In years of reconditioning and upholstering, mainly Carter Brothers scoop chairs and George Nelson for Herman Miller headboards, the biggest problem we encountered was missing or no matching buttons for the new covering. Occasionally we would spray old ones with vinyl spray paint, but most were sent to a professional upholstery shop to make – a VERY expensive proposition for such a small item. This not only increased the expense of a recovering but lengthened the turnaround time as well. We talked about purchasing a button making machine, but the cost was just too high given the low volume of work we do.
After several years of buttons being the last obstacle in the reupholstering process, my wife happened upon an ad in our local Craigslist. An elderly couple was winding down their years of re-upholstering in their garage and sold us a Handy Junior 1 Button Making Machine, several dies, and a large box of button backs and caps at a very reasonable price. The machine was old, dirty, caked with grease, and had a fair amount of rust. Similar to this photo:
The entire machine was dismantled and cleaned with mineral spirits (some of them soaked overnight to loosen the years old layer of hard grease and dirt). Smaller rusty parts were soaked in rust remover, and the larger rusty parts treated with naval Jelly. The exposed bare metal was sanded lightly with 400 grit wet sandpaper using mineral spirits as a wetting agent. The button dies were also dismantled and cleaned.
The bare metal areas were then taped over with painter’s tape and the entire machine was painted a brighter color with a can of Rustoleum. After a few days of drying, the bare metal areas were sprayed with Heavy Duty Silicone to protect them from rust and for lubrication. Warning: the metal MUST be thoroughly dried to lubricate with silicone – otherwise the silicone acts as a paint remover. If time is short, put the painted parts in your oven, set at 200 degrees, for two – three hours; the paint will cure and become hard enough not to scratch easily.
After mounting on a board to increase the user’s leverage (me) while pulling the handle, a piece of 2 x 4 was cut and sanded parallel for a stable, level surface to cut through the leather or vinyl with the cutter tooling. I also drilled a hole through the mounting board aligned with the button maker base center so that 2″ prong button backs could be accommodated. Here’s what the finished button maker looks like now – and it makes beautiful buttons in no time! The only problem is a sore arm after cutting and pressing about 20 buttons in a row!
Handy Machine Company: Handy was founded in 1898 and is perhaps the largest U.S. producer of button covering parts and equipment and tufting machines for furniture and bedding. Handy merged with The Kenlin Group and now does business as The Handy Kenlin Group (HKG). http://www.handykenlin.com/index.html