Making a cotton Gin – by Nev Sweeney

The story of how I grow and spin my own cotton is still continuing, this years crop looks like it will be a big one (relatively – how much can you expect from three or four plants?). I still spin the cotton direct from the boll and have not gotten around to building a cotton gin based on Ely Whitney’s model, but I have found that spinning from the boll still inevitably leaves some cotton adhering to the seeds. I don’t want to waste any of my home grown organic cotton, so I just stored them away to await further processing.

On one of my expeditions on the net, I cam across a photo of a cheap and easily constructed cotton gin of a novel design – there was only this one photo from one angle, with very little detail, so I had to work out the construction details myself. The gin is based on a wire mesh tacked to a frame with a backing board, then a “flicker” is used to draw the cotton though the mesh, leaving the seeds on the other side.

One bit of detail in the source was that the wire mesh was ¼” squares (about 6mm). I found this a bit of fun to get hold of. The local Bunnings had a roll a metre wide by about 30 metres long for well over $100, this was a tad more than I intended to spend so after I got up off the floor I continued searching. A hardware local to where I work had some gutter mesh which was 190mm wide and a few metres long – enough to make 20 of the things – anyway an investment of $11.00 or so didn’t seem to much to pay.

To make the top frame I used 19mm x 42mm DAR maple ( a bit more expensive than pine but less prone to twist), the width of the wire mesh set the limit of the width of the gin to 237mm (to the outside edge of frame) and for no good reason I set the length at 380mm. Having cut the timber to length I then used by small band saw (you could use a hand  tenon saw just a s well) to cut a half lap joint at each corner. The corners were secured by two 15mm wood screws, holes pre drilled and countersunk. I then just put a tack in each corner and one in the middle of the long side to secure the mesh to the frame, this size frame allowed for 2-3 meshes overlap for securing the mesh. Note – make sure the long wires on the mesh face the top, so you can pull the flicker along the long axis of the gin.

To make the base I placed the top frame over some 9mm thick 5 ply, drew around it and then cut it out with a hand saw. After a bit of a trial I found that there needed to be some clearance between the mesh and the back so I screwed some 10mm (anywhere between 6 & 10mm would probably be OK) off cuts the same width as the top frame to the back board, applied two hinges and viola! A cotton gin!

I had to buy a flicker from Viginia Farm Wool works which cost me less than $12, to pull the cotton through. If you made the gin wider you might be able to use a wool card if you already had one, but that pre supposes you could get wider mesh.

And the damn thing actually works! You pull the flicker first one way then the other across the top of the gin and, hey presto! The fibres are pulled through, getting caught by the wires of the flicker and the seeds (most of ‘em anyway) stay on the other side.

If you had 400,000 acres of cotton to process, this would get awfully tedious but for small amounts of home grown cotton, or to use it as I do to reclaim otherwise waste cotton, it is well worth the effort to make.

4 Comments on Making a cotton Gin – by Nev Sweeney

  1. I would love to see plans and pics! I am attempting this myself and have found close to nothing online. Your site has motivated me to grow cotton, and seeds are on the way! Thanks!

    Minneapolis, MN

  2. Here is another idea for ginning. Use a hand powered pasta maker. Cut a piece of denim (old jeans)about the width of the rollers in the pasta maker and about 6-9″ long. Place the cotton, seeds and all, spread out on the denim and slowly feed the denim into the rollers as you are cranking. Amazingly, the seeds remain behind the rollers and the cotton goes on through, staying on the denim. Then simply remove the cotton from the denim and start your pile of fluff. The seeds are all in a group and easily picked up. The denim will stretch out after a bit and so needs to be replaced. You will know when by the way the cotton slides, etc.
    I am a member of a weaving guild here in Washington state, USA. Some of our members have been growing cottong for the last 3 years. We have the green variety. It is a moss green until finished in hot water; at that time it becomes a darker green and is colorfast. I grew mine for the first time last year. Started it too late, so had to pick the bolls and bring them into the house to dry before they opened. I had to score them and set them in a pan on the warming shelf of my stove. Soon they dried and popped open. (I said my cotton was delivered by Cesarien section.)It was white in color (or lack of) and was told that was because it was not mature. Don’t know about that part.
    Anyway, I am planting my new crop today, 10 green seeds, so wish my luck.
    If you would like, I could put you in touch with the person in our guild who has grown, ginned, spun, wove and knitted with this wonderful fiber.

  3. Thanks for the article. Gives me great inspiration for the next phase in my search for self-sufficiency. I would like though to come in contact with Dee Mucha who replied before me, is that possible?

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