I understand doing so on places such as joints/mortise-and-tenons. But it would be better if all surfaces were treated. So once the loom was fully assembled I lightly sanded and oiled all unfinished surfaces using boiled linseed oil. Here’s a before and after image of the harness guide rod blocks…dirty, unfinished before…then the wood given a drink…and reconditioned afterward…
The second area of caring for wood involves noting areas that are worn. Any wear indicates an area of friction. Friction is a sign of loom inefficiency, eating up precious energy that the loom operator exerts in weaving. It may not seem like a lot, but incremental inefficiency can add up to a lot of effort. That’s just not needed. Of course a hand loom requires effort. Part of the joy of weaving comes from its associated bodily-kenisthetic joy; weavers feel the movement of their bodies translating ultimately into cloth. Removing or smoothing these areas lessens these friction points. Of course the cause of this wear will also need to be remedied. But for now it is important to return the wood back to a better finish. Light sanding and fine steel wool are in order here.
The third area is repairing any functional damage done over the years. Broken parts need to be firmly fixed; unprofessional repairs need to be put back together correctly.
Additionally, the fourth area lies in the cosmetic repair of chips, dents, scratches, and dings. These can often be lightly sanded out and then refinished. But it is best to not try and do too much to character marks; it is, after all, a used loom and most will have experienced some unavoidable, unwitting, and unforeseen misfortunes. It is, after all, a tool, and tools get worn over time…just hopefully not too much through unwarranted abuse.
Smoothness of operation is also a big concern. These treadle spacers had not been smoothed on their ends. They were rough and would have required undue effort to perform. I lightly touched these to a sanding disc and they were instantly as smooth as glass,in spite of still bearing the marks of their initial roughness (you don’t want to sand these out since it would change the length of these spacers).
The last area involves evaluating the wear that has taken place on its joinery. Weaving is by nature violent. The clanking of treadles. The winding of the warp. The concussion of the beater. These add up to a lot of vibration over time. A well-built loom using well-dried hardwood will withstand a lot. Nevertheless, evaluate and shore up any loose joints. This can often be done with spacers and wedges. If the loom utilizes lag screws in its construction be mindful that if these loosen they may lose their purchase over time. I find that I have sometimes needed to increase the diametre of these screws. This is usually the easiest. Converting these to bolts, where practical is also a possibility, as are using lag inserts, or refilling holes with a very strong epoxy and redrilling when thoroughly dried.
2. Metal Fittings
This Nilart had been kept indoors its entire life. Nevertheless, its hardware needed a vigourous cleaning. Where its corrosion come from is anyone’s guess. Every major bolt was so-damaged. Leaving metal in this condition will eventually weaken the wood with which it is in contact. It will also wear on the part itself, causing it to loosen eventually, which will wear whichever joint is involved. It also creates a lot more friction, requiring greater and greater effort to weave.
Some used looms, you might guess, need their metal fittings fully replaced. My first loom had sat in an unheated garage for years. It had obviously also sat in another building where it had experienced some water damage as it had water marks on some of its wood along its lower parts. That it had not sat in water was equally clear since the wood had not swollen. It looked like someone had put it in a barn for a while where it was exposed to some snow? The joints were all tight. But many of its screws and bolts needed to be replaced because of being thoroughly rusted. In some cases the holes needed to be redrilled to fit the newer, larger fasteners.
This new loom also had an exceptionally ill-cast brake wheel. Why the original owner did not request a new one from the factory when it was first purchased is beyond me. I cannot imagine having worked with something like that for years and years. This mis-cast piece also gouged the wooden cradle in which it rests below the back beam. Everything was terribly coarse and would have required much more effort than it now does to turn since I have removed all excess material. Here’s some pics to show the initial, then half-filed, then fully filed, sanded and polished end. It works as smooth as glass now…
Polishing the front reel’s cast iron ratchet steel end made it turn much more freely as well…and made it truly beautiful. Steel wool was all that was required.
The heavy treadle connecting rod was fully corroded. After it was polished the treadles move with no resistance whatsoever. It required some very fine emory cloth to clean it back down to bare metal, and then fine steel wool to polish it.
All of the washers used as spacers required finishing on their unfinished side. Washers have a finished side with a rounded edge, and an unfinished, cut side. Virtually all of these had rough lips on the cut side. These were all sanded off, then that side of the washer was polished. Then now glide easily and do not cut the wood against which they rest. Here’s a before and after, showing the lip, how to flat sand, and the polished product. Nice…
I also cleaned the bars on which the heddles rest on each harness. I used 0000 Fine steel wool to do so. While these bars did not appear dirty, just think about the fine grime that settles over forty years. The difference before and after was incomprehensible. What appeared clean before became as slick as ice afterward. The heddles (inserted small eye) now move freely across the width of the shaft. Just imagine the added cumulative effort required to operate the lamms every time they move up and down if all of the heddles have even the slightest resistance to lateral movement on them!
Never, ever use a corroded reed.
The reeds on this newly-acquired Nilart were tarnished, but not corroded. The difference between a tarnished one and a polished one is night-and-day. And when you consider that each reed passes friction on to every yarn of the warp, you can imagine the cumulative effect.
The effect of a corroded reed is not only to add even more friction to the beater bar, but carries with it the possibility of wearing or even breaking warp threads. Unless you like to retie broken warp threads from a rusted reed, then get a new reed.
A tarnished reed can be easily re-polished. The reed on this Nilart had to be cleaned first – I used a soft rag with ammonia water. Then I wiped it thoroughly and briskly. And at last I placed a new buffing wheel on a low-speed grinder and worked it carefully, gently, but firmly in between the reed bars. This brought the reed back to a lustre…and it is smooth! Before and after…
Reed bars also need to be carefully straightened. I find that a flat screwdriver with a wide blade works very well. Never use it as a prying tool.
4. Loom Finish
Leclerc makes a great loom. The finish on the outside of the temple cabinet and along the beams is that of fine furniture. However, on all four Leclerc looms we own the less-accessed parts often are left with a coarser finish. Some of that is from less-highly finished wood itself. But most of it is from less effort involved in applying the varnish with which these were initially produced. Don’t get me wrong, this is not a poor finish…just not that of a fine cherry table, for example. Since I was dismantling the entire loom I took the time I lightly sand all pieces that were found like this to a smooth finish and then applied boiled linseed in a light coat. The point of the light sanding was not to remove the original finish, but to smooth the rougher parts of the varnish itself out and then to reseal it with boiled linseed oil. The effect of this is overall less friction/chance of binding. Anything rough on a loom is an anomaly and counter-productive and should be looked after, at least here it is.
A loom is a tool, not a showcase. Anything that you can do to increase its comfort and ease of functioning should be done…within reason, of course. On the Jano loom that I restored I added pieces of plastic that I trimmed off of a plastic toboggan (Crazy Carpet). These pieces I screwed along the inside of the temple uprights near the top as the shafts were rubbing there. These were attached after I refinished these parts. They not only protect the wood, but add to the ease of operation as well since they are so slippery.
All of these have had a cumulative effect of not only making this loom beautiful, but functional and much easier to work. Obviously you know if you are capable of any of these repairs and refinements. For me this is second-hand. If it is not for you then hopefully you know someone who can do this for you.
Some people drive their car without ever checking the oil level! I feel much more secure in winding the first warp onto this loom with having done all of this first. And since it was disassembled for transport it was just one more step to doing it right…
The Multiple Harness Nilus (MHN) (bottom right) appears to be the predecessor of the Nilart Loom made from the late 1950’s – 1985 by Leclerc. Its 1957 manual sates: It is constructed the same was as the 4 harness ‘Nilus’ loom except for the mechanism which is different because of the high number of harnesses. At the time a 45″, 12 harness MHN cost $260…or $2,274 in 2017’s buying power.
Today I ordered the first four books…a total of $90, including shipping. The last was given to me.